Digging for history: Newnham's excavations
Last year I reported on a lecture we had in college about Dorothy Garrod (first female professor of archaeology in Cambridge) excavating some Anglo Saxon skeletons in the college gardens in World War II. This year we have decided to re-excavate her excavation (on the site of the old air raid shelters near Peile Hall -- for those who know college), and to bring in school students to help in the dig. This is, actually, a big deal. In my day, if you were 17 there were plenty of excavations you could go on. As archaeology has become more and more professionalised, there is very little space for those not already 'trained' to participate 'in the field' (the field in this case being the college garden).
Anyway, these kids had a baptism of fire into archaeology. That is pouring rain and growing cold. These tough conditions were mitigated by the head gardener, who reacted to the weather by putting up a party marquee over the site. I have to say that if someone who had done that when I excavated in Wroxeter in 1972, I might not have retired from real archaeology, at the the age of 19 (as I said to Carenza Lewis, who was leading the field party on this occasion).
But what was the result in the garden? And what did it tell us about those Anglo Saxon burials?
There were no more skeletons found. But today I visited the site, picked up a few apples from the college trees (just nearby) and I had a good chat with Catherine Hills (on the right, one of our fellows in archaeology, who gave the big lecture on the excavation last year). She and Carenza were keen to stress that they had found nothing Anglo Saxon at all. Was it simply that when Garrod excavated, she had assumed that the burials were Christian because they were oriented East/West?
They had, however, unearthed a lot of 16/17th century pottery (suggesting a farm or similar at that period, when we always thought this period was unoccupied). And there was plenty of Roman stuff (as you can see at the top of this post), which suggests more Roman occupation around our way than we might imagine,
It does make you think that what Garrod might have assumed was early Christian (because of the orientation of the stiffs) could equally well have been second century AD or sixteenth century.
You can buy Catherine's book about the intriguinging World War II story by contacting:
But the important thing to me (despite how we are trashed by politicians on this one) is that we have given some kids a chance to come and try archaeology, on the ground.