Category Archives: Thanet

VM_365 Day 364 Curator’s Favourites: Ges

VM 364Today’s penultimate post for Day 364 of the VM_365 project features a selection of favourite images from our Curator, Ges.

One image that is particularly important to me is the newly minted VM_365 logo which we posted on Day 1. When we launched the project it was difficult to know how much work it would involve, and to anticipate where the threads of each days posts would lead us.

I am particularly pleased that like any other Museum we have been able to share events with you, like last year’s Archaeology for You, our table top Beaker burial for a school prehistoric study day which was posted on Day 228 and our recent friendships and fallouts workshops at Bradstow School which was the image for Day 354. The three images are shown from left to right in top row of the composite image, after the VM_Logo.

We have also been able to share our knowledge of the work and archives of the Heritage pioneers who first investigated Thanet’s archaeology, like Howard Hurd who recorded so much archaeology in Broadstairs and featured in a post on Day 40. We also acknowledged the inestimable contribution of people like our old friend the late Dr. Dave Perkins on Day 250. These two pioneers are shown from left to right on the second row.

New evidence has emerged from the more recent archaeological field work and analysis we carried out ourselves, supplementing the records of discoveries made by the pioneers. A particularly good example is the excavation of a small Roman cemetery at Ramsgate, where a picture from one of the graves was posted on Day 58 and is shown in the centre right of the middle row, confirming the discoveries documented by Ramsgate Surgeon Robert Hicks in the late 19th century, which featured in the post for Day 57 shown on the middle row, far right.

Archaeological research has been carried out for nearly 300 years in Thanet and we want to keep that tradition alive and thriving. We have tried to include some images that have challenged the conventional ideas of what archaeological investigation is concerned with. Our posts have ranged from artefacts associated with the Dreamland site like the knife pictured on Day 95, shown in the bottom left corner. Bottles from local soda water manufacturers, such the Phillpot plant in Ramsgate which featured on Day 348 reflect another aspect of the industrial archaeology of the Isle.

VM_365 Image sets also looked at the character of our ancient hidden hamlets and the impressive medieval parish churches like that at St. Peters which featured on Day 325. There were also VM_365 posts on the historic landscapes around the Isle of Thanet.

Reaching the milestones of the first month’s posts, or the first hundred posts or the unimaginable heights of the three hundredth posts were significant, but there was always so much ahead of us, not always with a rich stream of ideas of what the next post would be. On occasion the last desperate attempt at a post produced one of the most creative and popular articles.
It has been interesting to see some of the daily posts begin to evolve into long and related series with cross links and shared themes growing, albeit spread out over time. The story of the burial of a woman in an abandoned storage pit at North Foreland reproduced in the bottom right corner, which began on Day 43, is one that evolved to create a detailed description of the burial over several posts.

We have been able to update some cross links as we went on and the VM_365 project will be a network of information and references which we hope will stand for much longer than the 365 days of the project. We will draw on VM_365 to illustrate our work in the future. We are particularly proud that we have managed most of the processes to create the VM_365 posts in house, from managing the web pages to the production of most of the images we have used.

It has been a welcome relief to have had supplementary material from some great guest curators to lighten the load of producing a daily post for a whole year. Nigel Macpherson Grant’s contribution was celebrated yesterday on Day 363 and that of Steve Willis on Day 362. Much of the success of the posting depended on the photographs originally created for the Virtual Museum by Paul Hart. All these people gave us a tremendous body of material to draw on when our own knowledge was lacking or our time was short. We’ve also been able to interweave some solid factual information alongside some more contemplative posts.

I would like to thank our good friend Nicki, who once mentioned in conversation that she had done a 365 photo project herself, and so the creative wheels started turning at the Trust. Thanks for following and commenting throughout the project as well.

Most of all I would like to thank Emma, who shared her favourite images on Day 361, for keeping the project going when the project initiator (!) often wished that the project hadn’t been initiated. It is perhaps worth considering that each VM_365 post has taken around two hours to create and cross post each day. That’s 730 head-scratching, clicking and typing hours over the year.

VM_365 was carried out by us entirely on a voluntary basis, in addition to our usual work. I ask our colleagues who didn’t arrive home until late over the year because we had to ‘quickly’ post a VM_365 piece before leaving the office to forgive us, we hope they agree it has been for the greater good!

The project more than achieved its aims in adding many people to our community of archaeological friends, but the success also imposed an unexpected destruction test on our website at the last minute. Regular re-tweeters, likers and commenters have supported the project throughout, and among many solid supporters were Andy Mayfield/Archaeology in Kent and Sophie Adams/Tactile Archaeology who could be relied on for a late night like, share or retweet. Our good friend Maggy is a bloggers dream reader, posting kind and encouraging comments and helpful reminders to all that the VM_365 posts were cross platform and there was often more information elsewhere.

VM_365 is ultimately a labour of love, because we love the history and archaeology of the Isle of Thanet and we’d love you to love it too!

VM_365 Day 363 Guest VM curator on (mostly) Prehistoric Ceramics

VM 363Today’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:

VM_365 Day 301 Dumpton archive confirms Roman building

VM 301

The image for Day 301 of the VM_365 project is taken from a digitised colour slide that was taken at the site at Dumpton near Broadstairs which was excavated by Joe Coy in the 1960’s. The archive from this excavation has been featured in a series of VM_365 posts, which have been looking at the detail of the finds to try to understand the significance of this unpublished site. Although the archive box for this site is labelled 1965, it appears that the dig began in 1961, when the slide archive indicates that this image was taken. The labelling of individual pottery sherds in the archive also indicates that some were recovered in a dig on the site in 1961. The picture is very important because it proves that one of the major features investigated on the site was a Roman structure, partly built in a distinctive local type of building stone used extensively in the Roman period.

Several strands of evidence have led to previous suggestions that a structure  from the Roman period was present on the site. The earliest evidence was given in Reverend John Lewis’s History of the Isle of Thanet, where it was noted that Roman coins had been found in the Dumpton area. At the time of writing in 1736, Lewis reported that a Roman wall had relatively recently been observed, but had fallen into the sea following a cliff fall. An excavation carried out by Howard Hurd on the cliff tops when new roads were being laid out on the sea front also recorded ditches and enclosures, which were predominantly of Iron Age date. A dig by the Trust for Thanet Archaeology at site near to Joe Coy’s excavation that re-examined part of Hurd’s published site, recognised that the period of occupation on the site extended well into the Roman period, much later than Hurd had suggested. One significant find in the Trust’s excavation was of a small number of fragments of distinctive Roman roof tile forms, including both Tegula and Imbrex. this evidence all pointed to the previously unrecognised presence of a building on the southern slopes of the dry valley at Dumpton gap.

Recent evidence from excavations on major Roman buildings in Thanet have suggested that all were founded on substantial Iron Age settlement sites. It is likely that prosperous Iron Age farming communities in Thanet quite quickly adopted Roman building methods and began to use imported Roman pottery alongside vessels that continued to be made in traditional pre-Roman forms and in local fabrics exhibiting various degrees of influence from the material imported from the Romanised continent.

Sadly many of Thanet’s Roman buildings have been so heavily damaged by ploughing and stone robbing that little remains of their structure but the lowest courses of walls or those lining deep recessed parts of the structures like cellars and sunken floor levels. However the presence of structured remnant of walls, built of the distinctive rounded flint cobbles is paralleled on so many sites that their presence in this image, taken with the range of finds that were associated with the excavation site, are strong evidence that another Roman building was present on the southern side of the dry valley that leads to Dumpton Gap. The topographic location of the structure is also similar to the buildings excavated at Stone Road, Broadstairs and the Abbey Farm Villa at Minster.

In today’s VM_365 image, the presence of a building is confirmed by the presence of the  line of rounded flint cobble wall which is visible running from left to right in the foreground of the image. Although the pictures have not yet been reconciled fully with the plan that was contained in the archive, it appears that the wall is part of the southern side of a rectangular  flint lined cellar, which once formed part of the structure of a building. There are striking parallels with the image and the pictures of the surviving structures found further to the north at Stone Road and on the cliff top on the northern side of Viking Bay at Fort House, Broadstairs, which have appeared in previous VM_365 posts.

It is likely that further research on the archive and re-examination of the results of the other digs in the area will bring more evidence confirming the importance of this site which spans the Iron Age and earlier part of the Roman period.



VM_365 Day 294 Iron Age and Roman pottery sherds from 1964 Dumpton excavation Archive

VM 294

The image for today’s post on Day 294 of the VM_365 project shows the contents of some of the paper bags, stored in an archive box from an excavation carried out by Joe Coy with the Thanet Excavation Group at Dumpton, between Broadstairs and Ramsgate in 1964.

To understand how important the information contained in the archive is, we need to carefully examine how and why each item has been stored and labelled. In the image above the sherds are laid out on the paper shop bags they were stored in so that they can be assessed in more detail. Later they will need to be catalogued and put into plastic bags which will help to ensure their safe storage in the long term

All but two of the bags in the 1964 excavation box contain pottery sherds. The sherds have generally been marked with a site code and feature number, which we now know corresponds with feature numbers on the sketch plan in the box.

There seems to be no corresponding finds list, description of the pottery or dating for the items in the archive box, so each pottery sherd  may have to be re-examined to understand the date range of the features fully.

However even a casual examination of the material reveals the span of the dates covered by the sherds, apparently a classic assemblage spanning the Late Iron Age and Early Roman period. Many of the pottery sherds are comparable with typical vessel types from other sites the local area, which have featured in earlier VM_365 posts.

The site excavated by Joe Coy and the Thanet Excavation Group in 1964 is very close to a large site excavated at Dumpton Gap by Howard Hurd, one of Thanet’s archaeological pioneers. Although Hurd emphasised the Iron Age aspects of his site, described by him as the remains of ‘a Late Celtic Village’, later excavations suggested that there was a more significant Roman element to the settlement than was previously thought. As we start to understand the 1964 archive, it looks likely that this will make a significant contribution to understanding that Roman settlement phase here.

The analysis will continue in subsequent posts.

VM_365 Day 274 Iron Age coin Links North Foreland with continental intrigue

VM 274

The image today for Day 274 of the VM_365 project is of an Iron Age coin (a Van Arsdell Type 194), issued by Amminus, who was possibly also known as Adminius. Becoming King of the Kent’s Cantiaci tribe in the early to middle of the 1st century A.D., Amminus was thought to have had strong pro-Roman sympathies. Amminus was a son of Cunobeline, a King of the Catuvellauni in the early part of the 1st century. A gold stater minted by Cunobeline and found at St Nicholas at Wade featured in the VM_365 post for Day 272.

The coin in today’s image was found at North Foreland, on the eastern tip of the Isle of Thanet, where a large Iron Age settlement dating from the mid to Late Pre-Roman Iron Age occupied the crest of a chalk ridge overlooking the sea and an important shipping route to the mouth of the Thames estuary.

The coin links the location and its contemporary archaeology to the murky intrigue that eventually culminated in the full scale invasion of Britain by the Roman Empire. The limited contemporary evidence that is available from the distribution of coins of Amminus/Adminus is supplemented by a text reference in the biography of the Emperor Caligula produced by Roman historian Suetonius.

Seutonius claimed that Caligula had exaggerated the banishment of Amminus/Adminius and a group of followers for unknown reasons, into a grand announcement in the Senate  that the Emperor had secured victory over the whole Island of Britain.  Amminus may have also played a part in Caligula’s military posturing, which culminated in an abortive invasion of Britain. It has also been suggested that Amminus returned to Britain with the Emperor Claudius as an advisor and possible later as a Governor.

The coin issued by Amminus links the archaeology of the North Foreland, one of the major coastal Iron Age settlements in Kent, to the power struggles between the British tribal leaders and the growing Roman Empire which must have played a part in the defence of the Island against the Roman invasion fleet.


VM_365 Day 273 Coins and Iron Age Minster

VM 273The image for Day 273 of the VM_365 project is of another coin dating to the Iron Age, a struck Bronze of a Late Iron Age King called Eppillus, which was found at Minster on the southern side of the Isle of Thanet .

The biography of Eppillus is largely based on the evidence, using the tiny scraps of written evidence derived from the inscriptions on coins. Eppillus became king of the Cantiaci, the tribe that lived in Kent, around 15 A.D. , possibly after he was deposed or replaced as King of the Atrebates by his brother Verica.

The powerbase of the  Atrebates was in the region around Chichester, which was known to them as Noviomagus. The Atrebates began a political relationship with the Roman Empire as its influence expanded on the continent. Coins of Eppillus issued from Noviomagus were marked Rex, indicating that the King’s power had been recognised by the Roman state.

Like many of the coins issued by Late Iron Age regional rulers in Kent, the example shown in the image today (Type: Van Arsdell 178) is based on a coin issued by Phillip of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Although the images on the coins went through many incremental distortions and abstractions, the bust and chariot on either side of the coin can be traced through their evolutionary changes to their ancient Greek origins. The imagery reflects the independent connection of the Iron Age states with the classical Greek world.

Coins struck by the pre-Roman Kings of Kent provide material and written evidence that was independent of the control of the Roman state, although its influence on the iconography and texts can be detected in the years before the Empire expanded to Britain.

As our extended written evidence of pre-Roman Britain comes almost wholly from writers who lived in the dominant culture, the study of the Late Iron Age coin series allows us to perceive, however dimly, an alternative point of view to the Romans. The scatter of Iron Age coins, pottery and other artefacts from Minster in Thanet provide an indication of what came before the almost overwhelming amount of cultural information about the Roman period which is represented by sites like the Villa that was discovered in Minster.

VM_365 Day 266 The barrow reconstruction drawings get more complicated

VM 266

The image for Day 266 of the VM_365 project is the second in a series of images drawn by Dave Perkins, reconstructing the sequence of event associated with a funerary monument that was revealed in excavations at Lord of the Manor, Ramsgate.

In today’s image, the single ring ditch and mound that was shown in yesterday’s picture is being renewed, ready to receive another burial. The original ring ditch and its mound, now compressed and discoloured, have been sealed under fresh chalk which is being dug from a new ring ditch with a greater diameter than the earlier one. The circuit of the new ditch is  interrupted by a causeway, where a stretch of the circuit was not excavated. It is a process like this that created the concentric circuits of ditches that show up so well in the cropmark posted on VM_365 Day 264.

The location of the barrow is closely based on the landscape of the Lord of The Manor site, with the land falling away into a deep dry valley, which is shown covered with woodland. The sweep of the valley leads to the sea at Pegwell Bay in the upper right hand side of the picture. On the left side of the image a funeral procession is making its way up the side of the valley toward the newly refurbished barrow.

It is still possible in the present day to stand near the site of the barrow and see the same view over the bay which would have been presented to the prehistoric people of the area.  It was this experience of the landscape that Dave Perkins used to draw his reconstruction images.

Further analysis of the landscape has shown that there are only a few sites in Thanet’s landscape where such an uninterrupted view is possible and it becomes clear from considering the landscape that sites were carefully chosen to provide such a panoramic view. Excavations have shown that some were used over many thousands of years to locate settlements, gather for ceremonies and to create structures where the dead could be buried.

Once again we can reconstruct the facts that are presented by the archaeological features on the ground, but can never really confirm the reasoning behind the choice of location which is so well captured in the drawing. Was it to assert a power or domination over the landscape or to enhance the visibility of the monument from other sites? Motives may have changed over time passing from willful choice into tradition whose meanings were lost in the passage of time.

The true motives are lost without the record of contemporary voices, but we can explore possible meanings through attempts at reconstruction like the drawings in this series of posts. There are questions to ask about this reconstruction: was the natural environment so open and free of the influence of man as it is shown? Was it as simple a task to create a barrow as is suggested? The ring ditches of the many barrows that have now been excavated in Thanet have demonstrated that they are often perfectly circular with regular and symmetrical profiles throughout the circuit, despite the hard chalk rock that had to be cut to create them. It is immediately possible to suggest the picture could be made more accurate with the addition of some figures carrying out some quite complex surveying and architectural control over the cutting of the ditch as well as an indication of the greater amount of labour that went into cutting away the chalk in such quantity. Our ideas progress through such criticisms of the reconstruction, which perhaps leads in the future to new images that take new ideas on board. Sadly they will not have the benefit of Dave Perkins’ wisdom and experience to inform them.

VM_365 Day 264 Cropmarks record ancient Ramsgate landscape

VM 264Today’s image for Day 264 of the VM_365 project shows an aerial photograph of one of the most impressive groups of crop mark groups in Thanet’s historic landscape. The picture was taken in the the late 1970’s, from an aeroplane flying over the downland ridge at Lord of the Manor, Ramsgate overlooking Pegwell Bay.

In the photograph, which is facing south east toward Ramsgate, a chalk ridge extends from the lower right corner of the picture toward the top left. The ridge is isolated by the dry valleys that flank it on the right and left hand sides, affording spectacular views over the coastline to the south .

The overflight to photograph the cropmarks took place before several major developments in the road network in the immediate area took place, preserving a record of the  landscape despite the considerable changes  that have happened in recent years. The linear markings and circular shapes that can be seen through the variations in the colour of the crops growing in the field, indicate the locations of buried archaeological features and sites, which have been investigated in many phases of archaeological investigations that were guided by the location of the crop marks since the photograph was taken. The effect of buried archaeological sites  which produced the variations in colour in the growing crop was explained in a drawing produced by Dave Perkins in our VM_365 post for Day 252.

At the junction between a road and a railway cutting that can be seen at the top right of the picture, one of the earliest published archaeological investigations was conducted by William Rolfe, Thomas Wright and Charles Roach Smith, when an Anglo-Saxon cemetery was disturbed by the railway cutting in 1846.  A drawing made of one of the graves was shown on VM_365 Day 225. The Saxon cemetery and the more ancient Bronze Age ring ditches that had occupied the ridge, continued to be investigated in several stages in the later 20th century.  Images of some of the excavations of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery that were carried out in the 1980’s were shown in the VM_365 posts for Day 216 and Day 217.

The three concentric ring ditches of a multi-phase monument, which was first constructed in the Neolithic period and was renewed in the Beaker and Bronze Age periods, can be seen in the bottom right part of the image. A view of the partial excavation of the three ring ditches in 1976 was shown in the image for Day_21.

Archaeological work in this landscape has continued to be carried out with the ditches of an Iron Age settlement being explored in 2012 and in a  training excavation carried out as recently at 2013.


VM_365 Day 247 More bath houses and buildings at Minster Roman Villa

VM 247

Day 247 of the VM_365 project is our penultimate post on the series of images of the main buildings of the Roman Villa at Minster in Thanet, a view facing north west across a building located at the south west corner of the villa complex.

The post for VM_365 Day 246 featured a two roomed corridor house, Building 4,  added to the south eastern corner of the boundary wall surrounding the main winged villa building.  The image today shows the foundations of a similar two chambered structure that had been added to the outside of the south west corner (Building 6).

The excavation of building 6 revealed a more complex story where at least three phases of structure were traced in the same area.  The original two roomed building that had been added to the south west corner of the boundary wall was similar in plan and construction to the core of Building 6. However, soon after it was built it was converted into a bath house through the addition of extra rooms and a furnace feeding a hypocaust. As the villa had a detached bathhouse within the western side of the walled compound, it is not clear whether the two bath houses were operated at the same time.

Small finds from the bath house excavation included copper alloy toilet sets for personal grooming and several of the bone pins that were found during the excavation were recovered form this area.

Later still the extra buildings of the bathhouse were removed and the furnace and hypocaust were backfilled with debris. The two chambered structure was restoredmon a new set of foundations.

Behind the building at the far end of the trench, a circular pit can be seen in the image. The pit was the upper cut of a deep well, sunk into the crest of the valley beyond, which may have supplied water to the bath house adapted from the two room building. The fills of the well contained large quantities of broken pottery and some more delicate finds such as the leaf shaped pendants shown in the post for VM_365 Day 31.

The complex  series of construction, conversion and replacement demonstrated how a major building like the Minster villa was frequently altered and adapted to suit the present needs of the two or three generations of people who may have occupied it, despite its relatively short life and eventual demolition in the Roman period.

VM_365 Day 223 Late Iron Age comb decorated pottery

VM 223

For Day 223 of the VM_365 project we have a series of images of pottery sherds whose surfaces have been decorated using a comb. All the sherds are from sites in Thanet and date to Late Iron Age, around 50  to 43/50 AD, although the comb decorated style lasted well into the Early Roman period after the conquest in 43 AD.
The post for Day 192 of the VM_365 showed a range of Early to Mid Iron Age vessels decorated using combs and other tools to create regular surface impressions. All the examples that were shown were from vessels were flint-tempered, where fragments of crushed flint were incorporated into the clay used to form the vessel improving its working and firing properties.
 The tendency for potters to decorate coarsewares with linear comb-dragged finishes almost died out after around 350 to 300 BC.  The style did not re-appear until the introduction of ‘Belgic’ style pottery from the continent around 125 to 100 BC. However, the clay used to make the new style of vessels was tempered with grog, ground fragments of pottery which served the same purpose as the flint in improving the working and firing properties of the material.
Comb decoration only became a regular feature in local domestic assemblages from around 75 to 50 BC, mostly used on kitchen cooking or coarsewares. A frequent style trend is for a narrow horizontal band of combing near the top of the vessel, with diagonal or vertical combing down the rest of the body (bottom left). Sometimes the combing was shallow (top left) and sometimes the pattern was deeper and bolder (bottom right). Often the direction of the combing combined to form complicated cross patterning (top right). Jars with a small rounded bead-rim, (bottom left) are a characteristic of the period. The reconstructed profile of a typical comb decorated bead rim jar from Hartsdown, Margate was shown on Day 170, a large comb decorated storage jar from Broadstairs also featured on Day 105.