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Antoinette (Tony) - the explorer and anthropologist

In 1935 Antoinette accompanied her father on a trip to Zululand.   On this trip she became fascinated by the lives of the women, their dress, artifacts and customs.  Two years later Tony returned to Africa with her eldest sister, Diana, to explore Angola. They brought back artifacts, botanical specimens and photographs of their trip, all recorded in extensive detailed notes.  Some of the many artifacts are displayed in Gallery 4 in the Powell-Cotton Museum.

Tony by tent
Tony at the entrance to her tent in Zululand

30 years later sees her battling with the weather and tidal conditions, which threaten the sites on the foreshore at Minnis Bay. However the same determination to explore, understand and record can be seen in the following field book entries of 1965.

Monday 1st November 1965

Minnis checked on new holes towards Minnis – found the lot and the ammonite  remains.  Collected 1 urchin in a lump of chalk.  Sand blowing in the wind – westerly gale.  Pit N will become sanded up if we don’t watch out.

  • [Ammonite and urchin refers to fossils.  Encouraged by her father, Tony first collected fossils as a child when they went on family outings to Epple Bay.  See May 1965 Blog.  She was very adept at spotting fossils and she often passed them on to the children that helped her, our own included].

The fossil Urchins Tony gave to our two children in the 1970's

Thursday 4th November 1965

With Dorothy put some chalk on N

Friday 5th November 1965

Out with Clare Lukehurst to Willett’s farm next Smith’s Marsh through gate and along Medieval wall to field on right – River further right.  Marsh soil rust mottled [streaked] [K thinks sand] fawnish in colour itself.  2 samples – 1end more sandy and layered – other heavier and more flaky – about 7” darker loam Top – then lighter and at about 2’0” sticky fawn with rusty bits began and water seeped.  Black mud [like parts of Minnis] she says is raw marsh soil.  ‘Pan’ on headland or just below continual level of ploughing and so on – i.e. pressure will become impermeable and therefore water will lie here - other side of wall she said was quite different.  Shaped wood from well base 25 identified by Ann Conolly as Box – buxus sempervivens  Field Book16, page 11.

  • [Clare Lukehurst was one of the team from the Isle of Thanet Geographical Society that helped Tony to survey the excavations at Minnis Bay.  Her knowledge of the Smith’s Marsh came through her thesis on “The Changing Use of the Stour Marshes, 1840 -1964” which gained her a Doctorate from Birbeck College, London.  She helped Tony to identify and interpret the different soil and rock types at Minnis Bay that Tony encountered during her excavations – hence the visit to Smith’s Marsh].

Thursday 11th November 1965

At dawn – saw oak peat – collected few bits soil and wood etc and added chalk to N.  The horrid dirty black ‘mud’ seems to have ‘arrived’ in the ruts made by the contractor making the promenade way back only ?3 years ago.

Monday 15th November 1965

Added a little chalk.  Has been an east wind.

Sunday 21st November 1965

Down very short while and got soaked.  Easterly gale – sand removed 1 place and piled another.  A good deal of chalk ‘off’ N.  B.A. [Bronze Age] site rather naked.

Friday 26th November 1965

Early am.  N losing chalk rather badly, tried packing it tightish with chalk upstanding – Met Peerless and his wife.  Failed to find ammonites.  Med hole checked. I think one on right dug and circular.  BAS rather uncovered a good bit wood showing and some little posts.

Tuesday 30th November 1965

Thin Frugrain tin of brown ‘soil’ from very top (N1) of gravel bank (Worsfold’s 15) beside little posts.

  • [This refers to the Bronze Age site. F.H.Worsfold was a recognized local historian.  In the summer of 1938 the Bronze Age site was discovered by 14 year old Jimmy Beck, who had been excavating some Belgic pits assisted by Tony nearby.   Worsfold, who lived on the Bay, seeing the significance of the site, arranged for Christopher Hawkes of the British Museum to visit in March, 1939.  It was agreed that Worsfold should lead a team to include Jimmy Beck and his friend R. Grace, who had helped Jimmy to explore the Bronze Age site prior to Worsfold’s involvement, Also B.R.Byrom and the Carrs, who had previous experience of excavating on the Bay were part of the team. Sadly young Jimmy died at the beginning of 1940. By the end of the year the rest of the team had completed the excavation].

Drawing by Worsfold's team of 1939 showing pit 15 at the centre

Tony re-visited the site in 1957 and found a few small missed items. It was re-measured in 1966 by us with Tony and found to have been eroded as much as 30% by the elements, being exposed at low tide, but more obviously being only a few feet below high tide storm activity over the previous 30 years.

Next month ……… another quiet one as far as activity at Minnis Bay goes. We are also reminded of our introduction 50 years ago to Tony and her brother, Christopher, and get our first experience of the difficult conditions of excavating the archaeology of Minnis Bay.

Antoinette Powell-Cotton (1913-1997) Debutante, nurse, midwife, African explorer, anthropologist and passionate local archaeologist, was the youngest daughter of Major Percy Powell-Cotton, of Quex Park, Birchington, Kent.

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