Thursday, 17 May 2012

The Isle of Thanet....Part 1

In the last entry I mentioned The Isle of Thanet and recent works on the East Kent Access Road, having recently been featured in Current Archaeology 266 its time to share my musings! This is the first of several posts relating to Thanet in the Iron Age (800BC-AD43)

For those reading in sunnier climes and those not familiar with Kent in prehistory I'll start with the basics.  In the modern world Thanet is a district within Kent, found on the North East tip of the county.  Much like the rest of Kent it enjoys close proximity to the Near Continent and has developed a road, rail and air network to connect it to the rest of the world.

During the first Millennium BC Thanet looked very different, it sat as an isle, independent of both Britain and the Near Continent.  Its' geography placed it in an ideal position for contact with both worlds, her peoples were able to reach Kent, through the Wantsum Channel, modern London and Essex were accessible through the Thames Estuary and the Near Continent was East across the North Sea, or South across the English Channel.

Imaged produced by author and featured in dissertation

The geology of Thanet lead to a distinct topography and as early as the Bronze Age woodland clearance was likely, making it almost certain in the Iron Age.  Oak and hazel trees could still be found and cereal agriculture can be considered developed, certainly by the Middle of the Iron Age.  Thanet was blessed with high cliffs along its' North-Eastern and Eastern coasts, with broad bay harbours present at Margate and Ramsgate.  This provided her communities with relative safety and sea access, allowing for long term, sustained development. 

The Eastern coast also had access to the sea through small bays, located at several valley bottoms, including, Kingsgate Bay, Joss Bay, Stone Bay and Dumpton.  This has the potential to allow for wider sea access, however, I would be more inclined to associate such bays with interactions between island societies.

Generally speaking the Northern coast enjoyed relatively low cliffs, this coupled with soft loess (well suited for cereal agriculture) and the ability to produce salt lead to a well populated area.  This stretches from modern Birchington/Minnis Bay to Margate and will be investigated as this series continues.

The West coast was adjacent to the Wantsum Channel and from here inhabitants could look across to modern Kent and the British mainland.  This land was particularly low lying and the tidal nature of the Wantsum is likely to have created mud flaps and salt marshes.  It was here in modern day Sarre that is the likely place for a ferry crossing, from the Isle to the mainland, across the Wantsum.  A brief journey, but, the possibility to be perilous.

In the centre of the Isle is a plateau of higher ground forming the top of each valley (marked on the map above in green), a ridge runs across this, from East to West, essentially dividing the Isle in a topological sense.  From Sarre to the modern North Foreland, runs a trackway, connecting West to East, undoubtedly used to transport everything from grains to pottery.  Ensuring social contact across the Isle it is also believe that a second parallel track runs from modern Monkton to Margate, this is relatively new in belief and has been suggested through the presence of crop marks in several areas.

The importance of the trackways will become clearer as this series progresses, it without doubt assists in linking each valley community to various contemporary communities within the Isle.  It also allows the communities on the East coast to reach the West with little difficulty, in turn allowing access to the mainland.  It suggests that the Isle enjoyed an expansive communication network within her own geographies.

It is said that Thanet can be seen by the Late Iron Age as a cosmopolitan place, thriving from surrounding waterways and inter-isle activity....up-coming posts relating to each region will allow us to discover more.

Influential Reading

Champion, T. 2007 Prehistoric Kent in Williams, J.H. (ed) The Archaeology of Kent to AD800 The Boydell Press/Kent County Council: Suffolk

Hearne et al. 1995 The Sandwich Bay Wastewater Treatment Scheme Archaeological Project 1992-1994 in Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 115 pp 239-354

Moody, G. 2008 The Isle of Thanet from Prehistory to the Norman Conquest The History Press: Stroud

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Beginning....

Hi Everyone...

Frustrated with unemployment and feeling left out of the archaeological world I thought it was about time to share my musings.  I read plenty of articles and reports, have my favourite books and magazine articles just like everyone else, you may or may not agree with my take on things, but, that's kinda the point.  I would love to hear what you think... What you find...What you read and What you see, archaeology is all about sharing after all! That doesn't mean I only want to hear from the Pro though...everyone is welcome.

So you can get a bit of an insight into me I'm going to share some of my favourite British Sites and why so here goes....

  • First up is Strata Florida Abbey, for those that read my profile this is probably a bit of a shock, the Prehistorian that loves a very historic site! My motivations are entirely selfish though, this was my first site way back in 2007, here is where I learnt my trade, made my first mistakes and asked those first site questions.  The first day I was a nervous wreck, convinced I was going to be rubbish and miss everything important...but I survived to tell the tale.  If you ever find yourself in West Wales be sure to pop along, who knows you may even want to take part, theres plenty happening for the British Archaeology Festival

  • Next is Stonehenge and Avebury...maybe a bit on the stereotypical side, but, I love Stonehenge and the whole Avebury landscape.  Such a talking point for so many archaeologists was it medicinal? was it astronomical? was it religion? was it a feasting hall? We are unlikely to ever know, but its always interesting to question.  All I know was it was the location of my 21st and it seemed pretty magical to me.

  • Moving on to Ham Hill, Britain's largest hillfort and probably one of the largest excavations! An insight into an enclosure is always exciting, but this has the potential to unlock some of the Iron Age's many mysteries. I'm not a fan of elite residence theory, or tribes constantly at war, there is far more to these remarkable places than all that...maybe Ham Hill can tell us just what it is! A definate space to watch....

  • The Din Lligwy Hut Group, Anglesey, is a relatively recent find for me and if you follow the link I'm sure you'll quickly see its' appeal. Its far from the only group in the area and unfortunately they are very understudied and reatively poorly understood. Hopefully in the near future I will be able to assist in a developed understanding...this is reliant upon many a thing falling the right way for me, but hopefully news will come along soon.

  • Last but by no means least my attention turns to Thanet, as a whole its' Iron Age archaeology is impressive, but very secretive.  It will always have a special significance to me as the focus of my Master's research.  The Island as a whole was no doubt significant throughout the period, despite being more well known for the Roman's way into Britain.  A site that I'm particularly intrigued by is The East Kent Access Road, doesn't sound all that exciting, but, don't let that put you off. In terms of Thanet's archaeology there is something here for everyone, though obviously it's the Prehistory that is important! Unfortunately interpretations and data was too raw for me to access when researching the area...but I follow developments very closely, who knows it may have changed my whole dissertation!
This was all to give you an insight into me, but everyones favourite 5's are different, leave me a comment let me know yours, you might even change my 5!
    I'm signing off for now, but happy discovering!!