Easter Dig — 2016 — Horton Kirby, near Longfield.

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Easter Discoveries of Saxon Burials in Kent.

Archaeologists from the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit were joined by members of the Council for Kentish Archaeology on an urgent rescue-dig over Easter.

Workmen carrying out building works in the village of Horton Kirby, near Longfield, in Kent struck a grave containing a fine skeleton. The area was known to contain Saxon burials from discoveries made in 1937 so the Rescue Unit was called in. With only four days available a team of seven archaeologists worked through the Easter period, including during the fierce storm that did so much damage across the country.

Their rapid work revealed seven burials across a restricted area and these were readily identified as an extension of the known Saxon cemetery. Three of these produced spearheads and identified the graves as those of warriors. Nearby the grave of an elderly female contained very small beads and an iron knife. Two more burials appear to have been juveniles.These are likely to be of seventh century date. The earlier discoveries had also produced evidence of warrior graves.

Director of the operation, Dr Brian Philp, said this was an important advance and has helped produce some very important interpretation. The original excavation took place 80 years ago, since when major discoveries have been made mainly by the Kent Unit. In particular, Dr Philp excavated the major Saxon cemetery at Polhill in 1974-86, near Otford, which contained over 200 burials. This clearly represented a large community guarding the southern entrance to the Darent Valley.

In 2008 his team then discovered a major Saxon palace at Eynford in the centre of the valley, effectively the focus for settlement in West Kent. It is now clear that the Horton Kirby cemetery with now over 100 known burials represents the large community guarding the northern end of the Darent Valley. Significantly, the Otford Palace lies roughly midway between the two defended positions.

Dr Philp and his Kent Unit team have excavated over 20 sites in the Darent Valley over a span of 40 years. All the work is now published and available through the CKA website. He began his archaeological career at the Lullingstone Roman Villa where he worked as a volunteer for ten years. A report on the exciting new discoveries will be published in a future edition of the Kent Archaeological Review.