18th October 2017:

During the last week of September, OA East supervised students at Cambourne Village College taking part in their own seven-day archaeological excavation of a late Iron Age/Romano-British settlement next to their school in Cambridgeshire.

The secondary school students are members of an extra-curricular Archaeology Club who helped to write and submit a bid for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Young Roots programme. They successfully applied for an award of £50,000 earlier in the year and approached OA East to be heritage partners on their project to explore Cambourne new town’s archaeology.

Between twenty and twenty-five students from Years 7-10 were involved in the excavation each day, including the weekend. They excavated and recorded features, washed finds and showed visitors around the site. Other classes from the school visited throughout the week and GCSE photography students documented the excavation for their coursework.

All four of the primary schools in Cambourne received a visit from OA East’s archaeologists in advance of the excavation, for a hands-on introduction to the work of archaeologists and discover what had been found in previous excavations in Cambourne. The primary schools were then invited to visit the site for a guided tour, finds handling and a chance to sieve the spoil heaps for finds.

The excavation concluded with two public open days. Over 250 members of the public received a guided tour of the trenches, led by the students and the OA East Project Officer overseeing the site, Chris Thatcher. 98% of visitors rated the open days as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’, with many local families finding out about the earlier history of Cambourne for the first time.

The late Iron Age/Romano-British settlement investigated was first identified by OA East archaeologists in 2015 during an archaeological evaluation of land to be developed in the next phase of expansion of the town. The school excavation provided a further opportunity to understand the use of space within rural settlements, and how long it continued to be in use under Roman occupation. The site showed remarkably good preservation and a surprising degree of continuity from the Iron Age through to the Roman period. Post holes and drip gullies in one of the three trenches indicate the building and rebuilding of round houses. A broken quernstone was found in one of the post holes, presumably to stabilise it in place. Another trench showed evidence of industrial activity rather than residential buildings, with numerous ditches containing burnt material and metalworking waste. The final trench was on the outskirts of the settlement and appeared to show a possible earlier entranceway which fell out of use. It appears this area outside the main settlement boundary ditches later became waterlogged and used for disposing domestic rubbish.

The students are now working on plans to host a temporary museum at the school next spring which will showcase finds from their excavation and their research into the archaeology of the area, which will be open to the public.