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The Beaker Period 2500 - 1700 BC

Return to Beaker burials of Thanet -
Part 1

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Beauforts, North Foreland Avenue, Broadstairs (BNF04)

Introduction
Site description
Stratigraphy
The central grave
The coffin-structure
The central burial
Radiocarbon-date
The backfills
The roundbarrow ditch
Post-barrow activity

Other Beaker activity
Other roundbarrows

Specialist reports:
The skeleton
The Beaker
The flint

Beauforts, North Foreland Avenue, Broadstairs (BNF04)

The site at Beauforts, North Foreland Avenue Broadstairs


Introduction

In October/November 2004 an Archaeological Watching Brief on groundworks associated with the foundations for an underground garage at a house known as ‘Beauforts’ in North Foreland Avenue, Broadstairs, revealed part of the circuit of a ring-ditch of a roundbarrow and a rectangular central grave. The grave contained a Beaker burial laid within a (now decayed) wooden coffin-structure.
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The story of the land at Beauforts



Artefact scales in centimetre divisions

Feature scales in 0.5 metre divisions

Site description

The site was located on a south-east facing slope, approximately 200m westwards of the present cliff-line. The underlying natural geology was a deposit of Upper Chalk and the archaeological features were cut into the surface of this chalk at 33.27 to 33.74m AOD (the height 'Above Ordnance Datum').


The slope on which the site rests descends from a plateau to the north-west (at approximately 40m AOD) which forms the roughly north/south running spine of the North Foreland Hill promontory. This hill comprises the eastern side of a broad valley which runs down to the sea in the area of Joss Gap.
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The ditch and grave at Beauforts




The grave after the skeleton had been removed


A small ledge cut at the western end of the grave
The ledge

Stratigraphy

There was no direct stratigraphic relationships between the central grave and the surrounding ring-ditch; (in other words the two features and the deposits which comprised their infills were spatially separate and did not inter-cut or interact with each other).

This means that it is not certain whether the grave or the ring-ditch was constructed first. However convention would suggest that the grave was dug first and the ring-ditch was excavated around it to provide material for a central mound which covered the burial.

The features are discussed below, ordered on this basis.
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The central grave

The grave was rectangular and well-cut, 2.28m long by a maximum of 1.30m wide and with a flattish base cut up to 0.36m below the surface of the chalk. A small ledge was present in the north-west corner.

The grave was orientated east north-east/west south-west through the long axis and contained a crouched inhumation burial; (the skeletal remains of a human laid in a foetal position - typical of Prehistoric inhumation burials). The body had been laid to rest within a coffin-structure and was accompanied by a Beaker vessel.

Soil-mark of a coffin-struture in the Beauforts grave

Note the soil mark of a likely coffin-structure


The coffin-structure

A soil mark visible in the unexcavated grave fill suggested the existence of a rectangular coffin-structure approximately 1.70m long by 0.81m wide.

The excavation of the grave showed that in places chalk spoil had been backfilled around a steep-sided structure. This may have originally been vertically-sided (effectively a box, made either of wood or wicker-work perhaps) which latterly decayed and allowed the chalk backfill to take on a slumped profile.


Alternatively the position of a steeply sloping bank of chalk which encompassed and partially underlay the back of the skeleton might suggest that the coffin-structure could originally have been round-sided - perhaps a hollowed-out log (or similar shape in wicker-work).
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A lady and her Beaker

Note the chalk backfill which partly surrounded the body








The central burial

The remains were those of a woman, probably in her 40’s, who had been laid on her left-hand side with her head to the east end of the grave, facing south. She had likely been buried within a rectangular wooden coffin-structure, with a Beaker positioned at her feet.

A possible additional grave-good may have been a rather utilitarian small end and side scraper recovered from inside the skull during post-excavation work, though this may have been just a relatively contemporary discard.

Plenty of space remained at the western end of the grave beyond the Beaker and this area may have seen the deposition of perishable, organic grave-goods or tributes (such as flowers or carved wooden objects perhaps).

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The central grave at Beauforts


Radiocarbon-date

A bone sample from the skeleton of the central burial was radiocarbon-dated to 2290-2190 BC (64.3%) / 2350-2130 BC (94.4%); (Wk 18732).
The Beaker grave viewed from the eastern end




Beaker sherd from under the primary chalk backfill of the Beaker grave

Sherd from another Beaker vessel found on the base of the grave underlying the primary chalk backfill







The backfills of the central grave

In places the grave was first backfilled around the coffin-structure with chalk spoil (the 'primary' backfill), likely gained from the initial excavation of the grave. This fill was deepest around the northern side and eastern end of the grave, where it extended to the surface of the Upper Chalk natural.

Elsewhere only a shallow and intermittent deposit of chalk spoil was present around the coffin on the base of the grave and this had been covered by a secondary infill of soil.
A single sherd from another comb-zoned Beaker vessel was discovered on the base of the grave (towards the south-easterly corner), underlying the primary backfill of chalk.

No chalk spoil had been backfilled across the area of the body or directly above it. This may well have been intentional. It is not known whether the coffin-structure had a lid of some description, though if so it appears that care was taken not to immediately cover the structure in chalk spoil.

This may have been because the chalk was generally being saved to provide a gleaming-white, highly visible outer face to any mound which may have covered the central burial. An alternative might suggest the existence of a cultural or traditional taboo which prevented the depositing of chalk spoil on a burial. Few Prehistoric burials in general seem to be covered by chalk spoil (those that have been discovered, anyway!).

The first sherd from the Beaker to appear

The first sherd from the Beaker to appear


Soil had infilled the area of the coffin-structure, covering the body and the Beaker. One small rim sherd from the Beaker was found slightly higher up in the grave fill. This shows that there had been some post-depositional movement within the grave. This is also illustrated by the recovery of two worked flints and a finger bone retrieved from inside the skull.

Residual Early Neolithic flint cores and blades were also found in the soil infill which covered the body.
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The roundbarrow ring-ditch

Only a small portion of the ring-ditch was exposed  on site, but as a whole the monument can be estimated as being approximately 15.45m in overall diameter. The ring-ditch was sectioned (excavated) in two places. This revealed a variable but steep-sided and truncated (ie. cut-off) ‘V’ - shaped profile with a flat base.

The full width of the ring-ditch was not exposed with certainty, but can be estimated to be approximately 1.41m. The ditch base was cut 1.44m from the existing ground surface (a maximum of 0.68m below the level of the chalk). The base width varied from 0.40 to at least 0.50m.
Note the vertical-sided block of a much darker coloured soil in the ditch section to the right

It looked like another archaeological section had been dug through the ditch some time previously!

Had the far side of the ditch been exposed and some archaeological work taken place when the house was built?

It looked that way, but was news to us!

The ring-ditch surrounding the grave at Beauforts
Views of the ring-ditch sections from left to right

A section through the ring-ditch at Beauforts

Note the back edge of another feature (a small pit or post-hole) which is just visible  at the edge of the baulk to the right of the base of the second vertical scale


Looking at the baulk section of the ditch, showing an earlier intervention

An old archaeological section visible in the baulk?


Section of the Beauforts ring-ditch

The ditch had a lower, primary infill of pale-coloured soil containing a moderate to profuse scatter of small and medium-sized chalk fragments. The deposit likely derived from a mixture of wind-blown and rain-washed silts, deposited by wind and water erosion of the surrounding groundsurface and through 'soil-creep' on the down-slope. The chalk possibly derived from some of the excavated chalk spoil and/or be the effects of weathering of the sides of the ditch. A re-worked polished flint axe of likely Neolithic date was recovered from the primary ditch fill.

Some slight biasing of the primary infill in places might indicate the former presence of an outer bank or other external spoil-source. However only two small sections could be excavated and this effect may more likely be the result of other, natural factors (such as the direction of the ground-slope and the prevailing wind).

Above the primary ditch fill was an upper, secondary infill comprising a different coloured deposit of soil, though it was otherwise of similar character.

A flint end-scraper typologically of Late Neolithic/Early Bronze Age or otherwise Beaker Period date was found in the secondary ditch fill, but could well be contemporary with the founding of the monument. It had probably lain on the groundsurface for some time before being incorporated (redeposited) into the part-infilled ditch.
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Post-barrow activity

The fills of the barrow ditch contained a distinct lack of evidence for significant activity in the periods following the construction of the barrow. This might be seen as somewhat surprising, however it must be remembered that only a very small portion of the barrow ditch was exposed and excavated.

No other features from later (or any other) periods could be certainly identified. The very back edge of what may have been a small pit or post-hole cut into the outer edge of the ring-ditch could just be seen (though the relationship was uncertain and it was otherwise inaccessible for investigation).

A
substantial, multi-period Iron Age settlement is known to have existed on the top of North Foreland Hill just to the west (Boast, Gardner and Moody 2006). The lack of even the tiniest scrap of Iron Age pottery (a thing frequently encountered in the upper ditch fills of other barrows discovered at the St. Stephen's College site at North Foreland Hill) might suggest that the Beaker barrow ditch could have been in-filled (to the top of of the Upper Chalk at least) by this time.

It may also be that the Beaker barrow lay outside the boundaries of the Iron Age settlement. However an Archaeological Evaluation by the Trust for Thanet Archaeology on land immediately to the north-west of Beauforts at 16 North Foreland Road (NFA93; Perkins 1993) revealed five pits and post-holes, some of which held pot sherds thought of at the time as of possible Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age date (800-300 BC).
Beaker sherd from St. Stephen's College

Beaker sherds from
St. Stephen's College (NFB99)


Beaker sherd from St. Stephen's College

An Early Iron Age burial was also discovered in the roundbarrow found immediately opposite the Beauforts site at Fairacre Lodge (Perkins 1981).
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Other Beaker activity nearby

The only known evidence of specifically Beaker-associated activity nearby comes from excavations at the site of the former St. Stephen's College on North Foreland Hill nearby to the west (NFB99; Boast, Gardner and Moody 2006).

This comprises two comb-decorated Beaker sherds from two different vessels, with another possibly plain Beaker sherd related to one of these existing pots. A fourth sherd from a fingernail-rusticated (ie. fingernail decorated) Beaker was discovered in the fill of the central burial of a large roundbarrow discovered on the site (more below). All the sherds are likely to be residual in their context (being redeposited during a later period).

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Plan of the roundbarrow discovered at Fairacre Lodge
Fairacre Lodge (NFA78)
Site plan (TAU)


Miniature Collared Urn from Fairacre Lodge
Mini Collared Urn (NFA78)

Other roundbarrow monuments nearby

Only 20m to the east another roundbarrow was discovered during the construction of Fairacre Lodge (NFA78; Perkins 1981). The centre of the barrow had already been built-over before archaeologists were called to investigate, but one of the builders had fortunately recovered an Early Bronze Age miniature Collared Urn (possibly circa. 2000 - 1500 BC in date) from what had probably been a central burial.

Skeletal material obtained from the spoil heaps represented the remains of at least five adult inhumations disturbed during the cutting of the foundation trenches for the house.

Evidence of a ring-ditch survived however, along with five other graves (three within the area enclosed by the ditch, one outside it and one possibly cut by it).

One of the burials within was of certain Early Iron Age date and had been inserted into the barrow mound. Dr. Ian Longworth examined the pottery from this grave and noted that it was the closest that the authorities at the British Museum had yet seen to the Early Iron Age pottery of the Marne District in France (Perkins 1981).
See the Roundbarrow Display in the Bronze Age Gallery for some more information and pictures of the St. Stephen's College monuments
Excavations only 150m to the west on top of North Foreland Hill, at the site of the former St. Stephen's College (by the Trust for Thanet Archaeology and initially assisted by Canterbury Archaeological Trust; NFB99/01/03) uncovered two roundbarrows (one causewayed) and a third, apparently burial-less ring-ditch monument. These were set amongst the extensive remains of a large, multi-phase and multi-period Iron Age hill-top settlement (Boast, Gardner and Moody 2006).

The cropmarks of at least two other ring-ditch monuments have been observed on the west-facing slope of North Foreland Hill (and there are probably others nearby).
Note the three modern drainage trenches and the soakaway pit (in the foreground to the left)


The grave is in the centre of the picture



The fact that one trench stopped only inches short of the grave was initially of great concern


Had the grave been seen and excavated beforehand?

As it turned out we and the grave had been very lucky!

Two bodyguards keep an eye on the site while trying to remain inconspicuous


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Analysis Mr....

Photo by Emma Boast


Specialist reports

Click on the links below if you would like to read some short summaries of the specialist reports on the following subjects:

The skeleton
The Beaker
The flint


The story of the land at Beauforts

Click here to read an overview of the Prehistoric story of the land at Beauforts.


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Abbreviations

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


Bibliography

Boast E.J., Gardner O.W. and Moody G.A. 2006. Excavations at St. Stephen's College, North Foreland, Broadstairs, Kent. Trust for Thanet Archaeology report, Issue 1.

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

Perkins D.R.J. 1981. Site 5, North Foreland Avenue, Broadstairs. Interim Excavation Reports 1977-1980. The Isle of Thanet Archaeological Unit, 21-24.

Perkins D.R.J. 1993. An Archaeological Evaluation of a Building Plot at North Foreland Road, Broadstairs. Trust for Thanet Archaeology report.
Natasha Ransom

Natasha Ransom




Jack Russell

Jack Russell (left)

Acknowledgments

I should very much like to thank Natasha Ransom and Jack Russell who both assisted in this excavation. I would also like to take this opportunity to further thank both of them for the contributions they have made (and the fun added) to the investigations of Thanet's archaeology during their time at the Trust.

I would also like to thank Alan Hart who helped in the lifting of the burial and provided much needed illumination on a dark early evening in late autumn!

Sincere thanks go to Maggy Redmond for producing an excellent illustration of the Beaker vessel. A perfect case of Archaeology as Art.

Thanks also to Emma Boast and Ges Moody for the digital version of the Beaker illustration and likewise to Steve Clifton and Susan Deacon for the digitisation of the drawings from the excavation.

Personal thanks go to the developer Joe Rospo and his groundworks team (two of which can be seen in the picture directly above) for their helpfulness, patience and interest.

Particular thanks go to the owners of Beauforts - Mr. and Mrs. Kimble, for commissioning and funding the work and also for their great interest in the archaeology and history of the plot on which their home now rests.

Finally, but most importantly, I would like to acknowledge
the contribution to this project (in what must have been one of his final reports) of the Late Mr. Trevor Anderson, Human Bone Specialist Extraordinaire! A man of great skill and good humour, he is much missed.


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


Paul Hart

Version 1 - Posted 16.12.06
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