2nd December 2015: Digging at the Gateway to Kent

Between 60 and 70 members and visitors attended the Society's December meeting when they were treated to a fascinating lecture on 'Digging at the Gateway to Kent: the archaeology of the East Kent Access Road, Thanet'. As the lecturer, Phil Andrews, explained, the new road which was built in 2010 improves access to Sandwich and Ramsgate and crosses one of the richest archaeological areas in Britain. Over a nine month period, while the road was actually under construction, the whole length of the route was excavated in a project that involved over 300 staff and produced 3.5 tonnes of finds from an area covering 40 hectares.

Evidence was found of human activity dating as far back as paleolithic times and remains (in the form of pottery) indicated permanent settlement in neolithic times (4,000BC onwards). Bronze Age remains featured prominently and a number of Bronze Age burial mounds (2,200BC - 1,600BC) were excavated. (In all there are over 300 such burial mounds in Thanet, suggesting that 3,500 years ago Thanet was one of the most populated areas in Britain.) Excavation work also revealed plenty of material from the Iron Age (including a complete horse burial which is extremely rare) and from the Roman period (in the form of enclosures, trackways, burials and vessels). There is a gap then until 500-600AD when evidence emerged of Anglo-Saxon habitation and burials.

In his well-illustrated lecture Phil Andrews described many of the finds excavated during the course of the project. These included a huge number of coins and thousands of glass and amber beads. Of particular note, however, are two fine gold bracelets, possibly votive offerings, dating to 800-700BC. Another fascinating discovery dating to Anglo-Saxon times was of shell fish remains on a much larger than domestic scale. It is possible that the fish were processed here for onward distribution inland.

What promises to be most exciting of all, however, was the discovery of a large, late Iron Age pit which may have been the landing place of Julius Caesar in 54BC where he set up camp and beached his ships for repair. Research is ongoing and the results are eagerly awaited.

All in all the excavations represent an outstanding achievement and have made a fundamental contribution to our understanding of the archaeology of Thanet. Furthermore, the project included a huge amount of educational and outreach activity, which targeted both school children and the general public, and has resulted in the publication this year of a record of the excavations in two very handsome volumes.

Jenny Oram