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Living and working at East Wear Bay

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

In my last post I explained how archaeologists start to interpret and phase sites after the excavation is complete. Today I'm going to continue on with the timeline of our 2015/2016 excavations by showing our Phase 2 features.

We have already been introduced to this image in my Phase 1 (Middle Iron Age) explanation. In that I explained that the large ditch running along the top of the image is 2nd century BC, and there is a pond to the left of the image which contains a variety of finds possibly extending back to the Upper Palaeolithic.

Our next phase of the site looks like this:

This activity is dated to the period known as the Late Iron Age (120BC-43AD). As you can see the archaeology has changed from a single ditch to something a lot more complex. I am going to take each collection of features in turn starting from what we think might be the earliest activity to the latest. This is a preliminary timeline of events and requires A LOT more work done to it. Ready? OK then....

The Ditch and pond

The ditch we all know and love from Phase 1 was probably filled in no later than the first century BC, so would have been visible in the early part of Phase 2. It is possible the pond was filled in before the mid-Iron Age and would be a distant memory by now.

The Roundhouse

The roundhouse sits conveniently in the centre of our trench and is thought to be dated to the very earliest Late Iron Age. In the Iron Age it would have been constructed on a level surface, but as the site has slumped down the cliff so to has the roundhouse so now it sits on an angle. The semi-circular gully you see in the image is a drip gully showing us where the rain dripped off the thatch roof onto the floor. It had a rather smart chalk floor on the inside - mostly destroyed by years of cultivation on the site - plus a number of intriguing features....

Firstly a dog skull was found in the drip gully with it's nose pointing in the direction of the interior.

Before getting too carried away with deciding which breed of dog we have here, we have to remember that 2000 years of selective breeding have taken place since this animal died. This 'dog' would have been in the halfway mark between wild wolf and the domesticated pooches we know and love today. A close example today might be an Irish Wolfhound (many thanks to Adelina Teoaca for researching the skull for us). As for why the Iron Age people felt it necessary to place the skull here (no, we don't have the rest of the skeleton either), we might never know. Theories that have been put forward include as a good luck charm, as a protection charm, for good fortune, to dispose of a piece of unwanted rubbish...I'm open to suggestions and if anyone knows of any other such burials then please let me know.

Another interesting burial was that of a baby, found in the interior of the roundhouse. The interpretation and investigation of the bones is still ongoing so I will not dwell too much on the discovery at this juncture. As with the dog skull the reasons behind this action may never be fully understood.

Finally we have a lovely stone lined box inserted into the floor of the roundhouse.

Unfortunately there was nothing found in it, but we think it was probably used for storage; either for valuables or to keep food nice and cool in the days before refrigerators.

Ouern stones and area of Greensand chippings

The occupants of the roundhouse were relatively well off by Iron Age standards. We have material culture from the two seasons of excavation that tell us they were trading throughout Europe and down to the Mediterranean, but also trading up into the London area. So what did these people have to trade with?

Well the answer is quern stones. A quern stone is used to grind wheat into flour. Well technically you would have a pair of stones, the bottom one being the quern stone and the upper stone being the hand stone. You put the grain in between the stones and rotate the hand stone to grind the flour. They were used in Britain since the Neolithic period (3500BC-2150BC), which is the traditionally held point when the Britons stopped hunting and gathering their food and started farming. Some countries still use them today. If we are being really technical about this the querns at East Wear Bay are Beehive Querns.

East Wear Bay is fairly close to a supply of Greensand stone, a type of sandstone, which the Late Iron Age people in Folkestone exploited to make their beehive querns with. Those living at the settlement were expert stone carvers and the evidence for their years of hard labour comes from the layers upon layers of greensand stone chippings and discarded querns (usually broken during manufacture). This is what it looks like on the ground:

How the trade network worked is a post for a different time but I will say that these querns did not go south, they only went north into the UK. In the 2017 season we will be uncovering more of this working area and building up a bigger picture of this settlement.

Finally I leave you with an image created by Smith Kriek Productions on what our site might have looked like in the late Iron Age:

You can see that large ditch becoming overgrown to the right, the roundhouse we found to the left (the others are conjecture at this point), and the rise in the background is where the Martello Tower #3 proudly stands today.

If you are interested in visiting a reconstructed Iron Age village I recommend either of these places:

All images copyright Canterbury Archaeological Trust and drone shots credited to John Stevens.

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