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Thanet - the early days

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Researched and Written by Sue and Dawn.


Thanet has been known by many names in the past Tanet, Tenet, Tane'tus and Taneth are just a few. Ptolemy called it Tolianis.

Tanatus may derive from a Celtic name "teine" meaning fire and would make Thanet the "Bright Isle" perhaps with reference to the beacons that were positioned round the island. Or could it perhaps be to do with the epic poem "Beowulf" that some think in part referred to the coastline of Kent, that the North Foreland displays an optical trick of "shining" when the rising sun strikes the white chalk cliff. In fact in pre-dawn, the cliffs can shine while the surrounding sea is in darkness, hence the name light or bright.

According to Claudius Ptolemaeus, the famous cartographer and geographer from the 1st - 2nd Century, Thanet could well have been the mysterious "Isle of the Dead" - "ynys Thanatos" where Greek legend has it that Britain itself was the home to the dead and souls were rowed across the sea in unmanned boats in the middle of the night, returning before dawn.

For more on the theories of Thanet's name see HERE

Fact is that Thanet has more ancient burial mounds than anywhere else in Britain which could have been seen from far out at sea.
The earliest records of Thanet between the years of 250,000 BC and 6,000 BC show Britain in the early part of this period to be joined to Europe. An incomplete skull was found near Gravesend and was believed to be the first known Englishman.
Early tools were discovered at Reculver.
Remains of animals such as Bears, Bison and Straight Tusked Elephants have been found in Kent.
Early tribal people also are believed to have occupied coastal areas around Thanet and at Minster, Monkton and Cliffs End.

In 6,000 BC the sea broke through and separated Kent from France and at about this time Thanet became an Island.

During the latter part of the period 3,000 - 2,000 BC there is evidence of people in Thanet. Numerous pot fragments (Sherds) have been found all over Thanet and it is known that Beaker people were buried with their pots.

2,000 - 600 BC, during the early Bronze Age hundreds of Round Barrows (burial grounds) were constructed which can still be seen from the air today. Although Thanet is only a small area of Kent, it contains nearly half of the County’s ancient sites as detected from the air.
It is thought that Thanet was quite an important area with 5 major defended settlements, Kingsgate and the whole of the North Foreland hilltop on which the lighthouse stands appears to be enclosed by a double parallel ditch - about 50 acres were enclosed. Similar ones were also discovered at Dumpton in Broadstairs, on high ground east of Sarre, on farmland at Monkton and at Shottendane Valley in Margate.

Thanet was probably occupied by the Celts between the period 600 - 325 BC, Iron Age villages at Dumpton Gap and Broadstairs, with pots being found at Cliftonville.
The Romans occupied Britain during this time, evidence of a Roman Villa at Tivoli Park has been found along with evidence of 12 other Villas in Thanet.

King Vortigen of Kent invited the Jutes to help protect Kent from the Saxons and Franks Hengist and Horsa landed in 449 AD.
The disappearance of the Celtic names from Thanet hints at mass slaughter of the Romano-British population by the Jutes, which may help to explain the large Anglo-Saxon burial ground at St. Peters.

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