Blythburgh Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2017

After a break for the Easter holidays, we’re for our next Independent Learning Archaeology Field School, this time at Blythburgh. It’s our first time at Blythburgh, having finished excavating at Walberswick nearby. Based at the Holy Trinity church, a magnificent 15th century structure, graceful and inspiring, it sits just at the divide in the landscape between the fertile soils and the marshes and river which held their own treasures. We are keen to see what test pitting can reveal about the history of Blythburgh and the local history society are certainly very keen to find out more, after an excavation at the priory (now ruins) several year ago. They have given us a great welcome at Blythburgh, where local residents have done a great job organising locations for our test pits. They have also been incredibly welcoming and really impressed by the attitudes of the students.

TP 1c

Students from Ormiston Denes Academy, Sir John Leman High School, Hobart High School, Bungay High School and Benjamin Britten Academy all arrived eager, and keen to learn was archaeology is really like. A full complement of 48 pupils, meaning we could dig 12 test pits. In fact, we managed 13 as one test pit was so fast, they dug two! We therefore dug two test pits in ‘The Sanctuary’ before landscaping for a community garden is done.


John Newman toured the test pits giving expert advice on the finds. As Blythburgh is a new site for is we were unsure of what we would discover but were pleased to already to be able to recognise the history of different areas of the village. Test pits 4-8 were located along Angel lane, the original medieval road through the village and this is where we found a wealth of medieval pottery, including a very lovely base and side of a jug. In the 18th Century the turnpike was built (now the A12), diverting the flow of traffic a little away from Angel lane. Other areas of the village displayed mainly 17th-19th century materials, with scatterings of prehistoric burnt flints mixed through the layers. As ever, a full detailed pottery report will be available here We also had coverage of the event from Simon Ward of the Eastern Daily Press. The article can be read here


Student’s views of archaeology often drastically changes after their ILAFS experience; coming to realise just how many skills are needed, and how much paperwork there is! Of course it’s important as we want students to gain from the experience academically, as well as increasing personal learning and thinking skills, by producing a written report at the end. With new questions to focus on, the lecture to begin the morning on Day 3 in Cambridge, really seeks to bring together the knowledge they have accrued and starts them on the path to their own interpretations of the  evidence for complex patterns of human behaviours. This is complimented by an hour spent in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, looking at the same ideas, in many different cultures. Hopefully then these students will be able to go out and apply these same principles in other areas and be able to look topics at with a deeper level of interpretation.

Presenting at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

The other major point of the field school, and spending a day in Cambridge, is to give students a real introduction to university, far more than just a tour around the campus to see if they like the buildings. The lectures, visits to the museum, lunch in a college, and talks from students and staff giving them the facts about university choices, all give a very realistic view of what studying at a higher level is like, and hopefully inspire pupils to take that path.This week Pembroke and Emmanuel colleges hosted us and Lynette from Corpus college gave a talk to the students about the future choices. With many schools now beginning GCSE courses in year 9, students are making decisions about their futures even earlier as we hope the skills they gain with us will benefit them. In their feedback teachers highlighted that students were able to gain an experience of education outside the classroom, as well as developing skills such as interacting with the public, and co-operate with others.

Students loved the three days with us, with many commenting that they would have liked to dig for longer! “[I have gained] historical knowledge that I couldn’t have learnt sitting in a classroom” and “[enjoyed] linking key dates in history to things we found” TB, Hobart High School. “I feel I have gained more confidence about going to a university and have learned so much more than I imagined.” PO Hobart High School. Other students commented on their Improved my historical knowledge and teamwork skills. As our focus is on Independent Learning , it was also great to see that some of the pupils enjoyed the chance to take the lead. “[I enjoyed] Being able to have a say in what goes on and actively taking part. Also having my opion listened to.” ZS Sir John Leaman High School.

Finally we would like to say a massive thank you to the residents of Blythburgh who welcomed us so warmly and really supported this endeavour. We look forward to seeing you again next year!


Behind the scenes: The pupils may do the digging, but at the end of the day it all has to fit back in the van again!


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