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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Regional Survey Scheme.
by Alec Miles and Michael Syddell.
(Lower Medway Archaeological Research Group.)

The main function of any archaeological group must be the continual search for archaeological remains wherever building, farming or other activity is being carried on. One of the first priorities of any newly-formed group should be the setting up of some form of organised and methodical survey of its particular area. In this way, discoveries are not left to chance, known sites can be investigated before it is too late and everyone gets their chance to play a part.

All this was realised very early on in the existence of the Lower Medway Archaeological Research Group. A Regional Survey scheme was set up in 1964, covering the group's area -- stretching from Higham in the west; to Iwade in the east; the Thames Estuary in the north and the Maidstone area in the south.

All group members are kept supplied with specially-printed forms with spaces for location, sketches and comments on any archaeological site or discovery that may be found. These forms also bear a checklist for recording the searching of documentary sources and the date when the final report is drafted.

Further investigation in the form of limited trial trenching is then undertaken or, more simply, a close watch is kept on these sites. As soon as such facts as date and function have been determined, cards are prepared for two duplicate card indexes, which then provide a quick and easy reference for group members.

One index is held by the group archivist and is available for reference at certain times in Rochester Museum and the other is held by the group Regional Survey sub-committee. This sub-committee was set up recently to co-ordinate and guide regional survey work and to help new and younger members "find their feet." The sub-committee meets regularly and at its first meeting decided to arrange survey trips once a month. These, it is hoped, will make it possible to methodically check many quite large areas threatened by some form of development. The enormity of the task is shown by the fact that after the first four of these surveys, the list of areas to be covered is greater than it was when it was started!

Areas covered in the first few months have been scattered all over the group's area: a suspected Romano-British site on Bluebell Hill, Aylesford; a Romano-British industrial site in saltings at Iwade; the Allington region, near Maidstone and Tunbury Wood, near Chatham. On each of these the positions of known discoveries were located exactly and many new features were recorded for future investigation. Arranged for the next few months are surveys on the site of the Maidstone by-pass extensions and a suspected Romano-British site at Cooling.

Of course, such surveys are of no use whatsoever if those taking part do not know what to look for. Even experienced members often fall down in this respect. The problem boils down to the fact that the signs of, say, a ploughed-out barrow can be difficult to detect unless you know exactly what it is you are looking for. To help pass on some of this knowledge, the subcommittee has started a photographic library which will be used for "training" sessions. The photographs will not be of well-preserved, obvious sites, but rather of the type of archaeological feature which a field-worker could come upon and easily miss. To augment this, the sub-committee is arranging visits to areas rich in archaeological remains where members will be able to see barrows, field systems and other such features in the field. The first is to the South Downs and members will be shown how to go about finding and recording these features by a leading Sussex authority.

The ultimate aim of the Regional Survey scheme is to get all group members to keep a close watch on all building, farming and other activity and record any discoveries. No-one of course, should overlap someone else -- that is just wasting valuable time. The problem of co-ordination of activity becomes even more complicated by the fact that the group's territory takes in two areas of large-scale, speedy growth -- the Medway Towns and Maidstone. In Maidstone, the group has recently undertaken to help Maidstone Museum in watching building sites, survey work and rescue operations in the area bounded by Detling, Hollingbourne, Charing, Smarden, Biddenden, Marden and Yalding.

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