Hooray Hooray it’s ILAFS time again! Yes, after a long long winter, Access Cambridge Archaeology is set to be running our field schools once again. This year we are starting off at Brundall where we have excavated for the past 3 years. Once again we owe massive thanks to Nigel Roberts for helping organise the participating pupils, and Jacky Heath and Ann-Marie Simpson of the Brundall Local History Group who organised the test pits. 12 students from Framingham Earl High School and 4 from Holt Youth Project gathered in St Laurence Church to hear what they would be doing for the next three days, and gain their instructions for how to be archaeologists!
The ACA team, Alison Dickens, Cat Collins and Emily Ryley were keen and eager to start the pupils off on their excavations and make it a good start to the year. Cat Collins gave the introductory talk, and Emily Ryley instructed the supervisors on their duties, although all had helped before so knew what they were doing! We are always grateful to the volunteers who support us in our efforts to show young people what archaeology is, and give them practical skills and experience they can use in the future. Then it was time to get digging- 6 test pits were located in Blossom Hill, Springdale Crescent, Cucumber lane, Greenacre Close and Saint Laurence Avenue. The first context always takes a little more time as the students find their feet (or rather hands) as they use unfamiliar tools and need to organise themselves practically. But they soon got going and were finding their first archaeological artefacts. The landscape in Brundall seems to have been quite turned over as even on the first day the students were finding Neolithic burnt flints and even a lovely scraper core. Returning to the Brundall Memorial Hall which would be our base for the rest of the dig, the pupils left tired, but looking forward to the next day.
On day 2 Cat and Emily continued to motivate the test pits encouraging the participants to start thinking now about the wider questions they will answer through this 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. We were also joined by John Newman, a pottery expert who toured the test pits shedding new understanding on the evidence so far discovered. Pottery was rather thin on the ground to examine but all the test pits produced some 18th to 19th century pottery and Test Pit even had a medieval sherd. We have been excavating in Brundall for 4 years now so in our future write up of the settlement, we will be able to compare the test pit data from across the village and really pin down where the heart of it was and the rate of expansion.
The Eastern Daily Press Newspaper also visited the dig on Thursday morning and their write up of the student’s find and experiences can be found here. The rain set in soon after lunch on Thursday but as all the test pits had nit the natural geology by then, they were able to pack up early having completed the aim of their excavation. At least the snow held off until weekend!
Brining together all they had learnt from the practical excavation, the pupils from Framingham Earl High School came to Cambridge on the last day of the field school with several aims in mind. Firstly, to inspire the pupils to show them what they could achieve through higher education. Meeting students and staff, they could envision themselves there in the years to come. Second, they were there to be shown how to write up the important archaeological results they had found. The morning’s lecture, given by Emma Brownlee which outlines how use the data gathered to understand patterns of settlement development, as well as how to present this in a project. The written project is a lot of work for the pupils, but it is highly valuable as practice for marked coursework and university-style work. With the dropping of GCSE coursework students now have less experience of this.
After all this hard work, it was time to see the lighter side of Cambridge and have lunch! Emmanuel college were our very kind hosts and served an excellent lunch. Students particularly enjoyed seeing the beautiful building, and two students even tested out the acoustics in the chapel and gave an impromptu recital! The sun shone warmly and the students thoroughly enjoyed their time there, making many Harry Pottery analogies to help understand the structure of the University and its colleges. Back to the archaeology department but this time to explore the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. We are always seeking to improve and expand our offerings and the museum activity has taken on a different focus than last year. This time the students are focusing on how objects in the Museum’s collection can illustrate different aspects of a settlement’s history. Looking carefully at different objects and drawing them they collected their ideas together onto a poster for others to look at.
To cement the pupil’s impressions of Higher Education and give them some concrete information on how to turn their experience over the past three days into a potential future, the last part of the day was devoted to a talk from the Schools Liaison Officer at Robinson College. Eleanor Humphrey spoke to the pupils about how they could take the skills they have learnt over the past three days, and apply them to any area. Particularly inspiring was seeing the pupils realise the broad range of options open to them and what choices they could meet now to help themselves in the future.
The students had to rush to catch the train back at the end of the day but they certainly enjoyed their time with us. They were enthusiastic and curious to a tee and a real credit Framingham Earl High School. It’s been an encouraging start to the year and we hope to have many more great stories to bring you about students getting involved with archaeology.