“It sounds like everything I could have dreamed of” were the thoughts of Lanah Hewson when she applied for an exciting MA Studentship opportunity with MOLA Headland Infrastructure in January 2020.

Six months later, Lanah and fellow Archaeology masters student and successful applicant, Jemma Moorhouse, had joined the company and were about to begin their placements, which were funded by Highways England and delivered in conjunction with the University of Reading.

Lanah and Jemma have spent several weeks of their programme with our teams of specialists working on material excavated during our archaeological excavations on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Road Improvement Scheme.

During their placements Jemma focussed her work on the topic of ‘Integrating scientific analysis into the study of Iron Age and Roman copper-alloy objects from large infrastructure projects’. Lana’s work covered ‘The effects of sub-sampling Roman pottery assemblages from large infrastructure projects’.

Having described the opportunity as a dream, we were interested to hear more from Lanah. She said:

Since coming to the University of Reading I have been in love with ceramics and finds, so having an opportunity to develop a specialism in Roman Pottery by working with academic AND professional units was perfect.”

Jemma had three main reasons for applying. She explained:

“Firstly, it sounded like a unique and exciting opportunity that would enable me to progress as an archaeologist, including the potential to develop a specialism, while pursuing my academic interests in Romano-British archaeology. Secondly, the dissertation sounded like a highly stimulating research topic that combined both humanities-based and science-based archaeological research, which is something that I am keen to pursue further. Thirdly, as my undergraduate degree was largely theoretical, I wanted to develop more practical skills that would prepare me for future work in the heritage sector. I felt the balance of vocational and research opportunities offered by this studentship would enable me to do this.”

Lanah and Jemma at work on the A14 material

After several weeks with MOLA Headland’s specialists both Lanah and Jemma felt they had learned a lot of practical skills as well as benefitting from the experience working within commercial archaeology. Jemma said:

I have been impressed at the efficiency of commercial archaeological units and how various departments work together like a well-oiled machine. My favourite part of the placement so far has been getting to handle some of the Roman small finds from the A14 excavations, for example, a copper-alloy brooch in the shape of a chicken from Fenstanton Gravels.” 

Lanah added:

Around week three, Eniko, who is also working on the project worked through some pottery with me. I got to learn a lot about more unusual and particular vessel shapes and some tricks and tips to help orientate and identify sherds. She added such a new perspective for me and was such fun to work with!”

During their placements with MOLA Headland, Jemma and Lanah were working closely Senior Prehistoric and Roman Specialist Michael Marshall, and Iron Age and Roman Pottery Specialist Adam Sutton, who have specific expertise in the respective topics that the studentships were focused around.

Michael said:

“Jemma has been working with us to learn about Iron Age and Roman metal artefacts and her research will help us understand the major changes in metalworking going on during this period, exploring how new copper alloys were adopted and who had access to them. We can normally only analyse a small sample of finds due to the time it takes using traditional methods but Jemma is experimenting with the idea of doing rapid surface analysis of the entire A14 collection which uses X-ray fluorescence to measure the chemical composition of samples. This will provide lots of valuable new information and also help us target our more detailed analysis.”

In addition to the benefits the placements have provided for the students, Adam believes that they have been equally as important for him and his colleagues at MOLA Headland. He explained:

“The opportunity to spend extended periods of time training interested students doesn’t often come up in commercial archaeology, so it was a great chance for us to hone our own skills as teachers and consider how best to share specialist knowledge so we can attract, enthuse and educate talented people around our profession. We anticipate that Lanah’s research will be of general benefit to the discipline in helping us to think more critically about the objects we study and how we can best allocate the resources at our disposal.”

Now enrolled full time with the University of Reading to study MA Archaeology Lanah and Jemma are focused on the next phase of their learning. Lanah has completed the practical component of her programme, whilst Jemma continues, under the co-supervision of Dr Peter Bray at the University of Reading, to deliver practical elements of her project which could not be completed earlier due to COVID-19 impacting availability of materials and access to laboratories.

Lanah said:

The MA placement will be absolutely invaluable to me as I hope to move into the world of post-excavation processes when I graduate. I expected to come out next year with a Masters and a specialism, but after spending time with MOLA Headland I know that I’m also going to be part of a network of amazing people and mentors, and who wouldn’t want that heading into the unknown of post-university life.”

Jemma had a similarly optimistic outlook. She explained:

I will be balancing my MA studies alongside analysing the A14 material with portable X Ray Fluorescence. I am hoping to tailor some of my MA modules to fit in with my interests and the wider A14 research topic by either looking at small finds or metalwork from other time periods such as Bronze Age Britain. I’ll be really excited to see the outcome of my dissertation research.

From MOLA Headland’s perspective the MA Studentships have been a positive experience for everyone involved. Adam concludes:

“Through this programme not only have we been able to help train the next generation of archaeological specialists, Jemma’s and Lanah’s work has made a real difference to what we have been able to learn from the archaeology of the A14 project.”

Dr Steve Sherlock, Highways England archaeology lead for the A14 also recognises the significant value of the placements. He said:

“Highways England is pleased to be supporting these studentships. We recognise that there is a skills shortage within the archaeological profession and can see that this initiative can help the student and also provide important information to support our post excavation programme on the A14.”

Join us on our journey!

The archaeological programme for the Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme is being carried out by A14 Integrated Delivery Team on behalf of Highways England.