Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

From the archive

February 21st, 2013

This photograph, which recently came to light in our library, was taken in 1989 when the three archaeologists who pioneered post-war excavations in the city were joined by Tim Tatton-Brown, our first director, and his successor, Paul Bennett, at the 15th International Congress of Roman Frontier Studies held in September at the University of Kent.  From left to right is Tim Tatton-Brown, Professor John Wacher, Paul Bennett, Professor Sheppard Frere and Dr Frank Jenkins.  Sadly both John Wacher and Frank Jenkins are no longer with us, but their work and that of Professor Sheppard Frere and the Canterbury Excavations Committee still informs much of what we do today.

Archive photo

Volunteer at Lyminge Archaeological Project

February 21st, 2013

Plans are now well underway for Lyminge Archaeological Project’s 2013 summer season and anyone interested in volunteering can now book a place for an induction. Inductions are compulsory if you want excavate, and anyone over the age of 16 can work on the dig. Go to: for more information on how to sign up for an induction. Volunteers from last year who have already attended an induction don’t need to do another one.

Applications for student bursaries are now being accepted. If you are a current university student (at any level) in archaeology or a related discipline then you are eligible to apply for a bursary. Go to

If you are a student who doesn’t want to apply for a bursary and simply wants to attend the dig on an ad hoc basis you are welcome to join the team, especially if you live locally, though you must sign up for an induction.

Find out all about the project at

New Year Honours

January 7th, 2013

Lawrence Lyle, one of the founders of the Trust back in 1976, has been honoured by the Queen.  He has been appointed an MBE for his services to archaeology and local history and we are all very proud.

Back in the mid 1970s, Lawrence joined with other local enthusiasts to lobby for a professional archaeological unit to be set up in Canterbury, and after campaigning, which gained both national and local support, the Trust came into existence in April 1976.  Lawrence acted as Company Secretary and remained in post until 2008. He has been chairman of the Friends, continues to serve on their committee and also the publications committee of the Trust. But his support has always extended far beyond any official post. His presence, with his wife, Marjorie, is woven into the fabric of the Trust.

Typical of Lawrence’s quiet generosity is his comment on his MBE quoted in the local press this week.  ”I am particularly delighted as I regard it as a tribute to the work of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust”.  All at the Trust would like to say that we are ABSOLUTELY delighted that his long and dedicated support and service has been so wonderfully honoured.
Lawrence and Marjorie Lyle

Beyond the Horizon

December 18th, 2012

The travelling exhibition ‘Beyond the Horizon: Societies of the Channel and North Sea 3,500 years ago’ opened at Ename, Belgium on Saturday, 15th December.  Here are some photos taken at the opening.
replica boat replica boatreplica boat
arm ringcupgold hoard
experimental mouldopening day

The exhibition continues at Ename until 26th May 2013 and then all the treasures and the replica boat will cross the Channel to Dover.  The exhibition will open at Dover Museum later in the summer.

Until then, those on this side of the Channel can see the actual Bronze Age boat in its prizewinning gallery at Dover Museum.

Anglo-Saxons at St Margaret’s at Cliffe

December 10th, 2012

On Tuesday 18th December at 7.30pm Keith Parfitt will be giving a talk on his recent excavation of 6th-7th century Anglo-Saxon graves at St Margaret’s-at-Cliffe. Venue is St Margaret’s village hall. Tickets on the door are £3.00.

Rescue Dig of the Year?

December 10th, 2012

The excavation at Folkestone Roman Villa has been nominated within the Rescue Dig of the Year category in the Current Archaeology Awards 2013.  Nominations are based on articles and books featured in Current Archaeology over the last 12 months. Folkestone: Roman villa or Iron Age oppidum featured in issue 262 last December.

Our work at Folkestone Roman Villa is part of the ‘A Town Unearthed’ community project.

Voting for the awards is now open, so vote for us here

Iron Age helmet hits the news

December 5th, 2012

The finding of the rare Iron Age helmet by a local metal detectorist has caught the interest of the media. See video clips and related stories on the BBC News website and also on Facebook.

A Late Iron Age helmet found near Canterbury

December 3rd, 2012

A rare prehistoric helmet has been unearthed on farmland outside Canterbury. The helmet, made of bronze and dating to the first century BC, was discovered by an amateur metal detectorist.  Andrew Richardson, then our Finds Manager, takes up the story.

“Arriving home from work one October evening, I received a telephone call from a local metal detectorist who I know from my time as Kent Finds Liaison Officer. This chap had also in the past worked as a volunteer for the Trust and so, having made what he described as a ‘significant discovery’, he decided to contact me. He said that he had found what he believed to be a ‘Celtic bronze helmet’. I knew of no such helmets from Kent; the famous ‘Deal warrior’ excavated by Keith Parfitt at Mill Hill had a bronze head-dress, but that was not a helmet as such. Even for Britain as a whole, I knew such a find would be incredibly rare. But the finder seemed very confident and I knew he was an experienced detectorist, so I arranged to visit him first thing the next morning to have a look.

At his house he produced a box and opened it up to reveal a late Iron Age brooch in very good condition along with what was indeed a bronze helmet of the same period. There was also a fragment of burnt bone which he said he had found with the helmet and brooch, and he remarked that more bone had been present at the find spot. It therefore seemed probable that the finds were derived from a cremation burial. We agreed that, if possible, it would be best to carry out a small excavation of the find spot to learn as much as we could about the context of what was indeed a ‘significant find’.

The finding of two prehistoric base metal objects together in the same place made the finds potential Treasure so on my return to the Trust I reported the discovery to the Coroner, Finds Liaison Officer for Kent and the Treasure Registrar. Discussions with colleagues and with the landowner, tenant, FLO, British Museum and others then followed and it was agreed that a speedy excavation of the immediate find spot was the best course of action.

Our finder had very sensibly reburied a bag of lead fishing weights in the backfilled hole, which made locating the precise find spot much easier than might otherwise have been the case. Thus, on a cold (and occasionally wet) Saturday in late October, a team drawn from the Trust and Dover Archaeological Group carried out the excavation, opening a 2m square trench centred on the find spot.  This revealed no elaborate chiefly burial, but rather a small oval pit, cut into the natural chalk, which had just been missed by deep plough furrows to either side. Cutting into this, the detectorist’s original recovery pit could be readily identified as a roughly circular hole about 0.35m in diameter.  Careful removal of its filling yielded a moderate quantity of cremated bone and a few small fragments of copper alloy sheet, presumably derived from the helmet.

Excavation of helmet find spotExcavation of helmet find spotBone

At the base of the detectorist’s excavation, the lower half of the helmet’s oval outline was preserved as a near perfect cast in the surrounding undisturbed soil.  In places, this outline was stained green from the copper alloy composition of the helmet, and a few small fragments of actual copper alloy sheeting remained on the base.

Tina Parfitt excavating helmet find spotClose up on excavation of helmet impressionHelmet impression
Circular pitCircular pitExcavation trench

From the account provided by the finder and the evidence recovered from the subsequent archaeological investigation, the overall form of the burial can be reconstructed with some confidence.  A shallow circular pit had initially been cut into the natural chalk.  Into this, the inverted helmet had been placed. It was positioned in the eastern half of the pit, orientated north-north-east by south-south-west, with its projecting rear neck-guard at the north-north-east end.  Either just before or just after the helmet had been put into the ground a quantity of cremated human bone had been placed within it.

The brooch was contained within the upper part of the bone deposit and it is likely that the cremated bone had originally been held within some sort of cloth or leather bag/container which had been closed at the top by the brooch.  The whole had then been placed within the inverted helmet which in this case served as an ‘urn’.  The pit was then backfilled with relatively clean soil and chalk, with no surviving evidence to suggest that the spot had been permanently marked in any way. No evidence for any other interments was discovered in the excavation and it would seem that the helmet burial was either an isolated one or formed part of a somewhat dispersed cemetery with widely spaced burials.

Iron age helmetIron age helmetIron age helmet

The pit was cut on its west side by one of the plough furrows.  The rim of the helmet exhibits damage, probably cause by contact with a plough. Had the helmet not been found when it was, there can be little doubt that it would have suffered further plough damage in future, ultimately leading to its fragmentation and dispersion.”

No comparable Iron Age cremation burial using a helmet in this way is known from Britain and the helmet itself is unlikely to be of British origin. Further study, of the helmet, the brooch, the cremated remains and perhaps the area around the immediate find spot, is needed to try to refine the dating and character of this unusual discovery. It is tempting to place the helmet in the context of Caesar’s Gallic War, or indeed his expeditions to Kent in 55 and 54 BC. The helmet is of a type which could have been used by Caesar’s troops, or their indigenous allies and enemies.  There are many ways such a helmet could have come into the possession of a member of the local Cantiaci tribe, rather than representing a Roman military burial in the field. Mercenaries from Britain had travelled to join the fighting in Gaul, and it is possible that this helmet could have belonged to a British or Gallic warrior who fought in Gaul, against the Romans or perhaps even alongside them, eventually bringing the helmet back to Britain with him.

Julia Farley, Iron Age curator at the British Museum says: “This is a very exciting find, one of only a handful of Iron Age helmets to have been found in Britain. In late Iron Age Kent, it was not unusual to bury the cremated remains of the dead in a bag fastened with one or more brooches, but no other cremation has ever been found accompanied by a helmet.  The first century BC was a time of war, but it was also a time of travel, communication, and change.  This helmet emphasizes the new connections being forged across the channel, at a time when life in south-eastern England was about to change dramatically.  The owner of this helmet, or the people who placed it in the grave, may have lived through the very beginning of the story of Roman Britain.”

The finder (who wishes to remain anonymous) is to be commended on the way that he dealt with this discovery. He attempted to photograph the helmet in situ but was unable to do so due to problems with his camera. He removed the helmet with very little disturbance to its immediate context and marked the spot with a bag of lead weights, enabling it to be easily relocated.

Thanks are due to the landowners and to the tenant farmer, for giving permission for excavation of the find spot to take place. The excavation was led by Keith Parfitt and Paul Bennett, accompanied by the author and Jake Weekes and Annie Partridge of Canterbury Archaeological Trust, along with Tina Parfitt, David Holman and Richard Hoskins of Dover Archaeological Group. Crispin Jarman of the Trust surveyed the site.

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