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Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) in Rampton, Cambridgeshire

last modified May 12, 2015 02:01 PM
Pupils from Cambridgeshire join in with the HEFA programme in Rampton

Rampton, Cambridgeshire was the site of ACA’s fourth Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) of the 2015 season. Held on 22nd – 24th  April, 2015, a total of 38 Year 9, 10 and 11 pupils from Cottenham Village College, Soham Village College, Ely College, Witchford Village College and Cambridge Home Educating Families excavated 11 test-pits throughout the village. Alison Wedgbury of the Fen Edge Archaeology Group organised the test-pits which were located in the gardens of local residents and Rampton Village Hall served as the base for the two digging days. This is the second year ACA have held a HEFA in Rampton. Last year’s reports can be found here.

Rampton is located on the edge of The Fens six miles to the north of Cambridge. The 11 x 1m2 test pits were located on King Street, The Green, Church End, Cow Lane and the High Street. These locations were chosen in an effort to ‘fill in the gaps’ between the 2014 test pits.

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 by 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 through the heavy clay of Rampton. For the second HEFA in a row, one test pit (TP 11) managed to find old greenhouse foundations! Regardless, the teams persevered with excavating and recording which has shed new light on the history of the development of Rampton.

We were pleased that Cambridge News sent out a photographer on Wednesday, 22nd April and that such an image-rich article was included in the newspaper the next day. The article and image gallery can be found here.

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. This real-time identification and assistance is valued by the participants as reflected in their feedback: “I enjoyed having experts coming round and explaining what the finds were” (EG) and “The people and supervisors helping out were lovely and made the whole experience much more enjoyable” (AW). The finalised pottery report can be found here.

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.

Reviewing the finds from both 2014 and 2015 has better informed our idea of how Rampton developed. There is still no significant evidence of any prehistoric activity, so the earliest pottery is of Roman date. In 2014 only pits on Cow Lane produced any Roman sherds, but in 2015 two pits on King Street further to the south produced sherds. No Early Anglo-Saxon pottery is evident, however, two adjacent pits on King Street southwest of the green produced Late Anglo-Saxon sherds. The finds of High Medieval pottery seem to be concentrated around the centre of the current village with Late Medieval sherds coming from just outside that. It is only into the Post-Medieval and Victorian ages that dating evidence emerges from the furthest outlying pits (TPs 1 & 11) although, TP1 did produce some interesting burnt bone.

ACA were fortunate enough to have Dr Nick James, an Affiliated Scholar of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research at the University of Cambridge, come out to Rampton and have a tour around the test pits. Dr James, who was incredibly impressed with the hard work, methodology and attention to detail of the participants, will form part of the HEFA team in 2016.

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. They commented afterwards, “I enjoyed learning about the history of rural settlements and what we can find out from our excavations” (AS) and “I really enjoyed attending the lectures, like a uni student!” (EN).

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

The day concluded with Dr Trish Biers of the Museum of 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 97% of the participants rated the field academy as ‘Excellent’ or ‘Good’. The students enjoyed working in a team, learning how to do something new and learning about life at The University of Cambridge. Students commented, “I have gained knowledge of archaeological excavating and of the medieval era. I have also gained the ability to work and co-operate in a team” (RS), “It was very engaging and taught me a lot about an area of study I was already interested in” (NT) and “I have gained useful skills that I will be able to apply in Sixth Form and later in life, university and work.” (AIS). Teachers also commented that, “Our students have gained a broader perspective and ideas for future directions.” (KS) and “Our students enjoyed learning together, outside the classroom. A fantastic three days – thank you so much!” (JB).

ACA would like to thank the students and staff of the schools involved. Special thanks to Kerri Wilson and Joshua Blunt for being the beacon school coordinators, to Alison Wedgbury and John Stanford of the Fen Edge Archaeology Group in their help on the day and in organising the test-pits, and to Dr Jenni French and Dr Nick James of the University of Cambridge.

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