by Caroline K. Mackenzie (2019)
If you’d like to visit Caroline’s website you can do so here: Caroline K. Mackenzie Tuition
While researching Lullingstone Roman Villa in Kent, I was fortunate to be introduced to the DROP team, who are currently excavating a site in Otford, in the Darent Valley. I went along to join in the dig and am now a full member – it is a great project in which to be involved! If you are interested in taking part, whether as a full member or in any aspect of the fieldwork, please get in touch with Kevin Fromings, co-director of DROP via the contact us page. In this interview, Kevin explains more about the project.
What is DROP and when was it established?
The Discover Roman Otford Project was founded in 2015, principally to carry out fieldwork and research relating to the Roman occupation of the Darent Valley. The title contains the word ‘Otford’ as we are currently excavating a large villa, discovered at Otford in 2012 during a geophysical survey by another local archaeological group. This is situated 500m from a smaller Roman villa, which will also come under our scrutiny. A geophysical survey of this, however, proved to be inconclusive as the archaeology is too deep to register on the equipment available to us at the time.
Tell us a bit more about the excavations:
The excavations began in 2013, with test pits based on the geophysics plots to confirm that there was a Roman building present. We found wall foundations, a lot of rubble, and a small amount of pottery. This led us, in 2015, with kind permission of the land owner, to excavate the southern end of the east wing. Our work confirmed a winged corridor villa, the largest in Darent Valley, other than the complex at South Darenth (excavated in the 1890’s). The main range at Otford has a similar footprint to Lullingstone Villa, and the east range has a series of rooms with tiled floors. We discovered that the villa appeared to have been undergoing building work at the time it went out of use.
What has been the most challenging part of the project so far?
The villa appears to have been systematically demolished in a single event. All usable building materials down to individual tesserae were removed, possibly in the early 5th century AD. The site was levelled, leaving only rubble. Our core questions are: (1) What was its function – was it just a large domestic villa? (2) When was it constructed? – potentially the 270’s AD (3) When was it demolished? – available dating evidence suggests the turn of 4th-5th century AD (4) Why was it demolished in the way it was? – the $64,000 question.
What has been the biggest surprise?
Results from excavations in 2015 to 2017 implied that the only remains were chalk wall foundations with overlaying rubble. In 2018 we excavated to uncover these foundations to confirm the room plan implied by the geophysics. To our very pleasant surprise, we discovered several in-situ floors, and a couple of hypocausts. It seems that once any usable materials had been removed, the demolition team were not worried about features that were below the projected ground level.