Exploring Kent's Past

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Monument details

HER Number:TR 36 SW 282
Type of record:Monument
Name:Late Bronze Age/Iron Age ritual and mortuary site, Cliffs End Farm

Summary

In the Late Bronze Age a series of horseshoe shaped enclosures were constructed on the site. A large possible quarry was used for the burial of a large number of individuals over a period spanning the Late Bronze Age to Middle Iron Age.


Grid Reference:TR 3485 6430
Map Sheet:TR36SW
Parish:CLIFFSEND, THANET, KENT

Monument Types

  • QUARRY? (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1600 BC to 701 BC)
  • CREMATION (Late Bronze Age - 1000 BC to 701 BC)
  • CROUCHED INHUMATION (Late Bronze Age to Middle Iron Age - 1000 BC to 101 BC)
  • ENCLOSURE (Late Bronze Age - 1000 BC to 701 BC)
  • FUNERARY ENCLOSURE? (Late Bronze Age - 1000 BC to 701 BC)
  • PIT (Late Bronze Age to Middle Iron Age - 1000 BC to 101 BC)

Associated Finds

  • SHERD (Middle Bronze Age to Late Bronze Age - 1600 BC to 701 BC)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Late Bronze Age - 1000 BC to 701 BC)
  • CEREMONIAL OBJECT (Late Bronze Age - 1000 BC to 800 BC)
  • CREMATION (Late Bronze Age - 1000 BC to 701 BC)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Late Bronze Age to Middle Iron Age - 1000 BC to 101 BC)
  • WEIGHT (Late Bronze Age - 1000 BC to 701 BC)

Full description

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In 2004/5 the site at Cliffs End Farm was excavated in advance of housing. In addition to a number of early bronze age barrows and late bronze age enclosures (the 'northern', 'central', and 'southern' enclosures) a large mortuary features was discovered. This was more than 45m long, 15m wide and up to 1.5m deep. It extended beyond the north-eastern limits of the excavation. It may have been initially used as a quarry but was, after a period of silting, used as a burial ground.

The human remains found within the feature consisted of a combination of articulated remains, redeposited (manipulated) partial articulated remains, dispersed semi-articulated remains (whole corpse and body parts) and disarticulated bones and bone fragments. Six complete skeletons were found in the north part of the site, along with the articulated remains of a partial skeleton. Seven complete articulated skeletons were found in the southern part of the pit. Each skeleton was radiocarbon dated. The Late Bronze Age remains comprise a minimum of 24 individuals (including one cremation). The Early Iron Age remains were from seven individuals and the Middle Iron Age remains represented a minimum of eight individuals. There were 15 immature individuals and 23 adults but the immature examples were mostly teenagers with the youngest c.6 years old. Apart from during the Middle Iron Age, the individuals buried were more commonly female: during the Middle Iron Age, the distribution was equal. All four of the older adults were female. The remains were also subject to strontium/oxygen isotope analysis. This showed that some of the individuals were not of local origin, having migrated during childhood. Possible origins are in higher, colder and/or more easterly areas as well as warmer and/or more westerly areas. These patterns also varied between period. Origins in the high Alps, east or north of Britain (including Scandinavia) have been suggested but Scandinavia is the favoured likely point of origin for some of the individuals. Another group possibly came from the Mediterranean.

The mortuary rite performed at the site is unusual in a number of ways. The assemblage represents a large number of individuals for these periods. A review in 1995 found only nine Late Bronze Age inhumation sites in mainland Britain. This number has increased since the time of the survey but they remain rare. Known examples of Early-Middle Iron Age burials are rarer still. The group is unusual for their age, sex and geographical origins, a feature that was maintained over the extended lifetime of the burial feature. Particular practices from the site are especially unusual. There is evidence of burial of unburnt remains with subsequent manipulation, communal and individual graves, human and probably animal sacrifice, excarnation with manipulation and redeposition of partially articulated body parts and curation of individual skeletal elements, exposure with canid and possibly avian scavenging and bleaching and charring of some body parts. Most of these occurred during the Late Bronze Age, with manipulation particularly common in this phase of use. One burial in particular appears to have been the focus of activity. An elderly female had been killed probably with a sword by blows to the back of the head. It has been suggested that this was a willing sacrifice. She was laid out in the bottom of the pit with a piece of chalk against her face in her left hand whilst her right hand was positioned with the index finger pointing away from the body towards the centre of the adjacent central enclosure on the site. Two children and a teenage girl had been buried with her together with the partially articulated and re-arranged remains of an adult male. The children's skills had been manipulated following partial decomposition. The teenager's head and upper body lay over the head and neck of a cow. This was not a single deposition but rather a series of actions over a relatively short period (weeks or months), with the pit left open during this time. The burial was not the first event on the site or in the pit, with two neonatal lambs deposited at least a year before. A second pair of lambs were placed over the woman's lap. A ring ditch marked the location of the burial and a later burial was inserted into this feature, perhaps within 10 years of the initial burial. Grave goods consisted of half a vessel associated with the children, a worked bone and copper alloy object and a lead weight. One of groups of manipulated remains may have been in a bag or bundle and may have arrived at the site in this condition from Scandinavia. The burials in subsequent periods were less complex but still with some manipulation of remains. Bones were removed by human activity, canids and possibly moved by birds. The remains of a buzzard were found in the fill of the pit. (2) (3)


<1> Wessex Archaeology, 2005, Cliffs End Farm, Ramsgate, Kent: Archaeological Assessment Report (Unpublished document). SKE13692.


<2> Jacqueline I. McKinley, Jörn Schuster and Andrew Millard, 2013, Dead-sea connections: A Bronze Age and Iron Age ritual site on the Isle of Thanet (Bibliographic reference). SKE24068.


<3> Wessex Archaeology, 2014, Cliffs End Farm, Isle of Thanet, Kent: a mortuary and ritual site of the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon period (Bibliographic reference). SKE30562.

Sources and further reading

Cross-ref. Source description
<1>Unpublished document: Wessex Archaeology. 2005. Cliffs End Farm, Ramsgate, Kent: Archaeological Assessment Report.
<2>Bibliographic reference: Jacqueline I. McKinley, Jörn Schuster and Andrew Millard. 2013. Dead-sea connections: A Bronze Age and Iron Age ritual site on the Isle of Thanet.
<3>Bibliographic reference: Wessex Archaeology. 2014. Cliffs End Farm, Isle of Thanet, Kent: a mortuary and ritual site of the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon period.
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