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Further fieldwork to uncover secrets of “Kent’s Stonehenge”

PUBLISHED: 08:58 22 July 2013 | UPDATED: 12:09 26 July 2013

Coldrum

Coldrum

Archant

Prehistoric monument thought to be one of the oldest in Britain

Benjamin HarrisonBenjamin Harrison

THEY are described as Kent’s Stonehenge and believed to be the earliest prehistoric monuments surviving in Britain, but the Coldrum Longbarrow remains one of the county’s best-kept secrets.

Sited in Trottiscliffe, just west of West Malling, Coldrum Longbarrow – or the Coldrum Stones –is believed to have been built around 4,000 BC and is the best-preserved of the group of early Neolithic structures near Maidstone known as the Medway Megaliths.

They are believed to be the earliest prehistoric monuments surviving in Britain.

Although almost 1,000 years older than Stonehenge, Coldrum was originally described as “a miniature Stonehenge”, as it was wrongly assumed its stones had originally been set out in a circle.

Coldrum dig 2010Coldrum dig 2010

It was later realised the Coldrum stones marked a rectangular mound covering a communal grave.

However, Coldrum and Stonehenge have one thing in common; their builders used massive sarsen sandstone boulders, found in many places between Wiltshire and Kent.

The first prehistoric finds at Coldrum were pot fragments, unearthed in 1856.

Eight years later, Kent Archaeological Society members Benjamin Harrison and Flinders Petrie returned to the site to continue the excavation.

Harrison was born in Ightham in 1837 and spent his life searching for evidence of Kent’s early inhabitants after an inspirational visit to one of the Medway Megaliths, Kit’s Coty, while a pupil at the British School at Platt, near Sevenoaks.

His compatriot Petrie was born in 1853 in Charlton and was an eminent Egyptologist and archaeologist whose many achievements included introducing a numbering sequence for Stonehenge’s stones that is still used today.

Together the pair measured and sketched Coldrum, paving the way for a more ambitious investigation to follow in 1910, by Francis James Bennett of West Malling, a fellow of the Geological Society of London.

Now a series of 100-year-old pictures of the stones have finally been committed to a digital format to be enjoyed by future generations.

Previously held on glass plate negatives, they record the 1910 excavation of the structure and the human bones that were unearthed at the site.

Denis Anstey, head of IT for the Kent Archaeological Society, said: “The pictures are among thousands of images of Kent dating from the early 18th century to the late 20th century that the KAS has collected since it was founded in 1857.

“Some of them are now very delicate and they will inevitably continue to deteriorate with time, so it is very important we keep them in digital format. This will enable us to offer the images to local historians, researchers and publishers long after the originals become too fragile to copy.”

The more in-depth dig turned up a far more interesting series of finds with a human skull containing teeth recovered.

“No sooner had I put my fork in,’ wrote Bennett, “than I at once turned up some human bones, under only a few inches of soil.”

Bennett was joined by Edwin W Filkins, an architect who lived at Claphall, Gravesend, and together they retrieved five skulls and bones from an estimated 22 adults and children.

The samples were handed over to Sir Arthur Keith, anatomist and anthropologist of the Royal College of Surgeons, while others were donated to Maidstone Museum.

In 1913, Bennett published his report and photographs to the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Thirteen year later on July 10, 1926, the National Trust bought Coldrum Longbarrow and dedicated it to the memory of Ben Harrison, its first archaeologist and historian.

But the Coldrum fascination doesn’t stop there.

Recent radiocarbon dating at Cardiff University of some of Coldrum’s bones has shown they are several hundred years older than was originally thought and are possibly among the earliest remains of Neolithic people ever found in Britain.

Because of this new discovery, further fieldwork is planned at Coldrum this summer as part of the Medway Valley Prehistoric Landscapes Project, directed by Dr Paul Garwood, lecturer in Prehistory at the University of Birmingham.

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