Pupils get early sight of ancient Somerton settlement

Children in Somerton have been given a sneak peek at an ancient settlement unearthed on the site of the town’s new school.

Four classes from King Ina Academy Junior School were shown around the site of the new Somerton school by archaeologists excavating ahead of construction on Council-owned land off Northfields.

Initial works have uncovered evidence of an Iron Age settlement, with signs of roundhouse buildings and some artefacts including pottery. As required by law, on behalf of the South West Heritage Trust the site is now being examined and excavated in detail.

The new, 420-pupil, 14-class primary school will replace the King Ina sites at Etsome Terrace and School Lane. The aim had been to start the September 2020 term in the new school, but the significant discovery means the project won’t be completed until early 2021 – depending on how long the archaeologists need to do their work.

Experts from Wessex Archaeology will record the site and conserve any artefacts, allowing construction work to start again as soon as possible.

The children had a tour of part of the site and looked at the evidence of Celtic round houses and discussed what it may have been like living in them. They found out about how archaeologists look for evidence of farming and the remains of ancient food, and even tried out some authentic replica grain grinding equipment.

Councillor Faye Purbrick, Cabinet Member for Education and Transformation, said: “We’ve got a great track record of delivering new schools, so any delay is a shame. But clearly, this is a special case, with some really interesting historical finds and it’s very important that this piece of Somerset’s past is recorded and preserved.

“The timescales are out of our hands, while the archaeological work continues, but I am pleased that the students who will inhabit the new school have been able to engage with the archaeologists and witness first-hand the exciting finds on the site. Hopefully it has fired some young imaginations and, who knows, it might inspire some future careers or hobbies.

“The new school is great news for Somerton and the surrounding communities and we will do everything we can to move the project forward quickly once the archaeological work is done.

“In the meantime, I’m grateful to the school for their support to mitigate the possible effects of this delay to the building programme. I await the final report of the archaeologists with interest and look forward to seeing some of these fascinating artefacts in the county’s museum for everyone to share.”

Hedda Walker, Deputy Head at King Ina Academy said: “The visits were excellent – really interesting and enjoyed by both the pupils and the staff. We were really grateful for the opportunity to visit the site at this early stage.”