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Cockering Farm, Thanington

Updated: Jan 12, 2022

Our fieldwork team have been working at Cockering Farm, Thanington, a 42 hectare greenfield development with Robert Masefield of RPS on behalf of Redrow Homes. The site lies to the north of Cockering Road on the southern edge of the River Stour valley, and occupies undulating arable farmland dissected by a dry valley which slopes steeply towards the river, with views towards the city and cathedral.

The site had been initially evaluated by Archaeology South East, who continue to have an involvement in the project, excavating geotechnical test pits to assess palaeolithic artefacts recovered from the underlying Third Terrace River gravels.

Our own team have been collecting a growing assemblage of such palaeolithic worked tools from the gravel surface, including a bi-facial tool with potential evidence for reuse in the Neolithic period.

Much of the archaeology we are working on is of a later prehistoric date. This has included a handful of Neolithic pits, including one containing a placed assemblage of worked flint tools, but otherwise appears to be mainly of Bronze Age date.

One of the most significant elements comprised a Pond Barrow, represented by a concave, gravel lined depression, measuring some 7m in diameter, with surrounding ‘votive’ pits, at least two of which contained inverted pottery vessels, and a third contained a deposit of cremated bone. These early to middle Bronze Age monuments do not always have burials directly placed within them and might instead have provided some other ceremonial or funerary-related function.

A potential building or ‘round-house structure was located adjacent to the pond barrow, likely representing later activity dated to the middle to late Bronze Age. A fragment of a bronze socketed tool was recovered from one of its post-holes.

Much of the later Bronze Age settlement activity was focused within the interior of a large L-shaped boundary ditch, with groups of post-holes and associated pits representing at least four potential structures, at least one of which had evidence for an in situ oven or hearth. The ditch itself measured up to 6m wide by up to 1.8m deep and would have represented a major north-south land boundary traversing the valley slope to the river plain below. The boundary ditch had a potential entrance accessed from the south, defined by a series of ditch segments commonly attributed to control and management of livestock.

As well as these important Bronze Age remains, our work also identified a significant section of one of Canterbury’s principal Roman roads, now represented by Cockering Road, extending towards Roman settlements at Wye and Westhawk Farm, Ashford.

Later activity also included a series of medieval rectangular ditched enclosures fronting onto Cockering Road, at least one of which contained the remains of a probable agricultural outbuilding with associated clay oven, provisionally dated between the late twelfth and early thirteenth century, as well as a number of gravel and chalk quarry pits scattered across the development site.

Despite the difficult geology - no one enjoys digging through clay and gravel - the archaeology at Cockering Farm has proven to be extremely rewarding, and the recovered data is set to make a significant contribution not only to Canterbury’s archaeology, but also to wider regional and national research.

Palaeolithic bifacial tool recovered from surface of river gravels.

Excavating the Pond Barrow and surrounding features.

Placed middle to late Bronze Age pottery vessel.

Richard Helm

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