Writtle 2014 Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA)

Writtle 2014 Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA)Writtle was under a thick blanket of snow this time last year but both the sun and the daffodils were out in the Essex village this week for the start of ACA’s tenth season of field academies.
Thirty-four Year 9 students and six Year 13 students from William de Ferrers School, Ormiston Rivers Academy, The Plume School and King Edward VI Grammar School attended the first Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) of 2014. Divided into small mixed-school groups, they dug nine archaeological test-pits over two days around the village centre of Writtle in the back gardens of residents and of local businesses including Witchcraft Jewellery, Lyndsey Hair Stylist and the Blue Bridge Bar & Restaurant. Another two test-pits were also dug on the western edge of the green by members of the local historical and archaeological society, Heritage Writtle, who recruited sites to excavate and arranged for use of the United Reformed Church as a base for the two days of digging.

Freelance archaeologist John Newman joined us on the second day to identify the small finds and date the pottery which had been found. In the garden of the Blue Bridge Bar & Restaurant, test-pit 5 found a sherd of Late Saxon pottery (shown held by a student in the photograph below) making it only the third test-pit out of 55 dug in the village since 2009 to contain pottery of this date. Test-pits 5, 6, 7, 9 and 10 all produced small quantities of High Medieval pottery, and notable amongst the small finds were a Post-Medieval bone button from test-pit 6 off Bridge Street and a 16th century Nuremburg jetton test-pit 10, one of those dug by Heritage Writtle on the village green. A map of the test-pit sites can be viewed on the Writtle 2014 webpage here, and the pottery report will be available in a couple of weeks.

On the third day of HEFA, participants visit the University of Cambridge to learn about how their test-pit findings contribute towards the research of ACA Director, Dr Carenza Lewis, on the origins and development of Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS), and for a taster of life and learning at one of the world’s top universities. In feedback after the event, one student recognised that he had gained both  “an insight into how university works and also how the data we collected influenced information on medieval settlements” (JT). Staff also complemented the way in which HEFA offers school students the “excitement of participating, contributing and advancing knowledge” (TB).

The Writtle HEFA participants visited one of Emmanuel, King’s, St Catharine’s and Sidney Sussex Colleges to meet schools liaison staff and undergraduate students for lunch and a tour. Lizzie Dobson, Schools Liaison Officer for Emmanuel College, which is linked to schools in Essex, then talked about university applications and the admissions process to the group. Following the encouragement to aim high and work hard, one student said that the HEFA had taught her “to be more optimistic and try harder to achieve my goals” (LMH).

In feedback after the event, 85% of the students rated it as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ and many of them said that the field academy offered “not just knowledge of archaeology but life skills that will be useful in the future” (HN).

Many thanks to everyone involved in the organisation and delivery of the Writtle 2014 HEFA; next week’s field academy will be a return visit to the east Norfolk village of Acle.

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