Kent Archaeological Review extract

Arid Archaeology at Radfield.
by Ralph Mills.

Drivers making for the beckoning sea-side down the A2 last summer might have noticed a straggle of dusty, bent figures hobbling towards Teynham with swollen tongues and lobster-coloured limbs, cackling wearily about opening time, Romano-British settlements and the laxative properties of Shepherd Neame Mild. The crossing keeper at Stone level crossing became accustomed to a wild-looking, red-haired cyclist who rattled past puffing noisily into the early morning mists and a flock of frustrated rams, when not dreaming of Autumn, soon got used to the motley band of semi-clad people who were digging rectangular holes in their food (apart from one who decided that this was the last straw and showed his disapproval by dying noisily). The sun grinned down as Sittingbourne's intrepid archaeologists gingerly persuaded several large and fearsome horses not to stand right in the middle of the excavation or dislodge their fleas using the hastily-erected fencing, or disuaded the huge packs of fruit-pickers' dogs (well, three at least) from re-excavating our carefully filled-in pits full of empty baked beans tins (the Sittingbourne and Swale's offering to future archaeologists). Tent pegs were forced painfully into the rock-hard soil; butter melted over the site directors notes; the police took great interest in the digging of various cess pits, though none in the actual archaeology; mice ran backwards and forwards and mated successfully in the spoil heaps; the pubs ran out of beer; five diggers retired with acute sunburn, though one returned to entertain the site by peeling quarto-sized sheets of papery skin from his blistered back with evident satisfaction; mosquitoes whined around late-night primus-stove kettle boilers.

By one of those strange archaeological quirks of fate this year's Sittingbourne and Swale Group's training excavation, directed by Ralph Mills, coincided with August's heat-wave (it usually rains!) and resulted in deposits drying to reinforced-concrete hardness and diggers wilting in conditions second only to Egypt. However work at Radfield struggled on, and it was perhaps fortunate that the area chosen for excavation was almost completely featureless, apart from some Roman ploughing alignments and one shallow pit. Nevertheless the usual vast haul of first-and second-century pottery was made, and the clink of trowel on cement was enlivened by half a dozen coins, an early first-century brooch and the skeleton of the farmer's pet cat. The excavation was, for the first time at Radfield, an area one covering 60 square metres, and it was hoped that this might uncover some evidence of structures. But early hopes were soon dashed -- Radfield still lacks any definite buildings, despite very rich refuse deposits spread over a large area.

Also, for the first time the dig was a full-time one, running for three weeks. Diggers came from as far afield as London, Eastbourne and Norwich, though most came from the Swale area. Some camped on the site and found it much more enjoyable than might have been expected, positioned as they were between an encampment of lorry-mad fruit pickers and the never-ending roar of traffic on the A2. This was, of course, after they had learnt not to trip over the datum pegs after every visit to the Elsan...

Despite all the distractions of thirst, bikini-clad nymphs, far-off ice cream vans (a mirage?), hot trowels, bronchitic sheep, leering equines and singed necks the various lessons were learnt and should the Group ever have to dig in Iran they'll know what to do. Thanks go to the landowners -- Sir Leslie Doubleday Ltd -- for their continuing help and encouragement; to the bailiff, Mr R Booker, who has now retired, no doubt much to his relief, to a cottage which isn't on top of a Roman settlement and to those firms who donated money to support the excavation -- Freegard Press Ltd, Shell Research Ltd, and Peter Birch Ltd. The CKA and several individuals also helped financially. And no-one is forgetting the hard work of those diggers who managed to survive the tough conditions and who sweltered through the deposits. Mad dogs and all that...

Work on the report of this and previous excavations at Radfield is being carried out at the Court Hall, Milton Regis, where the finds can be examined by arrangement with the Group or on any Friday evening.

PHOTO: The evening shift at Radfield -- work carried on 12 hours a day.

The evening shift at Radfield -- work carried on 12 hours a day. Ralph Mills

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