Skip to Content.

Kent Archaeological Review extract

Burial Ground at Eynsford --
A preliminary report.
by Sydney Harker.

PHOTO: The Burials.

Eynesford: the Burials.


The site is nearly in the centre of the picturesque village of Eynsford, in the grounds of Castle Cottage adjacent to Eynsford Castle itself. It lies about 40 metres west of the curtain wall of the castle (Map reference NGR TQ 642 658).

The excavations followed the discovery of an ancient human skull at the bottom of a deep hole dug in the garden of the cottage. The Springhead group was asked to carry out an investigation of the immediate area to determine the nature of the presumed inhumation. It was quickly established that he skull was part of a complete articulated skeleton of an adult female, aligned with feet to, the cast. This was laid parallel to an earlier burial of an eight to ten year old child which had been disturbed. The presence of other unrelated human bones indicated the certainty of other burials.

The area of operations was accordingly extended and revealed not only a concentrated assemblage of human remains at depths varying from 1.20 to 2.00 metres below present ground level, but also mortared flint foundations at a shallower depth. It was evident that the structural remains were not directly associated with the burials and it seems probable that the latter were not suspected when the building was constructed.

In the discussion which follows, they are dealt with as separate entities.


With the exception of the infants, all the undisturbed burials were substantially on the same alignment with the feet pointing approximately eastwards. The graves were comparatively shallow and the depths below the ground level at the time they were dug ranged from 0.70 to 1.10 metres. This is an estimate only, since the ground had been extensively disturbed by successive use of the same area and only a few islands of undisturbed soil remained on which to base a judgment.

DRAWING: plan of the Excavations.

Drawing Caption: Eynesford: plan of the Excavations.

In most cases the skull was found supported or 'cradled' between two or three large smooth flints. Smaller flints had evidently been used to cover the remains and these had caused damage to the bones which were otherwise in good condition. There was no evidence to suggest the use of wooden coffins and no trace remaining of any clothing or shrouds which might have been used. No grave goods were associated with any of the burials and in fact only two artifacts have been recovered. The first, a beehive or dome shaped object in poorly fired cream clay had an axial hole 1 centimetre in diameter suggesting that it might have been used as a spindle whorl. This was found with a female skeleton near the left hand and was probably associated. The second was a small worn and broken whet-stone of micaceous schist in one of the grave cuts.

The plan and photograph illustrate the degree of concentration of the different burials in the area so far examined. Two aspects could be significant.

The manner in which the burials have been superimposed, clearly indicates that the area was developed from west to cast and the density would suggest that the total area was limited to some extent, since it would be obvious to the later grave-diggers that earlier burials were being disturbed. What the constraints were, can only be guessed at present. In some cases there were indications that the long bones had been replaced with some care, but smaller and broken bones had been merely thrown in with the filling.

At this juncture no attempt will be made to deal with the inhumations individually, pending expert examination, but some general observations can be made.

Various age groups were represented, infants, young children, teenagers and adults. The adult males appeared to be well built with heights ranging from 168 to 180 cm. (5 feet 6 inches to 5 feet 11 inches). The adult females were roughly 12 centimetres less. Dentition was generally very good with only isolated cases of decay. Tooth wear was very heavy in the case of the older adults and appreciable on sonic teeth from younger age groups (20-25 years). The bones exhibited no obvious signs of illness or malnutrition apart from slight manifestations of osteo-arthritis in the older individuals. Some healed fractures were noted but there was nothing to suggest injuries which might have caused death.


The complete plan of the building could not be exposed but it is hoped that further work will be possible that will add more detail. Two corners at the eastern end have been established, indicating a rectangular construction with an external width of 5.65 metres and a length greater than 8 metres. Within this distance there is no obvious sign of a cross wall or the corners at the western end. The longer walls have a thickness of 65 centimetres and the cross wall 40 centimetres. Here and there two or three courses of mortared flint remain but in some places only the lowest mortar layer has survived. The alignment is approximately the same as the hall of the castle though this fact may have no real significance.

Associated with this wall, at a depth of 70 centimetres below the present surface was a scatter of broken roofing tiles and mortar rubble with broken pottery including sherds of 'pricked' unglazed grey fabric identified as "Limpsfield" ware See reference [1] and coarse shell gritted pots and dishes similar to stratified deposits within the castle and characteristic of the 13th century AD. See reference [2]. The tiles were light orange-red in colour, approximately 22 centimetres long and 14.5 centimetres wide with a thickness of 1.3 centimetres. They were pierced with two holes roughly 6 centimetres apart, and have three raised lines centrally disposed on one face running from top to bottom.

A section at right angles to the north wall and external to the structure has been cut for a distance of 5 metres. This indicates that the present contours showing a slight rise to the north, are largely due to make-up with flint and mortar rubble of up to a metre in thickness. The quantity of rubble suggests the possibility of further buildings in the area although no other features have so far emerged.


The consistent alignment of the burials and the absence of grave goods seem to point to a Christian context but more evidence must be obtained before any attempt can be made to establish a precise dating. Based on what has been seen up to the present it would seem that at least fifty burials may exist. Information is being sought on other graves in the vicinity. not apparently recorded from an archaeological viewpoint, so that an estimate of the overall extent of the burial ground can be made.

The dating evidence for the foundations is fairly secure and it would appear that building took place without any regard to the burials, some of which were almost completely scaled. This suggests that the burial ground had lost its identity before the 13th century AD. Evidence of mortar rubble deeper than the wall at the eastern end would support the possibility of earlier constructions in the area. The likelihood of this thinner wall representing a later reconstruction phase cannot be dismissed as the workmanship and the mortar used show some signs of difference.

It is clear that further work must be done, to resolve the uncertainties now existing. This must, of course, depend on the goodwill of Mr and Mrs H J Friend in whose garden we are working and whose active support and co-operation are gratefully acknowledged.


  1. Arch. Cant. LXXII page37
  2. Information from S E Rigold Esq.
Close Window
Accessed this page via search engine or bookmark? Full K A R Index here.