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Sawtry 2014 Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA)

last modified May 19, 2014 09:24 AM
Sawtry, another new settlement for ACA in Cambridgeshire, was the site of this week's hot and sunny field academy.


Although one large commuter village today, Sawtry was originally three separate estates and grew as a centre for salt production during the medieval period. One of the three manors was named after and owned by Judith de Lens, a niece of William the Conquerer and one of her descendants founded an abbey in Sawtry in the 12th century. The monastic remains were investigated by Sawtry History Society in the late 1970s and a recent resurgence of interest in the dig archives led current members of the society to invite Access Cambridge Archaeology (ACA) to help them find out more the origins and development of the settlement.

On Wednesday and Thursday this week, 47 students from Sawtry Community College, Cromwell Community College, Stanground Academy and The Voyager Academy dug 12 archaeological test-pits in Sawtry as part of a Higher Education Field Academy (HEFA). The pits were widely distributed around the village centre on Green End Road, Fen Lane, Chapel End, High Street and Church Street. Our base was Sawtry Youth and Community Centre, and History Society members Philip Hill and Marilyn Gautreaux and others were on hand to help. ACA volunteers, Zenobia Homan, Michael Rivera and Scott Treble supervised test-pit groups again.

After just two bright and sunny days of digging, the students had found tantalising evidence about Sawtry's past. A student from Cromwell said that she "enjoyed having experts identify our findings. This made me feel as though my work was worthwhile!" In the south of the village, on Green End Road, test-pit one found a piece of lead window lining still holding a glass pane (shown right). Further north on Green End Road, test-pit five discovered a Victorian as pit full of hundreds of pieces of pottery and glass including whole bottles and fragments of ceramic figurines. Nearby on The Maltings, test-pit four uncovered undisturbed 12th century pottery under several layers of modern building rubble. Paul Blinkhorn, specialist in post-Roman pottery, also identified High Medieval and earlier Saxo-Norman sherds from test-pit six on Fen Lane. Further east, test-pit 10 found a large amount of 16th and 17th century pottery, contemporary with the thatched cottage it was dug next to. The full pottery report will be available on the Sawtry webpage here soon.

The students learned more about how plotting the distribution of pottery sherds can reveal a map of settlement change over time on today's visit to the University of Cambridge.  After a taster lecture about medieval rural settlement studies from ACA Director, Dr Carenza Lewis, the schools split up to visit one of Corpus Christi College, Jesus College, St John's College and Trinity College for lunch and a tour. After the tour, a student from Stanground felt that she had gained "valuable knowledge about university and how the life and work is, especially seeing the amazing college was my favourite." The group then learned more about university admissions in a presentation by Jess Munro, Schools Liaison Officer for Trinity College. Following today's lectures, a student from Sawtry said she had "gained knowledge about archaeology that I didn't know before and about universities, what they include, subjects and application process." 

In feedback after the event, 85% of the students rated the HEFA as 'excellent' or 'good'. In spite of the hot conditions, the participants thoroughly enjoyed the three days with one student from Voyager saying she "definitely enjoyed the new experience and developing new skills. Also the team I worked in made it so much more enjoyable." A member of staff also wrote "we all had a brilliant time, thank you for giving our students this experience."

Next week's HEFA will be taking place in the Norfolk village of Garboldisham.

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