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Kent Archaeological Review extract

Romano-British site (Rye Lane), near Otford.
by John Pyke.

DRAWING: Figure 1: Plan of a Romano-British site found during surveillance
of a gas pipe trench near Otford.

Figure 1: Plan of a Romano-British site found during surveillance of a gas pipe trench near Otford. John Pyke
Site plan: The Big Picture (43k).

DRAWING: Section through the eastern edge of the area of occupational debris.

Figure 2: Section through the eastern edge of the area of occupational debris.
Section through eastern edge: The Big Picture (60k).

DRAWING: Section across southern area of site showing the depression filled
with occupational debris which may have been a rubbish dump.

Figure 3: Section across southern area of site showing the depression filled with occupational debris which may have been a rubbish dump.
Section through southern area: The Big Picture (56k).
John Pyke.

The site, previously unrecorded, was situated on the west bank of the river Darent, half a mile south of Otford Village NGR TQ 525 583. It was first noticed by two members of the Otford and District Archaeological Group, Mr and Mrs B Holland, while a gas pipe line was being re-laid in preparation for the M25 Motorway. Mr and Mrs Holland and family were able to keep constant watch on the site as work progressed and our thanks go to them for their help in excavating and processing the finds. The site was excavated during four weekends in October 1972. Our thanks also go to Mr E Wickens, the owner of the land, for his permission to excavate, together with the contractors Messrs. Press and their staff for their cooperation. Practical assistance was also given by the Fawkham and Ash Archaeological Group and our thanks are extended to them for their help and for the use of their resistivity meter. I would particularly like to thank Mr and Mrs B Holland and family, Messrs P Leach and E Parish, Katie Fielden and Mr and Mrs E Spurr for their help on the site. Grateful acknowledgement is also made to Dr D B Harden for his technical advice on the glass fragment.

Copies of this report together with resistivity results are deposited with the Sevenoaks Library and the Otford and District Historical Society. Finds are deposited in the Group's centre in Sevenoaks.

The gas pipe trench was laid across the Darent valley in a west-east direction, cutting across Rye Lane and falling away down a gradual slope to the West bank of the river Darent. An older gas pipe line running north-south was cut across, some 60 yards west of the river and at this point occupation debris was noticed 20 inches from the ground surface. This layer (Layer 2) at its thickest point was 12 inches deep and it appeared to overlay a layer of pebbles and loam (Layer 4). Layer 3 consisted of sandy loam and Layer 5 gault clay.

As a section of the north-south gas pipe trench was re-opened it was possible to follow the debris layer to its northern extremity (SECTION B). A further trench was kindly opened by the contractors to the south of the main west-east line and a further area of debris was found, although it appeared to peter out on the southern edge of the trench, thus giving the southern extremity of the area.

A series of test holes was then dug on a 50-foot grid, moving west up on to higher ground to investigate the possibility of there being any further evidence of occupation, but nothing was found.

The debris layer (Layer 2) was black in colour and included quantities of pottery, tile (roof and floor) and iron ore. The area covered by this layer was roughly oval in plan and from the evidence available it would appear to be a rubbish dump.

The sandy loam (Layer 3) appears not to have been cut into to produce a definite pit, but as the site is particularly low lying and is prone to flooding, any such evidence might have been destroyed by flood action.

At the point at which the two pipe lines cross one another, a quantity of brushwood was found in the gault clay (SECTION B Layer 5) and two upright stumps some eight inches in diameter were found driven into the clay. It was not clear whether these features were of a similar period to the occupation debris or of a similar date to the first gas pipe trench.


DRAWING: Pottery from Barnham Downs.

Figure 4: Romano-British pottery from a site near Otford.
Pottery: The Big Picture (46k).

The pottery evidence consisted of some 612 sherds of various Romano-British type, but unlike other Otford sites, where Patch Grove ware is the most common, only 17% of this type was found. Greyware was by far the most common ware found, accounting for 46% of the total. A number of types of Greyware were found and it was decided to sub-divide them into Greyware A, B, C, D and E.


Numbers 1 and 6.
A gritty rough fabric with a grey surface and paste. Vessels in this category were usually of the cooking pot type.


Number 2.
A sandy grey fabric with a grey paste.
Number 20.
A wall sherd with an intermittent wave design incised on the outside.


Numbers 3 and 5.
A hard well fired fabric. Some examples have evidence of black colour coating.
Number 19.
A wall sherd with black colour coating and rouletting decoration applied in an acute lattice design.


Number 4.
A coarse grey surface with a red core which sometimes breaks through the surface.


A thin brittle pottery with an even grey fabric.


A common ware found on many North-West Kent sites of 1st 2nd century period.

Number 7.
Cooking pot rim with grey paste flecked with black and an orange 'soapy' surface.
Number 8.
Rim of jar with grey paste flecked with black and a brown burnished surface.


Number 9.
Rim of jar with red fabric and slight evidence of colour coating, badly worn.
Number 10.
Cooking pot rim with soft red fabric.
Number 11.
Mortarium rim of red coated ware. Similar to Joydens Wood Number 41 Mid 4th Century. (Archaeologia Cantiana LXVII 181).
Number 16.
Flagon neck of soft red ware.
Number 17.
Rim sherd of red/pink ware with fine mica dust application and roller stamp decoration.


Number 12.
Small jar in black fumed ware.
Number 13.
Dish with flanged rim in black fumed ware.
Number 14.
Dish with straight sides and two grooves Black ware slightly burnished.


Section of base Form 18/31.
Rim of cup Form 33.
Rim and wall of Mortarium with small white grit Form 45.


Lid and wall sections of 'Castor Box' with rouletting decoration.
Gillam type 341 and 342 180-320 AD.
Number 21.
Base of candlestick.


Number 15.
Mortarium rim with pink grit.
GREYWARE A 10 17 3 30 5.0% 8
B 33 151 24 208 34.0% 20
C 6 6 2 14 2.2% 6
D 5 9 3 17 3.0% 3
E 2 7 2 11 1.8% 2
TOTAL GREYWARE 56 190 34 280 46.0% 39
PATCH GROVE 9 89 6 104 17.0% 9
REDWARE 21 61 7 89 14.5% 12
BLACK COARSEWARE 13 52 12 77 12.5% 12
SAMIAN 8 20 3 31 5.0% 5
CASTOR WARE 1 19 1 21 3.4% 1
SANDYWARE 2 8 -- 10 1.6% 2
TOTAL 110 439 63 612 100% 80


DRAWING: Small finds found on a Romano-British site near Otford.

Figure 5: Small finds found on a Romano-British site near Otford.
Small finds: The Big Picture (52k)

Number 22.
An iron knife found in an unstratified context.
Number 23.
An iron loop.
Number 24.
A bronze 'stilus' similar to those described by Collingwood and Richmond, Archaeology of Roman Britain page 316. Used for writing on wax tablets, the blunt end was used to erase letters.
Number 25.
A fragment of colourless glass with free hand engraved decoration, typical of a group of late Roman glasses bearing engraved scenes. The decoration, which was probably done with a flint burin, includes sloping shading running along the outline of the design, which is particularly common in this type of glass. Most glasses in this group are round bottomed shallow bowls and are dated to the second quarter of the 4th century AD.
Reference: D B Harden Wint Hill Bowl Archaeological Journal CXXVI 1970 64 Figure 7
Number 26.
A sandstone sharpening stone with evidence of wear on one side.
Number 27.
Flint blade showing signs of secondary working along both edges.
Number 28.
Flint flake.
Number 29.
Flint blade with signs of secondary working along one edge and a high lustrous polish. A quantity of iron ore was found together with several pieces of badly corroded iron. These were X-rayed but failed to give any indications as to their function.


The material evidence would indicate that a quantity of late Romano-British occupational debris was deposited close to the west bank of the river Darent. The dateable evidence includes samian wares 140-190 AD and the 'Castor Box' 180-320 AD. The red ware mortarium rim and the engraved glass bowl fragments are both dated to the middle 4th century AD. The lack of the soft Patch Grove pottery and the predominance of the harder greyware pottery would help confirm a later date for the site.

The sophistication of the material is unusual for the Otford area with the 'Castor Box', the candlestick and the bronze stilus for writing together with the engraved glass bowl fragment. This is the latest Romano-British site to be found in Otford to date and may account for the sophisticated material.

The reason for the rubbish being deposited in this area is not clear. Whether this point of the river was used as a crossing and required consolidating during periods of flooding can only be postulated. There is a tendency for the site to become flooded during heavy rainfall and water action may account for the wear seen on many of the softer pottery sherds. It is unlikely that such a quantity of debris would have been transported any great distance and it would seem probably that the rubble was from a source close to the site.

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