Higher Education Field Academy - Hillington

Objectives & Setup

The Field Academy Programme is held on an annual basis to encourage and challenge pupils from local schools in a range of science based subjects. The event was organised and run by the University of Cambridge and the local Archaeology society was asked to provide volunteers to support the students. This year the GCSE pupils were from the Year 9 of Kings Edwards VII Academy and Springwood High School both in King's Lynn. The 36 pupils were specially selected from those assessed by their schools as being talented or showing a deep interest in History or Classical subjects.

The days exposed the selected pupils to a new topic outside the normal school curriculum (Archaeology) and involved a systematic approach to exploring an area (test pit), cooperative working with new people plus a lot of hard work and getting muddy.

The objectives were to get the pupils working together, to explore new areas in a disciplined manner and to learn to recognise which of the items found could be linked to human activity in the area. This was not just an academic exercise as the results from the nine test pits formed part of a study which explored the profile of human activity in the Hillington area.

The morning started with a safety talk and then the students were divided up into groups of four and were assigned to a specific Test Pit. Each group contained two students from each of the two schools.

Initial Set-Up

After a quick walk from the meeting hall we reached our excavation location. The first task was for each student to record the position of the Test Pit. This was done by producing a sketch plan of the general area and marking the position of the proposed pit, and also measuring two distances from points on the OS map (Property boundary corner and building corner for our pit. These distances would be used to mark the pit on the overall village test-pit map.

The outline of the test pit was now marked on the ground using pegs and string, the pit to be aligned on a North-South axis using a compass. It was measured to be exactly 1 metre each side and to confirm that it was square the diagonal was checked to be 1.41m. We were now ready to excavate Context 1 which is from the surface down vertically 10cm, but first we photographed the marked area close-up and from a distance (to show it in relation to other garden features) and recorded full details on the Archaeology forms provided by the University.

It is worthwhile stressing that at this time, and all through the excavation, all the students took part in all activities making their own notes when necessary and rotating through all the practical tasks.

The Excavation

Excavation started by carefully removing the turves, as we wanted to be able to return the garden to close to its previous state, and setting them to one side on ground-sheets. The soil was loosened with a mattock and removed using a small shovel and trowel and bucketed to another ground-sheeted area where it was sieved using a 1cm sieve. Any possible artefacts were placed to one side in a tray for review.

Initially the students needed help in distinguishing man-made from natural objects but very quickly indeed they 'got their eye in' and were able to identify animal bone, pottery, metal, shell, charcoal and (sometimes) worked stone from the apparently uninteresting soil. The items for further examination were cleaned and set out for inspection by the visiting Cambridge experts. These artefacts were now bagged and labelled. When we had excavated the full 10cm we recorded what had been found and other important information including the soil type and colouration.

We repeated this procedure for each 10cm that we dug and collected a range of artefacts of different types.


It is down to the people from the University to review the individual student notes, the supervisor assessments and to feed back to the schools after the event. Also the analysis of the artefacts and their scatter over the selected sites will be made by them and compared to previous archaeological investigations carried out in the area, but will probably take some time and will also come from the University. We found a number of interesting items in 'my' test pit which show the diversity of items that can be recovered from quiet a limited excavation. These included sherds of medieval pottery, green-glazed pottery from the Roman and Late Saxon periods, charcoal, bones, shells and possible worked fragments of flint. What we didn't find (but expected to) was some evidence of the railway line which the house-owner assured us had passed only 10m to the South.

The comments below relate to the students in my group but, after talking to other people who supervised excavations, I think that they probably apply to the whole event.

The students quickly came to act and work as a team despite working with people they had only just met. They worked in a dedicated and methodical manner and quickly learned to identify the signs of human activity. The work was hard but they shared it equally and took far fewer breaks than I had expected. In fact the only pauses were to examine and comment on the various items as they were unearthed.

All the students showed great maturity, were polite, appreciative and diligent and took great care to minimise disruption in the gardens where we had permission to dig. I think that they can be very proud of the way they handled themselves and were a credit to their schools.


This project is expected to extend over a number of years. Although interim results will be made available after each year's study, these will be a summary of the information gathered from each of the test pits excavated in that year.

A full report detailing the findings and the interpretation of all the results will not be available until the completion of the project.

Dr C J Bond summarised the Archaeological findings from the 2015 HEFA excavations which is given HERE

A report on the Archaeological findings from the Pottery unearthed in 2016 is given HERE

A series of plans showing the finds were made in 2016 is given HERE

Records from Test Pits

Click on a box to view year findings.

Links for Further Information

St Johns College

Cambridge University, Dept of Archaeology: Cambridge Uni - Archaeology

Blog on the Event by Access Cambridge Archaeology: Blog

Springwood High School: School Website

King Edward VII Academy: Academy Website

West Norfolk & King's Lynn Archaeological Society: Archaeology Society

A personal view of the event by Bill Howard, the official review of the Archaeology will be produced by Access Cambridge Archaeology . bill@howards.org.uk

Lecture Programme

The program of lectures for the next season can now be found under the 'Lectures' tab above.

Kettlewell Lane

Socially distanced visit and picnic

A successful picnic/guided visit to Kettlewell Lane and Littleport Street occurred on the first Sunday in October. But, at present no further events are organised.

WNKLAS In The News

The society has been in the local Newspapers recently in coverage of the conference to celebrate our 50year anniversary and also the presentation to John Smallwood one of the founders.

Press Article


King John's Treasure

The society's investigation of a local farm contributed to a programme made for US television as part of the Expedition Unknown series. This systematic survey of an area that was a likely route for the Royal Treasure was also the subject of a recent lecture evening.

More Information

The TV Programmes