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The Beaker Period 2500 - 1700 BC

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Finds from Beaker burials on Thanet

Cottington Lane
St. Peter's Refuse Tip
Manston Runway
North Foreland Avenue
QEQM Hospital Margate

Finds from Beaker burials on Thanet

The Isle of Thanet
Sattelite Image of East Kent and the Isle of Thanet
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Artefact scales in centimetre divisions

Feature scales in 0.1 and 0.5 metre divisions

This display shows some of the finds recovered from Thanet Beaker burials.

Occasional Beaker sherds have been found in various contexts from sites across Thanet but complete vessels  tend to occur only in graves.

On available evidence twelve certain discoveries of  Beaker burials are recorded on Thanet and there may have been at least thirteen. This is no doubt an underestimate of the true total of Beaker burials.

Cottington Lane, Ebbsfleet

Cottington Lane Beaker

The Beaker shown above was discovered during excavations by the Trust for Thanet Archaeology at Ebbsfleet in 1990. It accompanied a burial which was found beside a much later Roman foundation.

This building had intruded on part of the grave and had only narrowly missed destroying it altogether! One wonders how many other burials of the period have been destroyed by later development across the Island?

Radiocarbon-dating of the burial associated with the Beaker places it between 2195-1880 BC. 

St. Peter's Refuse Tip

St. Peter's Refuse Tip Beaker

Pictured above is a Beaker found in a roundbarrow during excavations at St. Peter's Refuse Tip in 1969/71. The vessel was accompanied by an archer’s wristguard (shown below).

The wristguard is made of a non-local mudstone. This would have been a prestigious object for the owner and is the only one known from Thanet. At least four others have been found in the rest of Kent (Smythe 2006).

Archer's wristguard found with the St. Peters Beaker

The use of Beakers was not restricted to high status or prestigious contexts, they were used in everyday domestic roles as well. Beaker settlements are rarely encountered however and appear to be as elusive as those of the Neolithic period.

This has been taken to indicate that both the Neolithic and Beaker-using people lived a mobile ‘transhumance’  lifestyle. It may also be that archaeologists have not been looking in the right places! However on current evidence it does seem that the practice of settled farming in clearly-defined farmsteads did not become well established until the Middle Bronze Age.

Manston Runway Approach

Manston Runway Approach Beaker
The Manston Runway Approach roundbarrow

Manston Runway Approach roundbarrow

Scale in 0.1 metre divisions

Photo by TAU
Photographer unknown

The pot above was recovered from a roundbarrow under the approach to Manston Airport. The Beaker accompanied the burial of a slightly built adult, laid north/south with their head facing east.

The Beaker is of a ‘Late’ form called ‘Long Necked’. This may have been an indigenous development from the ‘Short-Necked’ Beakers which originated in the Netherlands.

The vessel is asymmetrical and rather poorly and carelessly decorated; unusual for these generally high-quality vessels.

Radiocarbon-dating places this Beaker between 2140-1885 BC.

Jet button found with the Manston Runway Beaker

Two other typical Beaker grave-goods were included with this burial – a jet button (pictured above and below) and a flint knife (pictured further below).
Look closely and you'll see the many cut-marks and scratches which mark the surface of the reverse side of this button and were a result of its manufacture

Reverse of the jet button found with the Manston Runway Beaker

The jet button has been perforated by two holes which form a ‘V’ and allow it to be tied to a garment. The raw material for this object comes from the area around Whitby.

It is the only button known to have been found in a Beaker grave on Thanet.

Flint knife found with the Manston Runway Beaker

As grave goods such buttons usually occur as single examples only. That may be a reflection of their value and cost at that time. It is likely that their 'display-value' far outweighed their practical function.

North Foreland Avenue, Broadstairs

The Beaker below was discovered in 2004 on a development in North Foreland Avenue, Broadstairs. It came from a roundbarrow and accompanied the burial of a woman who was probably at least 40. The Beaker is also of the 'Late', 'Long-Necked' variety and has an associated radiocarbon-date of 2350-2130 BC.

Beauforts North Foreland Beaker

It is well-made and well decorated, but is not perfect.

The vessel has a large hole near the base which was present when the pot was buried. This may have been broken as part of the burial ritual. The missing pieces were not included in the grave, however.

Beauforts North Foreland Beaker
The Beauforts North Foreland grave prior to full excavation

North Foreland Beaker grave

As you can see from the image of the burial below, the woman was buried in a ‘crouched’ position typical of Prehistoric inhumation burials. The soils which filled the grave (see picture left) suggest that she may have been buried in a wooden coffin-like structure.

The photograph below shows a deposit of chalk rubble around the top left and bottom right-hand corners of the grave. This formed the primary backfilling deposit. The steepness of its edges around the top left-hand corner suggest that it must have butted against a structure that surrounded her body.
Scales in 0.5 metre divisions

Beauforts North Foreland Beaker burial

This part of North Foreland saw the construction of several roundbarrows in the Earlier Bronze Age, following a lead that may have begun in the Late Neolithic. It seems to have become the focus for a cemetery complex for the area's Earlier Bronze Age communities.

More probably await discovery in the gardens around the North Foreland Estate!

QEQM Hospital, Margate
Scale in 0.1 metre divisions

Photo by Susan Deacon (TTA)

QEQM Beaker burial

Pictured above and below is the most recent Beaker burial to have been found on Thanet. It was discovered on the 1st June 2005 on a development site adjacent to the QEQM Hospital in Margate and came hot on the heels of the North Foreland Beaker, found the previous November.

This vessel also appears to have a large hole in its side. It is not known whether the missing sherds were incorporated within the grave though, because the soft and friable condition of the pot fragments make it virtually unrestorable.

The Beaker is of an 'Early Style' and has an associated radiocarbon-date of 2460-2200 BC; the earliest potential date yet associated with a Thanet Beaker.

 Photo by Susan Deacon (TTA)

QEQM Beaker burial

This burial contained three barbed and tanged flint arrowheads (pictured below) which accompanied the 'Bell' Beaker.

This type of Beaker is often associated with archery grave-goods, but the inclusion of arrowheads is a first for a Thanet Beaker burial.

They may be only the second (possibly the third) such association in
Kent and likely comprise the largest single assemblage recovered from a Beaker grave.

QEQM Beaker burial arrowheads

The first arrowhead to appear was discovered by our Webmeister and Deputy Director - Ges Moody. It was a magic moment for all those present!

The arrowheads appear fresh and un-used and were possibly made specifically to be deposited with the body.

Scale in 0.1 metre divisions

Photo by TTA

QEQM second burial

The Beaker burial was accompanied by a secondary inhumation (pictured above) cut through the northern (head) end of the primary burial.

The later individual was female, possibly between 25-35 years of age. She was laid out the opposite way round to the earlier burial, but this allowed her to share the same east-facing orientation. Perhaps the position was also to allow her to be close to the Beaker as well.

Does this suggest that there was there a close association between these two people in life?

The later burial was also accompanied by a flint arrowhead, though of much cruder form (see below). This object was discovered when the skeleton was being cleaned; it was found inside the skull!

Arrowhead from the second burial at QEQM



TAU - Thanet Archaeological Unit.
TTA - Trust for Thanet Archaeology.


Ashbee P. 2005.  Prehistoric Kent. Tempus.

Clark D.L. 1970.  Beaker Pottery of Great Britain and IrelandCambridge University Press.

Gardner O.W. and Moody G.A. 2006. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital, St. Peter's Road, Margate, Kent. Trust for Thanet Archaeology report.

Hart P.C. 2005. Beauforts, North Foreland Avenue, Broadstairs, Kent. Trust for Thanet Archaeology report.

Jay L. 1995. Thanet Beakers.  Trust for Thanet Archaeology.

Smythe J. 2006. An Early Bronze Age wristguard from Kent. Kent Archaeological Society Newsletter n0.69. p.16.

The text is the responsibility of the author; the photographs are by the author unless otherwise stated.

Paul Hart

Version 1 - Posted 01.04.06

Version 2 - Posted 09.04.06
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