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Kent Archaeological Review extract

A Second Century Roman Cemetery at Twitton near Otford.
by Anthony Young.
(Otford Historical Society.)

You may remember that at the end of my last report on the Twitton Roman farmstead, I mentioned briefly a rather startling chance discovery made at the end of last season. Before I give a full account of what has been found, I will briefly recap the mode of its discovery.

We were filling in our holes on the last day of the season -- in mid-November, as we had decided to take advantage of some reasonable weather -- when the farmer came running over to us in a state of some excitement, saying he had "hit something" while digging a trench round his potato clamp. It was beginning to get dark, but we decided to investigate immediately -- certainly one of our most fortunate decisions.

The farmer's trench had cut through the side of a fairly large 2nd Century cremation burial group. Working against time - for the light was fast going - we were able to recover (extensively damaged) a large Patch Grove burial urn, a Samian platter marked M V X T V L L I, a Samian form (?) 67, a poppyhead beaker, a small, sandy cooking pot and a fine white flagon. It was impossible to determine the dimensions of the grave, but it was very shallow, the bottom being no more than 15 inches deep. In the same trench we also came across several fragments of roof tile of Roman date.

It had been our intention to continue the investigation of the farmstead this season, but the grave group promised further discoveries, as well as being liable to further damage and the farmer needed "our" field for wheat; so we decided to lay out a full grid in the area of the grave and roof tiles. The first positive discovery was a burnt area and a number of large stones. Careful clearing of flints and broken stones revealed the lowest level of a substantial stone wall containing a hypocaust flue, which extended outwards for four feet with 'wing walls' of stone and tile. The temptation to make a full investigation of the building on the spot was strong, but we decided that our priority should be a search for grave groups, as they were liable to further destruction from agriculture; so we established the general dimensions of the wall for a few feet and then temporarily shelved the building. We haven't been able to get back to it yet -- beyond periodically removing the weeds which spring up overnight in the mortar -- but it is certainly of later date than the graves (we discovered a small group in situ under the foundation), and might be a bath block. A certain amount of opus signinum and hypocaust tiles have been found inside the wall, but nothing else as yet.

Not far from the wall we came across our second grave. It had a maximum depth of 17 inches and was of a type to which we have now become very accustomed - the pit was round and flint lined and held a coarse black urn containing the bones, a Samian platter (18/31, potter's mark M-) used as a lid and a red flagon, all somewhat damaged. A curious feature of the platter, which we were to notice again later, was that the foot-ring had been completely - and carefully - removed. The group could be dated to around AD 150 and accorded well with the first grave.

GRAPHIC: Pottery from the Romano-British Cemetery.

Graphic Caption: Otford : Pottery from Romano-British Cemetery.

Work now proceeded apace. Three more similar groups were found in the same and the adjoining squares, one of which (Number 4) deserves special mention. It was in excellent condition; it contained a Patch Grove urn with a zone of burnishing at the bottom, a Samian cup (33) placed inside the urn, a small white flagon and a very fine Samian platter of unusual form marked V E R I N V S F. Most important, however, was a number of small finds - a black jet ring, a fragmentary bronze ring with chalcedony/obsidian stone, a necklace of brown and green beads (which Elizabeth Ward spent half the afternoon threading together!) and of special interest, a small, slightly convex, octagonal mirror.

Further groups continued to come to light. Two were very poor merely a group of bones placed in a hole (in one were the fragments of a bronze ring). Number 10 was curious: it contained a red flagon and a small black vase, but there was no urn. The bones were in a very concentrated state, along with a lead clip or mount and the conclusion seems to be that they were buried in a container such as a leather bag, which has since entirely perished.

Early in June we were very pleased to welcome a party from the West Kent Border Group who joined us for a most profitable afternoon, during which a further eight groups were found, several being in very good condition - all in very close proximity. A further grave (Number 21) was found the following day in the same square, and contained a slightly crushed, but most attractive, Castor ware beaker depicting (?) a hound chasing a deer.

A table follows, containing a list of the pottery types with their identification. (The diagram that accompanies this table numbers the vessels with Latin numerals. This table numbers them both in Latin and English.)
Item Pottery Type
I & II. Handled flagons, second-century.
III. Small Castor ware hunt cup. AD 180-200.
IV. Small Poppy-head beaker with possible graffito. Second-century.
V. Samian cup, form 33, AD 140-180.
VI. Samian bowl, form 32.

Since this time the number of graves has risen to 34. They vary considerably in condition, but the impression is that ploughing has gradually removed the topsoil down the hill and some groups are as shallow as 9 inches and in the state one would, unfortunately, expect. The vessels found in the first 30 groups are all dateable to 110-200 and I append a summary of these:

A table follows, containing a list of the vessels' type, along with the number of occurances.
Vessel Description. Occurances.
Cinerary urns (Patch Grove). 17 (6 fragmentary).
Cinerary urns (other wares). 7 (2 fragmentary).
Samian platters. 18 (6 fragmentary).
Samian cups. 6.
Flagons. 14 (2 fragmentary).
Poppyhead beakers 4 (1 fragmentary).
Castor ware beakers. 3 (2 fragmentary).
Small vases. 6.
Other vessels. 9 (4 fragmentary).

This produces a total of 84 vessels so far identified.

PLAN: Otford -- Romano-British Cemetery

Otford : Romano-British Cemetery (Site-plan).

One significant feature, which the first grave indicated and which subsequent groups have abundantly borne out, is the repeated occurrence of Patch Grove jars in graves up to 200 AD. Grave 21 even had a Patch Grove urn with a Castor ware beaker. It seems clear from this that, far from dying out with the introduction of the sandy Romanized wares in the late-first century, Patch Grove ware was at least in use, if not actually being made, well on into the second century AD.

There remains a great deal to be done. We have certainly not uncovered the whole cemetery yet and the mysterious building awaits excavation as well. It will require the removal of gooseberry bushes, bedsteads, a shed, an alsatian and a herd of bullocks, but I am confident that the results will amply justify the work that will be needed.

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