HUTS FOR HUNTERS AND FARMERS
There is very little evidence from Dartford and the surrounding area regarding the size and layout of prehistoric dwellings. The earliest prehistoric peoples were nomadic and would have camped in simple temporary structures made from branches, turf and foliage. These people were constantly on the move following herds of wild animals from place to place. Their lifestyle and method of hunting did not encourage the development of permanent structures.
Later Neolithic people enjoyed a more settled existence, but once again these early farmers used natural materials for the construction of their hut encampments which have left very little mark on todays landscape.
AN IRON AGE SETTLEMENT AT FARNINGHAM HILL NEAR DARTFORD
One of the most significant dwelling sites yet discovered in the local area is that of a late Iron Age settlement at Farningham Hill in the Darent Valley, sited approximately a quarter of a mile from the River Darent. This important archaeological site was discovered by the Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit during motorway construction. Many other similar dwelling sites probably existed in and around Dartford in the late prehistoric period, but no trace of them exists in the landscape today. Iron Age pottery has been found right in the centre of modern-day Dartford.
The enclosed farmstead site at Farningham Hill occupied an exposed area of about half an acre on a south-facing slope on the west side of the river valley. The south-facing aspect of the farmstead ensured long hours of daily sunshine. The farmstead was probably occupied from the first century B.C. onwards and was abandoned no later than the middle of the first century A.D.
Post-holes, pits and ditches provide the only architectural evidence that primitive hut buildings once occupied the site. The Iron Age settlement at Farningham Hill is typical of those found throughout the south of England. It was probably occupied by a single family that farmed and grazed nearby land. Most North Kent settlements of this type were on chalk or light soils enclosed by a single protecting ditch, had one or more entrance gates, and were centred on hut accommodation, complete with racks for the storage of hay, wood and straw. Some farmstead sites also included cattle and sheep pens.
Twenty-four substantial underground pits found on the site at Farningham were probably used for the storage of grain and other foodstuffs. The site at Farningham had surprisingly few defensive features. There were at least three separate entrances to the encampment; the largest entrance on the site was on the downhill (river) side and must be regarded as the main entrance.
The Iron Age farmer and his family lived in a large circular hut at the centre of the enclosure. The timber, wattle and thatched structure was approximately 12-15 feet in diameter. The ditches surrounding the site were over 6 feet wide and more than three feet deep. Ditches assisted with the drainage of the site, provided simple protection from intruders, and controlled the movement of livestock.
Significant quantities of animal bone and pottery were recovered from the site. Animal bones retrieved by archaeologists show that the basic diet was meat from cattle, sheep, pig, red deer and roe deer. Small quantities of carbonised grain were found in the storage pits.