The northern edge of the school playing field at St Phillips Catholic Primary School (West Yorkshire, UK) still shows sign of the former field on which the school was built. Several rows of ridge and furrow are clearly visible but virtually impossible to photograph clearly. I had to get the children to line up in rows in order to locate the ridges for the camera. The ridges seem very straight to me and are probably the result of 20th century machine ploughing rather than medieval ridge and furrow.
Digging a test pit
The children dug a single 2.0m x 2.0m test pit on the crest of one of these ridges. Time did not allow us to excavate it fully but in one corner the natural subsoil was reached at a depth of about 30 cm. The finds were what you might expect – a few pieces of Victorian/20th-century pottery, bits of clay pipe stem, fragments of glass and some bits of cinder. The pieces were very small – a sure sign that they’d been broken up by ploughing.
Archaeology is more than digging
The children also had the opportunity to practice some other skills. I had bottomed the test pit during the lunch break creating a large pile of earth that had not been looked at properly, so children were set to work sieving the soli. It’s a good recovery technique which proved its usefulness in this instance as several pieces of clay pipe were found in this way.
The children were also shown the basics of site planning and how to measure in detail by using tapes to measure in from a baseline. This fitted in well with the work on graphs which the children had been doing in school.
They also helped backfill the site. It’s something that I didn’t at one time do with school pupils. I used to think that they might get upset at having to fill in a hole that they have just dug out. That’s not the case: children enjoy backfilling just as much as they do the rest of archaeology