The site that was, and wasn't

In the summer of 1967 a keen-eyed schoolboy, wandering over a field beside the A2 east of Sittingbourne that was being levelled for fruit tree planting, spotted a scatter of crushed Roman pottery (from a couple of cremation burials) in the bulldozer tracks.

He grabbed a bag-full and raced to inform the Sittingbourne and Swale Archaeological Research Group, at the time consisting mostly of Borden Grammar School schoolboys, some of whom were working at Stone Chapel a few miles further east along the A2, also known as "Watling Street" and closely following the route of a Roman road.

The landowner, the late Sir Leslie Doubleday, generously gave permission for a quick excavation, holding off the bulldozer for a couple of weeks. The team that was just finishing at Stone Chapel was relocated to the site, and a mad rush to rescue information began.

The site was excavated entirely by amateurs, with some initial help from Brian Philp of the Kent Archaeological Rescue Group. (The subsequent non-publication and loss of information is of course nothing to do with him. Brian has always been a meticulous publisher of his field work.)

The dig itself, like many all-amateur excavations, was great fun. Summer evenings and week-ends were happily spent hauling large amounts of coarse pottery and what are known as "small finds" from the rich rubbish deposits that spread across the site.

The only thing missing was evidence of structures. We either didn't recognise the remains of timber structures, they had been ploughed away, or we missed the part of the settlement that included them. Certainly there were no masonry buildings found and only a couple of post holes. However it is likely that the settlement originally spread much further than the field in which we worked (pottery has been picked up in the field on the north side of the A2).

And then our time was up, and the bulldozer returned. The material was taken away to be recorded and stored and the site published. But the finds and records from the dig mouldered in dozens of shoe boxes in various attics and loft spaces. There were just too many "coarseware" potsherds for an individual to deal with, and life became more and more complicated. Each move and domestic crisis saw more losses. Now, after 30 years of gradual attrition, all that remains of the artefcats are some characteristic potsherds, some "small finds" (bronze, glass and bone objects and some coins) and some colour slides. Almost all the irreplaceable information that the excavation could have provided has been lost. OK, perhaps this wasn't a site that would change the face of British archaeology. But it was evidence of a reasonably early and active settlement (perhaps a staging post?) on the Roman road from London to Dover.

ARCHAEOLOGY