Egypt Exploration Society

Lyminge Archaeological Project: Anglo-Saxons in Kent

Aerial view of part of the monastic phase at Lyminge (8th/9th centuries AD)

Aerial view of part of the monastic phase at Lyminge (8th/9th centuries AD)

Hello and welcome to the contribution direct from the field in Lyminge, Kent! I’m sitting in our ex-Korean War mess tent on the edge of the excavation watching the archaeology unfold in front of me.

We are an AHRC funded research project run from the University of Reading and we are undertaking open area excavation in a picturesque village in the south-east of England. Lyminge has an extensive Anglo-Saxon history and we have been working in the area since 2007.

We began open area excavation in 2008-2009 and uncovered the precinct of the monastery that existed in Lyminge in the 7th-9th centuries AD. In 2010 we moved to a new area and discovered part of the pre-existing, pre-Christian royal vill at Lyminge, dating to around the 5th-7th centuries AD. Lyminge appears to have been a highly significant settlement over several centuries, and we have been uncovering some very high-status Anglo-Saxon evidence. Last year we revealed the full plan of a 21×8.5m feasting hall that dates to c.600 AD, together with datable finds in the wall trenches of the building, like the beautiful horse harness mount that dates from AD 525-575.

The Lyminge excavations in 2012.

The Lyminge excavations in 2012. The feasting hall is clearly vsible across almost the whole trench!

I’m Dr Alexandra Knox and I’m the assistant director. The project is led by Dr Gabor Thomas, and we have a small full-time team thoughout the year, with Simon Maslin (Data Manager and Environmental Supervisor) and Zoe Knapp (Zooarchaeology of Lyminge PhD and Site Supervisor).

A view from the spoilheap of this year's trench

A view from the spoilheap of this year’s trench – it looks like it’s empty but all the features have baked to the same colour as the natural clay!

Dr Alexandra Knox


It’s in the summer that we get out for six weeks and our team expands! University students and local volunteers sign up to learn field skills and join in for the season, with training provided by Rosie Cummings, our excavation manager. Roo Mitcheson (Egypt Exploration Society), Keith Parfitt (Canterbury Archaeological Trust) and Andy Macintosh (also CAT) and Ben Parker (University of Kent) complete the supervisory team and Helen Harrington runs Finds with Emily Harwood (University of Kent), her assistant. Finally, Bethany Wood (University of Reading) looks after our visitors!

Lots more information about our digs over the years can be found at and throughout the dig I write a blog to record our discoveries.

Today we are almost a full week in to the dig, which means that cleaning back our 30x30m trench is almost

Gabor uses the total station to finish laying out the grid today

Gabor uses the total station to finish laying out the grid today

complete. So far we haven’t begun full excavation into the features, as we open a new area each year and have to hand clean the trench after the machine has removed the topsoil to reveal the archaeology. Students and volunteers have been deployed on those areas that need extra attention and we’re starting to make sense of the series of dark shapes in the natural orange clay. The extremely hot weather has been difficult to deal with, both for those digging and for the geology – the clay bakes very hard and we have to keep watering the site. Finally the weather has turned in our favour and we are finding it much easier to dig with a few clouds and a light breeze!

Rosie waters down the site so we can clean it much more easily!

Rosie waters down the site so we can clean it much more easily!

Today, Gabor and Roo are finishing laying out the internal grid on the site while the volunteers finish up cleaning. We can then do a full pre-excavation plan of the site today, something that isn’t absolutely necessary in terms of records, but we always like to do – it can be so helpful to go back to the pre-ex plan to compare what things looked like before you started to dig them, and to locate lost post holes! We will also begin labelling our features with context numbers so we have everything ready to begin digging into the features. As I wrote in my blog post yesterday on our own project blog, we know we already have several sunken-featured buildings and a possible timber hall, so things are looking very good for the next five weeks in terms of Anglo-Saxon archaeology.

Simon arrived today and is busy digging a nice hole in the spoil heap so that he can set up his flotation

Charlotte digs out the spoilheap so the flotation tank has somewhere to drain.

Charlotte digs out the spoilheap so the flotation tank has somewhere to drain.

tank and have somewhere for the water to soak away. He’s also getting the generator going for his pump, and we will be able to process our environmental samples on site. It’s great to be able to process samples on site as we get immediate feedback about the features and can adapt our strategy accordingly.

Simon, Ben and Warren get the generator for the flotation tank pump sorted out

Simon, Ben and Warren get the generator for the flotation tank pump sorted o

We also have a very busy Finds tent, with lots of local volunteers coming back each day to help with finds processing. We’ve had a core team of local ladies that come back year after year. Being week 1, of course, there isn’t so much to wash yet! What we do have lots of are mesolithic and neolithic flints, with a spread of these flints all over the field that we dig on, Tayne Field. While we don’t have prehistoric archaeological features, we are certainly able to interpret the site as a place frequented by mesolithic peoples who were sourcing flints and perhaps beginning to knap tools before taking them away for further use. The spring located at the head of the valley would have been an excellent source of fresh water for settlement and stopping over for many thousands of years. The Finds team are also hard at work recording the first small finds and other items coming up in the cleaning of the trench.

Emily (left), Rebecca and Ben sorting out finds

Emily (left), Rebecca and Ben sorting out finds

We’ve got lots going on today – even filming! Steve is a local camerman and producer and has generously agreed to help us document the excavation on film. This will be part of the sit archive but could also potentially be used in any future television documentaries. Steve grabs us when we’re not expecting it and gets us to explain what we’re doing to the camera!

Steve films Helen with a find

Steve films Helen with a find

I usually get a bit nervous in front of a camera but it’s all good fun and before you know it you’ve chatted away about an exciting find without worrying about the lens in front of you!

It’s currently the afternoon break and everyone is off site for a well deserved cup of tea. Some great features are coming up and you can see one of the sunken-featured buildings in the photo below, which has been nicely wetted down so you can see the edges. We’re really looking forward to starting to excavated these features as they’re often full of datable finds – certainly those that we’ve found in previous seasons have had fantastic artefacts within them (you can see a few of them at

The rest of the day will be spent finishing the cleaning back, planning, labelling and photographing, to say nothing of the blogging!

Andy cleans back next to one of our SFBs

Andy cleans back next to one of our SFBs, the rectangular dark shape in the foreground

Archaeology – It’s not just about digging

I am a part-time post-graduate research student at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, and Vice Chair of the Egypt Exploration Society, a charitable organisation, which has been carrying out archaeological fieldwork and research in Egypt for the last 129 years

The Day of Archaeology 2011, happily, fell on the same date as a scheduled meeting of the EES’ Board of Trustees: an excellent reason to take a day away from my largely non-archaeological ‘day job’ and to reflect upon my productivity on the day. Consequently, the morning started with some prep work for a forthcoming lecture and article before I travelled in to the Bloomsbury offices of the EES.

The Trustees, numbering fifteen and drawn from the worlds of Egyptology, academia and business, meet six times a year in order to govern the work of the Society and to consider and ratify the recommendations of the Society’s various task groups.

Sadly, I am unable to discuss the detail or content of our considerations or, indeed the cut and thrust of our debate. I can report, however, that attendance was excellent, with Trustees travelling some distance to be there, with one joining us from Italy via Skype and that decisions were made in respect of fieldwork, research, finance, publications and future directions.

Although it was a fairly lengthy meeting, lasting from 13:30 to 17:30 with only a short break—tea but no biscuits—I was able to catch up, briefly, with a colleague, who was there to use our extensive library. I took the opportunity to make some arrangements in order to progress the Society’s ongoing Oral History Project, which records the detailed reminiscences of senior Egyptologists for use by future researchers.

Directly following the meeting, there were some much-needed drinks in ‘The Duke of York’, the Society’s closest watering-hole and, as might be expected, the talking continued. In fact, without the constraints of an agenda and a ticking clock, there was an even greater opportunity to discuss some interesting and exciting proposals for the future both as regards the Society and in the wider Egyptological milieu.

By 19:30, dinner in Soho awaited and I headed off into the evening sunlight, satisfied, although there was neither sand in my shoes nor dust under my nails, that I had made a small but real contribution to the academic progress and public understanding of the archaeology of Egypt: a day well spent.

Further details of the history, facilities, and ongoing work of the Egypt Exploration Society can be found at:

John J Johnston