Community Test Pit Excavations in Wendens Ambo

Over the Weekend of the 18th and 19th of August 2018, a series of 10 1m square archaeological test pits were excavated in the pretty village of Wendens Ambo in west Essex. The dig was organised through the Wendens Ambo Society with money through the Heritage Lottery Fund and aided by Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA).

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Over 70 local residents and volunteers of all ages turned out to hear Cat Collins from ACA give a short briefing in the morning (after the obligatory group photo of course!) talking about what has already been found in Wendens Ambo from the previous two sessions of test pitting with local secondary school children; all the results of which can be found on the ACA website.

Photo (C) Gordon Ridgewell

The test pits were mainly sited in the west of the village along Royston Road and Duck Street and around where the test pits from previous years had already been dug with a few new sites added in. The village side of the organisation was undertaken by Susan Watson of the Wendens Ambo Society, who took on the responsibility brilliantly of finding the test pit sites, as well as organising the paperwork, the volunteers, the village hall that was used as a base and giving all the volunteers their own commemorative water bottle!

Three archaeologists were on hand to offer advice and support over the course of the excavations, Matt Collins, Senior Project Officer at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit and Emma Brownlee, PhD student at Cambridge joined Cat from ACA for the weekend. Emma was also in charge of coordinating the feedback being collected by local teenage volunteers and it was the expertise of the archaeologists, and their ability to pass on their knowledge that was something which was praised by many of the participants, who appreciated the chance to learn. Volunteers enjoyed how ‘the expert’s ability to look at something and turn it into a bit of history’, helped the dig come alive for them, and ‘the benefit of expert help to identify your findings’ helped participants learn more about what they were excavating.

The majority of the local residents excavated in their own gardens with help from friends and family, whereas others worked with people they hadn’t met before or were new to the area. One of the test pits was also sited on The Wick Recreation Ground, which meant that it was visible to passers by to also get involved. In feedback, the volunteers commented ‘had lots of people stopping by’ and ‘everyone walking by taking an interest, asking us what we had found’.

The community aspect of the excavation was one of the most enjoyed parts of the weekend with multiple people praising  the atmosphere and the fact that such a wide range of people, you and old were involved: participants described it as ‘a great family event’, ‘it was good to see such a wide age range involved’,  ‘the whole neighbourhood was involved’, and’ ‘It increases the sense of belonging to an area and being part of a community’. This was further enhanced by a community BBQ on Saturday evening for all the volunteers and their families and was highly praised by all as it continued to enhance the whole community feel in the village.

Everyone involved in the test pitting had the opportunity to learn new skills ranging from excavation, finds washing, planning and section drawing and evaluation. In feedback after the weekend, 86% of people said they enjoyed learning how to do something new, 88% of participants either agreed or strongly agreed that they had learnt new archaeological skills, and praised this as one of the most enjoyable parts of the excavation: ‘It was great to learn how to dig properly’ and ‘a fun day spent with neighbours/friends outside learning a new skill’.

Children, as well as adults, learned new skills from the weekend, and participated alongside their parents. The experience was described as ‘Fun for all the family (and a 14 month old baby)’. One participant praised how good the archaeologists were at explaining to the children what was being found and why it was important. One nine year old participant most enjoyed ‘learning how to dig like an archaeologist’. There was an additional session of archaeological activities for the children of Wendens Ambo on Saturday afternoon before the BBQ, in which Cat Collins led the children through a series of hands on activities to learn more about archaeology, which was enthusiastically received by the children (and parents) who took part!

On the Sunday, the excavations continued, although a couple of the test pits were able to finish by the end of Saturday, either already reaching natural or just running out of time. The finds were being brought back to the village hall throughout Sunday so the archaeologists could start sorting through the finds, as there was also a competition for the oldest archaeological find, for which there would be a prize for the winner! One of the early contenders was TP 24, based on land at Westbury Barn, which came across a thick layer of peat at quite a depth. The course of the stream was moved with the construction of the M11 motorway during the 1970’s and it is likely that the area around the test pit may have been once part of this river course, or the lowland immediately surrounding it. At the base of the test pit the finds mainly consisted of fragments of natural wood that had preserved very well in the peat as well as a number of sherds of 12th century medieval pottery and one sherd of Late Anglo Saxon pottery! The pottery report of the test pit excavations can be downloaded here.

Two of the test pits, one in a relatively modern house on Duck Street and the other sited within Jubilee Wood off Chinnel Lane, actually yielded the two oldest pottery finds of the test pitting. Both recorded sherds of Late Bronze Age pottery, with also the pit on Jubilee Wood revealing a single sherd of Iron Age pot. Both of these sites are the first in the village to produce prehistoric pottery through the test pitting strategy, which was very exciting and hints at a focus of later prehistoric activity in the west of the village and close to the known Roman Villa site, now under the M11 motorway. A good amount of lithic material (worked flints and burnt stone) were also recorded through a number of pits, which is although yet to be examined by a specialist are likely also to be a similar date of Bronze Age or even earlier, dating as Neolithic.

Cat Collins led the sum-up at the end of Sunday, which was a great chance for everyone to come together again, as well as looking at the finds that Cat had talked through. Someone from each test pit group also said how they thought the excavation went, what the best finds were and how deep they were able to excavate to. In feedback, 98% of participants rated the excavation as either excellent or good with 83% saying they enjoyed it more or much more than they anticipated and 97% said they would recommend taking part in a community excavation like this to others, with the most commonly mentioned reasons for this being because it was ‘fun’, because of the opportunities to learn more about where you lived, and because it helped bring the community together. 86% of participants said there was nothing about the excavation that they did not enjoy, and the only negative recorded was the hard, physical nature of the work, especially when it came to backfilling the test pits at the end of the two days.

 The excavation was an opportunity for participants to learn more about where they live as well as actively engage in heritage. 68% said that they felt they knew more about the history of Wendens Ambo than they did before, and 70% of people enjoyed learning more about Wendens Ambo. It was described as an ‘a great opportunity to learn more about your village’ and ‘we are spending a great family day discovering so much more about where we have lived for over 30 years’. Being able to contribute to knowledge about Wendens Ambo was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the excavation: 68% of participants enjoyed knowing that they were doing valuable archaeological research, and 84% enjoyed the experience of finding historic objects. One participant put their enjoyment of the excavation down to the fact that ‘able to contribute, if only in a small way, to the corpus of knowledge, is a privilege not often available’.

The project has also inspired residents to become more engaged with heritage in the future: 76% said they would take more interest in the archaeology and heritage of Wendens Ambo in the future, while 86% said they would take more interest in archaeology and history more generally. Many of the participants would recommend the experience to others because it was a great way to learn about history.

Overall, the test pitting weekend was both hugely successful and positive experience for the volunteers and in terms of archaeological results. Thanks must go to the HLF, Sue Watson and the Wendens Ambo Society and Emma Brownlee for collating all the feedback.


Northstowe Community Excavations

For a total of five weeks at the end of June and into July 2018, a community archaeological excavation was undertaken, with volunteers given the opportunity to work alongside professional field archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) with their ongoing work on the Phase 2 archaeology, ahead of the new town construction of Northstowe.

Volunteer site hut and looking NW across part of Phase 2

Just under 60 people signed up to take part in the dig, from 18 year old university students to retired individuals and it was the flexibility of the dig that appealed to a lot of the volunteers, as they were able to attend as many days as they wanted. Some of the volunteers are already living in Northstowe that was part of the Phase 1 excavations, as well as the surrounding villages and people coming from further afield. The timescale of the dig unfortunately coincided with one of hottest heatwaves since the summer of 1976, but everyone persevered (just with perhaps more water and shade breaks!)

The aims of the community excavations were to investigate an unexplored area of large open area site that was ahead of the of the commercial excavations currently being undertaken by CAU site staff and to give the volunteers the chance to learn all aspects of a commercial excavation, including excavation and recording techniques. Matt Wood and Heather Turner of the CAU led the community side of the excavation, but the volunteers were very much included into the site staff team with one volunteer commenting:  “Thank you for the friendly welcome. It was very relaxed and informative. The relaxed atmosphere rubbed off onto the other volunteers – all friendly and happy to share what they had found. There was a good team spirit. And great that I was able to come, even though I was only available for one day.”

The archaeology consisted of a Late Iron Age (from the 1st century BC) and Roman (mid 1st to mid 5th century AD) farmstead that appears to be connected to a much larger Late Iron Age and Roman settlement, which has been under excavation since October 2016. The core of this excavation focused on the farmstead, with volunteers excavating various features including boundary ditches, pits, trackway systems and internal ditches, many of which yielded an extensive array of artefacts, all of a domestic nature, although no structural evidence has yet been found in this area.

The majority of the finds recovered would have had a personal use to the people who lived here; both plain and decorated pottery fragments were found, with animal bone, a multitude of metal work, including coins with also bone hair pins. There was evidence for small scale butchery having taken place on site, but again this would have likely been for personal use.

The results so far suggest that the settlement was continuously occupied from the Late Iron Age, through to the Late Roman period. These original Iron Age people remained on this site, but became ‘Romanised’ and could have been some of the original Romano-British occupants of the area.

The current plan of the archaeology at the focus of the community dig

The excavations are of course on-going (but the end of this phase is in sight!) so the full interpretation of the site and the finds are yet to come. The other half of the settlement (the blank area in the bottom of the plan above), is yet to be excavated but will hopefully come up for study next spring – watch this space!

Volunteers were asked to complete feedback forms at the end of their time on site and 99% of the volunteers rated their experience as either ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. The most enjoyable aspects were recorded as working directly with CAU staff “Working with top class archaeologists and nice people”; “The 1 to 1 instructions with professional archaeologists and meeting other people who enjoy history/archaeology” and “Digging! Also learning from Matt and Heather who are very knowledgeable about this site and generally”. Other enjoyable aspects of the dig were recorded as finding the various artefacts as well as the independent work; “The allocation of features to dig that are individual, enabling a task to be completed through to the end, even when only the odd day on site can be managed”. Others stated they enjoyed “finding a brooch fragment, but also being part of the team”, “[I enjoyed] interpreting interesting ditches and features”, “Really everything, actual digging and learning a bit about the recording procedure” and “Being allowed to excavate alone/with people when needed and meeting like minded people”.

All the CAU staff involved in the dig would like to extend their gratitude to all the volunteers who took part in the excavations, whether it was for one day or twenty days. The contribution to the on-going archaeological investigations at Northstowe has been vital and we hope that all the volunteers both enjoyed their time on site, but also hope that they have gained more knowledge on archaeology as well.


Wendens Ambo Independent Learning Archaeology Field School

Our very last Independent Learning Archaeology Field School (ILAFS) of 2018 took place in the lovely village of Wendens Ambo, in West Essex on the 11th and 12th of July. The village sits on the western banks of the River Cam/Granta, 23km south of Cambridge and 15km north of Bishops Stortford. It sits between 55m and 70m OD on a bedrock of chalk with superficial deposits of both river terrace sands and gravels as well as silts and clays. The village was effectively cut in two when the Eastern Counties Railway was completed by 1845 and the construction of the M11 immediately west of the village also affected the village in more recent times. The name Wendens likely derives from the Old English of wende and denu to mean ‘winding valley’, and was recorded as Wendena in the Domesday Book of AD 1086. The word Ambo refers to the union of the two parishes called Great and Little Wenden in 1662. Known Iron Age and Romano-British settlement has been excavated nearby and the church of St Mary the Virgin dates from the 11th century that also most likely replaced an earlier wooden church on the same site.

A total of 48 Year 9 and 10 pupils from The Hertfordshire and Essex High School, Passmores Academy, The Davenant Foundation School, The Bishops Stortford High School and The Stewards Academy took part in the excavations. Our base for the two days digging was the St Mary the Virgin church and the students arrived for 9am on the Wednesday for an introduction talk by ACA’s manager Alison Dickens. With the students, 6th form supervisors and teachers occupying the pews, Alison talked through the aims of the ILAFS project, which is not only to investigate the archaeology of the settlement but also to get the participants to think about higher education and that university is perhaps more widely accessible than perhaps they realise.

After the briefing, the students were given a break, to stretch legs and have a drink, whilst ACA’s archaeologist Cat Collins talked to the 12 6th formers (from both The Bishops Stortford High School and the Herts and Essex High School), who were each going to supervise a test pit group, some of whom had actually taken part in the ILAFS when they were in Year 10 at school. Alison then called out the test pit groups, which consisted of a mix of four students, from two different schools, which develops some of the life skills essential for later on life and work which includes working with people you may not know and the ability to communicate well with others.

The ground was quite hard digging, with all the dry weather of late, de-turfing took a while for all the groups (who had turf to begin with!) but everyone did all so well to get down between three and five contexts in the first day. The test pits were sited across the village, along Royston Road, Duck Street, Mill Road as well as close to the church and just under the viaduct along the stream. TP 3 close to the church and the site of an old timber barn (pictured below) actually hit natural by 15cm in depth, with no trace at all of the building found, perhaps due to the shallow foundations of the original structure.

Photo courtesy of Sue Watson

ACA were joined for both days on this dig by archaeologist John Newman who circulated the test pits with Alison and Cat, checking on all the test pit groups, offering advice and support as well as identifying the pottery being excavated by the students. The majority of the finds excavated on day one dated to the post medieval and later, although two pits produced fragments of burnt stone or ‘pot boilers’ that are likely to be at least three thousand years old! By the end of the second day of the dig, virtually every test pit found burnt stones, which suggests a potential of later prehistoric activity spread across the current village.

The rest of the second day continued to be another hot day. As part of ILAFS the students carry out all the processes of the excavation to include sieving all the soil to search for finds as well as washing all the artefacts on site. It is hard work, particularly as the majority of the participants are not used to this type of physical activity, but all the students worked hard to continue through the entire excavation.

Archaeology is the study of the past through the material culture left behind by our human ancestors. Not all the artefacts we discover are old….TP 8 found a piece of plastic wrapper, that on closer inspection dated from 1976 and offered a competition to win a bike (worth £55) or a pair or roller skates (worth £5), but we all missed the closing date, written as the 31st of August 1976!! The only evidence of medieval activity in the village was recorded from test pits 1 and 2, along Royston Road, although once we have the official pottery report though, it will be on our website here.

On Friday, all the students arrived in Cambridge for Day 3 of ILAFS. They were met by Cat Collins on the Downing Site, at the heart of the archaeology department and for many of the students it was their first visit to Cambridge, so there was a chance to talk to them about how the University of Cambridge differs from other universities and is based around a number of colleges, where the students live and eat, much like Hogwarts Houses, from Harry Potter!

PhD student Emma Brownlee gave the first talk of the day, a taster style lecture, to show how undergraduate students are taught at University and how it differs from school. Emma talked the students through the idea of settlement research that has been the focus of their last two days of excavation in Wendens Ambo and how to write up their test pit results in the form of a scientific style report.

For lunch, the schools were divided to go to either Christ’s College and Corpus College for lunch and a tour around, so the students could learn about how the Cambridge college system differs from other universities. The college system here is often compared to school houses, or Hogwarts Houses, where undergraduates sleep, eat and study as well as socialise with fellow students on other courses. Learning also takes place in various departments in the form of lectures, seminars, lab work and practicals. The students on Day 3 in Cambridge get a taste of university learning with the morning lecture (this week given by Emma Browlee) and the last session of the day was back in the Plant Sciences lecture theatre with a talk by Ellie Bishop, the Schools Liaison Officer from Peterhouse College. She gave the ILAFS participants a much needed introduction on applying to university and how learning differs to what the students are used to at school. One of the aims of ILAFS is to inspire the students to think more carefully about their own futures and to not discount university just because they perhaps don’t know much about it.

Straight after lunch, and after the college tours, the students were met at the front of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology by Museum Outreach Assistant Jenny Williams. Jenny began talking with the students in the local archaeology display about how different artefacts are used to show different aspects of the settlement, and then split the students into four groups, each looking at a different period or settlement. The settlements examined included the Indus Valley, The Maya’s, Roman and Medieval Cambridge, and each student was asked to draw an artefact and record how they all relate to each other, in a poster display. The finished posters were then put on the glass display cases in the museum for other visitors to see whilst the students enjoyed some free time exploring the museum, as well as looking at the other groups posters and of course going to the gift shop!

The vast majority of the students, rated the ILAFS programme as either good or excellent and they enjoyed it as much or more than they expected, particularly as archaeology is not a subject the students have encountered before. In particular, feedback submitted at the end of the three days by both the students and staff was very positive. The students said when asked what they have gained from the field school “more team work qualities, leadership skills and to be more open to new experiences” (RG Davenant Foundation School), “I have a wider idea of what university life is like” (CB Stewards Academy) and “I enjoyed seeing different aspects of Cambridge” (MF Stewards Academy). Other students have said “I feel I have gained an increased confidence and maturation from ILAFS. I have also gained a deeper interest in Archaeology” (DB, The Bishops Stortford High School), “Confidence in my ability to work independently and in a team and to attempt new things, in which I have no previous experience. I have also gained a lot of new valuable knowledge about the university experience, which will be beneficial to my academic future” (NC, The Bishops Stortford High School). Other comments about the experience included “Amazing. Not entirely what I expected but I definitely enjoyed it” (JC, Herts and Essex High School) and “it was a really enjoyable experience” (MNS, Passmores Academy).


The staff also filled in feedback forms and each rated the ILAFS as excellent and said that their students enjoyed “the idea of taking learning out of the classroom and being part of an overall project and contributing” (CH, Stewards Academy) and when we asked what the students may have gained from this programme “an extra-cirricular opportunity that will raise aspiration and independence. Giving the students experiences they wouldn’t normally have access to” (LP, Passmores Academy), and “Its a great pity this is the last chance to attend archaeology field work. We got the students out of their comfort zone, they met and worked with other they didn’t know and the opportunity to use new skills that will benefit them in future education and life” (GC, Stewards Academy).

Our many thanks to all the students and staff who have worked with us for this dig and the key local resident, Sue Watson, who found all the test pit sites for us prior to the dig and was on hand during the test pitting for additional support and advice.

Fulmodeston Independent Learning Archaeology Field School

Our 11th Independent Learning Archaeology Field School (ILAFS) of the season was undertaken on Monday and Tuesday the 2nd and 3rd of July in the village of Fulmodeston in North Norfolk. The village is situated just south of the A148 that connects Kings Lynn and Cromer, to just the east of Fakenham and the parish today includes the hamlets of Clipstone, Croxton and Barney. The village was recorded in the Domesday Book as Fulmotestuna that derives from Old German to mean ‘farmstead of a man called Fulcmod’ for which there is one entry of land belonging to the William de Warenne. (British history online).

A total of 41 students from Cromer Academy, Alderman Peel High School, Fakenham Academy and the Litcham School met us at the Old School Hall in Fulmodeston with 11 6th formers from Fakenham Academy, who were also supervising the test pits. A total of 11 1m2 test pits were excavated along Barney Road, Hindolveston Road and Croxton Road with one test pit in the hamlet of Croxton. This isolated test pit was sited within a moated site at Croxton Hall that was also close to the ruined church of St John the Baptist’s Chapel (pictured). Our thanks must go to the Barney and Fulmodeston History Group for finding the sites for us to dig and being on site for support, in particular, to both Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead and Chris Heath and to Kerry Harris for the use of the Old School Hall.

Day 1 started hot and sunny and after a stop-start beginning with schools arriving at different time, ACA’s manager Alison Dickens took the Year 8 and 9 students through the morning briefing session, covering the aims of the ILAFs project, a bit of background on archaeology and the process of digging a test pit. The methodology and process of the test pit excavation is the same as that undertaken in commercial archaeology, just on a much smaller scale. The test pit record booklets used by ACA are the same for every place we work in, so we can compare the data between all the test pits excavated.

Cat Collins, ACA’s archaeologist, briefed the 6th form supervisors on their role within each group that also included the assessments that are undertaken for each student and their own record booklet, which will be out permanent record. We mixed the students from different schools in groups of 3 and 4 and they collected their equipment and headed out to site.

Because of the current dry spell, the ground was very hard, but the students worked very hard to get through the turf with groups excavating between one context and six over the course of the day! Possible medieval pottery was found along both Croxton Road and Barney Road, although the confirmed pottery results will be available on our website here within the next week or so. One group was even lucky enough to be given ice cream by the home owner!

Day 2 also dawned bright and warm and we were also joined by local Norfolk archaeologist and pottery specialist Andrew Rogerson, who looked through the previous days finds before heading out to circulate around the test pit sites. At least half of the test pits had reached natural by lunch time on the 2nd day, which meant that there was no further archaeology in that area left to identify, so could fill in their record booklets for the final recording and then backfill the test pit. It also meant that the students could then also help other groups to finish their test pits.

One test pit in particular, excavated at Croxton Hall in the middle of a moat, seemed to be the only test pit that produced an undisturbed layer of medieval archaeology, although additional medieval finds were recorded along Croxton Road, perhaps hinting that this may have been part of the original medieval settlement, which only began to shift to its current location after the 14th century. Faden’s Map of Norfolk, dating to the 1790’s shows Fulmodeston with extensive common land, perhaps the common was once where the crossroads are now, which may explain why there was little in the way of pre-15th/16th century finds from the majority of the test pits. It is also interesting to compare to the more recent 19th and 20th century maps of the settlement to compare all the sources of information.

Day 3 of the ILAFS programme takes place in Cambridge, so on the Wednesday, all the students travelled together to Cambridge on a coach to meet Cat on the Downing Site and the archaeology department by the late morning. With time to enjoy the shade of the courtyard and for a group photo, the students were led into the large lecture theatre in Plant Sciences for their first taste of learning at University with a lecture given by current Archaeology PhD student Emma Brownlee. She took the students through the background and process of settlement studies, as aspect of what the students have been undertaking over the last two days in the field and then took them through the process of writing up their test pit results into a comprehensive report. These report writing skills and independent learning are even more important these days with the removal of coursework from GCSE modules. The work with ACA and ILAFS enables students to hone these skills for use in future study and work.

After Emma’s talk, the four school groups were split to go to either Magdalene College or St Catharine’s College for lunch and a tour round and our sincere thanks to both Sandy Mill and Kartryn Singleton and their student helpers for guiding the students around the colleges. After lunch, the students were met at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on the corner of the Downing Site by Jenny Williams, the museums education and outreach assistant. Jenny showed the students how the local archaeology is displayed in the museum, linking artefacts to settlements and then split the students into four groups to examine a different settlement and create a poster of these objects.

The final session of the day was by Dr Matt Bullimore, Widening Participation Officer at Churchill College, who spoke to the students about higher education, what university is like and how the college system at Cambridge is different to other ‘campus’ universities. More information on which can be found online here. Although the students were still only 13 or 14 years old, the ILAFS programme got each student thinking about their futures and the possibilities open to them. Feedback from the ILAFS in Fulmodeston showed that every student rated the field school as either Excellent or Good and enjoyed it more than they expected to. Also, finding more out about university and Cambridge was the top of nearly each students feedback when asked about what they had gained from ILAFS. One student commented “I enjoyed being outside all day whilst we were digging and getting to know new friends from different schools and my own school” (KD Litcham School), another said “I have gained better team work skills and I have learnt a lot more on archaeology and why it’s such a fascinating subject. Also, I am a lot more excited about attending University. Thank you for this incredible experience” (HB, Alderman Peel HS). Others said afterwards “I have strengthened my ability to work as a team. It was good fun and I would recommend it to others” (JF Fakenham Academy), “I enjoyed researching the village and accompanying finds to build a bigger picture of the village” (KC Alderman Peel HS), “I enjoyed the lectures at the university as they are intellectual and I enjoy that type of learning” (CP, Fakenham Academy) and “I enjoyed looking around St Catharine’s College and meeting people and hearing what they study and their experience” (AS, Alderman Peel HS).

Northstowe Open Day 2018

On Saturday 30th June 2018 an open day was held at Northstowe for Phase 2 of the ongoing archaeological excavations that are being undertaken by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU). This phase of archaeology began in October 2016 and has focused on the detailed excavations of a large Roman settlement known as site 18.


Site 18 is almost 900m long and 20 hectares in area, making it larger than Roman Cambridge. The rest of Site 15 will be excavated in the spring of next year when work commences focusing on the sites to the north of Rampton Road. The blank area to the south of the farmstead was lost to quarrying in the 19th and 20th centuries, so sadly it may never be known what could have been destroyed at that time. This Roman settlement is arranged along a roadway with three main arms heading southwest-northeast and southeast. Square enclosures have been recorded at the junction with narrower longer ones to the south, with evidence of buildings, wells, rubbish pits, ditches, metal working, textile production, a pottery kiln and cemeteries in the settlement area.

At the north end, the settlement takes on a different form with double and triple ditch lines enclosing about 6 hectares on the northwest side of the road. Presuming there were banks between the ditches, it is possible that this is defensive in nature reflecting the sometimes hazardous nature of life on the Roman fed edge. This is a very similar arrangement to that recorded on the site excavated of Northstowe Phase 1 on the old golf course.

Two other sites have also been or are being investigated. To the west is Site 15. Like Site 18, this has Roman remains overlying those on the Iron Age, but the nature of both differ from that seen on the larger site. A looping ditch-cum-trackway leads from Site 18 to and around Site 15 on to the Phase 1 site. Between the two sites lies a zone being interpreted as a ‘farmstead’, dominated by evidence of activities relating to agriculture, in particular a corn dryer, the first found in the Northstowe landscape.

Work is almost finished on this part of Phase 2, but there are new sites to be investigated in 2019 and the results will be considered along with those of Phase 1 on which analysis is currently underway.

Between 10am and 4pm on the Saturday, the site was opened to the public with tours every 15 minutes of the current excavations, and information boards on display with some of the best finds so far recovered. Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) were also on site with a variety of hands-on activities, including identifying different animal bones, excavating and identifying seed remains, a chest of draws to represent the stratigraphy of excavation and a number of boxes of finds to represent different time periods. Along with Cat Collins from ACA, was Emma Rees, finds officer at the CAU, who talked visitors through the activities on offer.

Until the 20th July, there is also community excavations happening at Northstowe, which is open to all over 18’s between Monday and Friday only. If you’d like to take part in excavations contact with the dates that you’d like to attend.

Great Gidding Independent Learning Archaeology Field School

For the last 3 days, ACA were in the village of Great Gidding, part of a cluster of villages with the name Gidding to also include Little Gidding and Steeple Gidding (see The Giddings website here) and situated on the west Cambridgeshire border in Huntindonshire, about 16km northwest of Huntingdon and along the northern banks of the Alconbury Brook (a tributary of the River Ouse), for our 10th Independent Learning Archaeology Field School (ILAFS) of the season.


Great Gidding is predominately stretched as a ribbon of development, with a cluster of settlement is also noted at Chapel End. The village was recorded in the Domesday Book on AD1086 as Geddinge with the affix manga, which is Latin for great, added by the early 13th century. The name Geddinge likely means ‘the settlement of the family or followers of a man called Gydda‘. Great and Little Gidding were one parish at the time of the Domesday survey, when there was also three major landowners at that time, Eustace the Sheriff, William Engaine and the Abbots of Ramsey. During the 12th century about 700 acres of William Engaine’s land was separated and became Little Gidding. The church in Great Gidding is dedicated to St Michael and has its origins from the 13th century.

On Wednesday morning we were joined at the Great Gidding village hall by 33 Year 9 and 10 students from Ely College, Cromwell Community College and Stamford Welland Academy. The excavations could not have gone ahead without the support of the Great Gidding History Group, in particular Julie Trolove who found all the test pit sites for us and was on hand during the excavation for additional support and assistance, as was Patrick Ellis, Amanda (Min) Cameron and Kevin Redgate, with Phil Hill, who also coordinated our test pitting in Sawtry between 2014 and 2016 (the results of which can be found on our website here).


The ILAFS programme always start with a briefing session on day 1, this week led by ACA’s manager Alison Dickens, who talked the students through the process of digging the test pit and what we hope the students achieve over the three days of ILAFS. We want to encourage all the students taking part to think more about higher education and university, which given their age, many haven’t considered yet, but if university is something they think they may enjoy after the ILAFS programme, each student will have the time to pull up their grades if necessary and aim for the best university that they can get to, whether that is Cambridge or other Russel Group universities. The rest of the project aims include life, learning and future work skills as well as the archaeological side of the project, where the students are undertaking original work for the Access Cambridge Archaeology and the Department of Archaeology!


After a quick break it was out into the sunshine to start the excavations! There were 9 test pits in total, and the schools were split up so there were one or two students from each school in every test pit. These were focused along Main Street in the far north of the village to next to the church and then at Chapel End and Gains Lane. The groups were mainly supervised by the teachers accompanying the students, but one willing homeowner, Leslie Alexandar also supervised the group digging in his own garden along Main Street, for which we are very grateful.


Most of the groups started with de-turfing, which was quite hard, given the long spell of dry weather but were able to get through at least the first context before lunch! All process of excavation was undertaken, the same as on a commercial excavation, just on a smaller scale. Excavation, recording, sieving and washing the finds were all undertaken by the students and would have each taken a turn doing the different tasks.

The majority of the pits on the first day were digging through Victorian and post medieval layers, although TP 6 at Chapel End recorded a sherd of 12th century medieval pottery, which was a great find that made us hopeful for more to come the next day!


Thursday was another early start with the students arriving in Great Gidding for around 8.30am again. Once all were signed in and their supervisors were here, the groups headed straight back out to site to continue digging from yesterday, a process that every student was more confident with given the experience they gained yesterday.

Cat Collins, ACA’s archaeologist, continued to circulate the test pits as she did the previous day and was on hand to help the students with the digging or to identify what was found. Also present on the Thursday was David Hall, a local pottery expert who also visited all the test pit sites, after examining all the finds recorded on the first day that were still drying in the village hall.


The day started cool, which was a bonus to the two test pits that had managed to find natural and backfilled early, but this meant that they were able to help the other groups continue to a greater depth. Additional test pits also found medieval pottery, also again at TP 6, but also TP 7, TP 4 and TP 9, with also some possible Late Anglo Saxon pottery… although until we get the pottery report through from Paul Blinkhorn early next week, we just have to wait and see! When the pot report is ready, it will be online here.

TP 4 also recorded the presence of an animal burial in about the 4th context, some of which was able to be excavated and it was determined to be a juvenile animal, although the debate is still out as to what animal has actually been found – watch this space!


Day 3 – like the first two days, consisted of an earlier start, but this time all the students travelled to Cambridge and met Cat on the entrance of the Downing Site. It was a warm start already and the early start gave the schools time for a quick group photo and time outside to take in the surroundings of Archaeology Department!


The first session was undertaken in the large lecture theatre in Plant Sciences on the Downing Site for a real taste of university life and learning in the form of a lecture on settlement studies. The style of the lecture was very new compared to what the students are used to at school, in that the students are given the information and take additional notes to the day-3 booklet we provide for them, but are then expected to continue their own research and discover additional information so each student can produce a comprehensive written report on their test pit excavations and what the results mean for the development of Great Gidding.

For lunch the schools groups went either to Trinity College or Trinity Hall College founded in the mid-16th by Henry VIII and the mid-14th centuries respectively. Trinity Hall is the 5th oldest college in Cambridge, so it was a great chance for the students to see the older side of the city and how its history is intermingled with the university. Our thanks to both these colleges for hosting our students this week.


Steve Watts, Admissions Tutor at Homerton College gave an excellent talk after lunch on applying to university and what the colleges at Cambridge are looking for in the application process, which will hopefully inspire all the students that came on the ILAFS trip. The final session of the day this week was in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology  and run by Jenny Williams, the museums education and outreach assistant. Using the current displays in the MAA, Jenny led the students through a session looking at different settlements and how the objects in the museum tie into these settlements. The students either looked at Roman Cambridge, Medieval Cambridge, or The Indus Valley and drew objects in the display cases relating to information they had read about how the archaeological finds can represent different aspects of a settlement.


The finished posters were then put up for all visitors to the MAA in the afternoon to enjoy! When asked about what the students enjoyed about the 3 days, 95% of the students rated ILAFS as either Excellent or Good and were quoted as saying “I enjoyed being treated like an adult and with respect” (HO, Ely College), and “I enjoyed looking at the University of Cambridge and when we were digging up and finding interesting pieces of history” (JK, Stamford Welland Academy). Another student said “I have gained a new experience which I wouldn’t find anywhere else” (KM, Cromwell Community College) and another said “I really enjoyed this experience and hope to do something like this again” (DO, Stamford Welland Academy).

The staff accompanying the students were also able to offer their perspective on the programme and also any feedback they heard when ACA staff weren’t around! TP from Cromwell Community College said, “they have really enjoyed doing something completely different to their normal schooling and working together to a common goal”. JN from Stamford Welland Academy said it was “an insight into the opportunities available after school” and we hope that the students take this away from ILAFS, but in the short term, we are looking forward to reading each student write up’s for their test pit excavations when they submit just before the summer break.

Thanks again to everyone who took part and with the organisation of the excavations in Great Gidding, its been a brilliant three days!

Thundersley Independent Learning Archaeology Field School

Our ninth Independent Learning Archaeology Field School (ILAFS) of the 2018 season was in the now bustling town of Thundersley in south Essex at the end of last week. We have been working closely with the AGES Archaeological and Historical Association (AGES AHA)  for the past 5 years, both in Daws Heath (2013 and 2014) and in Hadleigh (2015-2017) and the results of all those digs can be seen on our website here. AGES AHA have once again been instrumental in allowing us to work in Thundersley this year and we are continually grateful for their ongoing support and enthusiasm!

Thundersley sits on a plateau of high ground, with the 13th century church of St Peter at its centre, between Basildon and Southend-on-Sea. The settlement now is very built up as a constant ribbon of development along the A13. The original focus of Thundersley however was north of this road, but running parallel to it and likely has its origins in pre-Christianity, as the name was recorded as Thunreslea in the Domesday Book of 1086 to mean ‘sacred grove of the god Thunor or Thor‘.

The AGES AHA team had already started digging test pits earlier in the year, so unusually we started at test pit number 4. The local society also excavated 2 more pits whilst we were there, with some of them also able to supervise the students.

We had a total of 24 Year 8 and 9 students from Southend High School for Boys coming on this three day trip, not only to teach them about a new subject – archaeology, and one that is not taught in schools, but also about higher education in general, to open their eyes to the multitude of possibilities available to them.

Our base for the dig was at St Peter’s Church, where Alison Dickens, ACA’s director and also a Senior Project Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) led the students through the morning briefing on the Wednesday, not only giving some background on the ILAFS programme but encouraging the students to start thinking about the settlement they will be working in. Today it is one continuous ribbon of development which can mask what the original settlement used to look like. Even as recent as the late 19th century, Thundersley would have been a very rural settlement, but what would have been the decisions behind siting the original settlement here? These are the types of questions that we’re asking of the ILAFS students, to bring together both their historical and geography knowledge and applying to a new field of science, archaeology.

After the briefing, the students had a quick refreshment break whilst ACA’s archaeologist Cat Collins briefed the teachers and volunteers from AGES-AHA who will be supervising the test pits. The supervisors assess the students as they work, which will form part of their final grade. Reflective learning is also an important part of ILAFS, the students are required to undertake their own self assessments and record their progress over the two days.

The 24 students were split into six groups of four that would become their test pit groups for the next couple of days. The test pit sites were quite well dispersed, with a test pit on the edge of Thunderlsey Common along Lewes Way, another down Sunnymede Close and along Thundersley Grove that may have been part of the original routeway through Coombe woods. A cluster of pits were also excavated close to St Peters church, with two along Grasmere Way and AGES AHA digging a test pit in the grounds of Kingston Primary school and St Peters field, to the south of the church.

The first day was very hot indeed, but the students carried on brilliantly, one group was even lucky enough to be provided with a gazebo to keep them in the shade! All the home owners of Thundersley were extremely generous in allowing these teenagers to dig holes in their gardens, and trust them to put it all back again (which they did), for all of that we are extremely grateful.

Three of the groups actually hit natural on the first day, one group even went beyond into the natural sand, but all the students were able to keep going through the heat and hard digging and were praised by the homeowners where the students were digging as well as the local society for their commitment and excellent behaviour, so well done to all the students who took part!

Day 2 on Thursday was not quite as hot – at least to start with and with two groups backfilling first thing, Alison took one of the already finished groups into St Peters Field to start TP 12, she even got them started by de-turfing for them! It was in this field that we AGES-AHA had found likely Roman pottery with medieval and even potentially late Anglo Saxon pot. When the pottery report is in, it will be on our website here. The students were joined in this field with another test pit (13), both of which also found natural, so some students dug and completed two test pits in two days – quite an incredible feat! Those that did finish early helped the other groups and theirs friends to finish up, although not before adding a time capsule before backfilling!


TP 6g

At the same time on Thursday, there was a coffee morning in the church for local residents to see what had been found on the dig that was hosted by AGES-AHA. St Peters field was again the place where the majority of the oldest finds were recovered, which also has given the local society the opportunity in the future to excavate additional pits between the church and the field. This area sits on a plateau of high ground that would have been ideal for settlement in the past, perhaps even for the location of a Roman villa…only additional excavations would be able to prove this theory!

On the Friday, the students made the long journey up to Cambridge for a day exploring the city and university. It was the first time the majority had travelled to Cambridge so it is a really good opportunity for them to explore a new place (it’s also a nice reward for two hard days digging in the Essex clays – although some groups were lucky enough to be on much lighter sand!)

The day started with a lecture by Jess Thompson, a current PhD student at Cambridge, who talked to the students about the concept and importance of independent research, how to think critically on a topic, how to engage with multiple types of research and how to write up the results from the excavations. Each student will submit a report bringing all the data from the test pitting together, which will give each boy a chance to develop skills and gain analytical writing experience that will help them with their GCSE’s and also to prepare for A-Levels and beyond.

For lunch, all the students went to Pembroke College where they were given a tour around the various aspects of the college, which is very much your school house (or Hogwarts House if you’re a Harry Pottery fan!) in that the colleges at Cambridge are where you eat, sleep, socialise, study, join sports teams and make a host of friends who may not be on your course. A hot or cold lunch was also provided and the students made the most of their time at Pembroke, asking questions to the two student volunteer helpers (Imogen and Kieren) and taking in the surroundings of the oldest College in Cambridge!

After lunch, the students headed straight for the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (MAA) on the Downing Site for a practical session, although the idea is to still be thinking about settlement patterns, but also applying their recently gained archaeological knowledge. Jenny Williams at the MAA

The final session of the day and the ILAFS course was a talk by Kathryn Singleton, Schools Liason Officer from St Catharine’s College, who talked about admission procedures at Cambridge and expanding more about what University life is like, the types of courses you can study and how you learn when at University. It’s also a chance for the students to ask questions as they may not have previously thought about university, but coming on this course in Years 8 and 9 gives the students the best chance to really focus on their schoolwork and bring their grades if needed so they really excel and take every opportunity to make their future the best it can be.

The group had to leave Cambridge a bit early on the Friday, so they took the feedback forms with them to fill out and send back to us, so we can’t end with the usual comments and assessment from the students, but we hope that all the boys from Southend High School for Boys enjoyed the three days of the ILAFS programme and have taken some valuable skills away with them. We’re looking forward to receiving the write ups just before the summer holidays. Our thanks again to all those who helped make the dig another success!