A late Neolithic or early Bronze Age monument that saw the creation of a cemetery in the Anglo-Saxon period has been uncovered in Deal by Kent Archaeological Projects (KAP). Working on the site of a housing development, the team has excavated over 90 inhumations, reflecting both the monument’s primary phase, and the subsequent early medieval use of the site. Many of the later graves contain ‘elite displays of material culture’, said Tim Allen, KAP’s director.
The monument was surrounded by a ring ditch 32m in diameter, 3.5m-wide, and 1.7m deep, and its first phase included the interment of crouched burials, some accompanied by distinctive Beaker vessels, inside this enclosed area. One of these was the skeleton of a 12-year-old boy who had been placed in a crouched position at the very centre of the site, together with two beakers. Dr Andrew Richardson, director of Isle Heritage CIC and an expert on Anglo-Saxon cemeteries in Kent, said the ‘Beaker-era monument’ sits within ‘a wider prehistoric funerary landscape’ on the ridge at Mill Hill, but the site also contains burials from the late 6th to late 7th centuries which ‘span the period of the Christian conversion.’
According to traditions established by the chronicler Bede (c.673-735), while much of England was settled by Angles and Saxons, Kent was settled by the Jutes. Archaeological evidence presents a more nuanced picture, however, reflecting a fusion of southern Scandinavian and Merovingian Frankish influences, as well as Romano-British traditions.
Most of the later burials were found outside the ring ditch, but inside the prehistoric enclosure the archaeologists found the c.AD 550 grave of a warrior (above) who is thought to have died in battle because ‘the front of his skull was smashed in’ and his shield had been used to cover his face, said Tim. His grave goods included a ring sword featuring a garnet in its hilt, and a bronze bucket with two horse motifs. He had been laid to rest alongside a horse and a dog, found in a large pit next to the main grave. This is ‘arguably the highest-status male-gendered Anglo-Saxon burial to come out of Kent in the 21st century’, said Andrew.
Another unusual find from the site was a set of scales, complete with ‘intricately decorated weights’, Tim said. Andrew explained that a comparable set had been found in Dover at Buckland cemetery in 1994. ‘I’m hoping that by comparing this new find with that set and others that have been found we can get more of an insight into the standard weights and measures that were being used in this period,’ Andrew said.
It is hoped that further analysis will help establish more information about the individuals buried at Deal.