Unearthing Histon’s Past – Come and join the HIAG June Digs

Friday to Sunday. June 2nd – 4th and June 23rd – 25th.

Test Pit at Abbey Farm in 2022. Photo credit: David Oates.

We are excavating test pits in several gardens in the older part of Histon, near Histon church. Volunteers – experienced or beginners just coming for a try-out – are welcome to come and enjoy helping the Histon and Impington Archaeology Group make further discoveries in our usual sociable setting. Training and full instructions will be given. The project involves a certain amount of digging (not compulsory!) and a lot of sieving of soil to look for finds, plus washing, identifying and recording them.

Anglo-Saxon and later medieval pottery from a test pit in 2022. Photo credit: Rob Noble

These pottery sherds are examples of our “treasure.” The five dark pieces are from Anglo-Saxon cooking pots – used for cooking dinners in the Histon of 1200 years ago. The others are medieval – 600 to 800 years old. We have even found pieces from the Bronze Age – back to about 1200 BC – and want to find clearer indications of exactly where people lived in the different periods.

Base of Romano-British drinking cup. Photo credit: Rob Noble.



Now take another look into the past. A Romano-British person drank out of this cup 1800 years ago. In Histon. Not far from the Red Lion.



You may book for all day, 9.30 – 5.00, or just morning or afternoon, as many
sessions as you like, using this link. We ask for your email address and mobile
number to keep in touch. Bookings can be changed or added to later, using the
same link. We will always use your latest booking submission. Friday bookings
especially welcome. Under 18s must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.

David Oates.
Project Manager.

IVC excavation finds on display at Histon Library

Histon Library is currently hosting a small display of some of the finds from our excavations in the grounds of Impington Village College (IVC).  The excavations were the result of HIAG’s involvement with the iCAS programme at the college.  All students undertake iCAS, which supports students’ personal development and provides an opportunity for learning for pleasure, rather than for examinations. Students choose activities each term on a rotational basis and one of the options is archaeology. As part of this, excavations by HIAG for a few days each term allowed IVC students (over 90 in total) to gain some hands-on experience of excavation processes.

IVC was built in the grounds of Impington Hall, but prior to creating the landscaped parkland around the Hall in the 16th century the area was part of the medieval village of Impington. We therefore hoped that under the modern layers we would find surviving evidence from the village, helping to add to the picture of the development of Impington and Histon that we have been building up through our programmes of test pit excavation.  We were fortunate: beneath about 0.5 m of modern debris, we reached undisturbed medieval levels.

Extensions to the excavation area enabled us to uncover an oval feature about 1m x 2m, partially cut into the orange sandy subsoil. Along the top edge you can make out the remains of a clay wall, all that had survived of a probably above-ground structure. There is also evidence of burning at the base and a dark organic fill, the bulk of which which may have accumulated after the structure fell into disuse. The fill was dateable by the fragments of medieval pottery within the material.

The partially excavated remains of the medieval structure at IVC.

Subsequent post excavation analysis of the feature fill found burnt grains of wheat and other cereal crops which has helped to identify the feature as probably a medieval corn-drying oven.

When the structure was in use it may have looked like this reconstruction of a medieval corn dryer from an experimental archaeology project in Wales.

Reconstruction of a medieval corn dryer. Image courtesy of Black Mountains Archaeology Ltd / Archaeoleg Mynydd Du Cyf.

This, together with finds of bones of sheep, pigs and cattle, and the shells from seafood shines a light on food and farming practices in medieval Impington.

Evidence of what the medieval residents of Impington were eating!

As with most archaeological sites, ceramics were the most abundant type of find. Overall from the IVC site we found pottery from the Roman period through to the twentieth century, examples of which are on display.

Some of the pottery recovered from the IVC site.

The exhibition will run until 20th April 2023

Histon Library opening hours

Monday: 11am – 7pm
Tuesday: 2pm – 5pm
Wednesday: Closed
Thursday: 9am – 5pm
Friday: 9am – 1pm
Saturday: 9am – 1pm
Sunday: Closed


Our thanks go to Terri Lewis (Area Library Manager) for her support facilitating the display, to staff at IVC, especially Dr Mim Bower, Victoria Hearn and Neil Jones, to all those who took part in the excavations and provided specialist reports and finally to Cambridge Antiquarian Society for a grant for the analysis of environmental samples.

Penny English, January 2023


HIAG Test Pits Project 2022 – the findings, and what’s next?

At our next Club Night at 7.00 – 9.00pm on Thursday 3rd November David Oates will give a short report on this year’s test pit excavations, with some of the finds on display and details from the pottery specialist’s report.

The image below is of one of the finds from this year’s test pits. There is something rather unusual about this coin, come along and find out what the experts at the Fitzwilliam Museum have revealed.

The ways in which our findings need to be recorded and reported on, locally and nationally, will be described and we will be discussing the initial planning for the HIAG test pits project 2023.

Over the winter we will have some small group meetings to continue to study the finds and progress the reporting of this year’s results and also refine the details of next year’s campaign.

Do please come along and see what is on offer and enjoy being part of a friendly team learning about our community’s heritage.

See our Club Nights page for venue location and other information.

HIAG Test Pits Project 2022 – September Update

Thank you to all who have volunteered to take part in the HIAG 2022 test pits project, particularly those who came to the very successful weekends in June at Abbey Farm, and in August at The Gables and Windmill Lane.

The preliminary report previously circulated on the Abbey Farm excavations can be found here, and the new and latest preliminary report from The Gables and Windmill Lane is here.

There is still time to join us to continue to make new discoveries in the history of Histon and Impington. It is proving to be an exciting summer, so book your sessions now.

The September excavations, rearranged to avoid the extreme heat in July, are at Strictly Daylilies, 2 Prime’s Corner, Histon from Friday to Sunday 2-4 September. We will be investigating the mysterious cropmarks shown on the aerial photograph below. They are about 3-4 metres wide and do not appear to relate to anything previously recorded on the site.

One possibility is that they are the boundary ditches of a Romano-British field system. This would be a remarkable discovery. We have previously found Romano-British pottery in a test pit located at the small red square on the map, so we are hopeful.

There is something for everyone – digging, sieving, finds-washing, listing and photography – all within a friendly and enthusiastic group. No experience is necessary – we provide full instructions and equipment. Whether your interest is just trying a day with us for the experience or if you are an older hand, please use the link here to book or update the sessions which you would like to attend. Note: If you have not already registered for the project you will first be asked to do so. You may modify your bookings at any time using the same link and we will go by your latest version.  Please reply as soon as possible so that we can plan the number of test pits.

We look forward to seeing you for the September weekend!

David Oates
Project Manager
16th August 2022

Report on the joint HIAG and FEAG guided walk to view Devil’s Dyke

Members of HIAG and FEAG (Fen Edge Archaeology Group) joined together on a warm summer’s evening to enjoy a guided walk to view Devil’s Dyke, led by Stephen Macaulay, Deputy Regional Manager with responsibility for education and outreach at Oxford Archaeology East.

Around 12 km long, the Dyke stretches from the fen edge at Reach across the open chalk landscape to the more wooded landscape at Woodditton. In its current form, Devil’s Dyke dates from the sixth century, although it follows the line of an earlier boundary along the same route.  Its most impressive section at Gallows Hill (a name acquired from its use as a place of execution by the Bishops of Ely) still stands to a height of over 10m from the top of the bank to the base of the ditch. Originally gleaming bare chalk, it would have made a clear statement of status and power in the politically uncertain times between Britain ceasing to be part of the Roman Empire and the establishment of stable Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, as well as forming a defensive barrier and controlling transit through the landscape, cutting across the prehistoric and Roman routes crossing the landscape. Even now it is a prominent feature in the landscape.

Along the route, we were able to appreciate its impressive scale as well as the rich archaeological landscape in which it sits. The Dyke is surrounded by evidence of human activity pre-dating its current form, from Bronze Age barrows to a now invisible Roman villa with a trackway linking it to a mausoleum (later used at a pagan Saxon cemetery) and also providing access to the Roman port at Reach.  Much later, it was cut though by a short-lived speculative railway in the early 19th century as well as the modern roads. There is also a 1940s ammunition store dug into it at Reach, the precise location of which is now unknown!

How the Dyke functioned when it was in use is much debated, and it remains a fascinating and enigmatic monument.  Its name ‘Devil’s Dyke’ testifies that it has exercised the imagination of past generations too. – legend tells it came about when the devil was turned away from a wedding feast and in anger burnt the groove of the Dyke into the landscape with his tail.

Our thanks to Stephen Macaulay for a fascinating visit.

Penny English

Invitation to a guided visit to Devil’s Dyke for HIAG and FEAG members

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Stephen Macaulay, Deputy Regional Manager responsible for education and outreach at Oxford Archaeology East will be leading a joint guided walk to Devil’s Dyke for HIAG and FEAG members. The largest Anglo-Saxon Dyke/Ditch in Britain, built around the 6th-7th centuries AD, it forms an impressive feature across the East Anglian landscape. It also lies within a landscape of much more archaeology, from the Bronze Age onwards.

Starting at 6.30 p.m. on Wednesday 3rd August and lasting around 1.5 – 2 hours, the walk will take us up to Galley Hill then along the dyke, ending at Reach at approximately 8 – 8.30 pm.

As numbers on the walk are strictly limited, this is open to HIAG and FEAG members only. Booking is essential: use this link to the Contact Us page of our website to book a place. If all the places are already taken, names will be added to the waiting list in case a space becomes available.

HIAG Test Pits Project 2022 – August Update

In the interests of safety, due to the exceptional heat forecast for the 16th/17th July excavation weekend, we rescheduled this event for September. Apologies to all those who volunteered and were looking forward to this weekend. We share your disappointment.

There is still time to consider volunteering for the remaining weekends. Here are details of the planned August sites.

There is something for everyone – digging, sieving, finds washing, listing and photography – all within a friendly and enthusiastic group. No experience is necessary – we provide full instructions and equipment. Whether your interest is just trying a day with us for the experience or if you are an older hand, please fill in the on-line form at the link below and we will keep you informed. We are now offering Fridays as well as Saturday and Sunday.

Please use the link here to book, update or confirm the sessions you would like to come. If you have not already registered for the project you will first be asked to do so. You may modify your bookings at any time using the same link and we will go by your latest version.  Note that we are now also offering Fridays, so you may wish to add these.  Please reply as soon as possible so that we can plan the number of test pits – and convert “possibly” answers to “yes” if you can.

The preliminary report from the Abbey Farm weekend in June with photographs may be seen here.

The final excavation weekend will be on Friday-Sunday 2nd-4th September at Strictly Daylilies, 2 Prime’s Corner, Histon and Histon Manor.

David Oates
Project Manager
14th July 2022.

Field walking season 2021-2022 update

This years field walking season involved nine Sunday mornings between November 2021 and March 2022. We would like to thank Caroline Chivers and Alister Farr for their support in allowing us to walk at Manor Farm and Bedlam Farm, Impington.

After a very long break our fieldwalking campaign at Manor Farm, Impington resumed on the 21st November 2021. A group of eleven volunteers walked the last section of a field  that we had first started walking two years ago. We were pleased to welcome five enthusiastic beginners who had come from far afield and we paired them with more experienced volunteers. The day was bright and sunny and started with a gentle breeze. Hopes were high for some good finds. Unfortunately, in the week since we had last inspected the field, the exceptionally mild weather had caused the winter wheat crop to race away and in parts of the field this made seeing any surface artefacts really quite difficult.

Sadly this time the pickings were meagre with only one piece of immediately identifiable medieval pottery, although Sasha also found a lovely piece of post-medieval Staffordshire slip ware (AD1640-1750) with its very characteristic combed decoration.

During the following two weeks we completed a new field to the north west. Despite snow falling in other areas of the county our field this time was in good condition for walking, well weathered and with only a small amount of crop visible. For these two weeks we mainly had experienced walkers (oh dear – what happened to the beginners?). Here we found considerably more medieval pottery sherds and some that might turn out on closer inspection to be Romano-British.

When we resumed after the Christmas break we walked another large new field closer to Butt Lane. On this field the older finds were very limited but again there was a considerable quantity of modern artefacts including a mobile phone and a toy tractor. The challenge on this field was that a lack of both crop drill lines and horizon features, meant walking in a straight line while always still scanning the ground for artefacts was quite difficult. This was eventually overcome by placing large equally spaced white signs at the far side of the field that could be seen from the transect line start, such that walkers had a reference point that they could use to keep checking on their line.

The last weeks of this year’s field walking season saw HIAG return to a field that we had transect walked in a previous season and found a reasonable number of sherds of Roman pottery.

Roman pottery from transect walking at Manor Farm in the 2019-2020 season

We were keen to revisit the site to have a more intensive look by grid walking rather than sampling by transect walking. Luckily this field had been ploughed prior to plant trials so was in lovely condition to grid walk, but we were also under some time pressure to finish before the field was taken over for the plant trials.

10m by 10m grid squares were marked out using canes and each square was walked by a volunteer who spent about 15 minutes gathering every artefact they could find in the square and depositing them into one bag which they left in the centre of the square for later collection.

Grid walking at Manor Farm, Impington

Thanks to the enthusiasm of HIAG volunteers and the much appreciated help from CAFG members we had lots of volunteers to help.

Briefing the volunteers at Manor Farm

Out in the field at Manor Farm

We managed to complete grid walking of a total of 252 10x10m squares over 3 weeks and this produced an unexpectedly large number of finds.

Finds from just two of the 252 grid squares at Manor Farm

Although there was a lot of 19th/20th century stoneware and glass in the assemblages there were some really interesting finds of pottery which appear to be from predominantly the Romano-British period but also some from the Anglo-Saxon period.

Early Anglo-Saxon pottery sherd with stamped decoration

Our task over the rest of the summer is to process all the finds by first washing, then sorting and the recording number and weight of each finds type, before sending them to appropriate finds specialists to be analysed and reliably identified. We have used our club nights at St Audrey’s Community Centre to start this process but we still have lots more to do before the finds can be sent off.

Finds sorting and recording at Club Night

We hope to complete the work over the summer and have at least some pottery analysis results back during the autumn and before the start of the next fieldwalking season.


HIAG Test Pits Project 2022 – Details of Sites, Dates and How to Volunteer

Exciting news! Thanks to the generosity of the site owners we can now invite you to join our summer test pits project to investigate a really excellent selection of the most historic locations in the villages. Sign up now!

The project weekends are 25/26 June (Abbey Farm, Histon), 16/17 July (Strictly Daylilies, Primes Corner, Cottenham Road, Histon), 6/7 August (The Gables, High Street, Histon and Windmill Lane, Histon) and 3/4 September (Impington Mill, Cambridge Road, Impington – provisional).  We will also include sites at Histon Manor and some outlying locations.

Whether your interest is just trying a day with us for the experience or you are an older hand, please fill in the on-line form at the link below and we will keep you informed.

There is something for everyone – digging, sieving, finds washing and listing, and photography – all within a friendly and enthusiastic group. No experience is necessary – we provide full instructions.

Please click here to let us know the dates you will be available. If you have not already registered  for the project you will first be asked to do so.

Please reply by Monday 13th June, if possible.

David Oates
Project Manager

HIAG Test Pits Project 2022

HIAG is planning another test pit campaign this summer. We hope to fill in some of the gaps in our sampling of the archaeology in the medieval core of the villages. The objective is to improve further on our steadily evolving understanding of the timeline and spatial distribution of settlement in the villages. This year’s project will be led by David Oates who masterminded the original “Big Dig” in Histon and Impington in 2016.

We intend to have four test pitting weekends, but dates and locations have not yet been set, as these will depend on response to this initial call for volunteers. If you are interested then please see the project outline on our website here. If you are already familiar with our test pit programme and just wish to volunteer this season you can jump straight to the online registration of interest form.

There’s no commitment at this stage – just a registration of interest.

We look forward to hearing from you, whether you are new to test pitting or an old hand, whether or not you are interested in digging, or some other aspect of the project. More interesting discoveries await!

Jane Dean
HIAG Secretary