skip to primary navigationskip to content

Riseley 2014 Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA)

last modified Aug 12, 2014 04:23 PM
The 2014 Bedfordshire HEFA took place last month in Riseley, a new site for ACA's research into Currently Occupied Rural Settlements (CORS).


The University of Cambridge's CORS research project is directed by Dr Carenza Lewis and aims to reveal new evidence for the development of medieval rural settlement in villages still inhabited today, as part of a widening participation programme including young people in original university research. Having dug nearly 70 test pits in the nearby village of Sharnbrook during the project, ACA then approached Riseley Historical Society to involve local secondary school students in an archaeological investigation of the early origins of their village, which took place last month.

Thirty-two Year 9 and 10 students from Hastingsbury Business & Enterprise College, Sharnbrook Upper School and Stratton Upper School dug eight archaeological test pits in Riseley over two days in July. The mixed-school teams were supervised by school staff as well as six Year 12 and 13 students from Sharnbrook Upper School. Members of Risely Historical Society also dug a test pit, bringing the total to nine. The test pits were located along the High Street, Gold Street, Church Lane and Rotton Row. Recruitment of the sites and use of the village hall as our base was coordinated by Michael Stubbert, Andrew Gell and other members of the historical society.

Evidence for the manufacture of pottery during the 15th - 16th century AD had been previously found during pre-construction excavations at a number of sites in the village. Paul Blinkhorn, post-Roman pottery specialist, joined us for the second day of the test-pitting to see if there were any further clues of the settlement's pot-making past. To Paul's delight, not just one but two test pits unearthed such large quantities of Late Medieval Oxidised Ware (shown right) that it seems likely that they were sites of pottery manufacture in the Late Medieval period. Test pit 6 on Rotten Row found over 400 sherds and test pit 2, at the far eastern end of the High Street, found over 200 sherds!

Another find from the High Street which implies that Riseley was an important commercial centre in the Post-Medieval period, was a very degraded Nuremberg jeton found across the road in test pit 1.

Earlier evidence for the origins of medieval Riseley was found in test pit 5, on Gold Street, where the corner of a limestone and mortar wall was found. The pottery discovered in the lower layers of this test pit dated from the 11th - 15th centuries AD making it likely that the wall dates from the High Medieval period. The presence of Late Anglo-Saxon pottery, Stamford and St Neots Ware, in this pit also hints that this area may have been part of the original focus of the village before the Norman Conquest, but this hypothesis requires further investigation.

After working with the Cambridge University team in Riseley to complete their archaeological test pit excavations, the students then spent a third day at the University of Cambridge to discuss the results ready to write and submit a written report after the course, as well as experience a taster of Higher Education teaching and learning. Trinity College and Christ's College hosted the students for lunch and a tour for part of the day, and this was followed by a presentation on what university has to offer prospective students and how to find out more before applying.

In feedback collected at the end of the field academy, 100% of the respondents rated the course as 'excellent' or 'good'. One of the students who had worked on test pit 5 wrote: "I liked all of it but I really liked the location and the medieval house/wall was amazing!" (AM). Another student said they felt they had gained "a greater knowledge of university life and confidence in applying to one" (LP) from participating in the HEFA. A staff member praised the field academy as "an excellent opportunity for students that they would otherwise not have had!" (JB)

To find out more about how archaeologists can use test-pit excavations to reconstruct how settlements have changed overtime, you can view a presentation by Dr Carenza Lewis on the results of the HEFA CORS research project so far on YouTube here.


Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.