Healing Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2017

Last week burning sun, this week downpours. It seems that every time we are in Lincolnshire it has been wet! Back in May were were digging in Old Clee and now we are in the village of Healing, near Grimsby again with year 9 students from Ormiston Maritime Academy. The North East Lincolnshire Archaeology and History Society were back again to help us and had arranged 7 test pit sites for us, in locations on Low Road, Rookery Road, Aylesby Lane and at Healing Manor.


With a sense of déjà vu we awaited the arrival of 27 students from Ormiston Maritime Academy. It had been raining hard all night and so although that meant the ground would be soft to dig, it might put several of them off. However the pupils of Lincolnshire are made of stern stuff and most of the students did arrive. The morning’s briefing by Alison Dickens outlined the importance of careful excavation and maintaining clear archaeological records, which also means keeping them dry. There are many challenges in archaeology! More importantly the talk also tries to show the students that their work can uncover much more than knowledge about their individual test pit. By comparing the test pits we can see how the village has changed and moved over time, getting a snapshot of industries and processes, confirming settlement areas versus agricultural uses of the land. More widely we can compare villages to one another. Do all settlements follow the same pattern? Do events such as the black death or industrial revolution affect settlements in the same way? When we could hide from the rain no-longer the students braved the elements and set out to discover the past of Healing.

Soon after Emily, Cat and Alison set out too, touring the test pits, checking how students were progressing and giving encouragement and direction were needed. The test pits were each supervised by a member of staff from Ormiston Maritime Academy or volunteers from the NELAH society, although the students were quick to take to a new task. It had been raining hard all night and continued to do so all day. Working with the extra challenge was difficult but the students did their best and by the end of Day 1 had all finished their second context and had the techniques of how to dig and record. Keeping the record booklets dry was a challenge so students chose the sensible option and came back early to the base to copy up their records and warm up with a cup of tea.

On Day 2 of the dig, the sun dawned, if not brighter, then at least drier, as while it was still raining it wasn’t quite a hard. We like to take the optimistic viewpoint. We were joined by Jane Young, a local pottery expert. Who gave the students a brief talk on different types of pottery, showing them some examples of whole pots. It really helps when we can demonstrate to students in a visual way, how their small finds are real pieces of the past. Our pottery finds from Lincolnshire were quite small as it was very difficult to spot things in the dark, heavy clays of Lincolnshire! Teams had to abandon using the sieves to catch small finds and go through it with their hands. We did make some discoveries however with test pits 3 and 7 brining up some possible medieval brick. Handmade bricks are very different to our modern bricks and were often made locally in the same way for hundreds of years. As Test Pit 3 is now a field, this gives us a clue that the medieval settlement of healing was in a different position to the current settlement. Test Pits 4 and 5 were located in the garden of a large house and the discovery of a seemingly undisturbed medieval layer suggests that this area has not been cultivated for a very long time, but has has a fairly consistent use. If the area had been disturbed we would have expected to see much small, broken pieces of pottery, rather than the large pieces in a clear soil context that we found. Other Test Pits found butchered bones, fragments of shell and other evidence of occupation. We were given a warm welcome by the people of Healing and the students enjoyed themselves despite the rain!

After all their hard work, the students deserved their day exploring Cambridge. It’s a long journey down but we hope it is worth it to inspire these pupils to achieve the very best they can. As a Russell Group university is very outward looking in it’s approach to learning, producing research that is used across the world in to understand and develop products, services and impact many people’s lives. While ACA focuses on archaeological knowledge, the skills that the students learn on the ILAFS programme are transferrable to many different subjects and work areas. Skills such as communication, structuring their own work, achieving aims by effort and persistence and working cooperatively. All are highly useful in the workplace. The written report the students produce as part of the programme reinforces the academic skills which are also of use no matter where students decide to go. Gathering and comparing different types of data, interpreting and judging that evidence to produce a clear and technical report is a skill that will always come in handy. This was all explained in the morning lecture, given by Eoin Parkinson, phD students at the department.

At lunchtime the students went to Trinity or Gonville & Caius colleges both for a tasty hot lunch and to see how university students live. Cambridge is quite different to many universities being based throughout the town and having a college system rather than one central campus. Some of the students loved the ‘Harry Potter’ vibe of the colleges with their old buildings and portraits of old masters. But it’s also the atmosphere of the colleges- collective bodies of students working together and being a family. We talked about what it would be like to live here, and what some people liked, what others didn’t. It helped that the rain held off too.

After lunch we were at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, putting into practise those ideas that were given in the morning’s lecture. It was a fun time, looking at the medieval and roman settlements in Cambridge as well as the Indus and Mayan civilisations. It’s all the same archaeological skills no matter when and where you look! Finally to round off the day and reinforce the message, the students had a talk from Emma Smith, Schools Liaison Officer at Homerton college. The skills that the students have learnt over the last three days and that they will demonstrate in their reports could take them anywhere they wish to go. Hopefully a little bit of guidance at this early stage will put them on that path. Teachers accompanying the students felt they had most benefited from learning the skills of teamwork, knowledge of a top university and perseverance. “The whole experience was really beneficial. Students and I really enjoyed it.” LB. Students said they had gained “Experience of how to do archaeology and what university is about. Knowing that I found pottery from Germany.” LK “I gained a lot of information about the subject and what it is like at the University of Cambridge.” CS. Students said they particularly enjoyed getting outside, learning more about university and gaining self confidence

We would like to say a big thank you to the North East Lincolnshire Archaeology and History Society and Sarah Leadley from Ormiston Maritime Academy who did much to organise the last three days. We hope you enjoyed it!


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