Archaeological evidence throws light on efforts to resist ‘the living dead’

A new scientific study of medieval human bones, excavated from a deserted English village, suggests the corpses they came from were burnt and mutilated. Researchers from the University of Southampton and Historic England believe this was carried out by villagers who believed that it would stop the corpses rising from their graves and menacing the living.

Open Meeting

What a great follow up to our "Big Dig" last year

As well as our other ongoing society endeavors we spent time cleaning, marking and collating all the finds from last August, and whilst we are learning everyday, when the chairman of The Kent Archaeology Society (KAS) offers to look at your pottery finds and then takes them to a pottery specialist for identification you grab the generous offer with both hands. At yesterdays open meeting we were honoured to have KAS's chairman lay the finds out and give us a overview of what was identified. I think it's fair to say that all present were thrilled to bits with the results!

Of course if you didn't attend the meeting you'll have to wait now until September to see the results for yourself when we host our History day in the church as part of the Heritage events taking place around the country. Exciting times............

Four trustees and a Magnetometer

A fantastic days instruction on setting out a grid and performing a mag survey!

Many thanks to Andrew Mayfield @ArchaeologyKent for coming out to conduct two days training (the second being tomorrow) for the societies trustees. This will open up a whole new avenue of investigation that the society intends to perform across the whole peninsular, exciting times!!

Buttway Field, St Helen's Church Dig, Cliffe, Kent, Day 15

It's been a really relaxed day onsite today, on the village green. Its been all about excavating the final sections with lots of  "interpretation" and recording. I apologize at the start for the shortness/late time of the blog. With the dig drawing to a close, its time to reflect on some of the finds and today in review I realized, there quite a lot of other finds we haven't reported, like for example the amount of domestic evidence we have found in abundance. The finds include Oyster shell with various other shell fish, various animal bone and teeth, Roman and Medieval tile, bone buttons and beads, a whole array of building materials. Especially noteable are different types of faced and worked flint with a large amounts of fire crack flint/pot boilers, indicating a heavy amount of flint working and use around the site.

Below are some pictures of the trench as it was today. The plan tomorrow is to continue excavations in the lower end, due to the fact its is still producing finds in some areas and there are a few questions remaining in this section.  

Its been another great day onsite with the whole group really putting in a big shift. Phil, Sam and Bill are pictured above taking a well deserve rest. Again Charley one of our young archaeologist was on site before me kit in hand who along with Tom put us adults to shame today.... I just want to say thank you to the whole team for everything they have done in the past 2 weeks, we have a great looking trench and we have gained lots of info about the past and above all lots of experience for the future..  

Although the dig officially finishes tomorrow, we will be keeping the trench open for 1 more week, before back filling to continue the lower sections when time allows around work commitments.   

We are on site tomorrow 10am/5pm, your welcome to come and have a chat and see how things are progressing!!

Buttway Field, St Helen's Church Dig, Cliffe, Kent, Day 13/14

Apologies for the lack of blog yesterday, it has been so frantic on site trying to excavate and record such a large trench with only a few days remaining.... Falling asleep when I got home didn't help :p... Its been really positive within the group today as they realize what a great job they have done in just a few weeks. The trench looks amazing if you appreciate a good trench! I want to thank Gerald from Kent Archaeological society on behalf of the group, for popping in yesterday to help with some great advice, we really appreciate the support of K.A.S.

Onsite today we also received some amazing help from WESSEX archaeology who have already provided the group with training sessions. This time they sent Lisa and Mark (senior field archaeologist) with the gps kit to help us plot and grid the entire Buttway field, we can now place trenches within 5mm for all our future digs.  They stayed onsite to provided advice and support for most of the day and honestly, I have never met 2 more down to earth and experienced professionals. I know I speak for the whole team, old and young when I say thank you to the WESSEX team for helping us make this project a success.  Its great to see this kind of relationship in community archaeology.

The dig itself has produced so much information about our village green, also helping prove the research in terms of the Medieval town of Cliffe. We have now finally begun to see a true picture of what the Resistivity Survey was showing us in terms of archaeology . The high resistivity area shown on the survey is the natural bedrock. It was difficult to interpret because we have overlying building demolition (cuts/fills) in the trench. E.G Chalk/lime mortar, squared chalk blocks. rag stone, face flint.. A very good example of this is in the north section pictured below. 

Although we have established the high resistivity square area is natural, but it doesn't negate the fact the area itself wasn't terraced as a building platform.. This is the only question that remains to be answered here in this area. Over half the trench is now recorded and cleaned, we now have 3 active sections within the trench to finish including an interest ditch in the natural.

The north end by the wall is almost down to the natural bedrock but is still producing finds even in the deepest layers. We were slightly disappointed we didn't find a clear wall lines, but we still know there's a building here... I am sure with magnetometer survey, things will be clearer on how to progress in terms of future digs. The fact we have building features (see below from previous test pits) and natural features interacting, showing on our resitivity survey and now proven in the trench doesn't help!!...

We can see this is a long term project (at least 6 years) and this dig has been fantastic start in terms of finds, I estimate about 30 kilos of finds to clean and process. The finds really have been the star of the show in the past 2 weeks. We have now been digging in Cliffe Parish for 3 years and in all the previous digs, I have never seen the amount and types we were recovering per square meter on the Buttway.

During the dig we have uncovered over 2000 years of local history with Samian ware, shelly ware and basically a local reference collection throughout the medieval period. This I know from what I have seen and has already been I.D, but we have bags and bags still uncleaned, it will take months to process... I will summarize in more detail tomorrow with some more detail on finds and some of the questions we have answered during the dig.

On a more historical research note on Cliffe itself, if you have read this blog and realize we are finding mostly medieval pottery... Its references like this that also help tell the story of the area during this period, added to the fact Cliffe was so important to the Metropolitan church. Now we are finding evidence... 

January 3rd 1326.

Commission to William de Grey and John de Shelvyng to guard all
places along the coast of the Thames between Recolvre, Greyston and Whitstable and search in all places where ships put in, both those entering the realm and those leaving the realm, and to arrest all who are carrying letters prejudicial to the crown, and send such letters with all speed to the king: as he is informed that many persons, to evade the scrutiny of the persons appointed in the several ports for the capture of such letters, are frequently landed there in ships and boats. 
The like to the following in the following places:—

The ports and places in the ports of Gravesend and Clyve (Cliffe) and other places between those towns.

August 15th 1326.

Appointment of Maurice de Brune, Robert de Echynghani, John de Cobham and Roger de Bavent to survey the ships of over 50 tons in the towns and ports of Romenhale, Pevensie, Winchelsea, Rye, Hastings, Hithe, Dovre, Sandwiz, Faversham, Gillingham, Maydenstan, Strode, Clyve (Cliffe), Swannescampe, Grenewiz, Seford and Shorham, and to see that they join Nicholas Kiriel, admiral of the Western fleet at Portsmouth, and that all the lords and masters of the ships of less tonnage are kept in the said towns; and they are to arrest such as have not joined, both ships and men.

Source: King Edward II Patent rolls

The following days will be about finishing the sections within the trench and recording. Brian wins find of the day for some really nice shelly ware (12th century). I want to thank the local community for coming to visit the site, asking questions and showing support. We are on site tomorrow 9.30am/5pm.  

Buttway Field, St Helen's Church Dig, Cliffe, Kent, Day 12

Twelve days of archaeological excavation on the village green, with a trench that measures 13mx3m. The logic being, the more of the features apparent on the resisivity survey we uncover in a larger area, technically should answer many questions we had about the site. Archaeological law 101 on the other hand dictates the the larger the area equals more questions.... Today has been really, really productive is terms of excavation and how we are are working together as a group. On day 12, I am truly scratching my head and thinking this trench is crazy with all the complex archaeology we are now seeing...

For example you see below a picture of the north end of the trench (nearest the church wall), overlaying with our resistivity survey. There should be really nice straight easy to deal with wall lines or at least that is how it appears....

Instead we are now looking at this today in the north section.... You have to love archaeology!! 

I can honestly say today I would give my right arm for a clearer edge/feature, all I can really say is all the flint features across the trench are faced and set into lime/chalk mortar although in the deeper section, we still have a lot of trowel work remaining and the archaeology appears to be more insitu. The North of the trench does look promising in terms of edges though,  when compared to the Demolition layer (so far) in the south end. Finds wise the trench continues not to disappoint, most notable today from the deeper context (above), we had a nice fragment of Samian ware (Bill wins prize find today) but then a few buckets later from the same context Medieval Green ware arrrrrrgggggg!!    

Chris and Brian have again been working the south end of the trench, with Bill, Corri and Andy working the North.  The older Kids Reece, Charlie and Daisy are doing really well on the middle section. Tula, lucy and Maisy along with everyone else helping with the sifting the spoil and sweeping the trench. The finds cleaning station has been extra busy to it all hands on deck... With just 4 days left, I guess its time to thinking about section or two.  Although its clearly a very complex site to deal with, we are having fun, the children especially and things are starting to take shape overall. Everyone has done a great job!!!

We are on site tomorrow from 10am/5pm if your in the area why not come and have a look at what we are doing?

Buttway Field, St Helen's Church Dig, Cliffe, Kent. Day 11

Day 11 proved to be a very wet and muddy day and all the sunshine of the past week seems like a distant memory. I could see the members were keen to carry on, but by 1pm it was obvious we would be unable to continue as we couldn't even sift the spoil coming from the trench.. Still after lunch its was all systems go on the finds station. You have to love British summers!! 

For the few hours we could dig today there are really positive signs that the deeper archaeology at the North end of the trench is undisturbed and the troweling has become much easier. I am confident with the time we have left we will expose what appear on the rsistivity survey to be clearly defined walls and dateable finds are still present within the subsoil. At the South end of the trench the demolition raft is still being cleaned back, it is a very intricate and delicate process. Both Chris and Brian have been working diligently today with this section and I appreciate that this is difficult work.

Fortunately due to lack of info on site, I did say yesterday, I would tell you what exactly it is we are looking around the church and why. So now we go from information about the dig itself to a more general historical narrative of the history of the Hoo peninsular. In particular its important Medieval history long forgotten and little understood.  I apologize before hand if today's blog proves to be a long read, but I promise it will be worth it. So the story begins with a quote from an esteemed gentlemen called T Kerslake back in 1879.

Among the most famous names of places in England, during the long aggressive reigns of Ethelbald and Offa, when, for the largest part of the eighth century, the other kingdoms were more or less threatened with the supremacy of Mercia, was that of a place called Clovesho or Clovesham. Its celebrity has been, no doubt, much enhanced by its intimate connection with the Church History of that period; but it has shared, with many of the names of the localities of the most important events of the history of those times, in a great deal of uncertainty and controversy as to the actual place.

But this Clovesho had necessarily retained its hold upon the public memory of the ages from the eighth to the sixteenth centuries, from the importance to the Church of the great acts of councils, both royal and pontifical, there held and the memory or tradition of the National Church, was, of all others, the most vivid and tenacious of any, during that long period : perhaps the only one which may be said to have bridged it, unbroken by interruptions, such as dynastic revolutions. When the tradition of the actual whereabouts of this famous place comes first into our view, we find it attached to the "Hoo" of Kent above described, and to the place called "Cliffe" there situated.”

Utilizing information from the many archives, archaeological sites, aerial mapping, finds and the increasing amount of academic reports, local inhabitants, clubs, landowners and professionals, it has been possible to build a picture not just of the physical local landscape with regards to settlement and its people, but also how this small piece of Kent has evolved throughout the medieval period and how the Hoo peninsular also fits into the local, regional and national landscape. 

When compared with other known important sites in Kent (remembering Cliffe/Hoo is one of the main 8 old foundations of the metropolitan church in Kent) very little work has been undertaken with regards to the early historic landscape of the Hoo peninsular and its settlements. 

Much of what is currently known about Anglo Saxon Kent is drawn from the few surviving documents of the time such as the Saxon charters or Bede history of England. The corpus of Saxon charters consisted mainly of land grants, made by Kings to important persons usually within the church and provides a fundamental source material for our understanding Anglo-Saxon England, complementing the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and other literary sources. This has provided many important insights into the economic and political structure of the early Anglo Saxon Church. None arguably more so than the formation of the early Christian church by St Augustine’s and the introduction of early law codes and practices, such as the first synodal church councils.

It is evident from the narrative, that these councils were mixed assemblies at which not only the bishops and abbots, but the kings of Mercia and the chief men of the kingdom were present. They had thus the character not only of a church synod, but of the Witenagemot or assembly fairly representative of the Church and realm. The affairs of the Church were decided by the bishops and presided over by the archbishop. While the king, presiding over his chiefs, gave to their decisions the co-operation and acceptance of the State. While it must be remembered that at this period the country was not yet united into one kingdom, as far as we may judge from their signatures, the synods represented the see of Canterbury and the whole English Church south of the Humber.

The Synod of Hertford began on 24 September 673 AD and can be regarded as the beginning of the Church of England as a structural entity. Theodore of Canterbury called a Synod of bishops and learned men of the Church. The Synod included all the Bishops, except Wilfrid of Northumbria who sent representatives in his stead. At this stage, there was no political entity of England and so it can be fairly said, that the Church of England pre-dated the creation of the English nation by about 150 years. The Synod brought greater uniformity to the English churches and led to the consecration of more Bishops. In the decade following the Synod the number increased from 6 to 14. Although it should be remembered that Bishops then had a very different role, much more like a Rector or Incumbent of a large parish today with a roving ministry. Ten Canons were agreed largely to ensure greater co-operation. In furtherance of this, it was decreed “That a synod be held twice a year.” In view of various obstacles, however, it was unanimously agreed that we should meet once a year on the first of August at Clofeshoch. Although the acts of these important councils are not in question, the physical locations however have been the cause of much controversy and debate through the centuries. The first synod of Hertford gave rise to a series of councils in diverse locations. Generally considered to be in proximity to the Thames, London and Canterbury that spanned the Mercian domination of Kent for almost 200 years. This lead to what might be considered the first parliament in England that dealt with matters of administration, law, church and state. Of the diverse records and locations and acts, that survive for these councils, there is no doubt Clovesho was the primary and most important.

Clovesho/ Clofeshoch or as its actually written “Clofes Hoas” the literal translation meaning “Cliffs Hoo”. Cliffe at Hoo and the wider area, has long been argued by many as being the place so famous in the infancy of the English Church. Indeed pre reformation the most learn and respected men of Canterbury accept Cliffe as the location of the early synods of Church, seemingly as given fact. Added to that that, many other recorded council locations (almost all) would seem to be on the Hoo peninsular. The body of evidence is already strong. Although it cannot be accepted that Cliffe or Indeed the wider Hoo peninsular was the actual location, based upon name evidence alone and having been the subject to much debate. It is surprising to learn, that little actual research has been conducted with regards to the Churches and Saxon landscape of the peninsular, or even the vast amount of archive materials held by the church and other archives.

The area of the Hoo peninsular in particular is well documented within the Anglo-Saxon charters even from a time where such records are rare. It is clear that the land in this part of North West Kent was valuable to the early Saxon elites with no less than 22 charters each containing unique information regarding dates, place names, settlements, landownership, size.  The charters also give much information about the elites and society in the area. Later medieval records of the peninsular, reflect this value to the church in particular the parishes of St Werburg Hoo and Cliffe.

The Hoo Peninsula is situated in a commanding position on the North Kent coast, surrounded almost entirely by the historic Thames and Medway rivers. The peninsular itself consists of an extensive elevated chalk premonitory, enclosing clay and sand hills, fertile arable land mixed with woodland along it spine. The peninsular is surrounded by the broad alluvial expanse of the North Kent marshes. Previous investigations of early Saxon sites in the north east of the county, tell us the early jutish settlers favored the more fertile soils of the coastal plains and river valleys. The historic record of the peninsular proves that these early settlers were attracted to this resource rich peninsula.  Many past and more recent archaeological excavations show wholesale settlement by the Saxon was taking place from the very earliest period in the migration. The Hoo peninsular is perfectly suited for settlement, with the surrounding with rivers providing key transport and trade links directly opposite there continental homelands in Europe. The proximity of Rochester, Canterbury and London via Roman road Watling Street and the Roman crossing into Essex at the Thames. This places Cliffe and the Hoo peninsular in the very center of a politically turbulent and important period in British history.

This information only reflects one part of the our research as a whole, but I would argue, for a period of time the national focus would have been on this area and the acts of these early parliaments.  It begs the question, what sort of a building/church estate could house all the Kings and Bishops of England as well as there entourage once a year?? Given comparative studies on similar sites, the ecclesiastical foundation and medieval character of Cliffe, the buildings in question must be within the church monastic footprint (Cannon Law). That is what all the recent digs and years of surveys and study concerning this area in the village have been about. Essentially we are looking for evidence of the early Anglo-Saxon/later Collegiate Medieval monastic estate and I know we are very lucky to have an "interesting" site to explore as all the clues are well recorded.  Who knows whats under this village on the naturally defended mouth of the Thames, in the coming years we may have some answers...

If you want to know more about any of the local history, St Helens church or the dig itself we are onsite 10am/5pm...