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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Alluvial Archaeology. A Saga of the Upchurch Group.
by Ian Jackson.

Five out of nineteen marsh sites under observation by the Upchurch Group can only be reached by boat.

When conditions are right -- a weekend, a high tide between 5.30-8 am and under most weather conditions -- the Upchurch Group can be found at their Shorgate mooring loading their boat. They are preparing to visit one of nineteen sites under observation within the large marshland tract named the Upchurch Marshes, situated in the Medway estuary.

PHOTO: The Upchurch Group in action.

Photo Caption: The Upchurch Group in action.

Except for the occasional high spot and remains of breached seawalls, the marshes are completely covered by water at high tide and it is at this time that the Group casts off.

It can take from twenty minutes to one hour to reach a site, depending on its location, by which time the tide has turned, gradually exposing and draining the clay banks, creeks, rills and mudflats that intersect the marshes at low tide.

Arriving on site, and once out of the boat, one's attention is drawn to the debris of the past and present littering the mudflat surface, exposed and washed by tidal action. Depending on the site, this debris can range from mesolithic flakes, pottery and associated items of the pro-Roman, Romano-British and medieval periods, to ginger beer bottles and 'Dundee' marmalade jars of a more recent era. (During this preliminary survey of the mudflat we begin to realise what an advantage webbed feet would be, having now gained about a stone in weight.) Conditions on site do not vary. Features requiring recording are exposed at various levels on the mudflat slope and at the base of the alluvial banks. Features are plotted on plan, their horizons noted and sectioned where required.

Out of a twelve hour day, actual working time possible on a site is six hours, which when multiplied by eight suitable tides, the maximum number of visits possible each year, gives a total of forty-eight working hours. Compare this to a dry land site where a fortnight's work would represent two years work on a tidal site -- a fact that is not generally appreciated.

Our six hours pass by very quickly and, on many occasions the incoming tide is lapping around our tapes and ranging poles before a retreat to the boat is made. Assuring ourselves that no one has been left behind, we make for Shorgate on the incoming tide.

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