Thanet Earth, Isle of Thanet

Client: Thanet Earth Limited

Running for over a year between 2007 and 2008 Thanet Earth is the biggest project undertaken by CAT, encompassing an area of some 47 hectares. The works were undertaken prior to the construction of seven industrial scale greenhouses and a packing warehouse. Work on an associated 5km long pipeline followed in 2010. 


Unusually, the site was not archaeologically evaluated prior to development, this partly due to the limited timescale for completion of the first phase of the development. There was thus little indication of the quantity, density or type of archaeological resource that might be revealed or the resources needed to deal with it, at least during the earlier phases. As such staff numbers were fluid, changing in response to the needs of the site. Around 50 excavators were present on site during the busiest periods.


Although little specific archaeological information was available for most of the site, cropmarks in and around the southern area indicated the presence of prehistoric ring-ditches. Further north, enclosure complexes, trackways and other features of uncertain date were evident. These included another probable round barrow and, clustering nearby, potential Anglo-Saxon graves.

Thanet Earth: The remains of a Bronze Age 'barrow'
Thanet Earth: recording an Iron Age pit

In the event, about 1500 feature groups were identified. These included nine barrows, sixty-three structures, aroundseventy-five sunken-featured structures, about seventy enclosures and thirty-three trackways (including droveways and hollow ways), and a considerable number of burials (both inhumation and cremation burials, all of prehistoric or Roman provenance). The sheer scale of this project was exceptional, allowing the recording of landscape development over a period of some 9,000 years.


The earliest feature on the site was a Neolithic pit from which particularly early evidence for agriculture was recovered. All of Bronze Age date, one of the barrows was exceptionally well preserved with the burial and its associated grave goods undisturbed in a central grave. A large number of Beaker period burials were excavated, the largest from any single project in Kent. Of early to middle Iron Age date, part of a substantial settlement was excavated on the site of the new packing warehouse. This was formed by 300 large storage pits together with associated post-hole structures. An unusual cemetery of middle Iron Age to early Romano-British date lay slightly to the north. Roman features were not numerous though a modest number of cremation burials were excavated, with several of these containing grave goods. 


Several of the Roman burials were clustered around one of the Bronze Age barrows, with a small Anglo-Saxon settlement that was represented by two sunken-featured buildings and a well also encountered in this area. During the medieval period seventy sunken buildings were dug, many of which contained large ovens and associated internal structures. These unusual structures were virtually unique at the time of excavation, though a small number have been located since. They seem to relate to grain and bread production on an industrial scale. There was less activity evident on the site during the post-medieval period though both a windmill and a seamark were identified at the southern end of the development. The latest feature on the site was of Second World War date, probably connected with RAF Manston.