New Discoveries at The Meads, Sittingbourne
Since our first investigations at The Meads in 2008, the development of the site has been completed and more houses have been built to the north-west. Recent proposals to develop the remaining parcel of land, located to the north-east of the 2008 excavation, have provided an opportunity to revisit the site in the hope of discovering additional archaeological remains.
The 2008 excavations revealed evidence for Neolithic, Bronze Age and Anglo-Saxon activity, including a group of Beaker period burials, a Bronze Age ring-ditch (almost certainly the remains of a round barrow) and an extensive Anglo-Saxon cemetery. These findings, coupled with an aerial photograph showing a cropmark of a sizable ring-ditch within the new development area, suggested that the likelihood of further archaeological remains continuing to the north-east of the former site was highly likely.
Initial investigations of the new area were undertaken in November 2012 and confirmed that archaeological features did indeed survive. In February this year excavation commenced. It soon became clear that the ring-ditch identified on the aerial photograph was in fact the large circular enclosure ditch of a henge. Measuring some 30m in diameter, the enclosure encompassed several features in its interior, the most striking of which were two concentric groups of post-holes situated at the centre. Probably dating to the late Neolithic period, this henge is the first to be confirmed and excavated in the Swale area.
As with the area of the 2008 excavation, the site had been quarried for brickearth in the past leading to the truncation of the archaeological features. As a result any evidence for a bank external to the ditch, a characteristic of henge monuments, had been lost. The ditch ranged in depth between 0.8m and 1m and, given the reduction in ground level, it is clear that the monument must have been a significant feature in the landscape. The ditch circuit was only partially exposed during the course of the excavation, as part of it was located beneath the present pavement and road to the south-east of the site. However, excavation revealed that the ditch became deeper and wider towards the south-east, suggesting that an entrance to the enclosure might be situated in this area.
The ditch was filled with a series of deposits which suggested that it had gradually silted up, perhaps being recut or cleaned out episodically. These early silt deposits were relatively sterile and produced only a very small quantity of struck flints. In contrast to this, however, were the fills of the final recut which produced significant quantities of struck flint and pottery, in addition to a number of loom-weight fragments. Perhaps early Bronze Age in date, these deposits suggest that domestic waste was being dumped into the ditch at this time.
Several features were recorded within the interior of the enclosure, including the concentric post-hole groups. These features formed a horseshoe-shape facing south-east, the orientation of which perhaps giving credence to the suggested location of the monument entrance. Dating of these features is yet to be established but it is possible that the post-holes are earlier than the enclosure ditch, as this has been shown to be the case with similar monuments of this type. Additional features within the interior include a scatter of post-holes and small pits, including a substantial post-hole measuring some 1.3m in diameter situated to the north-east.
Two large pits situated in the north and north-west of the enclosure are of particular interest. The size and shape of these features may indicate that they once contained crouched burials but, as with the former excavation, skeletal material did not survive well due to the soil conditions. The pit to the north, however, produced a piece of unworked amber, which may have been a grave good. No evidence of grave goods was found in the second pit. However this feature had a later cut in the backfill into which had been placed an inverted pottery vessel. As yet undated, it is possible that these features post-date the enclosure, perhaps being contemporary with the Beaker burials recorded in the 2008 excavation. One final feature of note is a small pit situated close to the centre of the enclosure. A second inverted urn had been placed in this pit and, in this instance the urn contained a cremation burial.
To the exterior, and possibly contemporary, with the enclosure were two post alignments. One, aligned north-north-west to south-south-east, is also aligned with the centre of the enclosure. To the north-east of the enclosure, a series of ditches and a trackway aligned north-west to south-east were recorded and, a curving ditch located in the eastern corner of the excavation was also investigated. As yet undated, these features also appear to be of prehistoric date.
It was anticipated that the Anglo-Saxon cemetery would extend into the new area of excavation and this proved to be the case. Situated in the south-west corner of the site was a group of four graves, three of which contained grave goods. Two further possible graves were recorded further to the north of this group. However it would appear that the focus of the cemetery is situated within the area of the previous excavation.
It is hoped that the post-excavation analysis will shed further light on this fascinating and regionally important Neolithic and Bronze Age monumental landscape and indeed on the Anglo-Saxons who were drawn to this place centuries later.
Grateful thanks are extended Abbey New Homes, who are funding the project, and to their site manager, Graham Abnett, for his assistance during the excavation. The field team was supported by a large body of volunteers and thanks are extended to professionals and volunteers alike for their hard work through a freezing February and the coldest March on record!