Blo Norton Higher Education Field Academy

Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) held its second Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) of the 2016 season this week in Blo’ Norton, Norfolk. The six test pits were excavated on the 13th and 14th April by 21 Year 9 pupils from King Edward VI School and Hartismere School.

Blo Norton Village Hall

The dig in 2016 was the second in Blo’ Norton by ACA, the results from the 2015 excavation can be found here.  The six pits were this year focused to the south of the village, particularly on Fen Road and The Banks, with two pits again sited in the north along The Street. The students worked together in mixed school groups of three or four students following on from an initial introduction and briefing from Alison Dickens, ACA’s new managing Director in the village hall.


The first day of the dig was full of sunshine and the groups managed to excavate the test pits to a depth of at least 0.4m. A range of finds emerged from the test pits including pieces of a coronation mug from 1937 of King George VI from along Fen Road as well as a few fragments of medieval pottery and a large number of batteries. The second day started off the same but ended with thunder storms rolling around, although they didn’t dampen the spirits of the students and digging with at least half the test pits reaching natural.

TP 1m
TP 1 and George
TP 6o
TP 6 in the rain but down to natural!

The initial test pit results suggest that all the test pit sites yielded pottery from the 16th/17th century and later, which correlates to when a umber of the houses in the village were built. Medieval pottery was recorded from both test pits 3 and 4 on Fen Road and is our first example of settlement at that time on the common edge in the far south of the village. A number of burnt stone and worked flints were also present along Fen Road that hint at prehistoric activity along the course of the Little River Ouse valley. The full pottery report and results will be available on our website here in due course.

The students spent the third day of the HEFA in Cambridge where they learnt not only about university, but also about how their individual test pits fit into the wider picture not only for Norfolk but across East Anglia. Dr Nick James gave the students a taster lecture on medieval settlement, focusing in particular on how the HEFA participants contribute to university research, an aspect of the programme that always ranks highly in student and teacher feedback.

Dr Nick James giving the students a ‘taster lecture’

 The students then split into groups for lunch and a tour of either Peterhouse or Pembroke Colleges, which were given by either a representative or schools liaison officer (SLO) from each of the colleges. Emma Paulus, SLO for Pembroke 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.

TP 6l
Pottery expert John Newman talking with the home owner about what was found

Day 3 concluded with Dr Jenni French, Research Fellow in Archaeology and Anthropology at Peterhouse College, gave 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 100% of participants rated the field academy as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. Students commented, “I really enjoyed being outside and trying new things. I find working outside of the classroom really fun.” (KO), “Being able to find out the previous history of the village through findings in the ground.” (TA) and “I have also learned how to apply and why I should go to University. I have also gained friends.” (HRC)

Staff also commented, “The session on report writing was excellent and gave the students all they needed to do a good report” (RM) and “The students have developed stills relevant for GCSE and A-level study and their interpersonal skills.” (SH)


George VI Coronation mug from 1937 found from TP1

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of the two 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 Stewart Hall for their help and support in organising the HEFA, as well as the SLO’s from both Peterhouse and Pembroke and Doctors Nice James and Jenni French.

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