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Daws Heath 2014 Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA)

last modified Jun 09, 2014 12:14 PM
The brand new ACA umbrellas had their first outing during the sunshine and showers in Daws Heath last week for this season's second field academy in Essex.


Forty Year 9 students dug ten archaeological test-pits in the back gardens of local residents along Daws Heath Road, Fairmead Avenue, Bramble Road and on nearby Haresland Close. The students selected to take part in the field academy in Daws Heath were from the Gifted and Talented cohorts of the following schools in Southend-on-Sea: Southend High School for Boys, Southend High School for Girls, Westcliff High School for Boys, Cecil Jones College and Shoeburyness High School. Higher Education Field Academies (HEFAs) are three day aspiration-raising courses which give young people the opportunity to do their own hands-on archaeological investigation that will give them the skills and confidence to raise their ambitions for the future.

An 11th test-pit was also dug by members of Hadleigh and Thundersley Archive and AGES Archaeological and Historical Association, interested in finding out more about the early origins of the village. Their test-pit, overlooking Bramble Road, was open to visiting members of the public and was located close to St Michael's Church, our base in the village, where there was also a display of the finds on Thursday morning from the first day on Wednesday. This open morning was well attended by local residents and refreshments were provided. AGES AHA also presented the pottery distribution maps from 2013, ACA's first visit to dig in Daws Heath, and displayed local newspaper articles published after the event. In advance of this year's dig, AGES AHA's Secretary, Terry Barclay, contacted the Halstead Gazette to help recruit sites to be dug and the society's open morning which you can read here.

There was even further publicity for this year's excavations when BBC Essex visited the field academy to interview ACA's Director, Dr Carenza Lewis, as well as the participating students and members of the local societies. The interviews with Ian Wyatt were aired on the Saturday breakfast show, standing in for Peter Holmes. You can listen to the episode on the BBC Essex website for up to a week after the airing here. The Daws Heath digs are featured at 01:22:00 and again at 01:50:37. 

Notable amongst the finds from Daws Heath this year was a prehistoric flint blade found in test-pit 1 at the western end of Daws Heath Road. Nearby, test-pits 2 and 3 found possible sherds of medieval pottery, and a clay bead was found in test-pit 7 on Fairmead Avenue. Test pit 11, dug by AGES AHA, found a large number of bathroom tile fragments and unfortunately hit the water table while still in archaeological contexts.

The two days spent excavating in mixed school groups received high praise from the students in their feedback after the event, with one saying that she "enjoyed being social with my team and the owner of the garden we dug in. (I feel I have gained) new experiences, new friends and a new adventure" (VH). On the third and final day of the HEFA, the students visited the University of Cambridge and were hosted by Magdalene, Emmanuel and Gonville and Caius Colleges at lunchtime. Lizzie Dobson, School Liaison Officer for Emmanuel College, and responsible for working with schools in the county of Essex, spoke to the students about the choices prospective university students should make and how to find further information about degree courses and admissions procedures.

At the end of the third day, 95% of the students rated the field academy as 'excellent' or 'good'. One student said in the feedback comments that they felt they had gained "knowledge about archaeology and more confidence so thank you!" (NN) and another said they felt they had developed "valuable, transferable skills which I will be able to apply to future work. Also, learning about university life has been a great experience!" (TC). A member of staff was also very complementary and said that "the event was superbly organised and all students were supported admirably throughout. Thank you to all involved. The opportunity to visit (and have lunch in!) a college was a fantastic touch" (DM).

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