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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Cooling Romano-British Industrial Site.
by Alec Miles and Mike Syddell.

A solid fortnight's digging is planned this summer to complete the emergency excavations at the Cooling Romano-British industrial site. Dates have now been fixed from July 29-August 12 inclusive, and the director's appeal for help for all or part of the time from anyone interested in this important work, whether experienced or complete beginners. The excavation is supported by the Lower Medway Archaeological Research Group and the Kent Archaeological Society.

The Cooling excavations started in 1966 in the form of trial trenching on the marshes behind the sea wall at Broomhey Farm to locate a site discovered in the 1930's, and then lost. In the 1930's a kiln, cemetery and other Romano-British remains, including a possible villa, were uncovered and briefly mentioned in Arch. Cant. (XLII, 1930, page xlviii; volume XLV, 1933, page xliii). When trial trenching was undertaken in 1966 it was quickly realised that apart from light ploughing during the last war, the main site had probably never been disturbed since it was abandoned by the Romano-Britons. The trial trenches revealed hearths, a rammed burnt clay floor with a row of stake holes, and pottery. On discovering that it was the intention of the farmer to eventually put in field drains to lower the water table so that deep ploughing could begin, it was decided with his full co-operation, to mount a rescue excavation to recover as much detail as possible of this site. The main factors behind this reasoning can be summed up as follows:

  1. the Thames and Medway estuaries were obviously very important areas concerned with pottery production, salt panning, farming and fishing.
  2. the total sum of knowledge about (a) is almost nil.
  3. very little is known of the nature of rural settlement in Kent, an almost neglected field of research.
  4. the Thames and Medway estuaries are considered ripe for development as docks, refineries, power stations and industrial premises within the next few years.
  5. the vast majority of all known Romano-British sites are outside present sea walls and are under attack by the sea. Normal excavation techniques are not possible with them. Of some thirty Romano-British sites in the Medway and Thames estuaries recorded by the writers during a regional survey scheme run by the Lower Medway Archaeological Research Group the Cooling site was the only one within the sea walls and in good enough condition that hope could be held out of obtaining meaningful information as a result of excavation.

Thus, for these and other reasons, the excavations proper began in 1967 and have continued every year since on Sundays, at Easter and on until late in the year. Applying conventional excavation techniques, modified to take account of the high water table and the clayey nature of the ground, a nearly intact site plan has been recovered.

The site is on a mound built up in Roman times to remain above storm surge tide levels. A creek connected to the sea wound round the site, on which we have recovered the plan of round and square huts and/or enclosures, together with their hearths, living and working areas and a miscellany of small finds including pottery and other items which help to cloth the bare site plan with an idea of the life which the inhabitants led at Cooling. In a deep hole dug to find the depth of the bottom of the creek, the water-logged conditions preserved such fascinating small items as walnuts, cob nuts, seaweed, twigs, leaves and pieces of shaped wood. Evidence too in the form of coal, grain, quern-stones and large stones from distant sources help to give an idea of connections the site had with other parts of the UK and possibly the continent.

Considerable evidence has been found of the salt panning activities, in the form of the briquetage vessels in which the process was carried out and a series of boiling hearths with associated brine storage pans. We have also probably located the site of the 1930s kiln by means of the CKA proton magnetometer, and during our excavations found a cache of broken kiln bars and many fragments of wasters. Evidence to date shows that the site was occupied from the early days of the Roman occupation right through to the fourth century.

This year's solid fortnight of digging will complete our examination of the mound. We intend to work on the west and south sides, and will possibly uncover more salt panning hearths and associated brine pans. A JCB will be used to remove plough-soil. The proton magnetometer will enable us to re-excavate the 1930s kiln and any others around it before the site is lost to mechanised farming.

Preparatory work will start every Sunday from June 4. During the digging fortnight, July 29-August 12, work will start at 9.30 am and continue to 5.30 pm daily. Camping is possible, and transport will be laid on from the Medway Towns and Maidstone. Please help if you can spare any time. Further details from: A Miles, Colene, 66 Headcorn Road, Biddenden, Kent.

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