Pupils from All Saints Middle School, Sudbury were treated to a unique learning experience at the end of June in Little Waldingfield. 5 archaeological test pits were excavated in the gardens of local residents as part of the Cambridge University Archaeology Department's initiative to introduce school children to archaeology, headed by Dr Carenza Lewis (of Time Team fame).
Year 6 commenced the dig with year 7's completing the task the following day. The weather blessed the project with dry conditions but it is unlikely that even rain could have dampened their excitement and enthusiasm.
For someone whose only archaeological experience is TV's hugely popular Time Team, it came as a surprise to find that even young people are expected to adhere to proper systems of mapping, excavation, documentation, cleaning and analysis. Firstly a meter square was pegged out and the location of each ‘pit' measured against static points and plotted in order that the University can identify its location at a later date. The youngsters then set to with tools bigger than they were in some cases to remove 10 cm layers at a time (each layer being known as a ‘context'). The spoil was sieved and all ‘finds' removed and set aside until the whole context had been worked. The finds were then washed, cleaned, bagged and tagged and the pit photographed with notable features of each context mapped on a grid.
Some pits were more productive than others, largely denoted by the soil conditions, but it seemed, without exception, and despite the hard physical work involved, that young people thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I for one was very impressed with their genuine enthusiasm, collective politeness and concern for others…a credit to their school indeed!
Finds included, amongst other things, metal, bone (mostly pig it seems), glass, earthen ware, clay pipes, a 1943 threepenny bit and allegedly a collection of high class medieval pottery potentially indicating a higher class resident. All were bagged and labelled to identify their exact location and have been taken to Cambridge University for analysis later this year, following which a report will be prepared and made available to the village. The information from our village pits will assist Dr Lewis in building up a picture of the changing patterns of settlement in East Anglia.
Two of the most productive pits were left open for the owners/interested adults to continue excavating (the offer couldn't have been more quickly accepted!), whilst the others were back filled and the turfs replaced by the students, allegedly in the order they were removed. The finds excavated during the following days were also logged in the same way as before and transported to Cambridge to join the rest of the ‘haul'.
As Deputy Head Robert Wheeler wrote in his thank you letter to the residents who hosted the pits “apart from learning about aspects of history and forensic science, it was also about sowing the seeds of aspiration for the future”. Both he and Vic flute should be proud of organising such a unique and memorable experience for their students: something they will hopefully never forget.
Susan Moore 18th July 2013