Riseley 2016 Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA)

The 7th  HEFA of the 2016 season took place 18th – 20th May  in Riseley, Bedfordshire. A total of 40 Year 9 students from Sharnbrook Upper School, Hastingsbury College, Stratton Upper School, and St Thomas More Catholic Teaching School excavated 11 archaeological test pits throughout the village. Members of the Riseley Historical Society also helped. The pits were dispersed throughout the village and were located on Gold Street, Church Lane and the High Street.

TP 1c

TP 1 get stuck in despite the rain!

The test pits were organised by Michael Stubbert of the Riseley Historical Society and the beacon school coordinator was Radha Randhawa from Sharnbrook Upper School. The site for the two digging days was the Riseley Village Hall. This is the third year ACA have held a HEFA in Riseley; previous findings and reports can be found here.

The students worked in mixed-school groups of 3 or 4 and were supervised by members of staff from the schools involved and Georgina Brackenbery.

TP 1h

Sieving in that weather was not easy…

After receiving a briefing on Day 1 from Alison Dickens, Director of ACA, about how to excavate and record the test pits, the students went out and started digging (in the rain)! Cat Ranson, ACA archaeological supervisor, toured the test pits providing guidance on excavating and recording techniques as well as identifying finds. Paul Blinkhorn, pottery specialist, was also on site on Day 2 to help identify finds and date pottery sherds.

Having experts on hand to provide real-time feedback about finds and dates is highly appreciated by the participants and is always included in the feedback: “I have learned about archaeological finds from experts – It was very interesting.” (BN) The finalised pottery report can be found here.

TP 2a

The weather didn’t put our spirits down though. Animal bone from TP 2

This year a potential candle snuffer was found in TP1. TP5 found some big cobbles which looked like it might be a surface which once excavated found medieval pottery 13th C TBC

Lots of medieval Pottery which provides more evidence that Riseley was one of the few places that’s populations didn’t collapse after the Black Death.

TP 8f

TP 8 Finds tray

Of course lots of bricks from Riseley brick making were also found.

TP 6g


TP 6 Looks happy…

TP 7h

TP7 found a wall. Could be a Garage or Outhouse from the 1950’s


Day 3 Welcome Talk by ACA at the Downing Site Arches in Cambridge

But, the aims of HEFA are many and once the practical archaeological portion had been completed, it was time to learn more about higher education. Students spent Day 3 of the HEFA at the University of Cambridge. They learned about how their hard work contributes to ongoing university research, including the study of Currently Occupied Rural Settlements, and how to develop and deploy skills for life, learning and employment such as data analysis, communication skills and team working. Dr Debby Banham’s lecture on the CORS project went well and the Students were then given a tour of a college; Corpus Christi, Newnham and Selwyn who also took them to lunch.

Students always enjoy this opportunity and specifically commented in feedback, “I enjoyed having the tour of the university to find out a bit more about what uni life is like.” (FH)

After lunch, Emma Smith, SLO for Selwyn College, gave a presentation about life at university, the University of Cambridge and future choices.


This was followed by a presentation on how to structure and present a written account of the excavation by Dr Jenni French, Research Fellow at Peterhouse. The mark scheme and additional information about the written assignment can be found here.

TP 9f

TP 9 nice and neat!

In feedback after the HEFA, 95% of participants rated the event as “Excellent” or “Good”. General comments in feedback from the students included, “The people were great, the instructions were clear, I had good fun!!” (CF) and “I liked doing something new and thinking about what objects were.” (BF). Staff commented, “Excellent programme that makes the students think of their future at university.” (SR) and “The students have gained not only transferable skills, but have been enlightened about the high expectations and demands of Cambridge University.” (JK)

TP 3f

An extra helper at TP3

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of all the schools involved, the supervisors and the residents of Riseley for making this another successful HEFA. Special thanks go to Michael for organising the pits and to Radha for coordinating the students and staff.

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