May has been a busy month of running Higher Education Field Academies (HEFAs) for Access Cambridge Archaeology so here’s an update on some our fantastic finds and enthusiastic participants from the past few weeks.
We began the month with a new site on the Suffolk coast at Walberswick, south of Southwold. 9 test pits were dug with the help of 32 students from Alde Valley School, Bungay High School and the Denes High School. We were surprised to find a sherd of Roman pottery close to the coastline and another sherd of late Saxon further inland, but most of the test pits produced medieval pottery coincident with the development of a busy trading and fishing port in the village. We enjoyed two days of gloriously sunny, if windy, weather by the seaside followed by a day at the University of Cambridge to analyse the results of the test pits and an opportunity to learn more about life and learning in Higher Education. Feedback from one of the students said that they had “gained a new insight into both archaeology and university life, I have met new people and really enjoyed it”. Another student said “thanks to the HEFA team for giving up time for this experience. Really cool”. The HEFA team in turn wish to say a big thanks to Philip Kett and other members of the Walberswick History Society for their hospitality and we hope to return another year to build on our 2013 results. You can read an article about the digs on the Walberswick village website here.
The following week, we returned to Swaffham Bulbeck in east Cambridgeshire where our participants dug 14 test pits in just two days. This HEFA involved 45 students from Soham Village College, Ely College, Bottisham Village College, Cottenham Village College and Witchford Village College, as well as a team of diggers from the local charity Red2Green who were involved in another set of excavations funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund last June. A volunteer involved in the 2012 test pits, Jane Mumford, kindly helped to find test pit sites and a base for this year.
Several more sherds of Bronze Age pottery were found in the village, including a concentration from one test pit with a lot of burnt and knapped flint which strongly suggests that we have found a previously undiscovered prehistoric settlement site. The other finds continue to show a Late Saxon clustering in the south of the village near the parish church, with most of the pottery from Commercial End further north dating from the medieval period onwards.
One student said that the HEFA would be “something I will always remember” and and other students noted that the field academy gave them a “new experience” and “valuable skills towards university”. Staff who attended the trip thought the field academy enabled their students to “be part of something important and worthwhile” and offered them “a whole new way of looking at life and the way we live and have lived”.
Last week, we visited Gaywood, a suburb of King’s Lynn for the fourth time bringing the total number of test pits now dug there to 39. These were then added to by West Norfolk & King’s Lynn Archaeological Society at the weekend as part of their Heritage Lottery Funded and Cambridge Community Heritage supported project investigating the archaeology of the Gaywood River Valley. You can read more about their project here. Two local Gaywood schools involved 40 students in the HEFA; Springwood High School and King Edward VII School. We were first invited to Gaywood by our local coordinator Stuart Hall in 2010 and since then, we have built up a clear picture of the mid-Saxon concentration of settlement on the eastward bank of the river in the gardens of houses on Wootton Road.
This year we found a bloom of smelting slag which had been tapped from a furnace and a bone ‘spatula’ -shaped item to be identified by a small finds specialist. These artefacts were found in two different test pits but both in contexts which contained Saxon pottery. The students were full of praise for the two days of digging and particularly enjoyed their final day at Cambridge University. One student said that they felt they had “gained some much needed experience and what it’s like to be at university” and another said “I feel more confident about university, the idea doesn’t scare me anymore :-)”
The team are currently further afield in North Warnborough, east of Basingstoke, for our very first HEFA in Hampshire. The pottery report for all of our HEFAs so far are available on our excavation reports webpage here.