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THE WOLVERTON DIG

Early Bronze Age Barrows & ANGLO SAXON CEMETERY

 

Interim Report: Early Bronze Age Barrows and Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Wolverton, near Dover, Kent.

Vince Burrows and Dr Andrew Richardson

 

Introduction

The Wolverton Project is part of a long-term research initiative within Alkham Valley, designed to investigate probable Bronze Age funerary sites and their landscape setting ahead of future agricultural erosion. The project has served as a successful fieldwork training opportunity for volunteers and university students studying archaeology at the University of Kent at Canterbury. Our initial work was focused on a downland ridge to determine the site as a barrow cemetery, identify the quantity of sub-surface features on and around the ridge and establish the degree of archaeological preservation. This has involved one season of fieldwork -2007- with a second term planned for 2008.

This report concerns the site of an Anglo Saxon cemetery of the 6th to 7th AD and a newly discovered Early Bronze Age Barrow cemetery situated above the small hamlet of Wolverton near Chilton Farm, Alkham Valley, near Dover. The Anglo-Saxon cemetery first seems to have come to notice during the 1970s before being independently re-discovered in early 2007. The site is located on a bull-nosed spur between two valleys facing northeast on the North Downs, within and overlooking the eastern end of the Alkham Valley, and lies close to the south-eastern Alkham Parish boundary [near Dover].

In 2007, the area of the site was grazed pasture, although it had been under cultivation the previous year. The underlying geology is chalk, reached at between 4 cm and 56 cm below present ground level. Mrs. Rebecca Burrows identified a number of visible low mounds, the most prominent being visible on the skyline from a distance, as a potential Bronze Age barrow cemetery in 2005.  Despite the presence of a visible mound, there is no record of the site being identified or investigated. At some point during the 1970s metal detectorists who recovered several artefacts searched the site. Some of this material, including a shoe-shaped belt stud, a shield-on-tongue copper alloy buckle tongue and part of a silver-gilt plated disc brooch, was passed to Keith Parfitt more than 20 years later via a third party (Keith Parfitt, pers.comm). These finds date from 6th to early 7th centuries and were placed in store at Dover Museum in 1994.

These original discoveries led to an investigation by members of the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit. This apparently took place circa 1975 on a very foggy morning, chosen so as to hide the excavation from onlookers (John Willson pers comm.). Two small trenches were excavated, each containing the sparse skeletal remains of Anglo-Saxon burials (Graves 1 and 2). At least one of these burials contained grave goods, possibly an iron knife and or part of a spear. Subsequent to this excavation, the Unit is believed to have persuaded the farmer to refuse further access to the site of the farm to the metal detectorists who had made the initial discovery. Mr. Philp may have been concerned that the site might be subject to further metal detecting, and therefore kept the location (and, indeed, existence) of the site a close secret. When the co-author was working on his PhD thesis on the Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Kent, the metal work finds in Dover Museum were brought to his attention by Keith Parfitt and was subsequently published (Richardson 2005, volume II, 2, site 291). However it should be noted that the grid reference given in this publication was incorrect, being based upon a vague verbal description of the find-spot given to Keith Parfitt with the metal finds. There are no reports of further discoveries or investigations at the site until March 2007, when local amateur archaeologist and co-author Vince Burrows obtained permission to carryout a geophysical survey (undertaken by Sub Scan South-East) and archaeological evaluation of the visible mound site in order to confirm that this was an ancient barrow.

The initial one-day geophysical survey over an area of 260 square metres revealed indications of three irregular oval ring ditches, two possible smaller ring ditches, evidence for inhumations and several other anomalies. During the first phase of our excavations over the most prominent mound (MI) seen on the skyline, our primary trench found that the north and south axis’s of the ring-ditch had been totally ploughed-away although, a secondary trench positioned east-west located half of the western side of the ring-ditch enclosing the area of raised chalk with no surviving mound.  In Trench 1, an Anglo-Saxon inhumation containing a large iron knife was discovered.  Andrew Richardson was contacted at this point and assisted with the planning and lifting of this burial, now designated grave 3 (grave numbers 1 and 2 being assigned to those graves said to have been excavated by KARU).  Subsequently a further burial was located when Trench 1 was extended.  Since this was seen to have a large quantity of skeletal material in the upper fill, the decision was taken to excavate this, as it was believed to be either a very shallow or disturbed burial.  In fact it proved to be two burials; grave 5, was an intact Anglo-Saxon inhumation containing some iron rivets, possibly the remains of boat planking.  This had cut an earlier burial (grave 4), of which only part of the feet remained in situ; the rest of the bones from this grave were found jumbled in the fill of grave 5.  It is possible that this represents the primary prehistoric burial located just off centre on mound I.  Hopefully C14 dating will provide an answer to this. A further 6 graves (graves 7-12) were located by Burrows during excavations up until November 2007.  These graves were evaluated and deemed deep enough to be not at threat; they were therefore planned but left unexcavated.

On and around Monument I, three burials were found to be slightly offset in a row aligned east west, two burials aligned NNE-SSW, two NNW- SSE and one north south. To date, two clusters of 8 burials focused on the monument have been identified. Grave goods from burials 3 & 5 include an iron knife with remains of a wooden handle (grave 3) and 8 iron nails with remains of wood attached (grave 5). Finds from the fills of graves 3-5 also include 2 sherds of flint-tempered pot, 1 sherd of medieval pot and 19 struck flint flakes of which 12 are tertiary flakes, 1 is a primary flake and 5 are secondary retaining modicum of cortex.  At least 4 can be classed as blades. The small assemblage is consistent with the general scatter of waste flint debris resulting from flint working in the Neolithic and Bronze Age period and widespread on the chalk downlands in this area (Geoff Halliwell pers. comm.). The finds are to be deposited with Dover Museum.

Conclusion

This cemetery probably served a settlement somewhere in the vicinity of the small hamlet of modern Wolverton although the farm at Chilton was probably already established and perhaps utilizing the same ridge cemetery. The tight cluster of the 8 observed interments focused on the mound; suggest that Monument I may have still been reasonably upstanding during the early Anglo-Saxon period. Place name research records Chilton Farm (Alkham, Kent); a place-name found in various counties, usually “farm of the young (noble)men” from Old English cild + tun; (Oxford Dictionary English Place Names). Children’s farmstead 1240 AD & Chiltone 1323 AD. “The children that owned these farmsteads were younger sons of a family, who inherited their property under the Kentish law of Gavelkind: the partible inheritance of land”. (Place Name of Kent). Wolverton is recorded as Wulfhere`s farmstead (OE Wulfhering tun Wulfincton’ 1226 Wolfrynton’ 1327 Wolvrynton 1331).

Within the adjacent Dour Valley, near Dover, a number of possible or excavated Anglo-Saxon cemetery sites have been identified at *Durham Hill, Priory Hill, High Meadow, Old Park, Lousyberry Wood, Watersend and Buckland (Evison 1987, 176-7; Parfitt 1998) all lie on chalk spurs which jut out from the main valley side, each one placed on a promontory, roughly midway down the valley side. Their location is striking and almost predictable in its regularity. There can be little doubt that each of these burial sites was originally associated with a settlement, most probably located in the bottom of the valley adjacent to the river. Unlike the wealth of the grave goods recorded from these cemeteries, those excavated at Wolverton demonstrated the opposite although, this discovery has provided further new information concerning the distribution of Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, which, may continue west along the adjoining Alkham Valley.

The location of the cemetery at Wolverton on the downland spur correlates well to the immerging pattern identified along the course of the Dour Valley at Dover. In addition, most, if not all the sites are located near or adjacent too, existing or former track ways, bridle paths, green lanes or roads. A number of these routes still used today, may have their origins in the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age periods. Whether important routes of communication also influenced the siting of cemeteries or indeed, which existed foremost remains an interesting matter for further research and debate. During the course of this project, the general preservation of the barrow ditches and burials can only be described as being generally at threat. Further ploughing will invariably reduce, if not erase large areas of the archaeology on the ridge. A complete excavation of the Anglo-Saxon cemetery may be required within just a few years.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the following persons, Mr & Mrs Ledbetter (Landowners) for their kind support of this project. The appreciated technical support of Keith Parfitt (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) Barry Corke (CAT) Stuart Needham, Geoff Halliwell (Dover Archaeological Group) Dr Andrew Richardson (FLO Kent) Dr Steven Willis for student support (University of Kent at Canterbury) Jon Iverson (Curator Dover Museum) David Holman (Dover Archaeological Group) Jim Walker (White Cliffs MDC) Phyllis Bundy, the excavation and geophysical teams that have greatly contributed to the betterment of our historical knowledge within the Alkham Valley; Justin Yardley, John Bertram, Mike Robinson, Bill Laing, Roger Collinson, Rebecca Burrows, Elissia Burrows, Jasmine Richards, Christine Kidd, Sylvia Norris and the students studying archaeology at the University of Kent at Canterbury; Andy Bates, Amy Hammett, Caromin Louw, Lola Cascino, Helen Harrington, Nigel Simpson, and Veronica Reilly.

References

Evison, V.I. 1987  Dover: Buckland Anglo-Saxon cemetery (HBMC Archaeological Report 3, London, 1987

Parfitt, K.  1998

‘An Unrecorded Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Water’s End, near Dover’, Kent Archaeological Revue 134, 8990.

*Parfitt, K. and Dickinson, M. T., 2007 ‘The Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Old Park, near Dover, revisited’, in Martin Henig and Tyler Jo Smith (eds) Collectanea Antiqua: Essays in Memory of Sonia Chadwick Hawkes British Archaeological Reports International Series 1673, 111-126.

Richardson, A.F.  2005 The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Kent.  British Archaeological Reports British Series 391, volumes I and II, Oxford.

Mills, A.D. A Dictionary of English Place Names. Oxford University Press 1995.

Glover, Judith. The Place Names of Kent. Meresborough Books 1992.

Burrows,V. Richardson, R. and Hammond, J. Early Bronze Age Barrows and Anglo-Saxon Cemetery at Wolverton, near Dover. (forthcoming).