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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Cooling, near Rochester.
by Alec Miles and Mike Syddell.

Excavations at the Cooling Romano-British industrial site will continue this year until we are driven out by a rising water table as the winter sets in. The combination of a very dry summer and the CKA pump has enabled investigation of layers well below the water table to be carried out comparatively easily.

Work this year has been basically concentrated on more exactly delimiting the western edge of the mound on which the site was founded; investigating the area around the salt-boiling hearth, where surveys with the CKA proton magnometer produced some very high readings; pursuing the north edge of the site; and, time and weather willing, beginning a series of holes to discover the southern boundary of the site.

The western edge of the mound has now been traced over a considerable distance, and again shows signs of having been exposed to tidal action. Evidence gained this year and in previous seasons is beginning to fit together to support a theory that at Cooling we have a mound based on a wedge-shaped piece of marshland, bounded on the west by a tidal creek from the sea which curls around the southern end to terminate in a silted-up creek on the east side of the site. The mound was built higher and higher, and extended out over the filled-in creeks, as the Roman period progressed and -- presumably -- the tide levels rose.

In the light of pottery found in this year's excavations the dating for the initial occupation of the area excavated has been tentatively revised to the last quarter of the first century AD. However this is still very open to further revision, as no firm dating can be attempted until a careful study is made of the enormous quantities of pottery discovered. As far as the terminal date is concerned, unstratified coins up to the emperor Gratian point to late fourth century activity on the marshland at Cooling.

To date investigation around the salt-boiling hearth has not revealed any further structures although the enormous quantities of saltern debris and ashy remains surely point to other such hearths close at hand. The hearth, discovered late last year, was surrounded by a chalk floor and had arranged around it in a square, four 600 millimetre by 600 millimetre piers. These comprised rammed chalk blocks on a foundation of large flints. Their function is not yet clear -- whether they supported some form of building or were connected with the process of salt making remains to be worked out.

The northern edge of the site was investigated in the early part of this season, and appears to be slowly tapering away to a general scatter of pottery and animal bones.

The location of the southern edge and the creek itself is the next target -- this work will most certainly be hampered seriously by a filled-in drainage dyke of comparatively modern date which has been driven straight through the middle of the site from southeast to northwest! However, this should not prevent many further interesting discoveries.

Volunteers, both trained and untrained, are always welcome to assist in the excavations.

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