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Bronze Age 2000 - 700 BC

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Causewayed ring-ditches and roundbarrows excavated on Thanet

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North Foreland III

The Causewayed barrow
The internal burials
The flint pit
The ditch burial

North Foreland III, 1999

The St. Stephen's College Causewayed roundbarrow

Investigations at the site of the former St. Stephen's College (NFB99) uncovered a wealth of archaeological remains aside from the Causewayed roundbarrow. These included a much larger Bronze Age roundbarrow (North Foreland II) and a third (apparently burial-less) ring-ditch monument (North Foreland I) which had been bisected by a wall.
The causewayed roundbarrow as first exposed

The Causewayed roundbarrow as first exposed

The central features ready for excavation

The central features ready for excavation (photo by TTA)

Near scale in 0.1 metre divisions

Far scale in 0.5 metre divisions

The bulk of the archaeological features were the result of settlement activity conducted at this hill-top location throughout the Iron Age. Evidence of their pits (including large grain storage pits) and post-holes (representing wooden structures and fence-lines) were widespread. There was also a rectangular enclosure and a substantial boundary ditch which skirted around the small Causewayed roundbarrow.

Small fragments of Iron Age pottery were recovered from the Causewayed barrows' ring-ditch, shallow central burial and flint pit (see below) and reasoned to be an intrusive 'contamination' of this substantially earlier monument.

Plan of the NFB99 excavations (TTA)
Plan of the St. Stephen's College 1999 excavations

The Causewayed roundbarrow is directly to the left of the scale

Plan of the graves and flint pit (TTA)
Plan of the Causewayed roundbarrow showing only the position of the three graves and the flint pit

A section through the ring-ditch
Section through the ring-ditch

The Causewayed roundbarrow

This small barrow was around 10m in diameter and
had a narrow causeway (0.40m wide) to the north side of the monument.

The ditch was
not perfectly circular (few are). Some parts of the ditch circuit had been cut in slightly straight-ish sections which gives a somewhat segmented appearance to the monument as a whole.

Could this have been the result of the ditch being dug in a series of pre-defined sections (D.R.J. Perkins), perhaps as a communal task by several individuals within a family or small community group? That presents a nice image, but must remain forever speculation.

In the middle is the rectangular central burial and adjacent circular flint pit

At the top right is the second grave in an oval pit

Two other small pits lie behind the central burial

Several small post-holes can also be seen

The excavation begins!

Within the bounds of the ring-ditch were two shallow graves containing the poorly preserved remains of two crouched adult inhumation burials. There was also a circular pit which had been packed with flint. A couple of other (unproductive) small, shallow pits and small post-holes were also present.
The unexcavated graves of the two occupants of the Causewayed roundbarrow can be seen in the centre and the top left of the picture below
A third grave, holding the remains of a child and capped by a large fragment of whalebone, was cut into the base of the ditch to the west of the causeway.
In the foreground is a sub-circular pit which had been filled with a tightly packed deposit of burnt flint nodules, capped by large tabular slabs of flint and sandstone

The true relationship between the pit and the central rectangular grave is not entirely clear

Has the pit avoided cutting the earlier grave, or vice versa? The pictures seem to suggest that the grave may be respecting the edge of the circular pit

Personally I feel that the pit may have been dug as a result of the ceremonial activities which surrounded the interring of the primary grave and/or the founding of the Causewayed monument

Perhaps this small enclosure had a previous life as a family's private ceremonial monument
before being used as their burial ground? Several small pits and post-holes were found within the enclosure

Many other interesting possibilities exist - see further below!

All ideas are worth exploring in an attempt to help us perceive the lives of our ancestors who walked the hilltop at
North Foreland some 4000 years ago

Scale in 0.1 metre divisions
Photo by TTA

The internal burials

The rectangular central grave and circular pit filled with flint, plus the second grave in the background
The second, outer grave

The second, outer grave and the remains of its occupant

It lay to the south-east of the rectangular central burial

The bones which remained in the central rectangular grave indicated that they belonged to an adult of approximately 25-35 years of age. The body had been laid in a crouched position with the head to the south, facing west.

The grave was only around 0.30m deep, but the surviving soil backfill suggested that the body may had been laid within a wooden coffin-structure (Boast, Gardner and Moody 2006).

A second, oval-shaped grave was situated to the south-east of the first and this contained just a few fragments of human bone. Little could be learned from these remains, save that they represented a single individual, laid in a crouched position with their head to the west end of a virtually east-west aligned grave.
Perhaps the most important question is unanswerable -
why were these particular individuals selected for burial here and what happened to the remains of the rest of what must surely have been been a much larger family group

Did they get their own roundbarrow or flat-grave burial elsewhere?

Or were their remains treated in an entirely different fashion - one that left no trace for us to find today

North is approximately to the top of this picture

Scale is in 0.5 metre divisions

Photo by TTA

A look at the poorly preserved remains of our North Foreland ancestor

The flint pit situated close to the north edge of the central grave

Scale in 0.1 metre divisions

Photo by TTA

The flint pit

Close to the rectangular central burial was a circular pit which contained a mass of burnt flint nodules capped by four larger pieces of beached-sourced tabular flint and four slabs of sandstone (of non-local Greensand/Ragstone perhaps; Boast, Gardner and Moody 2006).

The heating of nodules of flint for use as pot-boilers and also for providing the raw material of a tempering agent used in pottery production (though employed much less frequently in the Early Bronze Age) was a widespread practice throughout the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age.

However it is very unusual to find such a mass of burnt flint buried within a feature. The capping of this deposit with large slabs of flint and sandstone seems to suggest an act of purposeful deposition and may be one that was either connected with the burial rites conducted at this monument, or perhaps its founding.
Scale in 0.5 metre divisions

Photo by TTA

The circular pit containing a mass of burnt flint
Today the Joss Bay Gap is 840m away, while eastwards the coast is as little as 385m

However, around 2000 BC the coastline could have been approximately another 1.2km distant (Perkins 1999).

Other theories also exist, including the idea that it is 'a relic of some form of structure associated with the secondary use of the barrow... some time after the original construction' (Boast and Moody in Boast, Gardner and Moody 2006).

It could be that 'the pit represents a post hole with the flints providing a pad for a large post acting as a marker possibly relating to the phase of activity which includes the use of the Barrow causeway, the insertion of the burial into the Barrow ditch and its subsequent backfilling' (Boast and Moody in Boast, Gardner and Moody 2006).

The view across the central burial and the causeway down the valley towards the sea

This view appears to have greatly influenced the position of the monument and the  orientation of the causeway and the central burial

A couple of the small, shallow pits can be seen to the right of the picture

The view through the causewayed entrance toward the sea
It is thought that the tidal currents around North Foreland were particularly hazardous and would have generally been avoided by the early Prehistoric seafarers.

The Wantsum Channel was a much safer route, but one that may have been strictly controlled by some of the inhabitants of the Isle of Thanet, perhaps allowing the creation of a rich 'Gateway Community'.

The potentials and limitations of Prehistoric sea-going boats is another subject entirely of course (and one about which I know little!)

Recently the focus of an article in Archaeologia Cantiana by Thanet Trust's former Director Dr. David Perkins, we may return to this topic in the future!

Given the barrow's position overlooking a valley which leads north-eastwards to the sea, the idea of a large post which could have acted as a landmark or seamark is quite attractive.

Could this have been an original feature of the monument, or perhaps a later Iron Age addition (a few scraps of Iron Age pottery were recovered from the pit, but are thought to be intrusive). Could it have been a navigation aid, perhaps helping boats to target a landing at Joss Bay on their way to the Iron Age hill-top settlement (Moody pers comm.)?

A recent review by Ges Moody of the linear cropmarks which can be seen running along the side of the hill show that they descend towards the valley bottom at Joss Bay and this has led him to a new interpretation that they may represent (multi-period?) trackway ditches rather than the defensive ditches of a 'hillfort' or hill-top settlement.
The grave cut on the west side of the causewayed ditch
The ditch burial

Overview of the grave cut into the base of the ditch

A small grave was cut into the base of the ditch to the west of the causeway. This is a unique feature for a Thanet roundbarrow and is quite probably a rare occurrence generally.

A large fragment of whalebone had been placed across this grave, a little to one side.

The whalebone-capped child's grave in the bottom of the ditch
The child burial in the base of the ditch

Within the grave were the remains of a child, perhaps between 9-10 years of age (of unknown sex). The body had been laid in a crouched position on its right-hand side, with the head facing south-east. The tightly crouched position suggests that child's body may have been bound or wrapped before it was placed within the grave (Boast, Gardner and Moody 2006).

Once backfilled, a large fragment of whalebone had been placed across one side of the grave. Whalebone is found only rarely on excavations in Thanet. This piece presumably came from a carcass that could have been washed up on a local beach and
was likely viewed as a rare and prized resource.

It appears that the whalebone would not have been visible on the surface however, for it had been covered by a small mound of earth which overlapped the edge of the grave-cut. It also appears that the barrow ditch had been purposely backfilled 'soon after the burial had been inserted'
(Boast, Gardner and Moody 2006).
Small scale in 1 and 5 centimetre divisions

Large scale in 0.5 metre divisions

The child burial within the whalebone-capped grave

It is hoped that future radiocarbon-dating (should some spare funds become available) will throw some light on the context of this intriguing monument.



TTA - Trust for Thanet Archaeology.
Hands-up Mr. Trevor Beale!
Its a fair cop!


Boast E.J., Gardner O.W. and Moody G.A. 2006. Excavations at St. Stephen's College, North Foreland Broadstairs, Kent. Trust for Thanet Archaeology report.

Fisk P.M. 2003. An examination of the excavated ring ditch enclosures on The Isle of Thanet. Unpublished Degree thesis.

Perkins D.R.J. 1999. A Gateway Island. Unpublished Doctoral thesis.


I should very much like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of archaeologist Trevor Beale (pictured left). He excavated much of this important monument and worked extensively on Thanet's archaeological sites over many years, making a major contribution to the exploration of our heritage (and on-site entertainment). Thanks Trevor!

The text is the responsibility of the author; the photographs are by the author unless otherwise stated. The site and feature plans are by the Trust for Thanet Archaeology.

Paul Hart

Version 1 - Posted 21.10.06

All content © Trust for Thanet Archaeology