VM_365 Day 21 – An ancient past no one can see

Image of excavations at Lord-of -The Manor Ramsgate in 1976
Excavations at Lord-of-The-Manor Ramsgate in 1976, revealing the ancient landscape hidden by the plough

The Trust for Thanet Archaeology is an educational charity and one of its aims is to teach people about Thanet’s very important past history, which has been revealed through archaeological investigation.

One of the problems faced by the Trust is that much of our archaeology remains hidden from view under the wide expanses of agricultural fields that cover the Island. Take a close look at the area surrounding the excavation in the image, which is as flat and featureless as any field could be. Yet below the thin covering of top soil are the remains of a prehistoric site, formed of several succeeding ring ditches that were used and adapted for many different ceremonies and burials from the Beaker period to the Bronze Age.

The importance of Thanet’s landscape in the past partly derived from the fertile soils¬† and relatively warm weather, where the climatic conditions on this south east coast were not dissimilar to those of the near continent. For prehistoric peoples, the interaction with the coastal areas of Britain were not such a great leap as they would have been if the conditions were closer to those in the north of the the British Isles. The combination of close European connections, openness to innovation in culture and the fertile landscape, led to the formation of a dense record of past settlement that has been discovered in the Isle of Thanet.

Sites like the Lord-of-the Manor ring ditches shown in the image tell the earliest part of Thanet’s story , but their significance can really only be comprehended by looking at the records, reports and images that remain from the archaeological efforts to discover and investigate them. The intensification of agriculture from the medieval period onwards levelled the remains of the settlements of preceding generations, until only the truncated remnants lay buried under a swathe of plough soil, covering miles of flat ploughed fields.

Over time, each¬† generation has done its best to prosper in the soil. For many centuries much of the landscape was in use as grazing land and we have archaeological evidence that ancient barrow mounds and ditches remained standing in the landscape in the Roman period. As late as the 19th century earthworks and mounds remained in the Lord-of-the Manor area of Ramsgate, where today’s image was taken during excavations in 1976.

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