KARU, Celebrating 50 Years of Archaeology by Dr Brian Philp

The Kent Archaeological Rescue Unit was established in 1970 as the first county-wide rescue unit in the UK and most of Europe. Apart from a core team the Unit has always encouraged and worked extensively with trained volunteers. Indeed, the Unit won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2013. The Unit has four main functions.

1. Rescue Archaeology:  The Unit has carried out over 700 projects across Kent and South-East London. These include extensive rescue work on Kent Motorways under construction (M2, M20, M25 and M26), where it has discovered Saxon cemeteries, Iron Age farmsteads and minor sites of most periods.  In addition, the Unit has worked extensively in town centres at Dover, Faversham, Dartford, Rochester, Ashford and Folkestone where a wide range of sites from different historic periods have been discovered. The most extensive work has been at Dover where across the centre of the ancient town, over 40 years represents one of the most extensive town centre projects in Europe. The Unit’s work also covered the countryside where gravel and sand extraction, housing and commercial developments and cliff erosion has covered several archaeological sites. These included Roman villas, many Roman farmsteads, a Roman fort, prehistoric sites, Saxon settlements, the Archbishops Palace at Otford and medieval manor-houses and even two gunpowder mills. 

2.  Publication: This has always had a high-priority and the Unit has the finest record of publication in the County and the third best in the UK.  It has three main series of publications. The Kent Monograph Series (12 vols), The Kent Special Subject Series (22 vols) and the Kent Minor Sites Series (19 vols), besides about 200 reports in the Kent Archaeological Review. Copies of many of these publications are now held in major libraries across the World (and are also available through the post – see our Publications page on the website).

3. Public Presentation:  The Unit has always placed this high on its list of activities and always opened its excavations (where permitted) to the general public and provided guided tours. In addition it constructed two large permanent buildings over the Roman Painted House at Dover in 1977 and the Crofton Rpoman Villa  in 1988. The two projects won six national awards. The Unit has managed both since and attracted over 800,000 visitors from over 130 different countries. In addition, the Unit has conducted guided tours every year at the Roman fort at Reculver and bi-annually at the Keston Roman Tombs. Unit staff have given lectures at a wide range of conferences, particularly the Council for Kentish Archaeology (CKA) Conferences at Canterbury and Otford.  Some Unit staff have also taken part in a range of television programmes.

4.  Education:  The Unit has in the past conducted extensive training excavations widely across Kent, including in co-operation with the University of Kent and Bromley Borough Council. These have involved more than 2,000 students of all ages. The most notable educational packages include schools workshops at Dover and Crofton. The former welcomes students from France and Germany, whilst Crofton has so far attracted over 90,000 children from the London and West Kent areas on special school-workshops.

The Unit was due to celebrate its 50th anniversary in June, 2020, but due to the C19 Pandemic this has had to be delayed.