Kent is the most south-easterly of the English counties, and the closest to France. The north of the county is London clay; to the south, the chalk hills of the North Downs run east to the White Cliffs of Dover. Further south are ridges of greensand and clay, with Romney Marsh in the far south-west. Coal was mined in East Kent until 1989.
Kent’s motto is Invicta, meaning ‘unconquered’, and there is a legend that the county was never conquered by the Normans. It is also sometimes called ‘The Garden of England’, referring to its gentle climate and fertile soils.
Kent’s archaeology reflects its’ international links and rich agricultural base. The county is noted for its vast numbers of Bronze Age hoards with 10 being reported in 2017 alone. It also boasts the earliest coins produced in Britain, the so called ‘Potins’ or Bronze units influenced by coins originally issued by the Greek-Gallic city of Massalia (Marseille) on the Mediterranean coast of France. The county is also well known for its’ substantial numbers of early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, such as King’s Field Faversham, from which substantial Garnet inlaid metalwork is known.
Notable archaeological sites include:
- Oldbury Hill is an Iron Age hillfort, but also has small caves on its lower slopes which were used as shelters in the Middle Palaeolithic, between 250,000 and 40,000 BC.
- Long barrows and other early Neolithic sites in the Medway valley, the only such group in south-east England. Some, such as Kit’s Coty House and Coldrum Long Barrow, use massive sarsen stones and were major building projects over 3000 years ago.
- Richborough Roman fort has everything for those keen on the Romans. This was probably where the Emperor Claudius landed with his invasion force in 43 AD, marking the start of Roman Britain. A town with temples, an amphitheatre and bath-houses was built. In the 3rd century it was converted into a fort again to counter the new threat of barbarian invasion.
- The Roman lighthouse or ‘Pharos’ at Dover Castle is a unique survival in Britain, and is arguably the oldest building in the country. Dover Castle itself was in military use until the late 20th century, since when it has been meticulously restored to show every phase of use from the Iron Age to the present day.
- Ringlemere is another astonishing multi-period site. The Ringlemere Bronze Age gold cup (PAS-BE40C2) was found there, and excavations then discovered a Neolithic henge, a Bronze Age barrow cemetery and finally a very early 5th-century Anglo-Saxon cemetery.
- St Martin’s Church in Canterbury is arguably the oldest church in England. It may be the chapel used by Queen Bertha of Kent before St Augustine came from Rome to convert the Anglo-Saxons.
- Excavations from 2008 to 2014 at Lyminge have revealed massive buildings which may be part of the royal monastery founded in the 7th century. The project is now in its writing-up phase.
- Rochester Castle is one of the earliest and best-preserved medieval castles in England, and Hever Castle and Leeds Castle are among the most beautiful.
- Kent is full of military archaeology, due to its exposed position in the English Channel. Chatham Dockyard and Shorncliffe Redoubt are notable examples.
- Acoustic mirrors of concrete at Dungeness were used with sensitive microphones to pick up aircraft noise in the English Channel. They became obsolete when radar was invented, but still survive as enigmatic structures in the landscape of Kent.