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Educated at the school (since closed) of the Church of England Community of All Hallows, Norfolk, and at the University of Cambridge, in 1985 she joined the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (now part of English Heritage) as a field archaeologist for Wessex. During part of her time with the RCHME she was seconded to the History Department of the University of Birmingham to research the relationship between settlement and landscape in the East Midlands. She followed this with a similar project for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. In 1999 she was elected a visiting fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where she is a Senior Research Associate and Affiliated Lecturer. In 2004 she took on a new post at Cambridge to promote undergraduate archaeology, and created Access Cambridge Archaeology.
In 1993 she joined the team creating the first Time Team series, shown in 1994. The success of Time Team encouraged the production of other programmes in similar formats, such as House Detectives by the BBC. In 2002 House Detectives at Large starred Carenza Lewis with architectural historian Dan Cruickshank. She also devised and presented a series called Sacred Sites for HTV. She left Time Team after series 12, filmed in 2004, and returned to television in the 2010 series Michael Wood's Story of England.