Kent Archaeological Review extract
 

The Probable Site of Durolevum.
by Brian Philp.

In January and February 1965, the CIB teams carried out the major rescue excavation at Faversham Abbey under severe winter conditions. During the second week in February the team also carried out a short watching-brief on part of a major gas-main trench to the west of Ospringe. The results of this were written up in 1967 for inclusion in the Faversham Report, but the high production costs prevented this. It is now published as written even though excavations have since been carried out on the Stone Chapel site. See Footnote [1] See Footnote [2]

During the course of the excavations on the site of the abbey the SEGB began laying a new 18-inch gas-main from Faversham to Milton. This entailed the mechanical excavation of a single trench, normally about 4 feet deep and 2 feet wide in which the actual pipe was to be positioned. As the line of this main passed close to the site of the extensive Romano-British cemetery at Ospringe, excavated in 1920-25, a brief watch was kept in the vicinity of Judd's Hill. (NGR 5992 1612). See Footnote [3]

The trench ran on the north side of and parallel to the main A2 road, which here closely follows the line of the Roman arterial road, later known as Watling Street. Very little evidence of occupation of any sort was noted in the trench on the top of Judd's Hill and indeed little was found there in 1922 when some 23 exploratory trenches were dug. Nothing at all was revealed in the sides of the gas-pipe trench until it was well down the east side of Syndale Bottom and into the large field on the east side of Stone Church. It was in this field that Roman coins of the 2nd-4th centuries were recorded in the 19th century. See Footnote [4]

Here the trench was some 65 feet north of the north edge of the present road and the first traces of Romano-British occupation material were detected some 540 feet east of the footpath leading from the road to the ruined church. Continuous stratified levels were then observed from there to a point about 100 feet west of the footpath thus giving a total distance of about 650 feet. Material of Romano-British date was discovered at about this point in 1926.

The observations on this section of the trench were hampered by the metal gas-pipe which had been positioned immediately the trench was dug and by the contractors who had also quickly filled in some 200 feet of the trench. It was, however, possible to record a number of small vertical sections at various points and to note the position on an unmortared flint wall. This was aligned north-south at a point some 525 feet east of the footpath leading to the church. The wall was located at a depth of 1 foot 8 inches, stood 12 inches high above a 9-inch foundation of unmortared flints and was about 2 feet 6 inches wide. No corresponding walls or related floors were noted and it is possible that this was a boundary wall.

The whole section of the trench was covered by ploughsoil and a brown loamy hillwash to a depth of 1 foot 6 inches to 2 feet. Beneath this was a layer of black occupation soil varying in depth from 6 inches to 2 feet 6 inches and this rested on natural gravel at many points. This occupation layer contained occasional bands of chalk, burnt clay, carbon and small pits, hearths and domestic rubbish were seen at several points. Pottery, bone and oyster shells were collected from the soil dug from the trench by the contractor but only a small amount could be collected in the time available. All of the pottery is of 2nd or 3rd century AD date. More pottery was recovered by casual visitors and retained for their private collections (!) but that which was seen was of the same date.

Although the trench revealed the approximate east-west limits of the Romano-British site it did not indicate how far it extended north of the main road. As the ruins of Stone Church, some 500 feet north of the road, contain large quantities of stone and tile taken from a Roman building it seems possible that it might extend to about that point. In order to resolve this problem a series of seven test-holes was dug rapidly across the field by a mechanical excavator under archaeological control. The first hole was positioned some 40 feet due east of the church and the next five at intervals of about 90 feet in a south-easterly direction from there towards the mortared wall seen in the pipe- trench. The black ploughsoil and brown loamy hillwash were found to vary in depth from 1 foot 4 inches to 2 feet 1 inch. Beneath this was a black, mud-silt layer varying in depth from 10 inches to 2 feet 9 inches with natural gravel below. Nothing at all was found in any of these six excavations.

The seventh test-hole was dug only 31 feet north of the gas-pipe trench and this produced a series of similar stratified layers. The black silt layer beneath the ploughsoil and hillwash was 1 ft. thick and it contained flints and fragments of Roman tile. Beneath this was a layer of burnt clay 5 inches thick which rested on a 3-inch band of chalk. A thick layer of oyster shells was found on the north side of this excavation and a fragment of a large rotary, Niedermendig quernstone, about 3 feet in diameter and 2 inches thick, was removed from one of the stratfied layers by the machine. The sixth test-hole, which had been dug only some 45 feet further north of this point, produced no finds or features.

DISCUSSION.

The evidence indicates that an extensive settlement existed in the bottom of Syndale Valley in the 2nd-4th centuries AD. The scatter of occupation material extended for about 650 feet in an east-west direction and probably for at least 100 feet north of the Roman road. It may have extended further north at some points and probably covered a roughly similar area south of the Roman road as suggested by trial excavations carried out by Faversham and Sitting- bourne archaeological groups'. The impression is that of a small road-settlement extending ribbon-like along the road and perhaps covering an area of about five acres. It seems likely that any structures were mostly timber-framed in common with many other minor Roman sites. See Footnote [5]

The discoveries in Syndale Bottom have an important bearing on the problem of the whereabouts of the site of the Romano-British town of Durolevum. The name occurs in the Second Iter. of the Antonine Itinerary as being 16 (Roman) miles from Rochester and 12 miles from Canterbury. Almost certainly this must have been on Watling Street and the mileages given place it at Norton Ash just east of Teynham. So far there is little evidence for a settlement at that point, but the many finds in the Ospringe area suggest that the town was in fact further east. The settlement revealed in Syndale Bottom may be the actual site of Durolevum and indeed the distance is just over 10 (Roman) miles from Canterbury and thus fairly accurate. The large cemetery excavated to the east in 1920-25, mostly containing burials of 2nd and 3rd century date, could have related to this settlement. In addition other material of Romano-British date has been found in the area and the re-used Roman masonry in Stone Church indicates the presence of at least one Roman stone building in the immediate neighbourhood.

Footnote: The 1967-8 excavation confirmed that the two-cell medieval church was in fact partially built over a rectangular Romano-British mausoleum, or temple, of 4th century date. Saxon material and some graves were also recovered. The medieval church had been abandoned by 1550 and thus represents one of Kent's deserted medieval villages (DMV). Judging by the evidence recovered during 1965 the Roman mausoleum/temple must have stood in isolation well to the north of the road settlement. It clearly related to this settlement in some way and it seems likely that it stood within its own 'precinct' enclosed by a 'temenos' or boundary wall.

REFERENCES:

Notes:

Footnote 1.

Excavations in Faversham, 1965 (1968) by Brian Philp. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 2.

Antiquaries Journal (1969) Volume XLIX pII page 273 by Sir Eric Fletcher and Lt Col G W Meates. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 3.

Excavation of the Roman Cemetery at Ospringe, Kent (1931) by W Whiting, L Col W Hawley and Thomas May. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 4.

Arch. Cant. Vol.IX (1874). lxii. Return to the paragraph.

Footnote 5.

Kent Archaeological Review Number 9 (1967) page 6 by J.Rose. Return to the paragraph.
 
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