Posted by: archaccess | July 15, 2018

Wendens Ambo Independent Learning Archaeology Field School

Our very last Independent Learning Archaeology Field School (ILAFS) of 2018 took place in the lovely village of Wendens Ambo, in West Essex on the 11th and 12th of July. The village sits on the western banks of the River Cam/Granta, 23km south of Cambridge and 15km north of Bishops Stortford. It sits between 55m and 70m OD on a bedrock of chalk with superficial deposits of both river terrace sands and gravels as well as silts and clays. The village was effectively cut in two when the Eastern Counties Railway was completed by 1845 and the construction of the M11 immediately west of the village also affected the village in more recent times. The name Wendens likely derives from the Old English of wende and denu to mean ‘winding valley’, and was recorded as Wendena in the Domesday Book of AD 1086. The word Ambo refers to the union of the two parishes called Great and Little Wenden in 1662. Known Iron Age and Romano-British settlement has been excavated nearby and the church of St Mary the Virgin dates from the 11th century that also most likely replaced an earlier wooden church on the same site.

A total of 48 Year 9 and 10 pupils from The Hertfordshire and Essex High School, Passmores Academy, The Davenant Foundation School, The Bishops Stortford High School and The Stewards Academy took part in the excavations. Our base for the two days digging was the St Mary the Virgin church and the students arrived for 9am on the Wednesday for an introduction talk by ACA’s manager Alison Dickens. With the students, 6th form supervisors and teachers occupying the pews, Alison talked through the aims of the ILAFS project, which is not only to investigate the archaeology of the settlement but also to get the participants to think about higher education and that university is perhaps more widely accessible than perhaps they realise.

After the briefing, the students were given a break, to stretch legs and have a drink, whilst ACA’s archaeologist Cat Collins talked to the 12 6th formers (from both The Bishops Stortford High School and the Herts and Essex High School), who were each going to supervise a test pit group, some of whom had actually taken part in the ILAFS when they were in Year 10 at school. Alison then called out the test pit groups, which consisted of a mix of four students, from two different schools, which develops some of the life skills essential for later on life and work which includes working with people you may not know and the ability to communicate well with others.

The ground was quite hard digging, with all the dry weather of late, de-turfing took a while for all the groups (who had turf to begin with!) but everyone did all so well to get down between three and five contexts in the first day. The test pits were sited across the village, along Royston Road, Duck Street, Mill Road as well as close to the church and just under the viaduct along the stream. TP 3 close to the church and the site of an old timber barn (pictured below) actually hit natural by 15cm in depth, with no trace at all of the building found, perhaps due to the shallow foundations of the original structure.


Photo courtesy of Sue Watson

ACA were joined for both days on this dig by archaeologist John Newman who circulated the test pits with Alison and Cat, checking on all the test pit groups, offering advice and support as well as identifying the pottery being excavated by the students. The majority of the finds excavated on day one dated to the post medieval and later, although two pits produced fragments of burnt stone or ‘pot boilers’ that are likely to be at least three thousand years old! By the end of the second day of the dig, virtually every test pit found burnt stones, which suggests a potential of later prehistoric activity spread across the current village.

The rest of the second day continued to be another hot day. As part of ILAFS the students carry out all the processes of the excavation to include sieving all the soil to search for finds as well as washing all the artefacts on site. It is hard work, particularly as the majority of the participants are not used to this type of physical activity, but all the students worked hard to continue through the entire excavation.

Archaeology is the study of the past through the material culture left behind by our human ancestors. Not all the artefacts we discover are old….TP 8 found a piece of plastic wrapper, that on closer inspection dated from 1976 and offered a competition to win a bike (worth £55) or a pair or roller skates (worth £5), but we all missed the closing date, written as the 31st of August 1976!! The only evidence of medieval activity in the village was recorded from test pits 1 and 2, along Royston Road, although once we have the official pottery report though, it will be on our website here.

On Friday, all the students arrived in Cambridge for Day 3 of ILAFS. They were met by Cat Collins on the Downing Site, at the heart of the archaeology department and for many of the students it was their first visit to Cambridge, so there was a chance to talk to them about how the University of Cambridge differs from other universities and is based around a number of colleges, where the students live and eat, much like Hogwarts Houses, from Harry Potter!

PhD student Emma Brownlee gave the first talk of the day, a taster style lecture, to show how undergraduate students are taught at University and how it differs from school. Emma talked the students through the idea of settlement research that has been the focus of their last two days of excavation in Wendens Ambo and how to write up their test pit results in the form of a scientific style report.

For lunch, the schools were divided to go to either Christ’s College and Corpus College for lunch and a tour around, so the students could learn about how the Cambridge college system differs from other universities. The college system here is often compared to school houses, or Hogwarts Houses, where undergraduates sleep, eat and study as well as socialise with fellow students on other courses. Learning also takes place in various departments in the form of lectures, seminars, lab work and practicals. The students on Day 3 in Cambridge get a taste of university learning with the morning lecture (this week given by Emma Browlee) and the last session of the day was back in the Plant Sciences lecture theatre with a talk by Ellie Bishop, the Schools Liaison Officer from Peterhouse College. She gave the ILAFS participants a much needed introduction on applying to university and how learning differs to what the students are used to at school. One of the aims of ILAFS is to inspire the students to think more carefully about their own futures and to not discount university just because they perhaps don’t know much about it.

Straight after lunch, and after the college tours, the students were met at the front of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology by Museum Outreach Assistant Jenny Williams. Jenny began talking with the students in the local archaeology display about how different artefacts are used to show different aspects of the settlement, and then split the students into four groups, each looking at a different period or settlement. The settlements examined included the Indus Valley, The Maya’s, Roman and Medieval Cambridge, and each student was asked to draw an artefact and record how they all relate to each other, in a poster display. The finished posters were then put on the glass display cases in the museum for other visitors to see whilst the students enjoyed some free time exploring the museum, as well as looking at the other groups posters and of course going to the gift shop!

The vast majority of the students, rated the ILAFS programme as either good or excellent and they enjoyed it as much or more than they expected, particularly as archaeology is not a subject the students have encountered before. In particular, feedback submitted at the end of the three days by both the students and staff was very positive. The students said when asked what they have gained from the field school “more team work qualities, leadership skills and to be more open to new experiences” (RG Davenant Foundation School), “I have a wider idea of what university life is like” (CB Stewards Academy) and “I enjoyed seeing different aspects of Cambridge” (MF Stewards Academy). Other students have said “I feel I have gained an increased confidence and maturation from ILAFS. I have also gained a deeper interest in Archaeology” (DB, The Bishops Stortford High School), “Confidence in my ability to work independently and in a team and to attempt new things, in which I have no previous experience. I have also gained a lot of new valuable knowledge about the university experience, which will be beneficial to my academic future” (NC, The Bishops Stortford High School). Other comments about the experience included “Amazing. Not entirely what I expected but I definitely enjoyed it” (JC, Herts and Essex High School) and “it was a really enjoyable experience” (MNS, Passmores Academy).


The staff also filled in feedback forms and each rated the ILAFS as excellent and said that their students enjoyed “the idea of taking learning out of the classroom and being part of an overall project and contributing” (CH, Stewards Academy) and when we asked what the students may have gained from this programme “an extra-cirricular opportunity that will raise aspiration and independence. Giving the students experiences they wouldn’t normally have access to” (LP, Passmores Academy), and “Its a great pity this is the last chance to attend archaeology field work. We got the students out of their comfort zone, they met and worked with other they didn’t know and the opportunity to use new skills that will benefit them in future education and life” (GC, Stewards Academy).

Our many thanks to all the students and staff who have worked with us for this dig and the key local resident, Sue Watson, who found all the test pit sites for us prior to the dig and was on hand during the test pitting for additional support and advice.

Posted by: archaccess | July 5, 2018

Fulmodeston Independent Learning Archaeology Field School

Our 11th Independent Learning Archaeology Field School (ILAFS) of the season was undertaken on Monday and Tuesday the 2nd and 3rd of July in the village of Fulmodeston in North Norfolk. The village is situated just south of the A148 that connects Kings Lynn and Cromer, to just the east of Fakenham and the parish today includes the hamlets of Clipstone, Croxton and Barney. The village was recorded in the Domesday Book as Fulmotestuna that derives from Old German to mean ‘farmstead of a man called Fulcmod’ for which there is one entry of land belonging to the William de Warenne. (British history online).

A total of 41 students from Cromer Academy, Alderman Peel High School, Fakenham Academy and the Litcham School met us at the Old School Hall in Fulmodeston with 11 6th formers from Fakenham Academy, who were also supervising the test pits. A total of 11 1m2 test pits were excavated along Barney Road, Hindolveston Road and Croxton Road with one test pit in the hamlet of Croxton. This isolated test pit was sited within a moated site at Croxton Hall that was also close to the ruined church of St John the Baptist’s Chapel (pictured). Our thanks must go to the Barney and Fulmodeston History Group for finding the sites for us to dig and being on site for support, in particular, to both Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead and Chris Heath and to Kerry Harris for the use of the Old School Hall.

Day 1 started hot and sunny and after a stop-start beginning with schools arriving at different time, ACA’s manager Alison Dickens took the Year 8 and 9 students through the morning briefing session, covering the aims of the ILAFs project, a bit of background on archaeology and the process of digging a test pit. The methodology and process of the test pit excavation is the same as that undertaken in commercial archaeology, just on a much smaller scale. The test pit record booklets used by ACA are the same for every place we work in, so we can compare the data between all the test pits excavated.

Cat Collins, ACA’s archaeologist, briefed the 6th form supervisors on their role within each group that also included the assessments that are undertaken for each student and their own record booklet, which will be out permanent record. We mixed the students from different schools in groups of 3 and 4 and they collected their equipment and headed out to site.

Because of the current dry spell, the ground was very hard, but the students worked very hard to get through the turf with groups excavating between one context and six over the course of the day! Possible medieval pottery was found along both Croxton Road and Barney Road, although the confirmed pottery results will be available on our website here within the next week or so. One group was even lucky enough to be given ice cream by the home owner!

Day 2 also dawned bright and warm and we were also joined by local Norfolk archaeologist and pottery specialist Andrew Rogerson, who looked through the previous days finds before heading out to circulate around the test pit sites. At least half of the test pits had reached natural by lunch time on the 2nd day, which meant that there was no further archaeology in that area left to identify, so could fill in their record booklets for the final recording and then backfill the test pit. It also meant that the students could then also help other groups to finish their test pits.

One test pit in particular, excavated at Croxton Hall in the middle of a moat, seemed to be the only test pit that produced an undisturbed layer of medieval archaeology, although additional medieval finds were recorded along Croxton Road, perhaps hinting that this may have been part of the original medieval settlement, which only began to shift to its current location after the 14th century. Faden’s Map of Norfolk, dating to the 1790’s shows Fulmodeston with extensive common land, perhaps the common was once where the crossroads are now, which may explain why there was little in the way of pre-15th/16th century finds from the majority of the test pits. It is also interesting to compare to the more recent 19th and 20th century maps of the settlement to compare all the sources of information.

Day 3 of the ILAFS programme takes place in Cambridge, so on the Wednesday, all the students travelled together to Cambridge on a coach to meet Cat on the Downing Site and the archaeology department by the late morning. With time to enjoy the shade of the courtyard and for a group photo, the students were led into the large lecture theatre in Plant Sciences for their first taste of learning at University with a lecture given by current Archaeology PhD student Emma Brownlee. She took the students through the background and process of settlement studies, as aspect of what the students have been undertaking over the last two days in the field and then took them through the process of writing up their test pit results into a comprehensive report. These report writing skills and independent learning are even more important these days with the removal of coursework from GCSE modules. The work with ACA and ILAFS enables students to hone these skills for use in future study and work.

After Emma’s talk, the four school groups were split to go to either Magdalene College or St Catharine’s College for lunch and a tour round and our sincere thanks to both Sandy Mill and Kartryn Singleton and their student helpers for guiding the students around the colleges. After lunch, the students were met at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on the corner of the Downing Site by Jenny Williams, the museums education and outreach assistant. Jenny showed the students how the local archaeology is displayed in the museum, linking artefacts to settlements and then split the students into four groups to examine a different settlement and create a poster of these objects.

The final session of the day was by Dr Matt Bullimore, Widening Participation Officer at Churchill College, who spoke to the students about higher education, what university is like and how the college system at Cambridge is different to other ‘campus’ universities. More information on which can be found online here. Although the students were still only 13 or 14 years old, the ILAFS programme got each student thinking about their futures and the possibilities open to them. Feedback from the ILAFS in Fulmodeston showed that every student rated the field school as either Excellent or Good and enjoyed it more than they expected to. Also, finding more out about university and Cambridge was the top of nearly each students feedback when asked about what they had gained from ILAFS. One student commented “I enjoyed being outside all day whilst we were digging and getting to know new friends from different schools and my own school” (KD Litcham School), another said “I have gained better team work skills and I have learnt a lot more on archaeology and why it’s such a fascinating subject. Also, I am a lot more excited about attending University. Thank you for this incredible experience” (HB, Alderman Peel HS). Others said afterwards “I have strengthened my ability to work as a team. It was good fun and I would recommend it to others” (JF Fakenham Academy), “I enjoyed researching the village and accompanying finds to build a bigger picture of the village” (KC Alderman Peel HS), “I enjoyed the lectures at the university as they are intellectual and I enjoy that type of learning” (CP, Fakenham Academy) and “I enjoyed looking around St Catharine’s College and meeting people and hearing what they study and their experience” (AS, Alderman Peel HS).

Posted by: archaccess | July 4, 2018

Northstowe Open Day 2018

On Saturday 30th June 2018 an open day was held at Northstowe for Phase 2 of the ongoing archaeological excavations that are being undertaken by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU). This phase of archaeology began in October 2016 and has focused on the detailed excavations of a large Roman settlement known as site 18.


Site 18 is almost 900m long and 20 hectares in area, making it larger than Roman Cambridge. The rest of Site 15 will be excavated in the spring of next year when work commences focusing on the sites to the north of Rampton Road. The blank area to the south of the farmstead was lost to quarrying in the 19th and 20th centuries, so sadly it may never be known what could have been destroyed at that time. This Roman settlement is arranged along a roadway with three main arms heading southwest-northeast and southeast. Square enclosures have been recorded at the junction with narrower longer ones to the south, with evidence of buildings, wells, rubbish pits, ditches, metal working, textile production, a pottery kiln and cemeteries in the settlement area.

At the north end, the settlement takes on a different form with double and triple ditch lines enclosing about 6 hectares on the northwest side of the road. Presuming there were banks between the ditches, it is possible that this is defensive in nature reflecting the sometimes hazardous nature of life on the Roman fed edge. This is a very similar arrangement to that recorded on the site excavated of Northstowe Phase 1 on the old golf course.

Two other sites have also been or are being investigated. To the west is Site 15. Like Site 18, this has Roman remains overlying those on the Iron Age, but the nature of both differ from that seen on the larger site. A looping ditch-cum-trackway leads from Site 18 to and around Site 15 on to the Phase 1 site. Between the two sites lies a zone being interpreted as a ‘farmstead’, dominated by evidence of activities relating to agriculture, in particular a corn dryer, the first found in the Northstowe landscape.

Work is almost finished on this part of Phase 2, but there are new sites to be investigated in 2019 and the results will be considered along with those of Phase 1 on which analysis is currently underway.

Between 10am and 4pm on the Saturday, the site was opened to the public with tours every 15 minutes of the current excavations, and information boards on display with some of the best finds so far recovered. Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) were also on site with a variety of hands-on activities, including identifying different animal bones, excavating and identifying seed remains, a chest of draws to represent the stratigraphy of excavation and a number of boxes of finds to represent different time periods. Along with Cat Collins from ACA, was Emma Rees, finds officer at the CAU, who talked visitors through the activities on offer.

Until the 20th July, there is also community excavations happening at Northstowe, which is open to all over 18’s between Monday and Friday only. If you’d like to take part in excavations contact with the dates that you’d like to attend.

Posted by: archaccess | June 29, 2018

Great Gidding Independent Learning Archaeology Field School

For the last 3 days, ACA were in the village of Great Gidding, part of a cluster of villages with the name Gidding to also include Little Gidding and Steeple Gidding (see The Giddings website here) and situated on the west Cambridgeshire border in Huntindonshire, about 16km northwest of Huntingdon and along the northern banks of the Alconbury Brook (a tributary of the River Ouse), for our 10th Independent Learning Archaeology Field School (ILAFS) of the season.


Great Gidding is predominately stretched as a ribbon of development, with a cluster of settlement is also noted at Chapel End. The village was recorded in the Domesday Book on AD1086 as Geddinge with the affix manga, which is Latin for great, added by the early 13th century. The name Geddinge likely means ‘the settlement of the family or followers of a man called Gydda‘. Great and Little Gidding were one parish at the time of the Domesday survey, when there was also three major landowners at that time, Eustace the Sheriff, William Engaine and the Abbots of Ramsey. During the 12th century about 700 acres of William Engaine’s land was separated and became Little Gidding. The church in Great Gidding is dedicated to St Michael and has its origins from the 13th century.

On Wednesday morning we were joined at the Great Gidding village hall by 33 Year 9 and 10 students from Ely College, Cromwell Community College and Stamford Welland Academy. The excavations could not have gone ahead without the support of the Great Gidding History Group, in particular Julie Trolove who found all the test pit sites for us and was on hand during the excavation for additional support and assistance, as was Patrick Ellis, Amanda (Min) Cameron and Kevin Redgate, with Phil Hill, who also coordinated our test pitting in Sawtry between 2014 and 2016 (the results of which can be found on our website here).


The ILAFS programme always start with a briefing session on day 1, this week led by ACA’s manager Alison Dickens, who talked the students through the process of digging the test pit and what we hope the students achieve over the three days of ILAFS. We want to encourage all the students taking part to think more about higher education and university, which given their age, many haven’t considered yet, but if university is something they think they may enjoy after the ILAFS programme, each student will have the time to pull up their grades if necessary and aim for the best university that they can get to, whether that is Cambridge or other Russel Group universities. The rest of the project aims include life, learning and future work skills as well as the archaeological side of the project, where the students are undertaking original work for the Access Cambridge Archaeology and the Department of Archaeology!


After a quick break it was out into the sunshine to start the excavations! There were 9 test pits in total, and the schools were split up so there were one or two students from each school in every test pit. These were focused along Main Street in the far north of the village to next to the church and then at Chapel End and Gains Lane. The groups were mainly supervised by the teachers accompanying the students, but one willing homeowner, Leslie Alexandar also supervised the group digging in his own garden along Main Street, for which we are very grateful.


Most of the groups started with de-turfing, which was quite hard, given the long spell of dry weather but were able to get through at least the first context before lunch! All process of excavation was undertaken, the same as on a commercial excavation, just on a smaller scale. Excavation, recording, sieving and washing the finds were all undertaken by the students and would have each taken a turn doing the different tasks.

The majority of the pits on the first day were digging through Victorian and post medieval layers, although TP 6 at Chapel End recorded a sherd of 12th century medieval pottery, which was a great find that made us hopeful for more to come the next day!


Thursday was another early start with the students arriving in Great Gidding for around 8.30am again. Once all were signed in and their supervisors were here, the groups headed straight back out to site to continue digging from yesterday, a process that every student was more confident with given the experience they gained yesterday.

Cat Collins, ACA’s archaeologist, continued to circulate the test pits as she did the previous day and was on hand to help the students with the digging or to identify what was found. Also present on the Thursday was David Hall, a local pottery expert who also visited all the test pit sites, after examining all the finds recorded on the first day that were still drying in the village hall.


The day started cool, which was a bonus to the two test pits that had managed to find natural and backfilled early, but this meant that they were able to help the other groups continue to a greater depth. Additional test pits also found medieval pottery, also again at TP 6, but also TP 7, TP 4 and TP 9, with also some possible Late Anglo Saxon pottery… although until we get the pottery report through from Paul Blinkhorn early next week, we just have to wait and see! When the pot report is ready, it will be online here.

TP 4 also recorded the presence of an animal burial in about the 4th context, some of which was able to be excavated and it was determined to be a juvenile animal, although the debate is still out as to what animal has actually been found – watch this space!


Day 3 – like the first two days, consisted of an earlier start, but this time all the students travelled to Cambridge and met Cat on the entrance of the Downing Site. It was a warm start already and the early start gave the schools time for a quick group photo and time outside to take in the surroundings of Archaeology Department!


The first session was undertaken in the large lecture theatre in Plant Sciences on the Downing Site for a real taste of university life and learning in the form of a lecture on settlement studies. The style of the lecture was very new compared to what the students are used to at school, in that the students are given the information and take additional notes to the day-3 booklet we provide for them, but are then expected to continue their own research and discover additional information so each student can produce a comprehensive written report on their test pit excavations and what the results mean for the development of Great Gidding.

For lunch the schools groups went either to Trinity College or Trinity Hall College founded in the mid-16th by Henry VIII and the mid-14th centuries respectively. Trinity Hall is the 5th oldest college in Cambridge, so it was a great chance for the students to see the older side of the city and how its history is intermingled with the university. Our thanks to both these colleges for hosting our students this week.


Steve Watts, Admissions Tutor at Homerton College gave an excellent talk after lunch on applying to university and what the colleges at Cambridge are looking for in the application process, which will hopefully inspire all the students that came on the ILAFS trip. The final session of the day this week was in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology  and run by Jenny Williams, the museums education and outreach assistant. Using the current displays in the MAA, Jenny led the students through a session looking at different settlements and how the objects in the museum tie into these settlements. The students either looked at Roman Cambridge, Medieval Cambridge, or The Indus Valley and drew objects in the display cases relating to information they had read about how the archaeological finds can represent different aspects of a settlement.


The finished posters were then put up for all visitors to the MAA in the afternoon to enjoy! When asked about what the students enjoyed about the 3 days, 95% of the students rated ILAFS as either Excellent or Good and were quoted as saying “I enjoyed being treated like an adult and with respect” (HO, Ely College), and “I enjoyed looking at the University of Cambridge and when we were digging up and finding interesting pieces of history” (JK, Stamford Welland Academy). Another student said “I have gained a new experience which I wouldn’t find anywhere else” (KM, Cromwell Community College) and another said “I really enjoyed this experience and hope to do something like this again” (DO, Stamford Welland Academy).

The staff accompanying the students were also able to offer their perspective on the programme and also any feedback they heard when ACA staff weren’t around! TP from Cromwell Community College said, “they have really enjoyed doing something completely different to their normal schooling and working together to a common goal”. JN from Stamford Welland Academy said it was “an insight into the opportunities available after school” and we hope that the students take this away from ILAFS, but in the short term, we are looking forward to reading each student write up’s for their test pit excavations when they submit just before the summer break.

Thanks again to everyone who took part and with the organisation of the excavations in Great Gidding, its been a brilliant three days!

Posted by: archaccess | June 24, 2018

Thundersley Independent Learning Archaeology Field School

Our ninth Independent Learning Archaeology Field School (ILAFS) of the 2018 season was in the now bustling town of Thundersley in south Essex at the end of last week. We have been working closely with the AGES Archaeological and Historical Association (AGES AHA)  for the past 5 years, both in Daws Heath (2013 and 2014) and in Hadleigh (2015-2017) and the results of all those digs can be seen on our website here. AGES AHA have once again been instrumental in allowing us to work in Thundersley this year and we are continually grateful for their ongoing support and enthusiasm!

Thundersley sits on a plateau of high ground, with the 13th century church of St Peter at its centre, between Basildon and Southend-on-Sea. The settlement now is very built up as a constant ribbon of development along the A13. The original focus of Thundersley however was north of this road, but running parallel to it and likely has its origins in pre-Christianity, as the name was recorded as Thunreslea in the Domesday Book of 1086 to mean ‘sacred grove of the god Thunor or Thor‘.

The AGES AHA team had already started digging test pits earlier in the year, so unusually we started at test pit number 4. The local society also excavated 2 more pits whilst we were there, with some of them also able to supervise the students.

We had a total of 24 Year 8 and 9 students from Southend High School for Boys coming on this three day trip, not only to teach them about a new subject – archaeology, and one that is not taught in schools, but also about higher education in general, to open their eyes to the multitude of possibilities available to them.

Our base for the dig was at St Peter’s Church, where Alison Dickens, ACA’s director and also a Senior Project Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) led the students through the morning briefing on the Wednesday, not only giving some background on the ILAFS programme but encouraging the students to start thinking about the settlement they will be working in. Today it is one continuous ribbon of development which can mask what the original settlement used to look like. Even as recent as the late 19th century, Thundersley would have been a very rural settlement, but what would have been the decisions behind siting the original settlement here? These are the types of questions that we’re asking of the ILAFS students, to bring together both their historical and geography knowledge and applying to a new field of science, archaeology.

After the briefing, the students had a quick refreshment break whilst ACA’s archaeologist Cat Collins briefed the teachers and volunteers from AGES-AHA who will be supervising the test pits. The supervisors assess the students as they work, which will form part of their final grade. Reflective learning is also an important part of ILAFS, the students are required to undertake their own self assessments and record their progress over the two days.

The 24 students were split into six groups of four that would become their test pit groups for the next couple of days. The test pit sites were quite well dispersed, with a test pit on the edge of Thunderlsey Common along Lewes Way, another down Sunnymede Close and along Thundersley Grove that may have been part of the original routeway through Coombe woods. A cluster of pits were also excavated close to St Peters church, with two along Grasmere Way and AGES AHA digging a test pit in the grounds of Kingston Primary school and St Peters field, to the south of the church.

The first day was very hot indeed, but the students carried on brilliantly, one group was even lucky enough to be provided with a gazebo to keep them in the shade! All the home owners of Thundersley were extremely generous in allowing these teenagers to dig holes in their gardens, and trust them to put it all back again (which they did), for all of that we are extremely grateful.

Three of the groups actually hit natural on the first day, one group even went beyond into the natural sand, but all the students were able to keep going through the heat and hard digging and were praised by the homeowners where the students were digging as well as the local society for their commitment and excellent behaviour, so well done to all the students who took part!

Day 2 on Thursday was not quite as hot – at least to start with and with two groups backfilling first thing, Alison took one of the already finished groups into St Peters Field to start TP 12, she even got them started by de-turfing for them! It was in this field that we AGES-AHA had found likely Roman pottery with medieval and even potentially late Anglo Saxon pot. When the pottery report is in, it will be on our website here. The students were joined in this field with another test pit (13), both of which also found natural, so some students dug and completed two test pits in two days – quite an incredible feat! Those that did finish early helped the other groups and theirs friends to finish up, although not before adding a time capsule before backfilling!


TP 6g

At the same time on Thursday, there was a coffee morning in the church for local residents to see what had been found on the dig that was hosted by AGES-AHA. St Peters field was again the place where the majority of the oldest finds were recovered, which also has given the local society the opportunity in the future to excavate additional pits between the church and the field. This area sits on a plateau of high ground that would have been ideal for settlement in the past, perhaps even for the location of a Roman villa…only additional excavations would be able to prove this theory!

On the Friday, the students made the long journey up to Cambridge for a day exploring the city and university. It was the first time the majority had travelled to Cambridge so it is a really good opportunity for them to explore a new place (it’s also a nice reward for two hard days digging in the Essex clays – although some groups were lucky enough to be on much lighter sand!)

The day started with a lecture by Jess Thompson, a current PhD student at Cambridge, who talked to the students about the concept and importance of independent research, how to think critically on a topic, how to engage with multiple types of research and how to write up the results from the excavations. Each student will submit a report bringing all the data from the test pitting together, which will give each boy a chance to develop skills and gain analytical writing experience that will help them with their GCSE’s and also to prepare for A-Levels and beyond.

For lunch, all the students went to Pembroke College where they were given a tour around the various aspects of the college, which is very much your school house (or Hogwarts House if you’re a Harry Pottery fan!) in that the colleges at Cambridge are where you eat, sleep, socialise, study, join sports teams and make a host of friends who may not be on your course. A hot or cold lunch was also provided and the students made the most of their time at Pembroke, asking questions to the two student volunteer helpers (Imogen and Kieren) and taking in the surroundings of the oldest College in Cambridge!

After lunch, the students headed straight for the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) on the Downing Site for a practical session, although the idea is to still be thinking about settlement patterns, but also applying their recently gained archaeological knowledge. Jenny Williams at the MAA

The final session of the day and the ILAFS course was a talk by Kathryn Singleton, Schools Liason Officer from St Catharine’s College, who talked about admission procedures at Cambridge and expanding more about what University life is like, the types of courses you can study and how you learn when at University. It’s also a chance for the students to ask questions as they may not have previously thought about university, but coming on this course in Years 8 and 9 gives the students the best chance to really focus on their schoolwork and bring their grades if needed so they really excel and take every opportunity to make their future the best it can be.

The group had to leave Cambridge a bit early on the Friday, so they took the feedback forms with them to fill out and send back to us, so we can’t end with the usual comments and assessment from the students, but we hope that all the boys from Southend High School for Boys enjoyed the three days of the ILAFS programme and have taken some valuable skills away with them. We’re looking forward to receiving the write ups just before the summer holidays. Our thanks again to all those who helped make the dig another success!

From next week there is a free community excavation starting that will be taking place alongside archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) at the new town of Northstowe.

The community excavations at Northstowe will start on Monday 18th June 2018 at 9am and will run for five weeks until Friday 20th of July 2018. The dig is open to over 18’s only and there is no limit on the number of days you can participate, although the dig will run Monday-Friday only, there is no weekend work available. You will be working alongside professional archaeologists from the CAU as they continue to excavate Phase 2, which has found extensive archaeology mainly of Iron Age and Roman date.

There will also be an open day on Saturday 30th of June for members of the public (including children) to visit, with exhibitions of some of the finds, information, activities for younger visitors and tours of the current areas of excavation. More information on that will follow and you can read about last year’s open day here.

The goings on at last years open day at Northstowe

Some of the finds on display

The schedule for on-site work will be to arrive for 9am and the day will finish at 4pm. There will be a break for half an hour from 10.30am and an additional break for 45 minutes for lunch at 1pm. There is no opportunity to buy food at Northstowe, so please bring enough food/snacks, although there are shops in Longstanton village. Tea/coffee will be provided and there is fresh drinking water also available. It is advised that you should bring your own mug and water bottle.

Directions to arrive at Northstowe, from the the A14, is via School Lane, and from the north through Longstanton village, via the Old Oakington Barracks gate, on Rampton Road, CB24 3EN. You will need to stop and sign in at the security gate, who will have a list each day of who is attending the dig, from there you can follow the signs to the CAU compound, where there is plenty of parking.

There is also a CAU risk assessment that you will be required to read and sign on your first day on site, but there are also some health and safety guidelines below to read before you join the excavations.

2018 Cambridge University undergraduate training excavation at Northstowe

2018 Cambridge University undergraduate training excavation at Northstowe

If you would like to participate in the dig or for further information, please contact Catherine Collins at ACA on either 01223 761519 or via email on Places are limited and as stated above, you can attend the dig for as many days as you like, but please let us know beforehand what days you would like to attend. If you just turn up on the day, security won’t be able to let you in.


Posted by: archaccess | June 8, 2018

Foxearth Independent Learning Archaeology Field School

Foxearth, our eighth field school of the year (and our first since losing ACA’s Emily Ryley to the National Trust) kicked off on Wednesday 6th of June 2018 in the wonderful Foxearth Hall Barn which would be our base for the two days on site, and one of our most impressive bases of the season! We were joined by 30 mainly Year 9 and Year 10 students from County Upper School in Bury St Edmunds, The Ramsey Academy in Halstead and Thomas Gainsborough School in Great Cornard with supporting staff and volunteers from the Stour Valley Archaeology Group (SVCA)  who formed back in 2013 after working directly with ACA along the Stour Valley, and included Jan Lindsey-Smith, David Orrell, Alan Border, Peter Hart and Jane Crone. Our coordinators for the dig were Corrine and Phillip Cox and our thanks and best wishes go to both of them for their hard work and input both before and during the excavations.

Alison Dickens (Manager of ACA) started the day off with a talk to the students and volunteers about the structure of the next three days of ILAFS, the first two within the village of Foxearth in north Essex, where the students will be excavating 1m2 test pits in back gardens through the village, and the third visiting the University of Cambridge and learning more about Higher Education. By undertaking this type of independent work, ILAFS aims to teach the students a range of skills that will be useful both during their time at school and college as well as in the future. Independent and creative thinking, team work, verbal communication and self-assessment are all part of the programme with this type of learning outside the classroom whilst also boosting the student’s confidence. Alison also talked about the practical side of archaeology and the all-important health and safety aspects of this unfamiliar activity to the schools.

After a quick break, with time for Cat Collins, ACA’s resident archaeologist, to brief the supervisors of each test pit, (they will also access the students over the two days, their attitude, and behaviour and how they work together), and the schools were split into eight groups of either three or four, with two students from each school making up the new team.

Foxearth is a small village nestled to the south of the River Stour, but has a long history and was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Focsearde to mean ‘the fox’s earth’ or ‘the fox hole’. This is our second year of digging in the village; in the summer of 2017, a total of eight 1m2 test pits were excavated through the core of the village, with one sited in an outlying farmstead. The results of last years excavations can be found on our website here and last years blog post about the dig here.

The 2018 test pits were sited again mainly through the core of the village, in-between the 2017 test pit sites, with again one out-lying farmstead to the south of the present settlement. The students on arriving on site, set out their 1m2 test pit to begin excavation, digging down in 10cm layers that we call contexts. Each of these layers and the finds are recorded separately and Cat was on hand circulating the test pit sites to help the students and identify the artefacts.

TP 8e

The sun shone brightly for us in Foxearth on the first day and because it has been dry, it was hard digging all around. Each group worked brilliantly together, building on their team work and perseverance skills, to first get through the turf and then excavated the sun baked clay soils that Foxearth was built upon! The finds from the first day were generally from the post medieval and later, although a single small sherd of medieval pot (AD 1066-1399) was found from the upper layers of test pit six at Hunters Lodge.

We were also visited on Day one by the local press and four of the test pits were photographed to appear in both the Bury Free Press and the Suffolk Free Press next week (either the 14th or 15th of June).

Day 2 dawned bright and warm and after signing in again, the teams headed straight back out to their test pit sites to continue with their excavations. Many of the test pit groups found that pouring some water on the ground actually helped with the digging through the clay, with all the groups at least doubling the work they had done the previous day.

We were also joined on the 2nd day by Suffolk Archaeologist John Newman, who was on hand to identify the pottery in particular, but also circulated the test pits identifying other finds and offering advice. The full pottery report will be uploaded onto our website here, hopefully within the next week or so.

A few more sherds of medieval pottery were recorded from multiple test pits on the second day, all found within the centre of the village, one in the same layer as a plastic magnet of the letter J…the joys of test pit archaeology! But it shows just how mixed up the soil can be in a garden, particularly when people have been living there for hundreds of years. Evidence for probable Neolithic and Bronze Age activity was also recorded within the village, as a few sites yielded fire-cracked flint. These would have been utilised in cooking in later prehistory, by heating up the stones in a fire and then dropping them in a pot of water, this would boil the water very quickly, as quickly as a kettle does today!

On the Friday all the students travelled into Cambridge and to the Archaeology Department  to hear a talk on settlement research and how to write up their results from the test pitting, pulling together all they have learnt over the last couple of days. The morning lecture was given by current PhD student at Cambridge, Eoin Parkinson, during which many of the students also gained the first experience of what learning at University is like.

The schools then went to both Downing and St Johns Colleges for a welcome lunch, but were also given the opportunity to see where students at Cambridge eat, sleep, work and socialise, the colleges at Cambridge acting as their family for the duration of their degree. For some students, not only was it their first time visiting Cambridge but also seeing the University parts of the town, rather than just focusing on the shopping!

The afternoon session began in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and was led by Jenny Williams, the idea of the session was to re-iterate what the students had learnt about settlements in the morning and how the artefacts found can relate to the settlements and applying this new knowledge in presenting a new way of displaying this in the form of a poster. As ever there was also time for a look around all the museum after the workshop (including a stop in the all-important gift shop!) We remind the students that all the museums in Cambridge have free entry and are encouraged to return when they have more time.

The final session of the day was a general talk by Dr Matt Wise, Schools Liaison Officer from Selwyn College on applying to University, the range of courses you can study and the variety of options available to you after you finish school. The aim of ILAFS is not to get students to study archaeology at University but to realise their full potential of reaching higher education, if that’s something they want to do.

The feedback from both the students and staff from the three days was all very positive with the majority of students saying they enjoyed both learning how to do something new as well as being able to visit the University of Cambridge. One student said “I have gained more experience of teamwork and leadership, also more insight to the working of the university. Also I learnt more about historical processed and the subject in general” (HD County Upper). Other quotes from students included “I think I have developed a new outlook on school” (PC (Thomas Gainsborough), “I have gained a new experience, new friends and possibly a new idea in my head as a university subject” (DT County Upper) and “I have gained more experience using valuable skills that I can apply in the future” (TES The Ramsey Academy).

The staff all also rated the day as either good or excellent and said in particular that “It was good to see the students interact more readily with different peer groups” (SO County Upper) and “The students gained outside knowledge – not just where they live and meeting/working with new people” (JL Thomas Gainsborough).

We want to thank all the students and staff from Thomas Gainsborough, The Ramsey Academy and County Upper School for persevering through the field school and working so hard. Our thanks also to members of the Stour Valley Community Archaeology Group and in particular both Corrine and Phil Cox for enabling the test pitting in their village.


Our first excavations in the parish of Bunwell in south Norfolk were undertaken over the 23rd-24th of May 2018 with the final day, the 25th, a non-digging day, the students travelled into Cambridge to visit and learn more about university. A total of 40 Year 9 and Year 10 students from Old Buckenham High School, Thetford Academy and the Hobart High School excavated 10 test pits in two separate areas, one around the church and primary school and the other at Great Green.

The test pit locations were found with the help from the Bunwell Heritage Group and its secretary David Neale in particular, who was also on site during the excavations for additional support with Peter Day.

Bunwell itself is a large parish that includes the hamlets of Bunwell Hill, Bunwell Street, Low Common, Great Green and Little Green, just over 7km east of Attleborough and 18.6km southwest of Norwich.  The long linear settlement along Bunwell Street is the largest of all these areas, set in flat open countryside, whereas the hamlets of Bunwell Hill and Low Common, set further to the south, are along the valley of the River Tas. The B1113 runs through the centre of the parish, connecting New Buckingham to Norwich, close to which sits the 15th century church of St Michael and All Angels’. The name Bunwell derives from Old English and was recorded as Bunewell in 1198 that likely means ‘spring or stream where reeds grow’. The settlement was not recorded in the Domesday Book although evidence for Anglo Saxon occupation has already been recorded from the parish. Previous test pit excavations by ACA have been undertaken in the neighbouring parish of Carleton Rode, the results of those excavations can be found here.


Day 1 and the students were full of energy to get started- but so they could focus that energy in the right direction we started with an introduction talk in the village hall by ACA’s archaeologist Cat Collins, explaining the details of the ILAFS programme, some history of the settlement and what is expected from the students on the three days they are out of school. After a quick break with time for Emily Ryley (on her last ever ILAFS) to brief all the supervisors, including a couple of 6th formers getting some great leadership experience but also three PhD students from Cambridge University. Then it was time for the students to collect their equipment and head out to site to dig.

The students got down to the task and had the turf off quickly; the students proved to be hard-workers, with all teams excavating at least 3 contexts (30cm) of soil before the end of the day. They learn how to use new tools and techniques (especially the mattock), how to plan and coordinate their work as a team, and thought imaginatively about their finds to understand what they could tell us about Bunwell’s past. Three of the test pits found burnt flint. These are stones that had been used by neolithic people as a way of heating their meals or water, by placing the stones in the fire to heat, then placing them in the water- a technique that boils water faster than a modern kettle! They can be recognised by the ‘crackled’ surface on the rocks. These were found in the upper layers of the test pit, showing there had been some turning over of the soil layers. There had indeed, with some of the test pits having to battle through layers of rubble and refuse from buildings- it’s all still evidence of human activity though! They were rewarded for their efforts, finding some great things. Highlights included a bone die! And even a small section of false human teeth!

On Day 2 of the excavations, we were joined by John Newman, pottery expert who helped identify the finds. There were less of them than last week, but there were still three test pits who found medieval pottery. It’s always exciting to be the one that finds something several hundred years old! The other reason there was less to find was that many of the test pits hit the natural geology by lunch time on day 2, and all excavated to natural by the end of the day- a first for ILAFS! This means we can be confident that were weren’t any older find lurking beneath where the students were digging that we might have missed, which is great. It also meant that those groups who had finished a little early, could help those still finishing off and we were able to get everyone away at a reasonable time.


After two days of digging, the students had a good grasp on what it means to be an archaeologist and had also learnt a lot about working together, recording data and identifying objects. Day 3 is about translating these skills into world of Higher Education and showing how they are central to students now. Day 3 of the field school is designed to show them how students at university transform data into concrete knowledge. First then, the students had a lecture from Emma Brownlee, a PhD student at the university. This takes in all stages of writing a report starting with the background of how the settlement developed. Students will need to find out what we already know about the village and understand the influencing factors that might help reflectively explain the evidence we find. Presenting the data is next, and clarity is important here if the students work is to become part of our own archaeological records.  Transforming this data into an interpretation of the past is tricky for many as it requires imagination while also basing those interpretations on evidence. Taking their conclusions further, can we say how our evidence fits in with wider changes happening in the country at the time?

Lunchtime and the students got treated to a lovely lunch at St Catherine’s College and Downing college. The colleges can be very grand, especially when students are used to comparing the great hall to their school canteen, but we were given a very friendly welcome by the students who later took the students on a tour around the college so they could see the facilities and get a sense of what it was like ot live there. Seeing the bar, common room, library and other spaces allows them to really understand what it might be like ot live away from home one day.

Read More…


We’re off to the seaside! At least, very close by in sunny Suffolk. Blythburgh is one of the ILAFS locations that the ACA team looks forward to visiting most. Not just for the beautiful surroundings but also for the kindness of Blythburgh local history group, the local homeowners giving up their gardens and the dedicated school partners. This week we had a full complement of students from 5 different schools! Joining us were Sir John Leman School, Benjamin Britten Academy, Bungay High School,  /Ormiston Denes Academy, and Pakefield High School. It takes a lot of organising to get students on these digs and we are very grateful to the teachers for pushing their already stretched time to get the students to us.


Blythburgh is a very interesting village, as well as a lovely place to visit. The name Blythburgh means ‘stronghold on the River Blyth’, taken from the name of the river Blyth that meant ‘the gentle or pleasant one’ and the Old English word for burh to mean a defended or fortified settlement. The village was recorded in the Domesday Book as Blideburgh and had its origins during the Middle Anglo Saxon period as an important religious centre and one of the richest churches in the county. A Priory was founded here during the 12th century for the Augustinian Canons. The current church is magnificent, huge in comparison to the size of the village that supports it but beautifully structured, light and airy and with many fascinating details to discover. If anyone has read the Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers, they will recognise the features of the fenland church described in that book in this church also. This combination of river, coat, fertile land and important religious site means that there is archaeology here for our students to discover! Last year we found late Anglo-Saxon and medieval pottery in some of the test pits. This year our test pits are focusing more closely around the priory, as well as in the marshy areas by the river. We hope to find much more evidence from this period, as while the medieval settlement is focused around the church, in earlier times the activity may have been closer to the water’s edge. Results of the excavations from this year and last year can be found here.


After a introductory talk from Alison Dickens, Manager at Access Cambridge Archaeology, they were split into groups mixing students and teachers from different schools. Students have to get used to a lot of new tools and techniques in a short space of time. However, from the talk, watching each other, and just having a go they all quickly got the hang of it and gelled together well as a team. Also if I’m around (Emily Ryley, ACA Learning and Engagement Administrator) I will eagerly show you how to swing a mattock and hack out any troublesome roots for you.  What can I say, its very stress relieving…


And find some archaeology they did! The full pottery report giving the details of what was found will be available in a week or so here. However in a brief summary we had some really exciting finds! Almost all the test pits had medieval pottery  showing that the students had been dedicated in excavating to the lower and older layers. But very excitingly we also had some Anglo-Saxon material coming out of test pits near the river. Near the river a roof and a floor tile were also found which does suggest habitation in this area, not just people using this as an area to work, then living on the higher ground, but also building structures here. Very exciting stuff and the pottery report will hopefully tell us more next week.


Everyone has been interested in what the students have been doing, including BBC Radio Suffolk’s Guy Campbell who came and did a short piece on the dig for their drive time show which you can listen to here. Listen from 1.24.58. There was the open coffee morning held on Thursday morning in the church and organised by the local residents. Attended by some keen locals and surprised drop in visitors to the church the finds were on show to all. A special thanks to the lovely volunteers who provided coffee and cake too! We were also joined on Thursday by John Newman, long time pottery expert at ACA and a friendly helping hand to our students to help them identify their finds and work out what they reveal about the past. Test pit 9 came up with huge amount of medieval pottery, which given they were in a spectacular spot by the river, we can see that activity  must have been more concentrated here in the past.


Pleased with their efforts, it was now time for the students to bring them all together and understand the wider context of what they had found. Finding objects is one thing, but it’s only by understanding them in context can we learn from them. And the more objects, from more places, the more powerful we can make our arguments about the past. All this was delivered in a lecture by Jess Thompson, PhD student at the University of Cambridge. A clear, set out talk on what to write is very valuable as GCSE coursework has now been dropped, this is one of the few opportunities students have to write and gain feedback on a long piece of their own research, prior to A levels. We hope that the skills they learn from completing the report will stay with them, and give them an advantage when working independently. At this age is it easy to see GCSEs- your first big exam – as completely deciding your future but hopefully we can show the students that there is life beyond year 11. Archaeology won’t be for many of them, but hopefully the skills they learnt of motivating others (despite rain and clay soils), planning their work and time and academic skills will give them a great start to their futures.


The students also got to understand other finds an their wider meaning with a visit to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. The students produced some great posters detailing who finds from a particular place can tell us about different aspects of the society they are from. Hopefully they will also think about this when examining their own finding in their reports.


The ILAFS programme allows us to show students their potential futures by touring them around the University and experiencing what life as a student is like. The visit to a college for lunch and a tour usually make a big impression on them and this week as no exception. Visiting either Sidney Sussex or Downing college, made a good impression on the students and they were able to see where students lived and enjoyed themselves as well as worked hard. Later in the day they had a talk from the Downing Schools Liaison officer who took them through some of the different routes and pathways you can take at university and beyond. The talk also mentioned what they could be doing now to help their futures. As students often make choices or actions that affect their futures very early on, it’s really important to inform students, even before their GCSEs, where those choices can shape their future.


The day certainly inspired some students and there were many conversations about futures, choices and where they could aim. Several of the students have said that they would now like to apply to Cambridge when the time comes, so aiming high! Many students (and some teachers too) have said that the experience on ILAFs has opened their eyes to opportunities that are available to them, and that’s what ere are here to do; show students a different path and how they can achieve that.


Particular thanks to Sonia Boggis and Alan Mackley of the Blythburgh society and Alison Copeman at Sir John Leman School for their roles in organising this ILAFS. There has been much talks from both the schools and the local residents about how polite the students were and how kind everyone has been to each other- so well done everyone, you have been a credit to your schools! All the local residents and schools have been so kind, welcoming, accommodating (thanks for all the cake and delivered coffee!), and generally amazing, that we are going to make every effort to come back next year and we can’t wait!


I could not end this blog with also mentioned Rafael the Cat. Resident of The Priory in Blythburgh he is a most extraordinary cat, involved with everything going on, and friendly and welcoming to all. He joined us on our walks around the test pits, welcomed visitors to the church and provided endless amusement to the ACA team. So to round off here are just a few of the many, many photos and fun times we had.




Bonus doggies!


One of the great things about the ILAFS programme is working alongside interested local community partners. Our friends at the Histon and Impington Archaeology Group have done some sterling work in researching the origins, growth and changes in their village. Often completing extra test pits alongside ours or finishing off tests pits if our ILAFS student’s don’t quite managed to reach natural in the 2 days they have.  It is a pleasure to be working with them again this year.

TP 2h

We know from previous excavations that there is a wealth of evidence from different periods to be found in both Histon and Impington. Test pit excavations have already revealed Neolithic flints, rare bronze age pottery  and even two roman coins found near Histon Church. As a settlement well connected with other surrounding villages as well as Cambridge as a major centre pottery form other manufacturing centres in the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods have also been found. The finds show how the Histon shifts and moves over the centuries, with evidence of more intensive use of outlying areas over the years. A summary of the findings has been produced in a booklet by the Histon and Impington Archaeology Group.

This year getting their first introduction to archaeology was 35 students from Soham, Witchford and Bottisham Village Colleges. With many thanks to Beacon School Coordinator Sarah Pollard, they arrive keen and eager to start, and enjoy 3 days in the sunshine! The full ACA team were there with Cat Collins giving the morning’s instructional talk, Emily Ryley coordinating the students, and ACA’s Director, Alison Dickens offering archaeological advice and encouragement. After receiving a briefing on how any why we dig test pits, the students were split up into groups, mixing students from different schools to get digging on their test pits. The Histon and Impington Archaeology Group had chosen sites in areas that haven’t had previous investigations so it was up to the students to tell us what had happened there! The first day was warm and sunny and all the test pits managed to get their first few contexts out, finding mainly modern materials as expected, although Test pit 4 already had several pieces of Neolithic burnt flints.

Day 2 and a slightly cooler day and understanding the process more meant that the pupils really got down to it. Almost all the test pits produced medieval pottery which is great. We have sent the pottery way to expert Paul Blinkhorn for further analysis to get a more accurate date and clearer idea of what the students have discovered. Test pit 6 at The Dole near to the park came down onto a layer of chalf and a layer of clay. They worked hard to get through it, and wondered if perhaps it may have been remains of a building or other activity? We hope to find out the answers early next week, as all the test pits, part from 4 who hit natural geology are being completed by the Histon and Impington Archaeology Group. They continued a test pit last year after the students had left, and found two Roman coins at the bottom! Here’s hoping they find some more interesting objects!


Made simpler, by not having far to travel, the students arrived in Cambridge for Day 3 of the ILAFS programme. This is where the morning was taken up by a lecture looking at the study of settlements and guidance on writing their reports given by Emma Brownlee, a PhD students at the Department of Archaeology who had also been helping supervise a test pit. The students felt they were much more prepared for the demands of university level work after the lecture which guides them through how to write and submit a report covering the aims, methods and results of their test pit excavations. After marking and grading, all students receive a certificate of participation and an assessment of their data collection as well as personal, learning and thinking skills during the two days spent excavating, along with detailed feedback on their written report, if submitted. Writing the report also gives an excellent practice at writing coursework, developing those skills which they will rely on at A-level and university.

At lunchtime the schools were hosted by Jesus, Clare and Downing Colleges. The students really enjoyed their visit to the colleges commenting on the food and the lovely buildings. The group also filled the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in the afternoon. They were given an exercise relating to the points on settlement history discussed in the morning, and asked to use the museum’s collections to discover what they could learn about the settlements represented in the collections. This involved thinking about some of the same questions they had used to examine their own finds; where did the pottery come from, what could it tell us about trade links, what was the land used for, was it valuable land? They really enjoyed seeing other artefacts, including some hand-axes found in Histon!

The final session of the day was with Jess Lister the new Schools Liaison Officer at Downing College college who gave the year 9 students a talk on their potential university and later careers. While this might seems a little premature it is very helpful to start introducing these ideas early. Not only does it help focus pupils by giving them an aim, they can also start to build relevant experience and make sensible choices that will open doors for them in later life. “It was very informative and helped me to understand more about archaeology and the process of excavation as well as university life.” IC Bottisham VC. “I liked all the extra information that was given to us to help us choose what to do in the future and learning something I hadn’t done before.” GB Soham VC. “I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment when we came across an interesting find.” NT Soham VC.


A special thanks to David Oates for his hard work organising the test pits and convincing people to let a bunch of teenagers dig up their garden!

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