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A field trip through time

RAF LAKENHEATH, England -- "You can't take a step on this base without tripping over dead bodies," Richard Southgate said jokingly.

And school children here had a chance to see a few Nov. 17 -24.

Malcolm Buxton, environmental program manager for the 48th Civil Engineer Squadron, worked with the Suffolk County Council Archaeology Service to coordinate field trips for more than 600 school children to see, and in some cases assist, with an archaeological dig during the last couple of weeks.

The site was discovered when an old base house was torn down, and there was an ancient "ring ditch burial mound" beneath it.

Mr. Southgate, the natural cultural program manager for the 48th CES, said that in the Bronze Age 2300 B.C. until 750 B.C., the ancient peoples buried their dead in mounds, and then throughout history, other peoples and cultures like the Romans, Ancient Britons and Saxons, buried theirs near them. He also said over the years, agriculture and erosion has played a role in flattening the mounds and they are now discovered beneath RAF Lakenheath during construction projects.

Children were scheduled to see the site in 30-minute blocks. A house nearby was setup as a classroom and rally point for the children who were taught about 4,000 years of history in the area.

One of the primary concerns for the tour organizers was safety. "There were three primary rules the children had to follow when they were on site," said Mr. Buxton. "We told the children, no running, climbing on the barriers and no feeding the archaeologists."

What the children saw while they weren't running and feeding archaeologist was one discovery out of many made over the past 58 years ... approximately 470 remains have been uncovered underneath the base in that time. 280 of them were found in a Saxon cemetery, which is now the site of one of the dormitories here.

The children learned more than just how the ancients buried their dead though. Mr. Buxton said that he had to tailor his field trips to the age of the children.

"Elementary school children need to be taught differently than high school kids," he said.

"With the younger kids we really needed them to understand these remains are four to five thousand years old," he said. "We told them about how the teeth had very little cavities or fillings because they didn't have cookies, candy and sugar back then."

Mr. Buxton said he was able to teach the older children more about the significance of the site.

"This area has been constantly occupied for the past 4,000 years," said Mr. Buxton. "It is thought the people lived here in ancient times because of the natural spring located on base. That water drew more than just humans, but animals also, which gave them food to eat. Everyone needs food, water and shelter, and this was a perfect location for all three."

Bill Harris, the 48th Fighter Wing's historian, said , "RAF Lakenheath is a living artifact. Although the ancient skeletal remains haven't said a word in more than 4,000 years, we become enlightened when we listen to their distant voices."

"Without them, and heeding their words, we have very little context of how we 'came to be,'" he said. "History is not boring. It brings us to an understanding of our very essence, our very state of being."

Although dead bodies have been found across RAF Lakenheath, Mr. Southgate said their remains are essential to understanding the eras they lived in, and that archaeological sites like this don't just enlighten school children, but the world.

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