Following a very successful community excavation in the village last September (the first Dig & Sow event which can be watched here) we were looking forward to our return to Ashwell last week for the Hertfordshire HEFA. Graffitti etched into the wall of the parish church suggests that the Black Death had a devestating impact on what was once a thriving medieval market town, but this is the first time any extensive archaeological work has taken place in the village.
We decided to focus on excavating sites in the centre of the village and these were dug by 17 students in Years 8-10 from schools in Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire; The Highfield School, The Knights Templar School, Parkside and Coleridge Federation Schools. Not only were the sites conveniently close for visits by the roving archaeology team, they were also handily located for the excellent village bakery!
Shown right is a small replica fireplace, presumably from a doll’s house, found in one back garden. An adult human tooth was found in the front garden of a house on the High Street, with several caries. The same garden was dug last September, but last week’s test-pit found pieces of medieval pottery, pre-dating what had been found at the house before. Another test-pit came onto a possible medieval floor, littered with butchered cow remains. The same test-pit group also uncovered a beautiful flint blade, shown below right.
On Thursday, Paul Blinkhorn, Anglo-Saxon and medieval pottery specialist, joined the team in between shoots for the next series of Time Team. Paul had better watch out for our budding pottery experts, several students commented on their feedback at the end of the HEFA that felt more confident identifying pottery at the end; one student said that she had “learned more about how to use the different physical properties to date pottery.”
Interestingly, we still haven’t found any evidence for the elusive Anglo-Saxon origins of the village. The known history of Ashwell, including a collection of everyday objects, is displayed in Ashwell Village Museum. An enormous thank you to Sarah Talks for finding sites and liaising with owners, for stepping in to supervise one of the groups and for the early morning welcomes with tea buns!
Following the two days of excavating their test-pit sites, the students were rewarded with a visit to the University of Cambridge to analyse their finds and learn more about applying to University in the future. This proved extremely popular, with one student saying “I especially enjoyed visiting the University and it has inspired me to achieve the best I can to try and get into Cambridge.” Another student said that she thought she had “gained a valuable insight into University in general and also about how important one metre square of Earth can be. I have learnt new skills and met new people.”