Monthly Archives: April 2015

VM_365 Day 305 Filling in the blanks……

VM 305Today’s image shows two views of a very small excavation carried out during the construction of a garage at North Foreland Road, Broadstairs in 2004.

The North Foreland landscape is particularly rich in archaeological remains. Cropmarks identified by aerial photography show an ancient trackway along the edge of the hillside. A large open area excavation carried out in recent years on the previously undeveloped playing fields of the former St Stephen’s College confirmed that the area had been occupied at least since the Early Bronze with the construction of burial mounds and during the Iron Age when a settlement was established which included a Middle Iron Age enclosure and significant numbers of postholes and large storage pits.

The area to the east of the site was developed for housing from the late 19th century onwards and although occasional archaeological discoveries were reported these were generally made before a time when the significance of the area was understood and archaeological features were often not recorded in detail or at all. So how do we fill in the blanks in an area that has already been developed?

As a local archaeological organisation, we are often involved in very small scale construction projects such as, for example, a small garage for a house along North Foreland Road, not far from the St Stephen’s site shown in the images above. The excavations only covered an area of approximatley 6 metres by 5 metres and the ground had already been disturbed by modern drainage which is visible as a linear stripe of dark soil visible above the T shaped scale in the picture on the right. However, eight pits and postholes containing Iron Age pottery still survived suggesting that the Iron Age settlement excavated at the St Stephen College site was much more extensive. An example of one of the pits is shown in the picture on the right.

Through the keyhole of small investigations such as these we can fill in the missing detail and gradually build up a bigger picture of the landscape.

VM_365 Day 304 Tiny ceramic tazza, Roman temple near Margate?

VM 304The image for Day 304 of the VM_365 project shows two images of a group of small ceramic vessels of a type  that have been called tazza, a term derived from the Italian word for a cup. The image on the left shows the upper surface of the vessels, the right hand image shows the bases of three of them.

The term Tazza occurs in archaeological literature mainly in reference to elegant Late Iron Age and Early Roman pedestalled cups or goblets of Gallo-Belgic origin. The vessel design is ultimately stimulated by Roman originals and their British counterparts in Late Iron Age grog-tempered ‘Belgic’ style. The term tazzeti occurs less frequently but has been used in reference to the cluster of little saucer-like vessels shown in the images.

Seven of these small tazzetti, complete or broken, were recovered from an excavation in the 1980s near the Sunken Gardens at Westbrook, which was led by David Perkins. The vessels are wheel-made. The image on the right shows the characteristic whorl, typical of many wheel made pots, on the upturned bases of three of the pots that show the whorls most clearly.
The tiny cups are made in a sandy fabric, very similar to the products of many Roman pottery kilns in Canterbury made between c.75-175 AD.  They fact that they are not very hard-fired suggests a likely manufacturing date between c.75 or 100-150 AD.
But what were they used for? There is no certain answer.
The small cups are a rare vessel type and nothing quite like these has been found in Thanet or the East Kent region before. The only clues may lie among the finds associated with the cups which include several fragments of pseudo-marble wall facing and a small rounded quartz pebble. Perhaps the quartz pebble could is no more than an object picked up by a child from the  beach nearby, but the rounded and semi-translucent nature of the pebble might have been considered ‘special’ by an adult.
The occurrence of both the unusual little dishes and the pseudo marble  seems altogether different and  ‘special’. The ‘marble’ is not true marble, but is composed of broken fragments of genuine red and green marble deliberately added to a fine white mortar, which is polished so that the whole mix of small inclusions shines like genuine colour-flecked marble. A similar technique called Terazzo is still used to create wall and floor finishes.
The marble finish suggests the presence of a building with a pretension to opulence,  although the community was not rich enough to afford the real thing but had enough resources to have a reasonable facsimile created. In turn this suggests that the ‘marble’ fragments could come from the wall of a domestic shrine belonging to a fairly well-to-do family, or just possibly a public shrine or temple.
Whatever the context of discovery, a reasonable explanation for the use of these little vessels in the Roman period is as little offering dishes

VM_365 Day 303 Iron Age polychrome decorated pottery from Dumpton Gap

VM 303Today’s image for Day 303 of the VM_365 project shows a number of joining sherds from the upper part of an Iron Age  polychrome decorated pottery vessel, which was found in an excavation at Dumpton Gap in the 1960’s.

The image of these joining decorated sherds was digitised from a slide taken by Joe Coy, who directed excavations at the site at Dumpton. The slide is one of a small group in the same archive as the box of finds that we explored in previous posts from Day 292  to Day 301 of the VM_365 project.

The post for VM_365 Day 302 looked at the monochrome surface finishes on two Iron Age sherds, one caused by natural staining, the other by deliberate application of a black carbon pigment.  The vessel shown today exhibits a more complex decorative finish in a rectilinear and geometric style, similar to the Halstatt inspired scheme on the deliberately decorated sherd dating from the Early to Mid Iron Age. The pot is made of a dark grey fabric, whose surface is decorated  using red Iron Oxide pigment  to fill in some of the triangles and stripes that have been scored in a regular geometric pattern over the surface of the clay.

The use of the red pigment to create regular rectilinear geometric decoration is similar to that of another Early to Middle Iron Age sherd from Sarre which featured on Day 198 of the VM_365 project.

Another vessel from Margate, decorated with fields of red iron oxide pigment, was featured on Day 226 of the VM_365 project, although the decorative finish on that vessel is typical of the later curvilinear La Tène decorative style.

VM_365 Day 302 A tale of two sherds

VM 302Today’s image for Day 302 of the VM_365 project is of two Iron Age pottery sherds, both from a similar archaeological period and from the same site near Broadstairs. Both sherds seem to exhibit an apparent surface decoration. However, the origin of the patterns on the surface of each sherd is quite different.

The sherd on the left is from the rim of a simple open-form bowl. The fabric is flint-tempered and the surface has been decorated with a comb, it is datable to between c.500-350 BC. But what are the black streaks on the surface? The sherd has been washed when it was brought from the site but the black colouring survived intact. Is this some form of avant-garde art, with the black colouring applied as a visual contrast to the more rigid but bold comb-decoration?

The answer, as near as our experience can judge, is more prosaic. The pattern is caused by soot-impregnation or staining. One can imagine soot dribbles being created in a rubbish pit, where the sherd has been discarded and imperfectly sealed by earth or other rubbish. Material, wood as cuttings, carpenters shavings, perhaps even cloth or some rotting vegetable matter, is thrown on top and burnt, creating sooty ash. Then the powdery charcoal rich ash, mixed with rainwater, making a thick and rich solution that seeps lower into the pit, dribbling in streams and impregnating the surface of the pottery as it runs over it.

Unlike the sherd on the left, with naturally acquired soot-staining, the sherd on the right is deliberately decorated with a black trellis design, deliberately painted using crushed charcoal or carbon deposits mixed with water, to provide the black colour. The trellis pattern was applied as a horizontal band around the shoulder panel of a large fineware jar. The linear design is typical of the rectilinear motifs current during the Early-Mid Iron Age between c.600-350 BC, inspired by continental rectilinear art-forms in Halstatt style, as opposed to the more curvilinear designs of La Tene type, more typical of the succeeding Mid and Mid-Late Iron Ages between c.350-50 BC.

The two patterning processes, one deliberate and one a fortuitous phenomenon of the deposition of the pot sherd should cause a momentary hesitation for archaeologists before reading all patterning and surface treatments as a deliberate act of decorative symbolism. The archaeologists job is determine the boundaries between the signals from the past and the noise accumulated by the random processes of time.

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 300 Beads from 1964 Dumpton Gap site

VM 300Today’s image for Day 300 of the VM_365 project shows two Late Iron Age/Roman beads from the box of archive from the 1964 Dumpton Gap excavation that we have been investigating. The beads have been made from materials that would have been readily available around the site, perhaps even picked from the nearby beach.

The bead on the right of the image is made from a light brown flint pebble that has been shaped to form a roughly round bead that has been flattened on each face. This bead appears to be unfinished; a large hole has been drilled partway through one side, while an attempt has been made to join the large hole with a much smaller hole on the other side but has not been completed. Other examples of unfinished objects found in archaeological excavations of a similar date nearby include a bone weaving comb and two spindle whorls.

The second bead on the left is made of chalk and is roughly spherical. Instead of having a hole pierced through the centre, it has been pierced off centre in a ‘V’ shape in a similar manner to the Beaker period jet button featured on Day 160 of the VM_365 project, to allow the bead to sit forward when strung on a cord and fastened around the neck.

Other VM_365 posts exploring the contents of this archive box have been posted on Day 293, Day 294, Day 295, Day 296, Day 297, Day 298 and Day 299.

VM_365 Day 299 Iron Age comb decorated sherds from Dumpton excavation archive

VM 299Today’s image, for Day 299 of the VM_365 project, shows six joining sherds and two other sherds from the decorated shoulder of the same Late Iron Age vessel. The sherds  belong to the pottery assemblage that we have been examining in our VM_365 posts, all contained in the the box of archive from the 1964 excavation at Broadstairs.

The sherds are from a large grog-tempered Late Iron Age ‘Belgic’ style storage jar, where a band of very fine horizontal combing has been applied beneath the plain neck and rim. In the upper part of the combed band there is a panel of diagonal decoration from the tip of the comb. This type of decoration, a narrowish band of diagonal or more commonly crossing diagonals of comb tip impressions, is quite a common occurrence on ‘Belgic’ style storage jars of Late Iron Age or Early Roman date. The sherds represent a vessel that probably dates to some time between 25-75 AD.

Other VM_365 posts exploring the contents of this archive box have been posted on Day 294, Day 295, Day 296, Day 297 and Day 298.

With thanks to Nigel Macpherson-Grant for kindly providing information on this vessel.

VM_365 Day 298 Iron Age pottery from the 1964 Dumpton Gap site

VM 298

Today’s image for Day 298 of the VM_365 project shows six sherds of pottery that were present in the box of archive from a 1964 excavation at Dumpton which represent a selection from the assemblage of three common examples of Iron Age pottery which are comparable to pottery found on other sites on Thanet.

The sherd of pottery on the left hand side of the image dates from the Early to Middle Iron Age and is an example of a sherd from a large coarseware rusticated jar. Pottery of a similar type and date has been excavated by the Trust from an Iron Age settlement site very close by in the mid 1990’s. The rusticated surface finish on the vessel represented by this sherd was deliberatley applied perhaps to provide an easy grip surface on a large vessel. Alternatively the decoration may have some symbolic meaning which was explored in the VM_365 Day 169 post on some Early to Mid Iron Age rusticated pottery sherds of similar type from Margate.

The three sherds in the centre of the image are all sherds from Late Iron Age comb decorated, globular bead rim jars. Comb decoration was a technique that was frequently used in the Late Iron Age period although it had been used earlier in the Iron Age and was explored in detail in the post for Day 223 of the VM_365 project. An example of a reconstructed jar from Margate of a similar type to these sherds was featured on Day 170 of the VM_365 project.

The two sherds on the right hand side of the image are also examples from comb decorated jars although these jars would only have been decorated to just below the rim in a similar manner to the jar from Hartsdown, Margate featured on Day 224 of the VM_365 project.



VM_365 Day 297 Samian from the 1964 Dumpton Gap site

VM 297

The image for today, for Day 297 of the VM_365 project, is of eight sherds of Roman samian pottery , which were present in the collection of paper bags storing finds from a site archive from 1964.  There are lots of  types of pottery present in the archive box dating from the Iron Age and Roman periods and these will give us clues as to the nature of the site  that was excavated there. Yesterday’s post showed three sherds of Roman Mortaria, a distinct type of kitchen ware, from three different vessels.

The imported high quality samian pottery above represents foot rings, rims and body sherds, mainly from plain cups and bowls although there is also one small decorated sherd. One of the sherds has a makers stamp reading ‘ERICIM’ impressed in the base (image right). Although re-analysis by a modern pottery specialist might bring to light up to date information discovered through research since the dig,  the excavator was knowledgeable and had done some research identifying the potter as Ericus I, possibly from the Lezoux area of central Gaul and dating the sherd to between 80-120 AD.

Examples of rare decorated samian sherds from the same region have featured on Day 175 and Day 179 of the VM_365 project.

VM_365 Day 296 Mortaria from the 1964 Dumpton Gap site

VM 296The image today, for Day 296 of the VM_365 project, is of three sherds of Roman Mortaria, giving a closer look at the types of pottery that were present in the collection of paper bags storing finds from a site archive from 1964.

Mortaria were a distinctive  type of Roman kitchen ware  made in fine light brown and buff fabrics. Mortaria were made by several Roman pottery manufacturers, many based in the region around the Roman town of Verulamium. The steep sided bowls had flat bases and a broad outcropping rim, incorporating a finely  moulded pouring spout. The interior of the bowl was roughened with the addition of sharp grits in the clay fabric.

A well established typology and dating series has been developed for these vessels, often based on the makers stamps that were pressed into the rims. The size of the vessels and the moulding of the rim vary between manufactures and can be used to identify individual vessels. At the Dumpton site the sherds of Mortaria contained in the archive box, and shown in the image here,  represent three separate vessels.

The presence of Mortaria sherds in the pottery assemblage from the site helps to identify what type of site or settlement the material may have come from and  tells us something about its status. Similar Mortaria have been found at both the Abbey Farm Villa at Minster and from a Roman building at Broadstairs, where a well preserved Mortairium was present among many vessels apparently representing the dumped contents of a kitchen.