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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Roman Industry in the Marshes.
by Alec Miles and Mike Syddell.

The value of the proton magnetometer as a tool for the archaeologist has been shown recently at the Cooling Romano-British industrial site. A survey with the proton magnetometer over more than an acre, taking readings at 5 foot intervals, was made in bitterly cold weather last March.

The survey took in the area immediately around the present excavations. Within a month of the start of work at Easter, a series of high readings obtained during the survey at one point were shown to have been caused by a burnt clay structure which may be a salt panning hearth. Similar high readings were obtained for approximately 25 feet by 25 feet around the hearth. Further work this year will show whether the supposition, based on this and other evidence, that there might be a series of such salt panning hearths is correct.

The site being excavated at Cooling is, basically, a mound built up above the existing marsh level during the Roman period. Previous years' work have shown structures, including possible huts, on this mound. Originally it was thought that the mound had been initially constructed by digging a ditch around the perimeter and throwing the soil into the middle. Now, however, excavations in the last few weeks going down to over 12 feet below the modern high tide level show that it is more likely that the mound was built up on the edge of an existing creek. The creek was filled, and the mound extended, by rubbish thrown from the mound into it.

The value of the Cooling site is that it is a comparatively complete site. All of the others known in the Medway Estuary have been, to a lesser or greater extent, destroyed by sea erosion or by man. Cooling, on the other hand, is well inland from the sea, and, apart from limited excavations in the 1930's, has never been touched by man. In fact, if it had not been for ploughing during the last war when all available land was brought under cultivation, it is likely that even the latest levels would have been undisturbed. As it is, these have been disturbed, and lack of stratified material from the upper layers forces one to postulate a closing date for the site probably earlier than in reality it was. Present theories state that the marsh sites were abandoned in the middle-late third century AD and indeed all stratified finds agree with this. However, tantalisingly, we have so far found three fourth century coins, one as late as the Emperor Gratian (367-383 AD), but unfortunately all unstratified.

Evidence being obtained at Cooling will enable us to add confirmation or otherwise to the theories put forward by Mr John Evans in Archaeologia Cantiana (volume LXVI, pages 103-146) as to the relationship between sea and land levels in Roman times. Many similarities have been noticed between the Cooling site and the famous "terpen" of Holland.

This year's excavations are aimed at investigating the possible salt panning hearth and its immediate vicinity, obtaining evidence of pre- and early-Roman occupation layers and land surfaces, and uncovering more of a large circular feature with a diameter of some 40 feet. Work continues every Sunday, 10-5 pm, until November and new helpers, skilled or unskilled, are always welcome. If you are interested, please write to: M Syddell, 32, Uplands Close, Strood, Kent.


Part of a pseudo-Venus clay figurine (from the knees downwards and including the base) has just been discovered in Antonine rubbish layers at the edge of the mound. The top part of a pseudo-Venus was found in the excavations in the 1930's.

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