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Otford & District Archaeological Group (ODAG)

The Romano-British Cremation Cemetery at Frog Farm, Otford, Kent, in the context of
   contemporary funerary practices in South-East England by Clifford P. Ward 1990

In order to place the Otford cemetery in context with other contemporary crematoria it was decided to carry out a limited comparative analysis with Ospringe, Kent, excavated in the 1920s and published in detail by Whiting and others in Arch. Cant, and as a report of the Society of Antiquaries, and also St. Pancras cemetery Chichester, excavated in 1961 by Down and Rule: published by Chichester Civic Society.
   While both are considerably larger in extent (256 and 322 groups respectively) and both are to some extent overlain with later Roman inhumations, they do represent settled communities of the first & second centuries, although the Chichester cemetery served the Roman provincial centre of Noviomagus Regnensium (Wacher 1983) which was a flourishing town of perhaps 10,000 souls, while Ospringe still lacks a definitely located settlement, sizeable, and perhaps roadside, though it must have been, probably Durolevum, ( Detsicas 1983).
   Of Otford’s identity in Roman times there is no evidence whatsoever. The pie-charts (figures 3-9 ) can only reflect broad trends, as different terminology has made close identification of e.g. vessel-types impossible, and there was a longer period of use of the cemetery at Chichester, the suggested dating being A.D.70-250.
   It is noticeable, however, that common factors arise, e.g. the similarity in numbers of ancillary vessels per grave at Otford, Ospringe and St. Pancras are 1.4, 1.7. & 1.7 respectively although St. Pancras has some 10% of groups of seven or more vessels, besides having the greatest proportion without ancillary vessels, perhaps suggesting a greater variation of wealth in the town, while flagons comprise 23, 29, 22% of vessels. The proportion of samian is considerably higher at Otford, 42% against 19% and 10%.
Only a very small proportion of the graves had jewellery and other metal objects in the selected locations, as observed elsewhere (Black 1987).
   In all three cemeteries there appear to have been instances of pottery vessels deposited without the least trace of bones or urn being identified. Although it is not impossible that bones were originally present, it suggests that dedicatory deposits may have been intended, perhaps in remembrance of people who had died elsewhere.
   Again, in the selected cemeteries inter alia instances of glass discs "being buried" were noted 1, 5, 1, but only at Otford was jewellery present in the same grave, suggesting that the disc belonged to a woman. Although no trace of silvering remained, it appears that the discs formed mirrors, probably being mounted in a wooden or other perishable frame; 5 metal mirrors were identified at Chichester.
   At Otford it is noteworthy that of all the urns 10% are of Richborough sandy reduced ware (Pollard form 86), while 66% are of Patchgrove ware, of several forms over and above those identified by Pollard (1988), thus lending weight to the suggestion that Otford was a centre for the production of Patchgrove pottery (Breen).
   All in all, the cemetery and its grave-goods, taken in the context of provincial life in Roman Britain, reinforces the other evidence, that at Otford, and possibly embracing the nearby villas, there was a flourishing community of Romanised Britons who apparently upheld similar religious customs and enjoyed a standard of living comparable to those in larger settlements and towns in the South-east. In their domestic environment they obviously benefited, from the Roman economic community which enabled them to supplement the locally manufactured pottery with imported fineware.

On behalf of the Otford and District Historical Society Archaeological Group and myself, I should like to express gratitude to the farmers of Frog Farm, the late Mrs Booker and her sons Jim and John, for their kind permission to excavate almost on (or, rather, under) their doorstep and allowing incursion into their fruit garden; to the members and friends of the Otford and District Historical Society for their assistance, advice and interest; to Andrew J. Appleby and David R. Bartlett for supervising the excavation of the mausoleum; to Guy de la Bedoyere for his evaluation of the samian ware; to Dr. Grace Simpson for identification of the black samian; and to Elizabeth, my wife, for her active participation in the practical work, her patience in accommodating much of the material for far too long, and her encouragement and assistance in producing this typescript, which has spurred me on to complete the excavation report (Ward, forthcoming).

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