A Roman small town

The excavation of a Roman small town 'in an exceptional state of preservation' at Newington is changing many of the things we thought we knew about this area in the late Iron Age - Roman period. 

Archaeologists say the importance of the industrial settlement makes it “one of the most significant sites” in Kent and of national importance. They describe some of the finds as “amazing”.

A team of more than 30 archaeologists, led by Swale and Thames Archaeological Survey (SWAT Archaeology) unearthed a Romano-Celtic temple flanked by a seven-metre wide late Iron Age/Roman road that appears to pre-date and take an alternative route to Watling Street (the A2) – the road traditionally considered to be the main Roman transport route between the Kent coast and London. 

Pottery kilns and rare iron furnaces are revealing new insights into the way these industries were carried out. Some of the pottery items are extremely rare and, in one instance, quite possibly unique

Dr Paul Wilkinson, archaeological director at SWAT Archaeology, today said: “This is one of the most important discoveries of a Roman small town in Kent for many years with the preservation of Roman buildings and artefacts exceptional.'

Coins of particular interest are a gold Celtic stater of King Dubnovellanus (c.30-10BC) of the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni Celtic tribes of pre-Roman Britain and a silver denarius of Augustus (27BC-14AD).

Other items include cast Syrian glass, a Whitby jet child’s bracelet (c.1-2AD) and other jewellery items. Expensive imported wares, including pots and furniture fittings, indicate the high status of those using and travelling past the site. 

Particularly exciting is the find of a carefully crafted inlay panel and a piece of highly polished and hollowed bone, both of which probably come from furniture. The panel was also made of bone and carved into a shape called ‘lunate’ (crescent). It dates to the mid and late Roman period. The experts say it is “quite amazing that it has survived almost intact”.

Peter Cichy, the project manager at SWAT Archaeology, said: “This is one of the most significant sites in Kent. But it’s only the beginning of months and months of work. We will be analysing and dating our finds, sorting and piecing together thousands of pottery sherds, and writing up our report.”

Malcolm Lyne, an internationally renowned Roman pottery expert, has visited the site several times to examine finds. He has identified and estimated the date of many of items, much of it locally-made and some virtually intact. He was particularly excited by what appears to be a ceramic 'plumb-bob' that would have been used by land-surveyors. The bobs were usually a lead weight; this ceramic version could be the only one of its kind.

Dean Coles, chairman of Newington History Group, which has been liaising with SWAT Archaeology during the dig, said: “This is very exciting. The scale of this site, with the huge number and quality of its finds, changes our knowledge of Newington’s development. 

“We already had evidence of a Roman burial ground and Roman occupation in the immediate vicinity and this excavation shows there was a thriving manufacturing site in the heart of our village.

“The temple and major road are massive discoveries. It proves that Watling Street wasn’t the only Roman road through the village. As a history group, we are keen to trace the route and destination of this new ‘highway’ which may have connected with another temple excavated 50 years ago on the outskirts of Newington and a villa unearthed in 1882.”

Thousands of urns have been discovered over at least 400 years in a neighbouring field east of Watling Place. It was recorded as being a Roman cemetery. Edward Hasted, the 18th century historian, believed that Newington was the site of the Roman station Durolevum.

The latest findings may prove that Hasted was correct.