Hillington Independent Learning Archaeology Field School (ILAFS) 2017

For the second of our Independent Learning Archaeology Field Schools this year, we were based in the lovely village of Hillington in Norfolk, for the third time. Joining us were King’s Lynn Academy, King Edward VII academy and Springwood High School, who were co-ordinated by James Smith, a teacher from Springwood. 29 pupils excavated 8 test pits under the guidance of 10 6th form pupils, who inspired younger pupils through the examples they set as well as gaining some valuable experience for their CVs and personal statements.


ACA staff were also always on hand to offer advice and guidance to pupils, beginning with an introductory talk on Day 1 to outline the archaeological process and expectations for the three day field school.


Test pits were fairly closely grouped at Hillington, as it’s a smaller village which meant that we were able to tour the sites fairly frequently. This was made even easier by being able to use the Norfolk Hospice, Tapping House  as our base and they were very gracious hosts. We were also aided by the West Norfolk & King’s Lynn Archaeology society. They were kept busy by the excavation of a local resident’s fish pond which had revealed a stone floor layer. Associated pottery dated the floor layer to the later medieval period, including a lovely piece of late Grimston ware, part of a flat rectangular dish of some kind. There was also a slightly more unusual find of a pewter buckle dating to c.1350-1500. Pupils were excavating test pit 4, only a few meters away and so had the incentive to excavate down to the same depth the fish pond had reached, to try and reveal the extent of the floor layer. Discover it they did by the end of Day 2, and they also added some late Saxon and late medieval sherds to the growing record.

On Day 2 of the excavation, Andrew Rogerson, pottery expert from Norfolk Museums Service at Gressenhall joined us and cast his expert eye over the finds from all the test pits. It turned out that test pit 4 was not alone in their medieval discoveries as out of 8 test pits, only 2 did not find medieval pottery! Even better, in terms of the students getting to see a variety of pottery types and time periods, several produced Saxon periods and test pit 6 even discovered some possible late Iron Age materials. It’s all very encouraging and really demonstrates the depth of history in the village, giving some great details which the students can mention in their written reports. Excitingly some of the pieces the students were finding were particularly large- this is another archaeological clue for students that we were seeing undisturbed, in-situ deposits.   Much of the pottery was produced locally at Grimston. This is a type of pottery which we often find across East Anglia, giving us an idea of the trade networks in the area.

On the third day, ILAFS students arrived in Cambridge, ready to put all the pieces of their knowledge together, and see how we do this at the university also. The first lecture, focusing on settlement studies, as well as giving guidance on academic writing, was given by Eoin Parkinson, a PhD student at the university. Queens and Corpus Christi colleges, then took the students for a wonderful lunch and tour of the college (including spooky tales of the college ghosts at Corpus!). Students are often confused by the Cambridge system of colleges, so it’s great to be able to demonstrate that the Cambridge system isn’t that different at all, and that they can expect a warm and friendly welcome as prospective students.


The 6th form students who had done so well supervising younger students at the test pits had a session just for them, focusing on Personal Statements. It was great to get some dedicated time with Lynett, the Schools Liaison Officer at Corpus Christis college to run through this tricky area. Meanwhile the younger pupils spent time at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, applying some of the archaeological skills they had learnt to understand the museum’s collections a little better.


The year 9 and 10 pupils then returned full of enthusiasm after their workshop at the museum for a presentation from Lynette about university life and future choices, rounding off a fantastic three days, full of fun and different skills. The Students and teachers certainly enjoyed the experience and got a lot from it saying: “Greater confidence in taking on new tasks and the value of teamwork.” (JC King Edward VII Academy). “Analytical skills are very important for any job” (AB King Edward VII Academy). More knowledge about university, people in the past, and what artefacts we find underground. Also more confidence in talking to new people.” (LS Springwood High School). “Setting my mind to the task and working properly in a team.” (EW Springwood High School).

ACA would like to thank all the students involved, especially the 6th formers who displayed a great level of maturity and they younger students who approached these new skills as a challenge to overcome. We really hope these skills are the foundation for your future learning!

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