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ILAFS Activities

Field schools last three days. Days 1 and 2 are spent working in mixed-school teams of 3-4 excavating one of around 10-12 simultaneous small archaeological test pits in gardens and other open spaces within villages and hamlets, as guests of local residents. The third day is spent at the at the Department of Archaeology in the University of Cambridge where everyone analyses their results and gets a chance to experience life at university for themselves.

After day 3, students receive access to web resources and online support which enables them to prepare a written assignment on their excavation which is submitted to the University for formal assessment.

All participants receive a certificate on completion of the field school and are provided with a report detailing their achievements across the full range of cognitive, personal, practical and learning skills acquired and developed during the Independent Learning Archaeology Field School. The assessment model and criteria for this report have been developed with advice and support from OCR qualifications and awards body.

    • Day One - Introduction to the programme, starting to dig and unearth, record, and assess finds, with support from school and university staff independently completing all elements of their excavations by carefully following directions over two days. Instructions and guidence including on-site finds identification and dating is provided by ACA experts.
    • Day Two - Excavations are continued and completed with pits backfilled and sites restored.
    • Day Three - Brings participants into the University of Cambridge to analyse their discoveries, learn more about university and includes a tour with lunch in one of the colleges.
    • Follow-up written assignment - Participants write up the results using the records they have kept and then submit them to ACA for assessment via their school.

You can download a copy of the ILAFS timetable below:

ILAFS Course Programme

Day One

This will take place in a central location, usually in the village hall or similar builing in the settlement under investigation (if located conveniently). Learners will be given a pack containing maps and plans of the settlement in which they will be working, and some supporting documentary material. You can see a video of the excavation process here. The first part of the day will include:

  • A short introduction to the ILAFS programme; namely what the aims of ILAFS are, how it will work, what learners will be expected to do, how they will be supported and tutored, and what they will get out of their involvement with the project.
  • An instruction session explaining how to dig a test pit.
  • After refreshments, learners will then begin excavation of their test pits, which they will be allocated to work on in teams of three or four, with a member of school staff or 6th form supervisor.
  • Learners work independently in teams of 3 or 4 (accompanied by an adult) to dig 1m square test pits to a depth of 60–100cm in a series of 10cm spits, following instructions in the field school handbook (which they will be given), and record everything they find in a record book provided for each test pit by ACA.
  • Teams record the site of their test pit and draw any features that they encounter.
  • Everything that comes out of the test pit will be sieved, and any finds (i.e. anything that looks man-made or interesting!) will be kept.
  • Team members clean any finds and place them in trays, which they will label clearly.
  • Finds are identified, and pottery dated by specialists, throughout the day.

Day Two

  • The second day is spent continuing and completing test pit excavation and recording.
  • When the test pit is finished, each team fills the test pit back in again and leaves the site looking neat and tidy.
  • After digging is finished each team has the chance to complete their records and tell everyone what they have found.

Day Three

The final day takes place in the University of Cambridge and is a unique opportunity for participants to familiarise themselves with life and learning at higher education level, stretch themselves intellectually in the company of other like-minded very bright young people and find out more about subjects they may be interested in studying at higher level or as a future career.

Participants attend a taster lecture on the background to the ILAFS project, the geography and history of the settlement they've recently excavated in and a report-writing tutorial that is intended to extend participants’ knowledge base after which participants can begin writing their own university-level report, with supervisors present to provide advice and guidance as needed. Day 3 also includes a lunch and a tour of one of the Cambridge Colleges, and offers the chance to meet current undergraduates and an exercise in the Museum of Archaeoogy and Anthropology, led by the museum staff.


  • After the 3-day field school, the information from the test pits will be collated by ACA and put on a map which will be given, along with a report on the finds from each test pit, to each of the schools on Day 3 and be made available on our website.
  • Learners will then be asked to prepare a piece of written work on an aspect of the test-pitting investigation they have carried out. The aim of this formal written assessment is to give learners a clear and enduring record of tutorial comments on their work, to enable them to gain the maximum benefit from their participation on ILAFS and the tutoring available through it.
  • This will contribute to learners' curriculum studies while in no way compromising them. It is therefore up to learners to decide how much extra time they wish to spend on their ILAFS report before they finally submit it. Some learners will wish to keep this to a minimum to allow them to get on with other curriculum course-work, while others will want to spend a long time developing their ideas and refining the end product.
  • The minimum ACA-recommended amount of time would be around four hours. There is no maximum, and learners will have around four weeks to complete the assignment. Learners contact us for advice while they are writing up. This may include matters such as how to structure and present work, clarity of expression, the presentation and use of data, and how to draw inferences supported by evidence, as well as issues specifically related to the site.
  • Assignments should be sent to ACA, after which they will be assessed by ILAFS tutors. Detailed written comments and advice, with an equivalent GCSE grade, will be returned to learners, along with a certificate to mark their achievement in completing the field school.


Watch a video of the process on days 1 and 2 here (no audio)