Illuminating the past – Enhancing the present – Inspiring the future

Meopham School

A six-week excavation during August and September 2016 at Meopham School revealed that the site had been the focus for settlement activity for over 6,000 years.

The school is situated on a ridgeway, just west of the A227 which itself follows an earlier Roman road, and in an area of known archaeological importance. Directly to the north of the school excavations undertaken in the 1970s during the construction of bungalows and a sports centre had revealed features associated with late Iron Age settlement that included structures and refuse pits.
Plan of archaeological features and excavation area

Neolithic (4000–2500 BC)

The earliest feature identified consisted of a large pit containing many worked flints, six of which were tools which included thumb scrapers and blades dated to the Neolithic period. The majority of the flints were waste flakes associated with tool manufacturing. The isolated pit may originally have been part of a wider landscape of activity across the Meopham ridge. Environmental samples taken from the fill of the pit will give us a rare opportunity to study the flora, fauna and climatic conditions of the Neolithic period.
Neolithic pit, scale 1m.

Middle Iron Age (400–100 BC)

The next phase of activity at the site dated to the middle to late Iron Age. This consisted of a very large curving ditch 2m wide and 1.1m deep with steeply sloped sides and a narrow V-shaped base. Curving from the northern corner of the excavated area, this ditch bisected the centre of the site where it was interrupted by a 15m wide entrance before continuing to curve to the north-east beyond the limit of the excavation. Five large post-holes up to 0.5m wide and 0.4m deep extended out from the entrance to the south-west and may represent the remains of a large posted entrance structure.

The exceptionally large enclosure ditch encompassed occupation features such as pits and posted structures both on this site and those excavated during construction of the sports centre to the north-east.  Excavation of the ditch and associated features recovered abundant pottery sherds that were predominantly shell-tempered. Further occupational material included burnt flint and charcoal deposits.

Together the features represent a defended settlement located strategically on the ridge line, perhaps along a route-way which predated the Roman road.
Middle Iron age enclosure ditch, scale 1m. Excavating pottery from enclosure ditch

 Late Iron Age to early Roman (100 BC to AD 100)

At some point during the occupation of the settlement the enclosure ditch became neglected and possibly redundant. It appeared to have been infilled by natural erosion of the internal bank mixed with occasional occupational refuse. Then, during the late Iron Age (c 100 BC), the line of the enclosure was re-cut by a narrower and intermittent ditch line. Rather than defensive this may have been to re-mark the boundary of the settlement.

The start of the Roman period appears to have seen a complete abandonment of the settlement. During this process a small inhumation burial was cut into the upper fill of the ditch line. This contained the badly preserved remains of a child of no more than four years of age.

In addition, a large roughly subcircular pit was dug which directly blocked the south-western entrance to the settlement. This was approximately 15m in diameter and between 1.5m and 2m deep and was encompassed on three sides by a narrow ring-ditch. The pit was likely a sand quarry and was backfilled with silty clay amongst which was a Roman tile and a copper alloy brooch. The brooch is currently undergoing conservation.
Late Iron Age re-cut, scale 1m. Child burial, scale 0.1m. Roman sand quarry, scales 1m, looking north.

In conclusion

The results of the post-excavation assessment and analysis of the archaeological data, pottery and other finds from Meopham School will add to our current understanding of the development of later prehistoric occupation throughout the Gravesend, Thames and Medway area. The identification of a large defended settlement indicates the importance of this ridgeway during the later prehistoric period, perhaps as a crucial communication highway between north and south Kent. In addition, the apparent abandonment of the settlement around the start of the Roman period adds to evidence for a wider trend of socio economic control that came with the new regime.

The excavations were commissioned by Kier Construction on behalf of the Education Funding Agency in advance of the construction of a new school campus.

Ross Lane

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