For many Cambridge colleges, the grass is sacrosanct and rarely even walked upon, but for one week in September 2010 the lawns of Newnham College were disturbed by archaeological excavations organised by ACA which enabled 20 state-educated teenagers to get a taste of life at Cambridge while searching for archaeological evidence from the past. This evening Dr Carenza Lewis and Dr Catherine Hills will make a presentation to the Cambridge Antiquarian Society in Cambridge about the background to the excavation and the discoveries made.
The school girls who attended were following in the footsteps of the great and the good – in this case, those of the first female professor at Cambridge – Dorothy Garrod, who was appointed in 1939. By a remarkable coincidence, within days of this historic appointment, human skeletons were discovered in the grounds of Garrod’s own college, Newnham, by workmen digging trenches for air raid shelters in anticipation of the looming Second World War, and she arranged for undergraduates to help excavate the remains. However, the details of exactly what was found or even where the dig took place have since been lost, and so the ACA excavations searched for any new evidence to establish exactly where the air-raid trenches were, and try and date and explain the presence of the burials. A video of the excavations can be seen here.
The dig unearthed a large quantity of Roman pottery from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD confirming suspicions of a Roman settlement on the site after the building of a new College buttery several years before. However, there has never been any other evidence to show that the land was occupied between the Roman period and the foundation of the College in 1871 until ACA uncovered the remains of a seventeenth century house which does not appear on any maps of the time. There was no sign of the air-raid shelters in either of the trenches dug so any remaining skeletons from Dorothy Garrod’s original excavations still remain under the hallowed turf.