Bronze Age and Jutish cemetery excavated in Kent

One of the most exciting discoveries was that of a massive square pit burial holding the skeletal remains of a horse and a wolf-sized dog

Excavations in Deal, Kent, have unearthed a cemetery used during the Early Bronze Age Beaker Period and later in the c. 6th century AD by the Jutes that contains the remains of around 40 individuals, including a warrior buried alongside a horse and a dog.

The discovery was made at the site of a new housing development in St Richard’s Road, located on a chalk ridge overlooking Deal. The excavations are currently being undertaken by Kent Archaeological Projects (KAP).

The cemetery consists of a 32m-diameter banked ring-ditch dug around 4,000 years ago. The ditch measures 1.7m deep and 3.5m wide. Within this perimeter archaeologists identified smaller ring-ditches and several crouched burials, including one of a high-status woman.

Buried at the very centre of the cemetery within a shallow ring-ditch was a 12-year-old boy interred in a crouched position with a beaker.

Child beaker burial. Image: Kent Archaeological Projects, Peter Knowles.

Individuals buried in rectangular-cut graves believed to date to the 5th and 6th centuries AD were also uncovered in the cemetery and are likely to represent the Jutish dead.

The Jutes were a Nordic tribe from Jutland, Denmark, that settled in southern England following the collapse of the Roman Empire. Initially inhabiting Kent, they later populated the Isle of Wight, southern Hampshire, and East Sussex.

So far, excavations have revealed Jutish high-status burials containing various grave goods associated with warfare, including spears, swords, shields, and knives. The female graves contained dress accessories, such as brooches, a garnet pendant set in gold, and glass bead necklaces.

One of the most exciting discoveries was that of a massive square pit burial holding the skeletal remains of a horse and a wolf-sized dog and, immediately next to it, the grave of a large individual buried with an ornately-decorated 0.93m-long sword, two knives, a spear, and a shield. A bronze bucket featuring two horse motifs had been placed at their feet – this was likely used for watering horses.

Horse and dog burial c. AD 500-575. Image: Kent Archaeological Projects, Peter Knowles.

It is thought the person died in battle as the front of their skull was badly smashed in and their shield, of which only the central boss survives, had been placed over their face.

Male individual buried beside horse and dog grave. Grave contains a shield boss, spear, ring sword with gold and glass garnet, annular brooch, brooch/pins, knife, bronze and wood bucket with handle and horse motifs. Image: Kent Archaeological Projects, Peter Knowles.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Germanic brothers Hengist (meaning stallion) and Horsa (meaning horse) arrived in Britain in the 5th century AD and became the first Jutish kings of Kent. The burial thus offers evidence for the Jutes’ reverence for horses.

‘The Jutes were the first English-speaking people: they spoke Old English, Anglo-Saxon. This is the origin of England, right here,’ said Tim Allen, director of KAP.

Ultimately, not only does this incredible discovery shed brand new light on how the Jutish buried and honoured their dead, but it also reveals their lasting impact on the Kentish landscape.