IN FOCUS: A treasured opportunity to learn

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ALMOST 50 teenagers from Peterborough are being given the chance to dig deep into the past to help them develop the life skills they will need for the future. And with the help of stars from Channel Four's Time Team they are hoping to unearth some buried treasures from the medieval times. Features Editor Rachael Gordon joined them on an archaeological dig to find out more.

ALMOST 50 teenagers from Peterborough are being given the chance to dig deep into the past to help them develop the life skills they will need for the future. And with the help of stars from Channel Four's Time Team they are hoping to unearth some buried treasures from the medieval times.

Features Editor Rachael Gordon joined them on an archaeological dig to find out more.PUPILS from six Peterborough schools were literally digging up the past this week as part of a ground-breaking research project into medieval Britain.

The 48 youngsters from Jack Hunt School, Stanground College, John Mansfield School, Hereward Community College, Bushfield Community College, and Walton Community School carried out test digs in the gardens of homes in Ufford near Stamford to gather evidence for a study being carried out by the University of Cambridge's archaeological department.

The project is being run by Carenza Lewis, star of Channel Four's Time Team and archaeologist from the University of Cambridge's faculty of archaeology and anthropology in conjunction with the Government-funded Aimhigher initiative.

As well as teaching the 14 and 15-year-olds about local history and archaeology, it also aims to teach them life skills such as how to communicate with people they don't know, how to work as a team and how to record information.

And all the treasures they unearthed, and the data they collated today and yesterday, will be included in a huge study of medieval Britain being undertaken by Cambridge University.

Carenza said: "We wanted to encourage more pupils from state schools to come and study at Cambridge University.

"Because I've appeared on television we decided to capitalise on this, and organised discovery days, in which we travelled around schools all over Britain and ran activities such as call my bluff, in which youngsters got to handle real artefacts and getting them to draw a plan of their room – which they then swapped with a partner who had to record what would still be there in 3,000 years.

"But one of the things that came out of those days was that the youngsters were really keen to get out of the classroom and take part in a proper dig. In 2003 we carried out the Big Dig with time Team, in which adults were encouraged to carry out a test dig in their own back garden.

"That was a real success.

"We had some Government funding left over, so I decided to organise these two-day test digs for youngsters. And because they are given full instructions on how to remove the soil and record everything they find, all the findings will form part of a major research project into medieval Britain.

The project is being piloted in Peterborough and Cambridgeshire, but eventually we hope to role it out to more than 100 different sites."

Throughout the two days, the pupils were digging test pits and logging all their finds.

They learned how to mark out a one metre test square, survey the test pit, and how to use tools including a mattock and a trowel.

Carenza said: "This is one way of making studying at university level real and interesting to younger learners. The University and I are committed to working with schools to make sure their pupils are aware of the opportunities open to them, so that they can make the right choices for their future.

"Archaeology is a great vehicle for this because it captures people's imagination, covers so many academic subject areas, and can make learning about history and the environment truly exciting."

And the youngsters really enjoyed getting there hands dirty and learning about how archaeologists work while also learning some important history, geography, science, and maths lessons on the way.

Terri Sumpter (14), a pupil at John Mansfield School, said: "I think this project is really cool. I have always been interested in gardening, so am enjoying the digging, and it is a really good way to find out more about the history of the area."

Michael Middleton (14), a pupil at Jack Hunt School, said: "I have always been interested in archaeology, but I have never done anything like this before.

I think it really is a great opportunity."

Cheyenne Graves (14), a pupil at John Mansfield School, said: "I am really interested in archaeology and watch archaeology programmes like Time Team on television, so it was really good to be given the opportunity to get involved in this. Its also good to work with pupils from other schools, because it helps to develop our team-building skills."

Steve Craig, a history teacher at Jack Hunt School who took part in the event, said: "It is a really great experience for the youngsters because they are learning many different skills.

"It is also good for them to get out of the classroom and do something different."

Sandy Yatteau, Aimhigher area manager for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, said: "The Aimhigher programme supports a variety of different initiatives designed to encourage young people into further and higher education.

"Many pupils don't consider going on to university because they worry that higher education will be boring – but they're wrong.

"These Higher Education Field Academies (HEFA) will give pupils a taste of what university-level study can be about, and will demonstrate that what they learn at school – maths, geography, history, English, science, social studies and citizenship – is relevant to later life. It also teaches them life skills such as how to work effectively with others and work as a team.

"And, most of all, it is a wonderful opportunity for us to get many youngsters involved in a programme that will really benefit them and their community."

Residents of the village welcomed the programme and were looking forward to learning more about what might be found at the bottom of their gardens.

Ben Robinson, head of archaeological services at Peterborough City Council, said: "Ufford is a good example of a medieval village, and we are looking forward to learning more about it.

"Ufford is historically rich, so it will be interesting to see what turns up.

"We're confident that we will learn a great deal.

"We don't often get the chance to study a whole village in this way, and the data gathered by these school pupils is really important to us."

A further HEFA is scheduled to take place in Houghton near Huntingdon later this month, with others throughout the county over the coming year.

Gardens were used for test digs

AMONG those residents in Ufford to allow their garden to be the used as a site for a test dig was Sally and Brian Ward.

Mr and Mrs Ward, of Main Street, Ufford, had already found lots of buried treasure in their garden, including pottery dating back to late Stone Age or early Bronze Age times in about 2,000 BC.

Mrs Ward said: "We were asked if our garden could be used for a dig and were delighted to be able to get involved.

"We have found lots of pottery in our garden over time and had kept it for interest, but it was only when archaeologist and ceramics expert Paul Blinkhorn looked at it that we realised how old it was.

"I think the youngsters are very lucky to be have been given the opportunity to take part in a project like this. I only wish there had been things like this when I was at school.

"It also gives them an insight into another career they could consider when leaving school.

"If there are any further events like this in the future we would definitely like to get involved."

On Thursday, the students carrying out a test dig in the Ward's garden unearthed a piece of Saxon pottery, dating back to 950 to 1000AD.

Paul Blinkhorn said: "It is still very early in the dig, so in most cases, the only pieces we are finding so far date back to Victorian times.

"However, in Mr and Mrs Ward's garden we have discovered a piece of Stamford Ware and, between 900 and 1200AD, Stamford was one of the most important centres of Saxon pottery in the country."

What you think... about the project

Sarah Stuffins (14) a pupil at Hereward Community College, said: "We've only taken the top layer of soil off so far and so we haven't unearthed anything yet but I am really enjoying it.

"It's really interesting to find out what happened here before."

Jemma Davey, a pupil at Hereward Community College, said: "The dig is not what I expected at all. I didn't think we would find anything, but we haven't even dug down that far yet and we have found nails and limestone, and it is really interesting. It has given me a better insight into archaeology."

Jamie Jordan (15) a pupil at Walton Community School, said:"I think this is a really great experience. I have enjoyed the digging and have always been interested in palaeontology and fossils, and so this has helped to develop my excavating and documenting skills. It is also really good for encouraging team work."

Lisa Mears (14) a pupil at Jack Hunt School, said: "It is a really good experience, and already our team has found some Roman pottery. I've never done anything like this before, but I think it is really good to know we are carrying out proper research."