The Higher Education Field Academy returned to unearth the Anglo-Saxon origins of Long Melford in Suffolk this week.
A few small sherds of Saxo-Norman Thetford Ware were found in the centre of the present settlement during a weekend of community test-pit excavations in July 2011, filmed for Michael Wood’s BBC series, ‘The Great British Story: A People’s History’ , but more of this pottery was found in test-pits around the church and the green in Long Melford last year. These excavations were dug by secondary school students as part of a Higher Education Field Academy and last week, another forty-four HEFA participants from Thomas Gainsborough School, Ormiston Sudbury Academy, Hedingham School and Samuel Ward Academy dug a further 11 test-pits on common land in the north of the village.
Two of the 2014 test-pits were located behind Holy Trinity Church, three in the field behind Westgate Street, three at the north of Melford Green in front of the Almshouses and another three at the south of Melford Green. Our base for the two days of digging was at the Old Schools and the Black Lion Hotel also offered use of their facilities. The excavations were coordinated by local historians, Rob Simpson and John Nunn, with sponsorship from the local Co-operative foodstore who provided welcome refreshments for the school students and staff in the very hot and sunny conditions. The test-pit groups also received support from local residents with experience of digging test-pits who lent their time and expertise to help on Wednesday and Thursday. The East Anglian Daily Times visited the field academy and an article was published in the newspaper on Saturday 14th June 2014, which you can read on-line here.
John Newman, a freelance archaeologist based in Suffolk, joined ACA on the second day to help with the identification of finds from the test-pits. More sherds of Thetford Ware were found in four of the eleven pits dug this time, and a post-hole was found at the base of test-pit 6 (shown right) which lacked any finds but was remarkably similar to another discovered in a nearby test-pit last year that was associated with Thetford Ware. This adds to the archaeological evidence for a significant settlement in this area during the late Saxon period, hinted at by the very large population and tax assessment recorded in the Domesday Book.
Another interesting find was a copper alloy token (shown right), probably dating to the 17th century, found in test-pit 2. The token has the inscription ‘STEP’, likely to stand for the name Stephen, and perhaps the name of a local merchant or proprieter. Other small metal finds from the test-pits included a copper alloy thimble, a 1936 penny and 1955 shilling. The two test-pits (4 and 5) behind the church, unlike those dug in the same area last year, found human remains and fragments of grave monuments set back from the consecrated ground.
The Long Melford Heritage Centre, which was officially opened by Dr Carenza Lewis, ACA’s Director, in July 2012 is open again to members of the public during the summer months of 2014, and includes displays of finds from the 2011 community test-pit excavations. Entrance to the Heritage Centre is free, and it is based at Long Melford Memorial Hall, opposite the Bull Hotel. The location can be viewed on the map here.
On the third and final day of the field academy, the students visited the University of Cambridge, where Carenza delivered a taster lecture on the contribution of test-pit excavations to our understanding of the origins and development of Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS), and compared the results of the Long Melford excavations with others elsewhere in East Anglia. Inspired by the experience, another said “listening to the lectures was great, I thoroughly enjoyed them and can’t wait until I can go to university. I have learnt more about university, what I want to do after I leave school and more about archaeology. Archaeology rocks!” (CH).
During their visit to the university last Friday, the students received a tour of the facilities and lunch at either Downing or Trinity Hall colleges, and Ellen Slack, Schools Liasion Officer for Selwyn and Homerton Colleges, spoke to the students about post-GCSE options and admission to universities. At the end of the day, one students said that he had “gained a very enjoyable experience, learnt lots of new skills, and found a lot more about the history of the village and where I live, and a lot more about universities and the University of Cambridge” (FH), and 95% of the students rated the field academy as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ overall. The feedback forms included lots of additional comments such as “a great experience and I feel that everything has been very well organised” (JH), “a really educational and fun experience” (KJ) and “thank you, I thoroughly enjoyed it!” (DG)
This week’s HEFA will take place in the Hertfordshire village of Great Amwell.
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