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.

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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.

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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!

Wendens Ambo Independent Learning Archaeology Field School 2017

This week we are in Wendens Ambo, a scattered village near to Saffron Walden and Audley End House. With a population of just under 400 it nestles in the valley which is gets it’s name from, Wendene, amid the soft folds of chalk which form the uplands of north-west Essex. Wendens Ambo has a long history with evidence of settlement on the site since the Bronze Age. Excavations found remains of Bronze-Age flint tools in are area of Iron-Age and later Romano-British occupation.

The present day settlement of Wenden was begun in the Saxon period to north of the stream, near where the church is today. 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. The settlement has since continued into the present day, facing challenges and changes such as the coming of the railway 1845 and the construction of the M11 immediately west of the village. Such changes have greatly influenced the village and it will be exciting to see if your students can show more exactly how the village has moved and changed.

 

Five schools came together to make the trip a success: The Bishop’s Stortford High School, Davenant School, Stewards Academy, Passmores Academy and the Hertfordshire & Essex School. 43 year 9 and 10 pupils from these schools plus 12 6th Formers joined us ready to get involved and discover something new about this village already steeped in history.

The first stop was an introductory talk from Alison Dickens, Manager of ACA, about how we go about excavating, but also very importantly, the concepts and ideas that determine why we do archaeology and influence how we interpret what we discover. With so much already clearly going on in this village, how will what the students discover about the village change our understanding? Will archaeology agree with the historical narrative, will it change what we see? The great thing about doing test pits is that we can really get inside the heart of the village to answer these questions.

Two test pits were located in the garden of the Bell pub, while others were along Duck Lane, Rookery Lane and Chinnels lane. Test pit 1 on Rookery Lane quickly came up with a wealth of finds- they had hit a victorian rubbish dump with a wealth of marmalade jars, chicory coffee bottles and other objects. It just goes to show how our deposition habits have changed. Prior to dust bin lorries taking all our rubbish away, rubbish would often be buried at the bottom of the garden. Next door Test pit 2 came up with more modern objects including a toy car. Archaeologists call the way that objects have ended up in the ground the ‘deposition process’ and its important to think about to fully understand an object. Is this evidence of a buried hoard in response to invasion, or has this object been lost or thrown away? This adds an extra layer of interpretation to the objects.  

Other test pit found earlier objects. We had high hopes for test pits 3 and 4 which were located in the area of a known Roman Villa. The did indeed come up with several sherds of Roman pottery and roof tile, as well as some medieval pottery. Great work guys! Interestingly test pit 5, very near by had only later materials. The objects were identified by the ACA team as we went round and helped by John Newman, an expert on the local pottery types. We were all very intrigued by the discovery in Test pit 8 of a 15th/16th century lead token. This had a ‘Daisy Wheel’ pattern on it, a common medieval design that was often scratched into wall, wooden beams and any other spots using a pair of compass shears.  Interpreted as a protective or ‘witch’ mark it was a really interesting object to find. Test pit 8 also had evidence of the Arts and Crafts movement relating to the previous occupants of the house. Great to see such an range of finds! This is the first year we have been in Wendens Ambo so although we are just starting out there is a whole wealth of knowledge about the village already, some of which can be found on our website.  Now the M11 cuts through the area, and along with the railway, has brought new influences into the development of Wendens Ambo.

The test pits were supervised by 6th form students from The Bishop’s Stortford High School and Hertfordshire and Essex High School. This not only gave the 6th former’s valuable leadership experience, but the younger students also enjoyed being lead by non-teachers. They also needed to interact with the public, as we had many local residents of Wendens Ambo very interested in the local dig. The students were able to show their finds off to an impressed audience. “I enjoyed meeting locals and learning more about Wendens Ambo.” JB Passmores Academy.

For Day 3, it was off to Cambridge to bring together the concepts we had introduced on Day 1 and the practical side they had already seen. Now it was time to start interpreting those results. Students views of archaeology often drastically changes after their ILAFS experience; coming to realise just how many skills are needed, not just practical digging but also diligent recording to conceptualising a dramatically different past lifescape in a village. We want students to gain from the experience academically, as well as increasing personal learning and thinking skills, by producing a written report at the end. With new questions to focus on, the lecture to begin the morning on Day 3 in Cambridge, really seeks to bring together the knowledge they have accrued and starts them on the path to their own interpretations of the  evidence for complex patterns of human behaviours. This is complimented by an hour spent in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, looking at the same ideas, in many different cultures. Hopefully then these students will be able to go out and apply these same principles in other areas and be able to look topics at with a deeper level of interpretation.

The day also included lunch at Peterhouse and Pembroke colleges for the students. Not only is time for a necessary refuel, its a time for the students to realise just what university is about- its not a continuation of school, but something much more exciting. Some pupils believe university is like boarding school, where there are restrictions on your time and maybe even on your mobile phone use! However we hope to show that through the ILAFS project and later on in Higher Education, you can take control of your own learning. Shona Watford, Schools Liaison Officer from Corpus college elaborated on this further with her talk at the end of the day. All in all it was a very positive three days which students and staff alike greatly enjoyed.

“Course Leaders were clear, helpful and enthusiastic” JP Herts & Essex High School. “I have learnt social skills and archaeological skills which was very interesting, a better insight into history of a settlement and a more indepth understanding of how to structure a report.” FP TBSHS. “I have learnt more about university and how work is completed there. I have discovered new things. JB Passmores Academy. “I think that  have a much better understanding of archaeology and university life and developed a wide range of skills that can be transferred to many things.” LB Herts and Essex.

Thank you to the local history group for their efforts organising the test pit locations. The local residents of Wendens Ambro remarked at how well behaved the students were and they certainly have been a great bunch. Many thanks to Alexander Cokewoods from TBSHS for helping organise the trip.

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Hadleigh Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) 2015

Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) hosted its seventh Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) of the 2015 season last week in Hadleigh, Essex. A total of 9 test pits were excavated on 13th – 14th May by Year 9 pupils from Southend High School for Boys, Shoeburyness High School, Cecil Jones Academy and Westcliff High School for Boys.

Test Pit 1
Test Pit 1

Two test pits were also dug by members of the Archaeology Geophysics Enthusiastic Searchers Archaeological and Historical Association (AGES AHA).

Members of AGES AHA carry out their excavation at the URC
Members of AGES AHA carry out their excavation at the URC
Lynda with the AGES AHA display
Lynda with the AGES AHA display

The test pits were organised by Terry Barclay and Lynda Manning of AGES AHA and our beacon school coordinator was Mr Gareth March from SHSB. The base for the two digging days was the Hadleigh United Reform Church. The 11 x 1m2 test pits were located on St John’s Road, Falbro Crescent, Elm Road, Beech Road, Castle Lane, Oak Road South, Church Road, Rectory Road and London Road.

Hadleigh, a Saxon word meaning ‘a clearing in the heath,’ is a small town in Essex, 5 miles west of the seaside resort of Southend-on-Sea and 35 miles east of London. It is well-known for the ruins of Hadleigh Castle, a 13th-century Grade I listed building and scheduled monument maintained by English Heritage. This is the first year ACA have hosted a HEFA in Hadleigh. In previous years, the South Essex HEFA was held in nearby Daws Heath, the reports from which can be accessed here.

Sieving in the sun at Test Pit 2
Sieving in the sun at Test Pit 2

The students worked in mixed-school teams of 3 or 4 and were supervised by teachers from the 4 participating schools. After receiving a briefing on Day 1 from Dr Carenza Lewis, Director of ACA, about how to excavate and record the test pits, the students went out on site and excavated for 2 days.

The weather, a major player in any English archaeological excavation, was well-behaved for the first day of digging, but Thursday, 14th May brought heavy, all-day downpours. Our teams, however, endured the deluge and persevered with digging and sieving, returning to base only slightly muddy!

Test Pit 5 didn't let the rain spoil their day!
Test Pit 5 didn’t let the rain spoil their day!

We were pleased that the Essex Echo not only promoted the event in advance (here), but also sent out a photographer to cover the event. Once that article has been published online it will be available here.

Cat Ranson, ACA archaeological supervisor, and Paul Blinkhorn, post-Roman pottery expert, toured the test pits providing guidance on excavating and recording techniques as well as identifying finds and pottery sherds. This expertise proves to be invaluable to the participants and is always reflected as such in their feedback. Students commented, “I enjoyed knowing what period of time my finds came from and what part of history they came from” (DA) and “I liked discovering finds, especially when the specialists would date and discuss them.” (CF)

Paul and Carenza have a look through the finds
Paul and Carenza have a look through the finds

The students recorded all of their findings context-by-context in their individual Test Pit Excavation Record Booklet. This is not only an invaluable asset in helping to produce their written assignment, but also informs academic research and becomes part of the permanent record about each test pit kept on file at the University of Cambridge.

Some Roman pottery sherds were found in two of the test pits and would initially indicate some sort of Roman occupation on the high ground looking over the River Thames. If the town of Hadleigh has Saxon origins it is not represented in the pottery findings from this year’s HEFA. Only a limited number of sherds of high medieval pottery are represented and as such the ways in which the town of Hadleigh developed throughout the Middle Ages remain to be discovered. It is hoped that future test pits will shed some light on this issue. The complete pottery report can be accessed here.

Victorian tin toy whistle
Victorian tin toy whistle

But, the Hadleigh test pits did provide some treasures. TP 8 on Oak Road South produced a sweet Victorian toy tin whistle and TP 10, dug by AGES AHA members, in front of the United Reform Church came down onto three farthings dating from the earlier half of the 20th century. It is possible that these were lost in a single occurrence; one can easily imagine a ‘hole-in-the-pocket’ incident.

"Three Coins in a Test Pit" - farthings from TP 10
“Three Coins in a Test Pit” – farthings from TP 10

The students spent the third day of the HEFA in Cambridge where they learned not only about university, but also about how their individual test pits fit into the wider picture. Carenza’s lecture on medieval settlement studies and the Currently Occupied Rural Settlement (CORS) project helps highlight how HEFA participants contribute to university research, an aspect of the programme that always ranks highly in student and teacher feedback.

The students then split into groups for lunch and a tour at one of Trinity, Trinity Hall, Downing and St John’s Colleges. These tours were given by either the admissions officer or schools liaison office (SLO) from each of the colleges. Lizzie Dobson, SLO for Emmanuel College, then gave a presentation to the entire group about the University of Cambridge, post-16 options, A-Level choices and choosing degree subjects.

Downing College
Downing College

One of the aims of ACA’s HEFA programme is to raise students’ aspirations of going on to higher education after school. Learning more about university in general and visiting the University of Cambridge specifically contribute to raising these aspirations and always receive good feedback from both students and staff: “I had great fun and it really opened up my eyes to other education options” (JW) and “I enjoyed learning how to get into university and also knowing that Cambridge offers my choice.” (JT)

Day 3 concluded with Dr Trish Biers, visiting scholar at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, giving a presentation on how to structure and present a written account of the excavation. Students who submit a report receive detailed feedback and a certificate from the University of Cambridge. This feedback can then be used in future university applications, CVs etc. and their reports form part of the permanent archive.

In feedback after the event, 95% of participants rated the field academy as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. Students commented, “I thought that it was really good fun and a very constructive experience,” (JF) “I enjoyed collaborating with other schools and integrating with other students” (AN) and “It was a lot of fun and I would do it again!” (CC).

Test Pit 2 working together as a team
Test Pit 2 working together as a team

Staff also commented, “The students enjoyed being part of a much larger research project and they have gained independent research skills, teamwork and archaeological knowledge.” (SN) and “The students have certainly gained a taste of university life, with a couple even expressing an interest in studying archaeology.” (DB)

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of the four schools involved for making the Hadleigh HEFA a successful event despite the horrible weather. Special thanks to Terry and Lynda of AGES AHA, Gareth March of SHSB and Hadleigh URC.

Test Pit 8 get stuck in
Test Pit 8 get stuck in

Southminster Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) 2015

ACA’s fifth Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) took place last week, 29th – 30th April , in Southminster, Essex. The 42 Year 9 pupils from Ormiston Rivers Academy, William de Ferrers School and The Plume School excavated 11 test-pits throughout the small town. An additional test-pit held in the grounds of Southminster Church of England Primary School was excavated by several of its pupils. The test-pits were organised by David Stamp of William de Ferrers School with Ron Pratt, mayor of nearby Burnham-on-Crouch, and Kay Maudesley, parish councillor. The base for the two digging days was the community hall on the King George V Playing Fields.

St Leonard's Church, Southminster
St Leonard’s Church, Southminster

The 11 x 1m2 test pits were located in the back gardens of private properties on Hall Road, North Street, High Street, King’s Road and Burnham Road. There were also two test-pits located at the Southminster Residential Home on Station Road and two on the King George V Playing Fields.

TP 3 at the Southminster Residential Home on Station Road
TP 3 at the Southminster Residential Home on Station Road

Southminster is a small town located between the River Blackwater and the River Crouch on the Dengie peninsula in Essex. This is the first year a HEFA has been located in Southminster. Previously, the Central Essex HEFA was held in Writtle and those reports can be found here

Mayor Ron Pratt visits TP 6
Mayor Ron Pratt visits TP 6

The students worked in mixed-school teams of 3 or 4 and were supervised by teachers and local volunteers. After receiving a briefing on Day 1 from Dr Carenza Lewis, Director of ACA, about how to excavate and record the test pits, the students went out on site and excavated for 2 days. Even through the wind and rain on the Wednesday the teams persevered, with some pits making it all the way down to ‘natural’.

Carenza's Day 1 Briefing
Carenza’s Day 1 Briefing

We were pleased that two local publications, The Maldon and Burnham Standard and the Burnham Review, sent out photographers to cover the event. Once those articles have appeared online they will be linked here. We were also fortunate enough to have Maria Medlycott, Historic Environment Officer for Essex County Council, come out on Thursday for a tour of the test pits.

Mike and Pat of the Maldon Archaeological and History Group supervise Test Pit 12 at Southminster Primary School
Mike and Pat of the Maldon Archaeological and History Group supervise Test Pit 12 at Southminster Primary School

Cat Ranson, ACA archaeological supervisor, and John Newman, pottery expert, toured the test pits providing guidance on excavating and recording techniques as well as identifying finds and pottery sherds. Having experts on site is always popular with the participants who commented, “I enjoyed talking with the experts on pottery etc. to try and put together the story of the site.” (AC) and “I enjoyed learning about the history of the area and talking to historians and people who could give me more information about the history of Britain.” (CS)

Mr Stamp offers his advice to TP 7
Mr Stamp offers his advice to TP 7

The students recorded all of their findings context-by-context in their individual Test Pit Excavation Record Booklet. This is not only an invaluable asset in helping to produce their written assignment, but also informs academic research and becomes part of the permanent record about each test pit kept on file at the University of Cambridge.

TP 1 at Southminster Hall
TP 1 at Southminster Hall

As this is the first year a HEFA has been held in Southminster, the initial findings suggest a cluster of medieval pottery around St Leonard’s church which is still central to the modern town. One piece of possible prehistoric pottery (Iron Age) was found on this HEFA in TP 6 on King’s Road, located on higher ground overlooking the marshes to the east. Other prehistoric settlements are known in Southminster, so this could possibly relate to that. Some possible Roman pottery was found in the grounds of the residential home on Station Road, but the final pottery report will confirm these initial conclusions. Once the finalised pottery report has been received it will be linked here.

Iron Age pottery sherd from TP 6
Iron Age pottery sherd from TP 6

Another find of note is the Victorian ash pit that the team on TP 4 on North Street came upon which produced masses of ceramic and butchered bone.

A selection of butchered cow bones from the Victorian ash pit at TP 4
A selection of butchered cow bones from the Victorian ash pit at TP 4

The students spent the third day of the HEFA in Cambridge where they learned not only about university but also about how their individual test-pits fit into the wider picture. Carenza’s lecture on medieval settlement studies and the Currently Occupied Rural Settlement (CORS) project is always popular, especially as it’s the first time most of the students have experienced a university lecture. Some of the comments were, “I enjoyed the lectures and the help given on the report writing” (AM) and “I enjoyed the lectures as I feel they gave you a small insight of life at university” (PP).

The students then split into groups for lunch and a tour at one of Trinity, Downing, Emmanuel and Pembroke Colleges. These tours were given by the schools liaison officers (SLO) from each of these colleges. Emma Paulus, SLO for Pembroke, then gave a presentation to the pupils about the University of Cambridge and life as a university student.

Post-lunch smiles at Pembroke College
Post-lunch smiles at Pembroke College

The day concluded with Dr Jenni French, Research Fellow in Archaeology and Anthropology, giving a presentation on how to structure and present a written account of the excavation. These reports go on to form part of the archive at The University of Cambridge.

In feedback after the HEFA 98% of participants rated the field academy as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. The students enjoyed meeting and working with new people and working in a team as well as visiting the University of Cambridge and learning more about university and archaeology. Students commented, “I have gained both confidence and the realisation of how important archaeology is” (MP), “I have enjoyed interacting with people with similar interests and I have gained confidence with new people” (MB) and “I feel I have gained a sense of independence (as we worked with other students) and also I have gained the knowledge on writing a good written report (which is needed). I have also gained more knowledge on the history of the area” (CS). School staff commented, “Our students have gained personal skills, teamwork, confidence and archaeological and historical knowledge” (DS) and “They have gained an insight into archaeology, an idea of what higher level academic work is like and an opening of doors to university applications” (PM).

The HEFA team: (L-R) John Newman, Cat Ranson, Dr Carenza Lewis, Laure Bonner
The HEFA team: (L-R) John Newman, Cat Ranson, Dr Carenza Lewis, Laure Bonner

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of the three schools involved for making the Southminster HEFA another successful event (even in the rain!). Special thanks to David Stamp for being both beacon school coordinator and local coordinator, to Ron Pratt and Kay Maudesley for organising the pits and to Mike Rees and Pat Sheehy of the Maldon Archaeological and Historical Group for supervising our young learners at Southminster Primary School.

20th century token from TP 10 on the King George V Playing Fields
20th century token from TP 10 on the King George V Playing Fields