skip to primary navigationskip to content



In 2011-12, Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA), directed by Dr Carenza Lewis continued its programme of educational aspiration-raising activities for secondary schools along with a growing number of community programmes involving archaeology and heritage.  ACA employs Catherine Ranson and Clemency Cooper in full-time roles as archaeological supervisor and administrator respectively, and Jessica Rippengal (Department of Archaeology), Gary Marriner (former MPhil student, Cambridge) and Jenni French (PhD student, Cambridge) are involved on occasional and part-time bases providing support for excavation and the assessment of written reports by school learners.  In addition, many graduate and undergraduate students are also involved each year as volunteers on summer fieldwork and winter courses.

Funding from Aimhigher ceased in July 2011 as the organisation fell victim to government funding cuts, but in January 2012 ACA learned it had been successful in bidding for funding from Cambridge Admissions Office to continue the Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA) programme for three years from 2012-13. Accordingly, a scaled-down HEFA programme was run in 2011-12 to maintain continuity of provision over the un-funded ‘gap’ year.  255 school pupils, plus school staff, spent 765 days on HEFA courses, excavating and writing up a total of eighty-seven test pit excavations within currently occupied rural settlements (CORS).  Settlements which were excavated by ACA for the first time during HEFAs in 2011-12 include Bramford (Suffolk), Shefford (Bedfordshire) and Peakirk (Cambridgeshire). The new assessment framework (which provides much more explicit detail regarding learners’ strengths and performance across the wide range of skills which HEFA requires) was used effectively by assessors and considered by schools to be a useful, if challenging, means of increasing learners’ awareness of their achievements on HEFA and their appreciation of the value to them of their achievements.

The other main programme of ACA archaeological activities targeting school learners are ‘Discovery Day’ day-schools held in Cambridge over the winter and early spring months (November – March), aimed at 10-14-year-olds.  A number of new Discovery Day courses were developed and run in 2011-12, more explicitly linked than previously to identified learning objectives in core curriculum subjects including History, Geography and Biology.  324 learners, plus school staff, attended Discovery Days in 2011-12, an increase of more than 60% on 2010-11.

In 2011-12 a third strand was added to ACA’s archaeological provision for schools when the first GCSE students completed archaeological excavations as part of their GCSE in History. 44 learners took part in ACA-run excavations in the fen-edge village of Isleham (Cambridgeshire), and they and other GCSE History class-mates completed their GCSE ‘History Around Us’ controlled assessment (25% of their GCSE marks), using their excavated data to explore and contextualise the development of the historic settlement. Their marks have now been fully assessed (internally and moderated by the OCR exam board) and this has shown the results to be generally in line with expectations, but with candidates in the upper end of the ability spectrum tending to achieve better-then-expected marks. This demonstrates firstly that this excavation-derived model for GCSE learning focussed on an historic settlement works as well as established hands-off approaches (based on site visits to conventional historic monuments such as castles) in terms of results, and secondly that it appears to exceed, both in terms of learner engagement and in discriminating out high-ability learners. A session on this activity was given to the Annual Schools History Project Conference for history teachers, involving teachers in excavating a test pit within the conference centre grounds, and generated much excitement which it is hoped will ultimately translate into more schools adopting this way of teaching History via curriculum-linked hands-on participation in Archaeology linked to academic research.

The reduced HEFA programme in 2011-12 allowed ACA to spend more time delivering community archaeology projects than in previous years. A rare opportunity to excavate in the grounds of a Cambridge University college was provided in Spring 2012 when Ridley Hall invited ACA to run an excavation on their Sidgwick Avenue site for eighteen Oxbridge-aspiring sixth-formers as part of a residential Cambridge taster course. The students worked alongside twelve members of Cambridge Field Archaeology Group under ACA supervision. The excavations revealed evidence of middle Anglo-Saxon occupation overlying Romano-British ditches, and contributed another piece to the jigsaw puzzle of our understanding of the development of this area of Cambridge.

Continued involvement with the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)-funded Managing a Masterpiece programme in 2011-12 enabled ACA to run a community excavation in August 2012 in Bures (Essex), which established the route of a lost medieval stream channel used as a late medieval rubbish dump and provided early evidence for linen production in the form of flax seeds with a C14 date of AD 1022-1155 (95.4% probability) along with a ring of probable Viking date. Forty registered volunteers helped by seventeen students and five staff from Great Cornard Upper School attracted more than 285 visitors. In addition, 120 pupils from Bures Primary School each spent an hour on site searching the spoil heaps for Victorian and early 20th century finds buried in the made-up site overburden.  Along with two days of field-walking at the supposed deserted medieval village site of Brundon (Suffolk) in December 2011, a total of c.250 people had hands-on involvement in ACA-run Managing a Masterpiece projects in 2011-12, with many more visiting.

In June 2012, Time Detectives was a very different project, run by ACA in collaboration with local charity Red2Green. This was funded by the HLF to enable adults affected by autism to take part in archaeological excavations in the community of Swaffham Bulbeck (Cambridgeshire), where they attend Red2Green on a regular basis for support and to socialise and develop skills.  During the Time Detectives excavations, many of the Red2Green attendees worked alongside learners from Swaffham Bulbeck Primary School and local secondary school, Soham Village College. The excavations provided new archaeological evidence for the development of the village, dating the original core of the settlement to the late Anglo-Saxon period and the northerly extension now known as Commercial End to the 12th-13th century AD. Time Detectives was assessed by a sociology graduate from the University of Leeds who attended the excavations and conducted a subsequent evaluation its social outcomes. This showed the project to have succeeded in all of its aims of increasing participant’s understanding of and passion for archaeology/local history, developing skills amongst the learners from Red2Green and improving community integration for people with autistic spectrum conditions. It was particularly pleasing to see how involvement in the project enabled everyone, and especially Red2Green learners, to develop new skills including working with new people, communication of ideas, communication with children, persistence/remaining focussed on a task and team-working. These are all skills which can present particular challenges for those affected by autism.

In terms of participant numbers, another major community project for ACA in 2011-12 was ‘Dig and Sow’, funded by the Arts Council supported by the McDonald Institute as part of On Landguard Point, a programme of cultural activities for the Cultural Olympiad of the London 2012 Olympic Games.  Around 600 members of the public took part in 148 test pit excavations in Ashwell (Hertfordshire), Maidenhall (Ipswich), Peakirk (Cambridgeshire), Clavering (Essex), Paston (Norfolk) and Potton (Bedfordshire), with perhaps as many again involved in other ways such as providing sites to dig and preparing and serving refreshments for end-of-dig community celebrations.  A feature-length film of On Landguard Point which featured short clips of some of the excavations was shown in venues across the region in summer 2102 to coincide with the Olympic Games and the Paralympics.

Another very different project for ACA in 2011-12 was Cambridge Community Heritage (CCH), funded by AHRC to enable universities to set up research teams providing advice and encouragement to community groups bidding to the HLF ‘All Our Stories’ fund to run heritage-related projects in, about and for their communities.  Forty-nine representatives from twenty-eight community groups based in the eastern region (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk) attended two CCH open days run with the support of the University of Cambridge Office for Community Affairs, and subsequently worked closely with their allocated CCH researcher to develop their ideas into a realistic bid.  This project provided an innovative and effective model for community engagement, quite different from any undertaken by the university before, and which it is hoped will be the first of more similar community-initiated university-supported projects in the future.

In total, around 1,700 people took part in hands-on archaeological activities run by ACA in 2011-12, of which nearly all participated for between one and five full days.  In total, more than 3,300 days’ of hands-on activity was provided, divided approximately equally between school and community programmes. The total number of test pits excavated within CORS has now reached 1,359, and a paper on the new light the evidence from these excavations is throwing on the impact of the Black Death on medieval England was given by Carenza Lewis to the Annual Conference of the European Association of Archaeologists in Helsinki in August 2012. This presented an assessment of the data to date which shows that pottery yields (which can be used as a proxy for economic activity and population levels) drop by around 50% in the post-Black Death period. Interesting regional variations in this pattern are, however, becoming apparent.  Interim reports on the results of the CORS excavations are published in Medieval Settlement Research each year and also available on the ACA website.


Lewis, C. 2011. ‘Test pit excavation within currently occupied rural settlement in East Anglia – results of the HEFA CORS project in 2010’ in Medieval Settlement Research Group Annual Report vol 26, 48-59.