Shefford 2014 Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA)

Shefford 2014 Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA)An additional field academy was run for Bedfordshire Middle School students in the town of Shefford last week, marking the end of the 2014 excavation season for ACA.

Robert Bloomfield Academy, Henlow Church of England Academy and Etonbury Academy are member schools of Bedfordshire East Schools Trust (BEST) Archaeological Society. Their students dug six archaeological test pit excavations supervised by ACA in 2012 and this year, 64 Year 7 and 8 students were involved in digging another 13 pits in Shefford. Lee Thomas, a teacher at Robert Bloomfield and founding Chairman of BEST Archaeological Society, not only coordinated the students taking part but also liaised with local residents to find sites to excavate, provided equipment and refreshments as well as taking on a very enthusiastic role in the digging! The test pits were located in the gardens of private properties on Great Hill, Clifton Road, High Street, Ivedale Drive, Hitchin Road and The Wharf. Our base for the two days of excavation was Shefford Town Memorial Hall.

The students worked in mixed-school teams of 4 or 5, and made excellent progress on the first of the two days of digging after having a briefing on how to excavate and record the test pits. They then valiantly finished digging and back-filled as the rain showers worsened on Thursday afternoon. Despite the weather, the students’ enthusiasm evidently wasn’t dampened with one commenting afterwards: “I really enjoyed this trip and I will never forget this amazing experience. Thank you HEFA!” (GH).

Paul Blinkhorn, post-medieval pottery specialist, was on site both days and his final pottery report is already available to download on the Shefford report webpage here. Test pits 12 and 13, sited in the same garden on Clifton Road, found a large quantity of Victorian pottery and domestic refuse including a flat iron and a bone domino piece. Test pits 5 and 6, in the front and back gardens of a house on Ivedale Drive, were the only ones to find Medieval pottery including shreds of Early Medieval Sandy Ware (1100-1400 AD) and a sherd of Brill/Boarstall Ware (1200-1500 AD).

On their third day’s visit to Cambridge last Friday, the students were welcome by warm sunny weather which was a welcome relief after Thursday’s rain. They had a taster lecture on medieval settlement studies from Dr Carenza Lewis, Director of ACA, and then split into groups for lunch and a tour at one of Emmanuel, St Catharine’s, Trinity and Trinity Hall Colleges. Katie Vernon, Schools Liaison Officer for both Trinity Hall and Robinson Colleges gave the group a general overview of life and learning as a university student in the afternoon, and the day finished with a review of the test pit findings in Shefford.

In feedback after the event, 87% of the participants rated the field academy as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’. Many of the students relished the chance to meet and work with students from the other schools with one saying she “found (HEFA) very interesting – I liked working with new people” (GR). Another felt he had gained “life skills like working with people I don’t know, teamwork and working independently.” (FJ). One of the staff members said afterwards that he had “thoroughly enjoyed working in an out of school environment with the children, especially where I am not the expert and learn with them” (MO).

This was the last excavation of 2014 for ACA but plans for next year’s programme of school field academies and community fieldwork. At the end of the tenth season, a grand total of 1891 archaeological test pits have been dug by school students and members of the public under the supervision of ACA over the past 10 years. The team will be spending the winter months processing finds from the 2014 excavations as well as report writing and publishing, evaluating activities for funders and setting up next season’s activities.

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