Recent finds by Canterbury Archaeological Trust
The Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT) was formed in 1976 to carry out archaeological excavations in advance of redevelopment projects. Today, CAT’s principal role remains unchanged: to ensure that sites and buildings under threat from construction projects are investigated and recorded before work takes place. Construction projects can range from building a shopping centre to adding a home extension. Evidence for the Roman city continues to be found in Canterbury and a selection of recent finds is exhibited in a case at Canterbury Roman Museum.
The Big Dig: Whitefriars
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, construction of Canterbury’s Whitefriars shopping centre required a programme of urban archaeological excavation on an unprecedented scale. The excavation produced evidence of Canterbury’s past stretching back to prehistory. A number of significant Roman finds were made, including tessellated pavements and mosaic floors, and a metalled track way. A series of irregular burials within the city walls are perhaps those of victims of an epidemic at the very end of the Roman period. Some of the finds can be seen in this case.
Work to analyse the results of the dig is now drawing towards a close, and a series of books detailing the findings will be published soon. This remains the largest project ever undertaken by CAT and brought the Trust’s work to the nation’s attention through a series of television documentaries and associated community and art projects. When you take a walk through Whitefriars today, look for the archaeological site plans inscribed in the pavements.
The Marlowe Theatre
In 2009 the Trust undertook several excavations ahead of the construction of the new Marlowe Theatre. One of these, in the area now underneath the western side of the theatre, revealed the masonry remains of a Roman town house, with under-floor heating. The site was very difficult to excavate as it was at the level of the water table. Pumps were used during the dig, but at night when they were turned off the site would flood to a depth of three feet. Despite these challenges, five rooms of what must have been a very large house were identified. It had not previously been thought that such high-status houses existed in this area of the Roman city. One benefit of the waterlogged conditions was the remarkable preservation of a large timber door threshold, which was found in its original position. The timber was so large it had to be removed by crane. It is a unique survival for Roman Canterbury, and such finds are very rare elsewhere; hopefully it will be possible to display in the future. A few of the smaller finds can be seen in the case.
Archaeological investigations ahead of the redevelopment of St Mildred’s Tannery began in 1999 and continued for more than a decade alongside the construction programme. At 3.5 hectares, the site was nearly as large in area as Whitefriars. However, because most of the proposed housing did not include cellars or other underground structures, a very different archaeological strategy for this site was adopted. This sought to minimise damage to the remains by careful design, aiming to preserve them where they lie rather than staging large-scale excavations. As a result, most of the archaeology at the Tannery survives to this day, underneath the houses that now stand on the site, all of which rest on concrete piles. The archaeological work carried out focussed on the small holes for those piles, plus numerous service and drainage trenches. Nonetheless, some significant structures and deposits were identified, including a Roman aisled building, and many finds were recovered. A small selection is displayed.
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