Histon & Impington Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2018


One of the great things about the ILAFS programme is working alongside interested local community partners. Our friends at the Histon and Impington Archaeology Group have done some sterling work in researching the origins, growth and changes in their village. Often completing extra test pits alongside ours or finishing off tests pits if our ILAFS student’s don’t quite managed to reach natural in the 2 days they have.  It is a pleasure to be working with them again this year.

TP 2h

We know from previous excavations that there is a wealth of evidence from different periods to be found in both Histon and Impington. Test pit excavations have already revealed Neolithic flints, rare bronze age pottery  and even two roman coins found near Histon Church. As a settlement well connected with other surrounding villages as well as Cambridge as a major centre pottery form other manufacturing centres in the Anglo-Saxon and Medieval periods have also been found. The finds show how the Histon shifts and moves over the centuries, with evidence of more intensive use of outlying areas over the years. A summary of the findings has been produced in a booklet by the Histon and Impington Archaeology Group.

This year getting their first introduction to archaeology was 35 students from Soham, Witchford and Bottisham Village Colleges. With many thanks to Beacon School Coordinator Sarah Pollard, they arrive keen and eager to start, and enjoy 3 days in the sunshine! The full ACA team were there with Cat Collins giving the morning’s instructional talk, Emily Ryley coordinating the students, and ACA’s Director, Alison Dickens offering archaeological advice and encouragement. After receiving a briefing on how any why we dig test pits, the students were split up into groups, mixing students from different schools to get digging on their test pits. The Histon and Impington Archaeology Group had chosen sites in areas that haven’t had previous investigations so it was up to the students to tell us what had happened there! The first day was warm and sunny and all the test pits managed to get their first few contexts out, finding mainly modern materials as expected, although Test pit 4 already had several pieces of Neolithic burnt flints.

Day 2 and a slightly cooler day and understanding the process more meant that the pupils really got down to it. Almost all the test pits produced medieval pottery which is great. We have sent the pottery way to expert Paul Blinkhorn for further analysis to get a more accurate date and clearer idea of what the students have discovered. Test pit 6 at The Dole near to the park came down onto a layer of chalf and a layer of clay. They worked hard to get through it, and wondered if perhaps it may have been remains of a building or other activity? We hope to find out the answers early next week, as all the test pits, part from 4 who hit natural geology are being completed by the Histon and Impington Archaeology Group. They continued a test pit last year after the students had left, and found two Roman coins at the bottom! Here’s hoping they find some more interesting objects!


Made simpler, by not having far to travel, 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 Emma Brownlee, a PhD students at the Department of Archaeology who had also been helping supervise a test pit. 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 Jesus, Clare and Downing Colleges. The students really enjoyed their visit to the colleges commenting on the food and the lovely buildings. 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? They really enjoyed seeing other artefacts, including some hand-axes found in Histon!

The final session of the day was with Jess Lister the new Schools Liaison Officer at Downing College 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. “It was very informative and helped me to understand more about archaeology and the process of excavation as well as university life.” IC Bottisham VC. “I liked all the extra information that was given to us to help us choose what to do in the future and learning something I hadn’t done before.” GB Soham VC. “I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment when we came across an interesting find.” NT Soham VC.


A special thanks to David Oates for his hard work organising the test pits and convincing people to let a bunch of teenagers dig up their garden!

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