History uncovered Article 2

New evidence of Prehistoric and Roman settlement discovered

In the first instalment of our heritage outreach series, we introduced you to the archaeological work being carried out along our new 400kV overhead line connection between Richborough and Canterbury.

We have been continuing with our archaeological surveys and excavations and in this article we wanted to update you on our recent exciting discoveries!

We have identified Prehistoric and Roman artefacts as well as signs of human settlements at a site near Hersden. The site is located to the north of what is now known as the A28 Island Road which follows the path of one of the main Roman roads in Kent.

The excavation area contained various intercutting ditches as well as a number of pits. We have been able to identify two distinct phases of occupation on the site, a Prehistoric phase (possibly as early as the Neolithic or Bronze Age) as indicated by flint artefacts and pottery fragments, and other domestic rubbish recovered from the lower fills of one of the larger ditches on the site.

The earliest features date from the Prehistoric period and include at least one large straight ditch which stretched right across the site. The archaeologists recovered only Prehistoric artefacts from the bottom of this ditch. This ditch may represent a field boundary, stock enclosure or even a farmyard within the wider field.

A handful of circular, dark pits were found in the south-central part of the site. The function and date of these pits are not yet known. However archaeologists have taken soil samples which will be processed and analysed by specialists to determine if they contain any remains of cremated human bone or other environmental remains. This analysis will help us understand what these enigmatic pits were used for and how they fit into the story of the site.
We have also uncovered a much later Roman settlement occupation. The archaeologists recovered large quantities of Roman artefacts, including pottery, nails and bits of slag (metal-working waste) in the fills of most of the ditches and pits across the site. We know that this site was used and re-used for a long time as some of the early ditches filled up with soil or were cut by new ditches on different alignments. These new ditches contained only later Roman era artefacts. This indicates that there was likely a sustained period of occupation during the Roman period at this approximate location.

Based on locations of the ditches and pits on site we can assume that they lay within a farmyard which was probably linked to the nearest Roman settlements and markets by the nearby Roman road. We did not identify any postholes or obvious foundations of any buildings within the limits of the excavation area, which suggests that the main farm buildings may be located under nearby fields. A particularly large deep pit was investigated in the south-west of the site. This pit may have originally been used for grain storage. It gradually filled up with layers of sediment containing domestic rubbish which suggests that it was later used as a rubbish pit or a cess pit.

All of the ditches and pits were backfilled by the end of the Roman period suggesting that the settlement use of this site ended at this point and the area reverted back to woodland or farmland.

The excavation work at this site is now finished but analysis of the findings and environmental samples that we have recovered will help us to tell the story of this site in greater detail.

Location of the site at PC22 north of the A28 near Hersden © OpenStreetMap contributors licence CC BY-SA January 2018

An archaeologist has excavated half of a large pit, which may have originally been used for storing grain and was later probably used as a rubbish pit. This pit has been cut by several later ditches, which have been marked out in blue on the surface. The archaeologist is writing up detailed notes on the different layers of soil deposited within the pit and has recovered artefacts from each layer which he has carefully bagged and labelled. These will be processed and analysed by specialists once the excavation has been completed.

Picture of one of the excavated pits in the site. Archaeologists are able to identify these features by differences in the colour and texture of the ‘fill’ or contents of the pit compared against the undisturbed natural clay into which the pit is cut. This pit may have been a rubbish pit but in this part of Kent organic material such as animal bone does not survive well in the acidic earth. The archaeologists have taken samples of the soil from each layer in the pit in carefully labelled white buckets which will be processed and analysed by specialists to identify tiny traces of environmental material (such as charred seeds or small pieces of bone) which could provide information about the day to day life of the people who dug and used this pit.

An archaeologist in the process of excavating two of the ditches across the site. The ditch on the left of the picture appears to have been originally dug in the Prehistoric period, but it was still partially visible during the Roman period when the latest artefacts were washed or dumped into it before it finally silted up. The ditch on the right may have been dug and used at a different time as it is on a different alignment, and terminates in the foreground.

Picture of an iron nail fresh out of the ground. Archaeologists are experts at picking out artefacts from the ground and carefully recording the ‘context’ or exact location and deposit where they were found. During the post-excavation process, this will enable specialists to carry out more detailed analysis and build up a detailed picture of the story of the site.

As the various archaeological investigations continue throughout the course of the construction of our overhead line we will be posting further updates. Watch this space! And don’t forget to check out the ArchaeologyinKent Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ArchaeologyinKent