North Warnborough Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2017

From Lincolnshire two ILAFS ago, Essex last week, ACA get all round the country and this week we’re in Hampshire! 36 enthusiastic pupils from The Costello School, Cranbourne Business and Enterprise College and Robert May’s School joined us to excavate 9 test pits across North Warnborough for the 5th consecutive year. We are by now getting a fairly good understanding of the history of North Warnborough and data from the previous excavations can be found here.  The pits were organised by John Champion and other members of The Odiham Society. The Mill House pub proved a wonderful base for the two days of excavation.

The students arrived keen to participate, and keen to get out and active having just completed their exams. Archaeology however isn’t just digging a hole in the ground and seeing what you find, so first they needed the process explained to them by Alison Dickens. The planning, recording and measuring needed to excavate well can seem tedious to some pupils, but is vital so that we can produce comparable results whether we are in Lincolnshire or Hampshire. Fully informed, the students were then grouped into teams of 4, headed up by a teacher, and sent out to their test pits. The 9 test pits were spread along the length of the village Right up North Warnborough Street, Dunley’s hill and on Bridge Road.

Previous finds in the village have given us a fairly good idea of what we might find. However there were still some surprises. During the afternoon of Day 1 a button was found and after deciphering the writing on it and some  brief research w discovered that that button could only have been manufactured in Birmingham between 1900 and 1928. This type of buttons were used on military uniforms and we therefore think it quite likely that it may have come off the uniform of a first world war soldier from North Warnborough. Archaeology can also inform us about recent event. In comparison, test pit 3 had some burnt flints which could be over 5,000 years old. These had been used by neolithic people as a way of heating their meals or water, by placing the stones in the fire to heat, then placing them in the water- a technique that boils water faster than a modern kettle!

Ginny Pringle was on hand on Thursday to give a local expert’s eye on the pottery that we were discovering and try and pin down the date of some of the finds. She is the chair of CBA Wessex and the Basingstoke Archaeological & Historical Society (BAHS), and has done similar work to ACA’s at Old Basing, close to North Warnborough. There she is building a fabric series for the finds and is compiling the final report. As pottery can be so closely dated, it allows us to build up a picture of how the village has grown and changed. Associated artefacts in the same context might give us clues about the industries and activities in the village during those times. Medieval pottery and floor tile was found in several of the test pits and the full pottery report will be available here. We also found some more unusual finds; it quite literally rained cats and dogs in North Warnborough this year as we found bones from at least4 different dogs and a whole cat skeleton. The cat skeleton was probably somewhere over 20 years old, having been buried in the flower bed. However the dog bones were discovered at a fairly deep layer and had turned black, having been lying in a waterlogged area which had once been a pond. There were lower jaw bones from at least four dogs and other bones as well. Over the two days the students worked very well and had some great insights into how the history of North Warnborough could be understood.


After a very early start, the students arrived in Cambridge for Day 3 of the ILAFS programme. This is where the morning was taken up by a lecture looking at the study of settlements and guidance on writing their reports given by Emily Ryley, ACA Administrator. The students felt they were much more prepared for the demands of university level work after the lecture which guides them through how to write and submit a report covering the aims, methods and results of their test pit excavations. After marking and grading, all students receive a certificate of participation and an assessment of their data collection as well as personal, learning and thinking skills during the two days spent excavating, along with detailed feedback on their written report, if submitted. Writing the report also gives an excellent practice at writing coursework, developing those skills which they will rely on at A-level and university.

At lunchtime the schools were hosted by Peterhouse and Corpus Colleges. The students really enjoyed their visit to the colleges commenting: “I really enjoyed everything! I particularly liked seeing Peterhouse college, the library, eating lunch as if I was a student and learning so much about archaeology, digging and the university.” EM Robert May’s School. The group also filled the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in the afternoon. They were given an exercise relating to the points on settlement history discussed in the morning, and asked to use the museum’s collections to discover what they could learn about the settlements represented in the collections. This involved thinking about some of the same questions they had used to examine their own finds; where did the pottery come from, what could it tell us about trade links, what was the land used for, was it valuable land?

The final session of the day was with Caitlin Saunders , the new Schools Liaison Officer at Peterhouse college who gave the year 9 students a talk on their potential university and later careers. While this might seems a little premature it is very helpful to start introducing these ideas early. Not only does it help focus pupils by giving them an aim, they can also start to build relevant experience and make sensible choices that will open doors for them in later life.


Staff appreciated the different learning environment ILAFS provides as well as the wider perspectives it can give.. “This has been another excellent dig. The school and students are really appreciative of the experience and opportunity. THANKS!!” DP, Robert May’s School “ A chance to learn in a completely different environment. A brilliant opportunity to learn how to work together and support one another.” CC, Costello School


Students enjoyed learning independently, setting and achieving a challenge and working with new people. “It was nice to mix with other schools we hadn’t previously met . Also it was nice digging in someone’s garden … as it was interesting to meet the locals.” RH CBEC. “I enjoyed getting to experience things very hands-on and being independent and responsible for our own work.” MB CBEC. “The staff from ILAFS were all very friendly and helpful and they made sure we got the best experience possible and made the most of this opportunity.” RH CBEC.


ACA would like to thank all the students and staff of the schools involved and especially all the local residents of North Warnborough for their time and involvement.


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