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The Beaker Period  2500 - 1700 BC

Return to Beaker burials of Thanet - Part 1

Display Contents
QEQM Hospital, Margate (NAM05)

Introduction
Site description
Stratigraphy

The primary grave
The coffin-structure
The central burial
Radiocarbon-date
The backfills

The secondary grave
The secondary burial
The backfill

Observations

Other Beaker activity

Specialist reports:
The Skeletons
The Beaker
The Flint


QEQM Hospital, Margate (NAM05)

The QEQM Beaker burial

Photo by Susan Deacon (TTA)


Introduction


An Archaeological Excavation on the site of a new building for nurse’s accommodation at the adjacent hospital revealed a large oval flat-grave containing a crouched inhumation Beaker burial which had been placed within a (subsequently decayed) wooden coffin-structure and was accompanied by three finely-made barbed and tanged flint arrowheads.
Artefact scales in centimetre divisions
These are the first flint arrowheads ever recorded to have been recovered from a Beaker burial on Thanet. They may be only the third such occurrence recorded in Kent, with single examples known from Cliffe (Kinnes et al 1998) and possibly Sittingbourne (though this is uncertain).







The Beaker grave had subsequently been cut by the smaller, irregular oval-shaped grave of a later (though probably virtually contemporary) secondary crouched inhumation burial. This body was also accompanied by a barbed and tanged flint arrowhead, though of much cruder form.

Other features revealed on site included an Earlier Neolithic pit, an Anglo-Saxon Sunken Featured Building and a group of intercutting quarry pits.
Excavating the Beaker burial at QEQM

Excavating and recording the Beaker burial at QEQM

Photo by TTA


Site description

The site lay on the west-facing slope of a valley which runs roughly south-east/north-west and heads towards the sea and the main bay at Margate. Further inland the valley links with the eastern extent of the central plateau area of Thanet. It is not known whether this valley held a stream in ancient times, but one may think it possible.

The natural geology of the site comprised a deposit of Upper Chalk. The elevation varied from 31.7m AOD at the east of the site to 22.2m AOD on the valley bottom to the west (Gardner and Moody 2006).


Stratigraphy

The relationship between the Beaker grave and the secondary grave could be clearly determined as the latter cut through a deposit of chalk packing which had been backfilled around the former.
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Recording the Beaker burial at QEQM

Recording the Beaker burial
at QEQM

Photo by TTA


The primary, Beaker grave

This was a large, well-cut oval pit (2.58m long by 2.08m wide by 0.45m deep) with vertical sides and a flat base.

The backfills likely indicated that the pit had contained a wooden coffin-structure within which had been laid a crouched inhumation burial accompanied by a pottery Beaker and three barbed and tanged flint arrowheads.

Two scenarios concerning the deposition of the burial are possible. One is that a large, pre-existing, chalk-filled pit had been subsequently re-cut to take the Beaker burial (Gardner and Moody 2006). In this scenario perhaps a smaller coffin structure (fitting the ‘void’ noted below) may have been placed within and backfilled around with soil. The alternative is that the pit was dug solely to take the coffin and was subsequently backfilled (around the coffin-structure) by chalk spoil.
The rectangular soil mark of the coffin-structure within the
large oval Beaker grave

Around the left and right-hand side can be seen the deposit of chalk which was the primary backfill deposit around the coffin-structure

The soil backfill of the smaller secondary grave can be seen to cut the chalk fill across the top right-hand corner

A small break in the circuit of the chalk backfill towards the base of the grave (below the scale and the black plastic liner) is the result of the previous evaluation of part of this feature by Archaeology South East earlier in the year

The Beaker and secondary graves prior to excavation

Pre-excavation photo of the two grave-pits

Scales in 0.5 metre divisions

Photo by TTA



The coffin-structure

The (now decayed) coffin-structure was rectangular and steep-sided. It may have comprised a large wooden box-like construction or could have been a hollowed-log (a maximum of 2.19m long by 1.26m wide, with another partial soil-mark of 1.84m long by 0.64m wide perhaps denoting an internal void).

This coffin-structure had been set within an oval pit and orientated approximately north-south down the long axis of the grave.
The QEQM Beaker burial

The QEQM Beaker burial


Scale in 10 centimetre divisions

Photo by Susan Deacon (TTA)

The Beaker burial

Inside the coffin-structure was the skeleton of a strong, muscular adult male approximately 40-50 years of age (Tatham in Gardner and Moody 2006). He had been laid on his left-hand side with his head to the north and facing east.

A Beaker had been positioned behind the man’s head and as discovered was laying over towards the head in a slightly inverted position. The burial was also accompanied by three finely-made barbed and tanged flint arrowheads, found behind his lower back. Two were of Conygar Hill type and one was of Green Low type (Green 1980).


Radiocarbon-date

A sample of bone from the Beaker burial was radiocarbon-dated to between 2350-2270 BC (37.6%) / 2460-2200 BC (95.4%), (Wk 18733).
Fingernail-rusticated Beaker sherds from the backfill of the QEQM Beaker burial

Fingernail-rusticated Beaker sherds and a Beaker base from the backfill of the Beaker grave

Base sherd from the backfill of the Beaker grave at QEQM

The backfills

Following the deposition of the coffin-structure and its contents pure chalk had been backfilled around it.

Soil had infilled the interior of the coffin-structure, presumably after any lid that may have covered the coffin had decayed.

Sherds from at least two other Beakers (one fingernail-rusticated) were present in the fill, along with some contemporary flint flakes. Unusually however there was a distinct lack of any earlier, residual flintwork (absent by chance or purposely cleared and excluded perhaps?).



The secondary grave at QEQM

The secondary grave at QEQM

Photo by TTA
Scale in 0.2 metre divisions



The Sutton B barbed and
tanged flint arrowhead
 
The Sutton B arrowhead from the secondary burial

It was discovered inside the skull of the secondary burial during post-excavation work by Natasha Ransom

Early Bronze Age base sherd from the backfill of the secondary grave

Early Bronze Age base sherd from the backfill of the secondary grave


The secondary grave

The secondary grave was a smaller, shallower and more roughly cut irregular oval-shaped  pit (1.30m long by 0.86m wide by 0.26m deep). It had been dug across the north-east corner of the larger grave-pit containing the Beaker burial.

The secondary burial


The secondary burial held the remains of an adult female, perhaps 25-35 years of age (Tatham in Gardner and Moody 2006). She had been laid on her right-hand side, facing east.

A barbed and tanged flint arrowhead of crude ‘Sutton B’ form (Green 1980) was recovered from inside the skull during post-excavation work. It is somewhat asymmetrical (which may represent reworking) but is otherwise fresh and might also have been made for depositing with the body - though by a much less skilled flintknapper than the one who made the arrowheads found in the Beaker burial .

The position of the arrowhead suggests it may have originally been placed very close to the head  of the deceased and had seen a significant degree of post depositional movement.
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The backfill

The grave had been backfilled with soil and base sherds from at least two Early Bronze Age (possibly Beaker?) vessels were recovered from the grave fill.





Observations

The circumstances of the burials suggest a close, perhaps family bond between these two people.

Both burials probably occurred in a relatively short period of time and demonstrate that the Beaker flat-grave was visibly marked in some way on the ground surface (perhaps by a small mound at the very least; no post-holes were observed).

East-facing Beaker burials

A similar preference has been noted in Yorkshire, where male Beaker burials were laid on their left-hand side, facing east and seemed to be reversing a trend seen in their Neolithic burials which generally were placed on their right-hand side and faced west (Tuckwell 1975).

The secondary burial had been cut into the existing Beaker grave pit, possibly excavated right up against the latter's coffin-structure. This seems like an attempt to inter the new burial as close to the head and Beaker of the earlier burial as possible and thus would suggest that these mourners had knowledge of its existence. The flint arrowheads also add to the degree of affinity seen between the graves.

The secondary burial had also been laid facing the same easterly direction, a circumstance which seems to occur fairly frequently in Thanet Beaker burials.
The QEQM grave plans
The QEQM grave plans


Analysis of the skeletal remains by Dr. Sarah Tatham led her to conclude that both individuals led very active physical lives. Dental evidence suggested diets low in sugars and gritty foodstuffs. No evidence of disease or injury remained on the bones (though this may have been due to post-mortem erosion in the ground). She suggested that it was possible that both had died of short infectious illnesses which left no traces on the skeletons.
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Barbed and tanged flint arrowhead from Drapers Mills

Barbed and tanged flint arrowhead from Drapers Mills

Other Beaker activity nearby

Other evidence of Beaker-associated activity nearby comes from the site of Drapers Mills School, Margate.

An excavation in 2005 by the Trust for Thanet Archaeology
(DMM05) revealed a single sherd of rusticated Beaker which likely came from a feature which had been disturbed by later activity on the site. Flintwork recovered from the same feature included some scrapers which could well have been Beaker Period. Taken together it seemed likely that a Beaker pit had existed there.

Closeby another excavation conducted previously by the Thanet Archaeological Unit (DMS80/81) uncovered what may have been the entrance shaft of a flint mine. The later backfills of this feature produced the finest and most delicate barbed and tanged flint arrowhead yet discovered on Thanet. While not actually Beaker associated, this find should date from the Beaker Period or Early Bronze Age.
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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 skeletons
The Beaker
The flint arrowheads



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Abbreviations

TTA - Trust for Thanet Archaeology.
WK - University of Waikato.


Bibliography

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

Green H. Stephen 1980. The flint arrowheads of the British Isles. BAR British Series 75.

Kinnes I., Cameron F., Trow S., and Thomson D. 1998. Excavations at Cliffe, Kent. British Museum Occasional Paper no. 69. 

Tatham S. 2006. The Human Bone in Gardner O.W. and Moody G.A. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital, St. Peter’s Road, Margate, Kent. Trust for Thanet Archaeology report, Part 4.

Miss Susan Deacon heads back home to Australia

Susan Deacon

Hat scale in 0.015 metre divisions approximately

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank all those who participated on this excavation, namely Susan Deacon and Natasha Ransom, Oliver Gardner, Phil Lanzon, Ges Moody (Directing), Bob Pantony and John Villette.

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the efforts of Susan Deacon (pictured left) who did sterling work for Thanet Trust from 2003-2006 (in all weathers, the most inclement of which were inside the office during winter time) and who has now returned to her native Australia.



The text is the responsibility of the author; the photographs are by the author and other members of the Trust for Thanet Archaeology (credited where known) unless otherwise stated.


Paul Hart

Version 1 - Posted 16.12.06
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