Today’s image is another in our series of roundups of posts contributed by our guest curators. This time we are looking at the posts Nigel Macpherson Grant contributed, mainly about prehistoric ceramics. Many of our posts have been based on his extensive knowledge and the detail published in reports and so much material in the VM_365 is based on his work.
A report from an archaeological specialist could appear to be a dry prospect for the average reader, but Nigel’s are always filled with nuggets of information about the potters art or the patterns in form, fabrics and techniques current at any time which make for interesting posts for the VM project. On the left hand side of the picture is Nigel himself, who appeared in Day 2 of the VM 365 project, sorting through boxes in our store for more pottery examples.
On the right of the picture are several examples of the pottery pictures Nigel produced for us, always with an interesting story to tell about how they were made or how they might have been used. The first at the top was a previously unreported Bronze Age Urn which featured on Day 212 of the VM_365 project, the middle image that featured on Day 155, showed how ceramics were influenced by other materials, in this case the stitching on leather containers and the third image from Day 172, shows a finely decorated Neolithic bowl from Ramsgate.
Archaeology depends on the dedication of people who make the detailed study of a single type of artefact their life’s work and the contribution of our friend Nigel to Thanet’s archaeology is immeasurable and continues to grow.
Links to Nigel Macpherson Grant’s contributions to the VM_365 Project:
For the image today, Day 359 of the VM_365 project, we have a view in the Our Thanet series, taken from the crest of the hill at Elmwood Avenue and facing east across a valley cutting the chalk downland to reach the sea at Joss bay on the left side, between the Oast House and the North Foreland lighthouse.
The lighthouse stands at the northern end of the North Foreland promontory, an isolated chalk ridge which runs across the horizon in the picture and on which some of Thanet’s most significant prehistoric discoveries have been made. The North Foreland is one of the geographical features of the British Isles whose name (Kantion) was recorded in ancient literature by the 3rd century BC Greek explorer, sailor and navigator Pytheus of Massilia (modern Marseille).
On the valley slope to the right of the lighthouse a very complex cropmark of linear ditches and other features is often visible from the viewpoints around the valley. Excavations over many years have revealed that the cropmarks are the visible indicator of the very extensive prehistoric settlement that occupies the chalk ridge.
At the right hand end of the image, a large residential block marks the site of the former St. Stephens college, where one of the largest excavations took place in 1999 and 2003. Previous VM_365 posts have explored the Neolithic and Bronze Age funerary monuments that were positioned with care to overlook the valley. Close to the new residential block a small Bronze Age round barrow was excavated in 1999. In one terminal of a gap in the circuit, the excavators revealed an unusual burial which had been covered with a large piece of whalebone.
Examples of some of the earliest coins to have been produced by the Iron Age rulers of Kent have been found on the North Foreland, some connecting the area to the dynastic struggles that were affecting the people of Britain and the continent. The extensive Iron Age settlement produced many interesting finds, including a pair of Iron Bridle bits.
Another series of VM_365 posts explored the fascinating story that is told by the discovery of an Iron Age burial inserted into a large abandoned grain storage pit. Was this a casual burial or a more formal rite taking advantage of the prepared ground of the abandoned settlement? Three blue glass beads worn around the neck of the woman buried in the pit suggest the latter.
Several smaller sites have been excavated when the opportunity arises through house building or redevelopment on the estate that now encompasses the crest of the ridge. These have shown that the ridge was widely settled over a long period of time. One of the most significant finds was a Beaker period burial, discovered only a few centimetres below the drive of a house that had been built in the early 20th century. Archaeological monitoring of the house building plots has also shown that the ridge was heavily terraced while developing the estate and perhaps many archaeological sites were destroyed without record in the past.
The area is certainly one of the most important archaeological landscapes in the Isle of Thanet and much must remain to be learned about this area.
The image for Day 341 is another in the series of Our Thanet posts, showing locations that play an important part in the exploration and appreciation of Thanet’s heritage.
The image shows a view taken facing south and south west from a downland hill top at Lord of the Manor, Ramsgate when part of the ring ditch associated with a Bronze Age round barrow was partly exposed in a training excavation in 2013.
Although it is partly obscured by trees and buildings that have grown up since a railway cutting was pushed through the chalk hillside in 1847, it is still possible to see the vista across the low lying bay that could be seen from the vantage point of the raised central platform enclosed by the ring ditch. From the centre of the mound the horizon falls away in a wide sweep from the north east to the south, giving a view across Pegwell Bay.
It can be no coincidence that a location commanding such an impressive view was chosen for the location of such a major monument in the Bronze Age. Everywhere on Thanet where such unique points which command similar impressive views over the landscape can be found, there are also concentrations of prehistoric monuments, some unusually large in size or very complex such as the Lord of the Manor 1 multi phase monument which featured all the way back on Day 21 of the VM_365 project. Artistic reconstructions of the development of the landscape over time featured in an earlier series of VM_365 posts starting on Day 265.
This unique landscape is increasingly under pressure from development and it may soon not be possible to see what the prehistoric inhabitants of the Isle could see from the vantage points of the downland hilltops.
Today’s image for Day 249 of VM_365 shows the Manston Beaker burial under excavation in 1987.
The burial was contained within a grave located centrally within a roughly oval shaped barrow. The crouched skeleton of a slightly built young adult was accompanied by a long-necked beaker, a flint knife and a jet button. The picture on the right hand side shows the burial during excavation with the beaker on the left side of the pelvis.
A secondary crouched burial had also been inserted on the inner edge of the ring ditch to the south of the central grave.
The central grave had apparently been disturbed, possibly by a later burial inserted into the barrow mound, maybe during the Anglo Saxon period, as parts of the skull were missing and a fragment of femur unrelated to this skeleton was found in the backfill above.
Radiocarbon dating carried out on the right femur of the skeleton dates the burial to 1680±50 bc (2132-1922 years BC) which places it at the beginning of the early Bronze Age.
The image for Day 228 of the VM_365 project is of a resource the Trust has created for teaching some of the themes of prehistory in primary school workshops, a table top Beaker burial given its first trial recently at a primary school in Broadstairs. The tabletop layout includes a skeleton in a crouched position, accompanied by a replica Beaker vessel and a contemporary barbed-and-tanged arrowhead.
One element of the workshop is a discussion of pre-history as an idea, drawing out the sense that it describes periods in the development of human societies where no stories told directly by the people themselves exist. Studying prehistoric periods requires a process of investigation, based on the observation of objects and the circumstances of discovery. To generate narratives from the evidence requires imagination to draw out associations and analogies with contemporary life experiences.
The burial and accompanying objects create a detailed scenario to provoke discussion and demonstrate how archaeologists have used the detailed investigation of the pottery, flintwork and the human remains separately to provide data. Revealing the burial from under its covering of grassy topsoil (top images) adds a sense of the theatre of discovery which is such a part of the archaeological investigation process.
The combination of the artefacts and the burial into a recognisable archaeological scenario gives the children an insight into the practical circumstances of investigation where archaeologists generate their data. They can take part themselves in creating and debating their own versions of the narrative of the burial.
For an archaeologist well versed in the complexities of theoretical approaches to prehistory and the interpretative models and debates that are generated from them, it is fascinating to see these same arguments arise among such young minds based on the first principles of observation and imagination provoked by a Beaker burial presented in their own classroom.
Beyond the educational aspects of the activity, there is the opportunity to create a great deal of fun, with much ooing and aahing as the bones are revealed followed by a flood of questions and a great deal of humour. Previous VM_365 posts on prehistoric pottery and human bone themed education activities were made way back on Day 11 and Day 12
The image for Day 213 of the VM_365 project is one of our pictures from the slide archive collection. Taken in 1987, it shows the Manston Beaker prior to its restoration.
The Beaker, previously featured on Day 161, was found resting on its side and was lifted on site in a block of soil, tightly wrapped in bubble wrap, before being transported back to the laboratory where it was excavated from its soil block.
This picture shows the base of the beaker during cleaning. We often forget when we see an object cleaned up and on display how many stages it may have gone through to get to that condition. In the case of this Manston Beaker it involved the heavy restoration of its missing parts and decorative pattern.
The image for Day 210 of the VM_365 project is another taken from our slide archive.
The object shown is a Late Neolithic flint tanged and barbed arrowhead, found in the fill of a segment excavated through an enclosure at Laundry Road, Minster in 1995. Another ditch section contained pottery dating to the Beaker period, suggesting that the whole enclosure was of late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age date.
Other similar flint arrowheads from locations in Thanet have been featured in previous VM_365 posts, on Day 141, Day 162, and Day 168.
Our image for Day 177 of the VM_365 project shows four close up pictures of the decoration on the body of the Beaker vessel from North Foreland shown yesterday for Day 176.
The first impression is that this vessel looks like a very finely and carefully decorated pot but if you look closely you can see that this is not the case because there are some errors in the execution of the decoration.
The decoration was applied using a comb with square-sectioned teeth and is arranged in four zones. The neck (top left) is decorated with opposed filled triangles bordered above and below by a ladder pattern defined by encircling combed lines. The triangles are separated from each other by three vertical ladder motifs.
The waist decoration (top right and bottom left) is separated from the neck decoration by a plain band approximatley 1 cm deep. The waist is made up of a band of herringbone motif bordered above by three, and below, by two encircling lines. There is overlapping in the decoration.
The belly (bottom right) is decorated with a ladder motif and is separated from the waist by another plain band and is encircled above and below by two lines.
The base decoration (Bottom right) is separated from the belly by an undecorated band and comprises a zone of ladder pattern similar to the belly but more untidy where there seems to have been an attempt at forming three encircling lines above and two below but the execution is careless and there is overlap between the horizontal and vertical elements. The lower part of the vessel is undecorated.
How did the potters decide how to divide up the vessel into decorative areas and what patterns to apply? Did they use mathematical principles to divide up the circular space or were there rules of thumb that made the job easier? Perhaps we will never know.
Gibson, A. 2005. The Beaker and other Pottery from Beaufort, North Foreland, Broadstairs, Kent. Unpublished Pottery Report.
The image for Day 176 of the VM_365 project shows a Beaker vessel dating between 1900-1700BC excavated from a grave at North Foreland, Broadstairs in 2004.
The vessel accompanied the crouched inhumation of a female aged over 40 years old who had been buried in a large pit cut into the chalk, around which a ring ditch had been excavated. The Beaker had been placed at her feet and a small flint scraper may have been placed near her head.
The Beaker is of the S2 type series, similar to the example found at Manston and has been decorated in four zones using a comb. It is made of very hard, well fired fabric that has been rapidly open fired. An old break at the base shows possible traces of coil or ring construction.