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2007-2008

During 2007-2008 Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA), directed by Dr Carenza Lewis, moved from the Department of Archaeology into the McDonald Institute where increased office and bench space allowed it to consolidate and expand the range and reach of its activities aimed at enabling members of the wider, non-archaeological, community to engage with archaeological research. From March 2008, Catherine Ranson (CAU) returned to ACA as archaeological supervisor and Dan Aukett joined the team as project coordinator, while Jessica Rippengal continued her involvement as faunal specialist and Mary Ownby (MPhil, Cambridge), Mary Chester-Cadwell (MPhil, Cambridge) and Nisha Doshi (BA, Cambridge) helped with administration and delivery.  Numerous others, from within and beyond the University, have been involved in 2007-8 in supporting ACA activities on site as consultants or volunteers. Over this period ACA has enabled more than 1,500 people to become directly involved in excavation, with many more hearing about the excavations second-hand through lectures, local media and by word of mouth.

As in previous years, the main focus of ACA’s activity in 2007-8 was the Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) programme, funded via HEFCE by the European Social Fund to raise the academic aspirations and achievements of GCSE pupils from disadvantaged and non-university-educated backgrounds.  12 HEFA courses were run by ACA in 2007-8. As in previous years, participants on each course spent two days working in mixed-school teams of three or four, with ACA support, to complete every stage of the excavation of one of several 1m square test pits sited across one of ten rural settlements, before spending a third day in the University of Cambridge analysing the results and getting a taste of university life and learning.  Nearly 400 young people from more than 40 schools across 6 counties in East Anglia completed the HEFA programme between March and July 2008, excavating a total of 122 test pits in private gardens and other open spaces in ten different rural settlements.  As in previous years, HEFA in 2007-8 proved very popular with both pupils and teachers, and also very effective in raising the academic confidence and aspirations of participants.

In addition to the HEFAs, three new outreach initiatives, also based on test-pitting within rural settlements, were successfully piloted by ACA in 2007-8: in June and July 2008 ACA provided archaeological support and supervision for local community residents to excavate test pits within the village of Pirton in north Hertfordshire, involving dozens of families and individuals ranging widely in age.  The exercise was very successful and ACA will seek to provide more opportunities for this sort of activity in the future, responding to the numerous expressions of interest which have been received from the public. Also in July 2008, ACA collaborated with two local mental health charities, in an initiative facilitated by the university’s Office of Community Affairs, to enable a group of autistic adults to excavate test pits in Great Shelford.  This was also very successful, and planning is in hand to provide further such opportunities in 2008-9. Thirdly, in August 2008 an ‘advanced’ HEFA course was piloted in the Peak District which involved 14-18-year-old school pupils from Cambridgeshire in a 4-day residential programme of landscape archaeology and test pit excavation in collaboration with pupils from Derbyshire. Feedback was very good, and this course will be run again in 2009 and 2010.

Altogether in 2007-8 a total of 159 test pits were excavated in twelve different rural villages (or associated outlying occupied settlement components) during ACA-run programmes, bringing the total excavated over three years to more than 400 test pits in 21 settlements.   A short summary of the results each year is published in the annual report of the Medieval Settlement Research Group and on the project website, while preliminary results from sites where a substantive number of pits have been excavated have been reviewed in more detail (Lewis 2007).  Work to date has demonstrated that the HEFA test-pitting strategy is very effective in identifying and dating periods of intensive and less intensive use of different plots of land within currently occupied rural settlements (CORS), allowing the generation of phased plans showing the spatial development of the targeted settlements over time. This evidence is particularly valuable for period between 850 and 1600 AD when documentary and cartographic data are of limited use. The test pitting has demonstrated that survival of intact pre-modern deposits is much more extensive within CORS than is observed using conventional archaeological investigative methods. In all instances, the HEFA test pits have produced new evidence for medieval occupation, and in most cases evidence for earlier activity has also been recovered. In a number of sites the spatial development of the settlement has been shown to be very different to that which would have been inferred from conventional retrogressive map analysis. Other issues for which HEFA is revealing useful new data include the spread and disposition of settlement in the middle and later Anglo-Saxon periods (650-1050 AD) and the medieval period (1050-1550 AD), the link between settlement and church, the relationship between settlement and open space, the impact of coastal and fluvial settlement location, patterns of persistence of habitation in the landscape, and the impact of periods of positive and negative economic and demographic growth on settlement development.  Further analysis of the data (funded in 2008 by the DM McDonald Fund) will allow more detailed examination of these and other issues, which will be supplemented by additional data as the HEFA programme continues in 2009 and 2010.

Other ACA activities in 2007-8 have included the preparation of a DVD to promote the HEFA programme, contributions to university events such as the Science Festival and the running of occasional day-schools for academically-gifted school pupils. As in 2006-7, ACA also provided new University of Cambridge archaeology and anthropology undergraduates with a taste of excavation, who followed the same procedures as the school pupils to complete seven test pits in Great Shelford (Cambridgeshire) in October 2007. In February 2008 Carenza Lewis was asked to chair a working party looking at undergraduate recruitment to archaeology on behalf of the Subject Committee for Archaeology (SCFA) and in November 2007 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of East Anglia.

Publications

Lewis, C. 2006 ‘Test pit excavation within occupied settlements in East Anglia in 2005’, MSRG Annual Report 20, 9-16
Lewis, C. 2007a ‘Test pit excavation within occupied settlements in East Anglia in 2006’, MSRG Annual Report 21, 37-44
Lewis, C. 2007b ‘New Avenues for the Investigation of Currently Occupied Medieval Rural Settlement – Preliminary Observations from the Higher Education Field Academy’ Medieval Archaeology 51, 131-161.
Lewis, C. 2008 ‘Test pit excavation within occupied settlements in East Anglia in 2007’, MSRG Annual Report 22, 48-56