Churchward School go on a 'Digventure'

By Jessica Durston - 16 March 2022


Churchward School has recently been part of a remarkable project with DigVentures, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

DigVentures is a social enterprise organising crowdfunded archaeological excavation experiences. It is registered with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, and is a CIfA Accredited Field School.

Students at Churchward School have been given the opportunity to become future climate pioneers developing their knowledge of different careers in archaeological science, arts, technology and public engagement and working with specialists first-hand. 

The project started during the pupils' summer holiday last year, when they met with Neville and Sally Hollingworth, the couple that discovered one of the most significant British archaeological site in decades. 

The students visited the site that featured in the BBC documentary ‘Attenborough and the Mammoth Graveyard’, went fossil hunting, and were able to explore some of the Digventure team’s findings first-hand - including a woolly mammoth’s tooth and bones, and a hand axe originally uncovered by Sally and Neville.

It was in 2016 that Sally and her husband, Dr Neville Hollingworth, were searching - with permission - in the ancient silt and gravel of a quarry operated by Swindon firm Hills Group looking for Jurassic fossils such as ammonites (shelled early relatives of modern cephalopods of 167 million years). 

What they found is credited as one of the most significant British archaeological discoveries in decades. 

Sally Hollingworth said: "The corner of the quarry had just been excavated, which exposed the lower part of the gravel, and we saw a wood-like structure”. 

Realising that the object didn't seem to 'fit' in the area, the couple investigated further - and unearthed the first find of the trove, the upper front leg bone of a mammoth.  The site went on to yield the remains of five Steppe mammoths, ancestors of what we know as woolly mammoths, and a flint hand axe – evidence of early humans.  Their discovery was the basis for documentary with Sir David Attenborough in which they featured.

Neither Sally or Neville are palaeontologists by profession - Sally works for Hills and Neville works for the Science and Technology Facilities Council - but both are experts in the field. 

Sally and Neville were invited into the school, as part of the project, and delivered a presentation on their findings and their work with Sir David Attenborough. The students built mammoth models and looked at different bones and fossils that Sally and Neville had collected over the years. 

Students also engaged in fossil photogrammetry in preparation for the exciting task of re-creating a representation of the Palaeolithic site, where the discoveries had been made, in Minecraft.

A spokesperson for Churchward School said the students will be working towards developing their digital literacy skills and look forward to presenting their findings to a wider audience locally, nationally and internationally.

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