Otford & District Archaeological Group (ODAG)
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, (
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
Frog Farm Site
Frog Farm Cemetery Bibliography
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