Sawtry Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) 2015

Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) held its eighth Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) of the 2015 season last week in Sawtry, Cambridgeshire. The test pits were excavated on 20th – 21st May by 48 Year 9 and 10 pupils from Swavesey Village College, Cromwell Community College, Stanground Academy and Sawtry Village Academy.

Working together on test pit 3
Working together on test pit 3

Sawtry is a village situated just west of the Fens, halfway between Peterborough and Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire. Although one large commuter village today, Sawtry was originally three separate estates and grew as a centre for salt production during the medieval period. One of the three manors was named after and owned by Judith de Lens, a niece of William the Conquerer and one of her descendants founded an abbey in Sawtry in the 12th century.

The 12 x 1m2 pits were widely distributed throughout the village and were located on: Green End Road, Tort Hill, Rectory Close, Fen Lane, Middlefield Road, Westfield Road, Ermine Way and Gloucester Road. The test pits were organised by Philip Hill of the Sawtry History Society and our beacon school coordinator was Mr Tim Pearson from Cromwell Community College. Our base for the two days in Sawtry was the Youth and Community Centre.

Test Pit 7
Test Pit 7

This is the second year ACA have hosted a HEFA in Sawtry; last year’s reports can be accessed here.

The students worked in mixed-school teams of 4 and were supervised by teachers from the 4 participating schools, ACA volunteers and members of the Sawtry History Society. After receiving a briefing on Day 1 from Dr Carenza Lewis, Director of ACA, about how to excavate and record the test pits, the students went out on site and excavated for 2 days.

We were pleased that the Hunts Post sent out a photographer to cover the event and once that article has been published online it will be available here. We were also delighted to have a visit on Day 2 from Dr Tom Almeroth-Williams, Communications Officer for Education and Access at the University of Cambridge’s Office of External Affairs. Dr Almeroth-Williams has recently promoted the 2016 nationwide HEFA programme in the University’s HE Adviser newsletter here.

Carenza demonstrates the mattock
Carenza demonstrates the mattock

Cat Ranson, ACA archaeological supervisor, and Paul Blinkhorn, post-Roman pottery expert, toured the test pits providing guidance on excavating and recording techniques as well as identifying finds and pottery sherds.

We were lucky with the weather and the rain stayed away for the majority of the HEFA. The students really got stuck in and revealed further information about Sawtry’s past. Based on the pottery report, available here, there seems to be a concentration of early medieval pottery, including Stamford and St Neots Ware, in the northern half of the village.  By looking at the combined pottery finds from both 2014 and 2015 on the Test Pit Pottery Distribution Map an apparent drop begins to emerge in the finds from the late 14th to early 15th century, perhaps indicative of a major decline during the immediate post-Black Death period.

Paul talks to the team on test pit 8
Paul talks to the team on test pit 8

Test pit 10 found an interesting find in the form of a slate domino, a first for a HEFA test pit. Probably dating from the 18th-19th century, the slate portion of the domino would have originally been attached to a wooden or bone plinth as its base.

Slate domino from test pit 10
Slate domino from test pit 10

The students recorded all of their findings context-by-context in their individual Test Pit Excavation Record Booklet. This is not only an invaluable asset in helping to produce their written assignment, but also informs academic research and becomes part of the permanent record about each test pit kept on file at the University of Cambridge.

The students spent the third day of the HEFA in Cambridge where they learned not only about university, but also about how their individual test pits fit into the wider picture. Carenza’s lecture on medieval settlement studies and the Currently Occupied Rural Settlement (CORS) project helps highlight how HEFA participants contribute to university research, an aspect of the programme that always ranks highly in student and teacher feedback.

The students then split into groups for lunch and a tour at one of Magdalene, Trinity and St John’s Colleges. These tours were given by either a representative or schools liaison office (SLO) from each of the colleges. Ed Penn, SLO for Jesus College, then gave a presentation to the entire group about the University of Cambridge, post-16 options, A-Level choices and choosing degree subjects.

Touring around Magdalene College
Touring around Magdalene College

One of the aims of ACA’s HEFA programme is to raise students’ aspirations of going on to higher education after school. Learning more about university in general and visiting the University of Cambridge specifically contribute to raising these aspirations and always receive good feedback from both students and staff. One Stanground pupil commented in her feedback, “I enjoyed the tour of Cambridge University the most because it has inspired me to come to university.”

Day 3 concluded with Dr Trish Biers, visiting scholar at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, giving a presentation on how to structure and present a written account of the excavation. Students who submit a report receive detailed feedback and a certificate from the University of Cambridge. This feedback can then be used in future university applications, CVs etc. and their reports form part of the permanent archive.

In feedback after the event 84% of participants rated the field academy as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. Students commented, “I have gained a new experience which I can take back to help my GCSE history and I know now about university life” and “I’ve gained skills I can use in the rest of my life.”

Staff also commented, “A fantastic experience. I’m really keen to stay involved” and “Good lectures about why students should go to university have given them motivation.”

Sieving through the clay on test pit 9
Sieving through the clay on test pit 9

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of the four schools involved for making the Sawtry HEFA a successful event. Special thanks to Philip Hill and the Sawtry History Society and Tim Pearson from Cromwell Community College for their help and support in organising the HEFA.

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