We are off to a great start for the year with our first field school, as the newly re-branded Independent Learning Archaeology Field School – ILAFS! (Previously HEFA.) Despite being the earliest we have ever had a field school, the sun shone and the birds sang on a lovely spring day in Brundall, Norfolk. 35 students from Broadland High School, Framingham Earl, Taversham High School and the Holt Youth Project took to the experience like ducks to water and excavated 9 test pits across the village.
The team at ACA- Alison Dickens, Catherine Collins and Emily Ryley- were all keen and raring to go on Wednesday morning, ready to welcome the schools to a new experience and hopefully, the start of their higher education journeys. Alison gave the students an outline of both how to excavate, but also encouraged them to start thinking now about the wider questions they will answer through excavation. Being reflective on the evidence as it is uncovered is an important archaeological skill, as it helps us to guide the excavation process and spot those patterns which might otherwise be missed.
Students from the different schools, coordinated by Nigel Roberts, were mixed into test pits scattered along the length of Brundall. Supervised by teachers and local volunteers we are ever grateful to those that step in to help us and especially to the wonderful Jacky Heath and Ann-Marie Simpson of the Brundall Local History Group who convinced homeowners and coordinated the excavation sites.
On day 2 Cat and Emily continued to motivate the test pits and were joined by John Newman, a pottery expert who toured the test pits shedding new understanding on the evidence so far discovered. Although pottery and the number of finds were small, similar to previous years in Brundall, it is all part of the wider archaeological picture. Most of our discoveries were post-medieval or modern deposits, but at test pits 5 and 6, we found some Bronze Age, or possible Iron Age pottery. We also found some flint tools and no wonder, as this area had a lovely position, on a ridge, overlooking the River Yare. Perfect for transport, as a water source, and away from any potential flooding. The students were very enthusiastic about the excavation experience and engaged fully with the experience saying “I enjoyed learning about old objects from the experts” (HL-A Taverham High).
The students were so efficient that many groups reached the natural geology by lunchtime on Day 2. They then stepped up and help out their peers to finish their test pits so everyone could get home on time for a well earned rest!
We were really impressed at the attitude of the participants, who were enthusiastic to get involved and listened carefully to our suggestions to then come up with their own interpretations of the archaeology. Artefacts were a little thin on the ground, but by looking at all the available evidence- shape of the landscape, local knowledge, as well as the archaeology, the students were able to start piecing together the puzzle of the past. Those pieces came together with the lecture on Friday morning given by Emily Ryley, looking at the development of settlements and the archaeological study of them. This lays the foundation for students to write their own report on the archaeological evidence they discovered, and to see how the natural and human landscape has changed gradually and in response to certain events. The Day 3 in Cambridge has had a bit of a facelift this year but some elements remain ever popular- Lunch! St John’s and St Catherine’s were our hosts today and there was even time for a short walk through Cambridge on our way back to see some of the town, and not just the gown side of life.
In a new section for the field school, the students then spent an hour at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology putting into practise what they had learnt in the morning’s lecture to understand other settlements in other time periods and civilisations.
A talk from Megan Goldman-Roberts, Schools Liaison Officer at St John’s College rounded off the day and we hope the students have enjoyed the changes we have made to this year’s programme. Good thing that there is something new this year as we even had two students who had participated last year return again! It’s good to know our popularity continues and this was reflected by the students in their feedback. JH from Framingham Earl high School said “I felt more independent and knowledgeable by the end. I enjoyed learning so much in such little time.” Other learning experiences were highlighted with one teacher feeding back “They have loved coming to Cambridge but also the development of resilience and independent learning skills in a practical way, has been very good for them.”