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Kent Archaeological Review extract
 

ARCHAEOLOGICAL EMERGENCY OPERATIONS IN KENT.
by B.J. PHILP.
(Emergency Sub-Committee.)

From the very early, formative days of the KARGC the problems of archaeological emergencies were given serious thought and the matter regarded as one of first priority. Hence, with the actual formation of the Council, in October 1964, the first step was the appointment of a small committee to consider emergency operations on a County basis. Eventually, a comprehensive scheme was worked out and this has now been put into operation.

The threat to archaeological sites is a problem largely peculiar to the 20th century. It is a threat which continues to grow as housing, factory, road and very many other projects continue to increase. The countryside of Kent is visibly being swallowed up and with it go many, often less visible, archaeological sites. There have been many recent examples. The Sevenoaks By-pass scheme tore through the Saxon cemetery at Polhill (October, 1964) and at Springhead the new A2 carriage-way sliced through the centre of the Roman town (July 1964). At Faversham, a new school project very seriously threatened the Royal Cluniac Abbey (January 1965), and unexplored Roman villa (July 1965) and a previously unknown Belgic site (July 1965). Farming methods, too, cause considerable damage or destruction though the effect is often less conspicuous. Burial mounds, banks and dykes of different periods are annually reduced by ploughing. Sometimes far worse. The upstanding walls of Ford Manor were totally destroyed in a single day without any record being made (July 1964). In urban areas buildings of all types, many with much merit, continue to be illiminated in the doubtful cause of progress as recently at Bromley (May 1965), Maidstone (July 1964) and elsewhere. What action can we take to see that everything in imminent danger of destruction is first recorded?

We must supplement the isolated forays of Official Bodies, such as the Ministry of Works, on a massive local scale. For this two main elements need be considered. The first, advance warning; the second, a plan of operation. The two go hand in hand, but every person who can claim an interest in the archaeology of Kent can help in a variety of different ways.

PHOTO: Excavation at Faversham

Photo Caption: A mechanical excavator being used on an archaeological excavation at FAVERSHAM, 1965.

With these two main aspects in mind the committee devised its scheme. Without prior warning of threats to archaeological sites even the most efficient plan could clearly not be launched. How then to get this vital information? The Council has 12 member-groups which cover nearly every part of Kent. Clearly these formed the ideal basis for the scheme and each was asked to help.

  1. A circular-letter was prepared. Each group was asked to circulate this to its own local councils, press offices, contracting-firms, police-stations, river-boards, utility services and other potential sources. It asked for information on chance discoveries or threatened sites and gave two local names, addresses and telephone numbers from which immediate help would come.
  2. Wall posters, with large and colourful illustrations asking for information on chance-finds were kindly supplied by the Council for British Archaeology. These were given to the groups for distribution to their local libraries and museums.

Once notified, what then? Again the 12 groups in Kent provide the answer. Each has its own experts, with access to adequate tools and equipment, and all prepared to act as circumstances demand. Thus the committee made four recommendations which have been accepted and are now in operation.

  1. The entire County has been divided into areas.
  2. Each area has been allocated to an existing group which is responsible for all emergencies in that area.
  3. Local groups unable to cope with any particular emergency should seek assistance from a neighbouring group.
  4. Should both local and neighbouring groups be unable to manage then the museums at Canterbury and Maidstone should be contacted without delay.

Already the scheme is working well. The 1,000 circular-letters and 100 posters seem to have effect. Reports have been received, some from the most unlikely sources, and each has been pursued. Five immediate emergency excavations have been undertaken and these extracted the maximum amount of information in the shortest time. From these, three major sites have been saved from subsequent destruction, but two others lost. In all five cases valuable assistance was received from neighbouring groups. Most diggers find these excursions popular and rewarding for each presents a challenge and a test of wit and skill. Many are prepared to travel long distances to help and now ask; when will the call come next?

But even more is wanted. The need is for a small army of constant vigilantes, who watch their local building sites; scan through their district papers; who keep an open ear in pubs and market places; who watch the work of farmers and the large-scale operations on roads and other projects. Anyone can take an active part in this vital work of constant observation. The groups are ready. Give them your help and report your news, however slight, at once. There is still a vast amount of important archaeological information yet to be uncovered on many sites and much of this is now being destroyed and lost.

 
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