Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) held its ninth Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) of the 2015 season last week in Blo’ Norton, Norfolk. The test pits were excavated 3rd-4th June by 29 Year 9 pupils from King Edward VI School and Hartismere School.
Blo’ Norton is a small village in Norfolk on the River Little Ouse, not far from Diss. Its unusual name derives from the Saxon word ‘Blae’ meaning bleak, cold and blue and ‘Norton’ meaning on the north side of the river.
The 8 x 1m2 were distributed throughout the village and were located on: The Street, Middle Road, Thelnetham Road and Church Lane. The test pits were organised by John Dixon of the Blo’ Norton Local History Group and our beacon school coordinator was Mrs Claire Stothard from King Edward VI School, Bury St Edmunds. Our base for the two days in Blo’ Norton was the Village Hall on Middle Road.
This is the first year ACA have hosted a HEFA in Blo’ Norton. The previous South Norfolk HEFAs were held in nearby Garboldisham and those reports can be found here.
The students worked in mixed-school teams of 4 and were supervised by teachers from the participating schools and ACA volunteers. 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.
Cat Ranson, ACA archaeological supervisor, and John Newman, pottery expert, toured the test pits providing guidance on excavating and recording techniques as well as identifying finds, bones and pottery sherds. Having experts on site to identify finds always proves to be one of the things most enjoyed by the participants. Students commented, “I now have knowledge of historical artefacts and an understanding of the archaeological process.” (EJ)
We enjoyed some of the nicest weather of 2015 so far with temperatures well exceeding 20 degrees and our keen diggers had to stay well hydrated out in the June sun. The students were incredibly keen to see what they could reveal about Blo’ Norton’s hidden past. As stated before, this is the first year a HEFA has been held here, but the 8 test pits did provide initial hints at the village’s development.
Based on the pottery report available here, 5 of the 8 pits produced pottery sherds dating to the mid 11th – 15th century AD, mainly concentrated on Church Lane and The Street. The pottery distribution map is available here. Further test pits at this site in the future will help improve the overall picture of the village’s development.
Finds of note include Test Pit 8 who came down on the edge of a Victorian/Edwardian rubbish pit which produced glass bottles and blue and white ceramics. Test Pit 3 discovered possible remnants of an old wooden barn (possibly part of the barn destroyed in the ‘Great Storm of 1987’) at Church Farm Barn on The Street.
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 Corpus Christi Colleges. These tours were given by either a representative or schools liaison officer (SLO) from each of the colleges. Lizzie Dobson, SLO for Emmanuel College, then gave a presentation to the entire group about the University of Cambridge, post-16 options, A-Level choices and choosing degree subjects.
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 student commented, “I want to go to Cambridge University as this unique experience has opened up so many opportunities.” (JR)
Day 3 concluded with Dr Jenni French, Research Fellow in Archaeology and Anthropology, 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 93% of participants rated the field academy as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. Students commented, “I liked working with people from other schools and I have gained more knowledge about archaeology and the importance of excavations like this.” (LP), “I feel that I have gained valuable skills including the ability to work in a team and the ability to professionally record the results of a practical activity.” (JW) and “I enjoyed that it was a challenge; very different to what I do at school and nice to do something different – being outside rather than in the classroom.” (ED)
Staff also commented, “The talks from the SLO and on the report writing process were spot on” (RM) and “Our students have gained confidence, the ability to work in teams with new people and the college tour is very useful to them.” (CS)
ACA would like to thank the students and staff of the 2 schools involved for making the Blo’ Norton HEFA a successful event. Special thanks to Dave and Sheila Williams, seasoned ACA volunteers, for helping supervise, John Dixon and Claire Stothard for their help and support in organising the HEFA.