Monthly Archives: February 2015

VM_365 Day 244 Minster Roman villa heated apse

VM 244

The image for VM_365 Day 244 shows part of an apse which was located in the centre on the north side of the east west range of rooms of the Minster villa.

This structure is one of the better preserved elements of the villa’s underground heating system, which as previous posts have noted, survived damage from cultivation because they had been cut below the foundation level of the main structure. The apse is formed by flint and brick walls set in firm mortar forming a ‘D’ shape that extended out from the northern end of the middle room in the central range with the sub floor surfaced in hard, pink concrete made using crushed tile. The apse may have formed a heated niche at the northern end of a rectangular room.

In the foreground of the picture a deep ‘L’ shaped channel gave access from the exterior of the building on the east side into a furnace chamber. The hot air from the furnace entered the apse through a small arch in the southern wall,  passing under the floor of the curved chamber and out through flue tiles in the wall, although none were preserved. The southern retaining wall of the stoke chamber was built of an unusual combination of mud-brick and mortar.

The floor of the apsidal room above was probably surfaced with mosaic as large fragments of patterned mosaic had been retained in the chamber after demolition of the building giving us our best evidence that the villa building was originally extensively covered with tesselated floors.


VM_365 Day 243 Robbed Roman Remains

VM 243

Today’s image for VM_365 Day 243 shows the remains of a hypocaust underfloor heating system from Building 4 of the Abbey Farm Roman villa complex at Minster, Thanet. The remains of the hypocaust structure survive to a depth of only around 0.5 metres below the base of the plough soil.

Building 4 was a two roomed corridor house seperate from the main villa building. The corridor house had a  small heated room in one corner. Like most of the buildings in the villa complex, this structure had been heavily robbed in the Roman period and later for reuseable building materials, including the large flint cobbles that were used in the building foundations.  In the case of the heated room in Building 4 the tiles that had been used to build the pilae stacks that supported the hypocaust floor had all been taken to be used elsewhere.

In the picture above the wall foundations around the edge of the hypocaust have been robbed leaving the raised lip of the  mortar floor and a few cobbles to suggest where the walls had been. Only the tiles that were bonded to the floor with mortar and were too difficult to remove remain in place, leaving scars in the mortar and parts of broken tiles to show where the stacks had been.

VM_365 Day 242 The Roman villa at Minster Part 1.

VM 242

Today the image for VM_365 Day 241 is a view of the excavation of the west wing of the Roman Villa at Abbey Farm, Minster in Thanet. The villa is the largest Roman building to have been excavated in Thanet and it was exposed over several seasons of excavation when it was adopted by the Kent Archaeological Society for a training excavation.

The picture is taken from the west side, facing south east toward Richborough. The Villa’s boundary wall is in the foreground, with a stone and tile structure attached to it. In the upper middle of the picture the foundations of the main east west range of the villa and its western wing are exposed, following the removal of the thin layer of topsoil that covered it. The curved apse from the central hall in the main range can be seen in the top left limit of the building foundations.

Like much of the archaeology found on Thanet, heavy ploughing has reduced the walls of the villa almost to the base of their original foundation trenches, leaving only one or two courses of stone to mark out the floor plan. Only the deep chambers for the hypocaust systems for heated rooms that were originally constructed below ground survived in the main villa structure. Occasionally, deep cut channels like the tile lined structure in the foreground also survived.

Previous VM_365 posts have explored some of the diverse range of artefacts recovered in the excavation of the Villa, including personal items such as brooches, tweezers and needles and pins on Days 88, 89, 90, 96, 112, 129139, 143, 154 and 39. Evidence of the different decoration schemes using painted plaster has featured on Days 178, 182, 185, 188 and 191, and evidence for how they managed their water supply has featured on Day 130 and 131.

VM_365 Day 241 Accessory vessel from burial at Thorne, discovered in Gas pipeline

VM 241

The image for Day 241 of the VM_365 project is of a pottery vessel placed with a skeleton in a Roman grave discovered on a gas pipeline project at Thorne, near Cliffsend. Vessels from a cremation group from the same area, discovered in the same pipeline project, were shown in the post for VM_365 Day 239.

The north south orientated grave contained the skeleton of an adult around 25 years old. The small pottery beaker or jar was found along with a flagon near the head of the individual.

The pot is made in a grog tempered fabric,  where fragments of crushed ceramic has been added to the clay paste. Occasional stone grits are also visible where they protrude from small faults in the surface. The outer surface of the pot has been lightly burnished.

The range of vessels that were recovered from this small cemetery illustrates the market for a wide range of styles of pottery and probably the diverse products that were shipped in the pots, which existed in Thanet in the Roman period. Each grave is  a snapshot of the pottery that lay to hand as the accessory vessels for a burial or cremation were assembled. The surviving vessels from grave groups, as well as those from remarkable survivals like the dump of Roman kitchenware discovered at Broadstairs, allow archaeologists to reconstruct the suites of pottery that were available to settlements in Thanet.



VM_365 Day 240 Reconstruction of Roman cremation burial at Thorne

Reconstruction of 1st century Roman cremation at Thorne
Reconstruction of 1st century Roman cremation at Thorne

The image for Day 240 of the VM_365 project is of an artists reconstruction of the child’s grave, containing cremated remains and accessory vessels, based on one (Grave 5) excavated on a gas pipeline near Thorne, near Minster in Thanet, which was shown on Day 239. The painting is by Len Jay whose work reconstructing images from the Anglo-Saxon archaeology of Thanet, which he helped to discover, have featured in previous VM_365 posts on Day 216 and Day 217.

The image shows the rectangular pit being prepared to receive the pot containing the cremation, with the accessory vessels already in place. The grave has been excavated with a wooden shovel, strengthened by an iron blade added to the tip. On the left of the pit there is a heap of chalk from the geology that has been exposed below a thin covering of soil.   Human bones are present in the chalk, reflecting the many thousands of years that the landscape was used to create funerary monuments and the fact that successive generations often disturbed the remains of those that came before them, accidentally or deliberately.

On the left of the group of figures  surrounding the grave, a child is about to add a plate of food to accompany the vessels. Organic remains like food are something which we can not now detect through archaeology except in the rarest of circumstances, but the vessels imply that such perishable things were placed with the remains. The girl is comforted by a boy to her right and a dog howls into the air.

The burial of the cremated remains takes place on the crest of the ridge which forms the backbone of Thanet’s chalk landscape,  in the top right a sailing vessel is shown in the Wantsum channel  which is overlooked by the ridge. In the top right small figures tend a flock of sheep on the crest of the ridge. The prevailing wind that swept the open downland ridge, blowing the hair of the group to the left is still notable in the present day.

A cremation burial is simply the gathered ashes of a burnt body, that was arranged with vessels and other objects according to prevailing beliefs and sealed below a covering of soil, forming a lasting memorial to the person buried. The burning of a body is taking place in the background of this image on the crest of the ridge, using the wind to accelerate the wood fuelled fire so it could reach the temperatures that were necessary to reduce the body to ashes.

The landscape in this picture is recognisable to anyone who knows Thanet well, although it has changed considerably in recent years. However the details of the scene may reflect accurate archaeological data, it is still evocative of a distant time and of the human stories behind the objects that we recover as archaeological artefacts.

VM_365 Day 239 Grave 5, Thorne Roman cemetery

VM 239The image for Day 239 of the VM_365 project shows Grave 5 from the Thorne Roman cemetery. This cremation burial, dating to the first century AD, was excavated along the Monkton Gas Pipeline route between 1983-4.

Four pottery vessels were deposited in the grave and include a large urn, which contained the cremated remains of a child under the age of 12 years old, and three smaller accessory vessels; a small urn, a dish and a flagon.

The urn containing the cremation was a large jar in native grog tempered pottery with rough tooled chevron decoration on the shoulders. The ring necked flagon, in a pink buff sandy fabric, was made in the Canterbury district and had a three ribbed strap handle. The small beaker and dish were both made of smooth grey ware similar to Upchurch Ware but probably made locally on the banks of the Wantsum Channel.

A cremation burial in a globular amphora from the smae cemetery has previously featured on Day 236 of the VM_365 project.


Perkins, D. R. J. 1985. The Monkton Gas Pipeline. Archaeologia Cantiana CII, 43-69.

VM_365 Day 238 Grave 275, Sarre Anglo Saxon cemetery

VM 238

Today’s VM_365 image shows the fully exposed skeleton within Grave 275 of the Sarre Anglo Saxon cemetery (left) and the sword which lay above it under excavation (right).

As you can see from the photo on the right, the grave was very shallow, the surrounding soil and chalk having been eroded over the years and the skeleton and the sword were in danger of being completely destroyed by ploughing. The skeleton of the adult male aged 25-30 was already in a poor condition with part of the skull destroyed by the recent passage of the plough and only the long bones of legs remained intact, although very fragmentary.

The sword had been placed over the skeleton on the lid of the coffin with the hilt pointing toward the head and the sword tip toward the feet. An iron knife and a bronze buckle plate also accompanied the burial.

An image of the sword and its XRay featured on Day 117 and details of the excavation of the sword on Day 237.

VM_365 Day 237 Excavation of an Anglo Saxon sword

VM 237

The image for Day 237 of the VM_365 project shows the excavation of an Anglo Saxon sword from the Sarre cemetery in 1990. The sword was excavated from Grave 275 which contained the skeletal remains of an adult male aged between 25 to 30 years old.

This image, from the slide archives, is the only one we have which shows the excavation of the sword in progress. As you can see from the image, the sword was found above the body, probably originally placed on the lid of the coffin, with the skeletal remains located at a lower level in the grave.

The sword and details on its manufacture, as well as an X-Ray  image have previously featured on Day 117 .


VM_365 Day 236 Roman cemetery site, Thorne, near Cliffsend

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This archive image for Day  236 of the VM_365 project shows a Roman cremation burial under excavation on the Monkton Gas Pipeline in 1983.  A small  cemetery of nine graves including inhumations and cremations was found near Thorne Farm during the installation of the gas pipeline.

The image above shows Grave 6, a cremation contained in a large globular amphora (Dressel type 20). The upper edges of the vessel, including the handles and the rim, were missing; lost through plough damage or stripping the soil for the pipeline.  An adult and a young child were represented by the cremated bones. The bones of small rodents and amphibians , frogs or toads, were found in a soil deposit above the cremated bone.   These creatures had presumably been trapped in the hollow void above the cremation deposit in the vessel after its burial.

The location of cremation and inhumation cemeteries of Roman date can be seen on our map of Roman Thanet shown on Day 61.


VM_365 Day 235 The Church of All Saints Shuart

VM 235

Today’s post for Day 235 of the VM_365 project shows an aerial image of the excavation of the medieval Church of All Saints, Shuart which was carried out by the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Unit between 1978 and 1979.  The routes made by the wheel barrow runs during the excavation can be seen as wispy white trails leading to the spoil heaps at the top of the picture.

The site was excavated by the Isle of Thanet Archaeological Unit under the direction of Frank Jenkins, assisted by Dave Perkins, later to become Director of the Trust for Thanet Archaeology,  and site assistants from the Manpower Services Commission.

The Church  was originally established in the 10th century as a proto-church in three parts comprising a nave, chancel and sanctuary.    All Saints was altered and expanded in the 10th-11th centuries to include a nave and chancel of the same size. Further alterations took  place in the 12th century  when part of the church was pulled down to allow construction of an aisled nave with five bays, a longer chancel and a new chancel arch. The west tower was also built around this date.

Other alterations took place in the 13th century. when the north chapel was built on part of the graveyard and it is possible that new windows and window tracery were installed as many fragments of window glass and fragments of stone mullions were found in the demolition deposits associated with this phase.

By the mid 15th century the church was in ruins and it was eventually demolished by about 1630. Nothing of the church was visible above ground by 1734.

The reason for the decline of the Church of All Saints may be that the parishes of St Nicholas at Wade and All Saints were combined in the early 14th century and it became too much of a financial burden for the parish to support two churches with All Saints  left to ruin.

Previous posts have included photographs of the  fragments of 14th/15th century floor tiles and fragments of carved decorative stone work recovered from the demolition levels.