As I've recently walked the Boudicca Way, the Late Iron Age people that inhabited Northern East Anglia during the 1st century BC have been on my mind. Subsequently, I've made a little personal investigation, which included studying from several books on the matter.
The Iceni is the name that Roman writers gave a tribe, or maybe tribal federation, that inhabited Norfolk, and at times, north west Suffolk, and north east Cambridgeshire. I say the Romans gave it to them, Caesar, writing in 54 BC, may have described them, when he referred to a tribe north of the Thames as the Cenimagni. Then their own coins started to use the name ECE or ECEN. During following centuries, Roman historians were addressing them, and the Roman civitas where they lived, as the Iceni.
Who were they? These Late Iron Age people of Norfolk? Where did they come from? Economically they were agrarian farmers, cultivating small fields of wheat and barley. Sheep may have been important to their economy as well. The Later Iron Age peoples of Eastern England, and certainly those that became known as the Iceni, appear from the archaeology to have lived in small unenclosed farmsteads, with no ring ditches, or archaeologically visible defenses. This marks the Later Iron Age peoples of this regions as being different from other British regions, that featured more rigorously defended farmsteads, villages, or classic hill fort settlements.
Where the South Eastern farmsteads do correlate with a wider British picture, is that the farmsteads consisted of a small number of large round-houses. These round-houses were well built for British weather. A strong, high thatched roof that smoke could vent through. Posts around the circumference supporting dried mud and dung plastered wicker walls. Then quite often, a small porch over the door, which usually faced south-east. So often, that it is thought that it must have been a strong religious taboo for a round-house door to face anything but the rising Sun.
Small numbers of round-houses in a farmstead could suggest that they lived in small, but extended family groups. It is possible that the Eastern style Later Iron Age farmsteads did have defenses, that do not leave an archaeological trace, however, otherwise, they looked like small 'open' settlements. An additional feature that turns up on Norfolk sites are strange four-post features. It has been suggested that they could represent raised granary houses.
Horse symbols appear almost universally on the reverse of Iceni coins, and a large number of terrets, bits, and horse harness fittings associated with the Late iron Age, have been found by metal detectorists across Norfolk. Horses, horsemanship, and charioteering, appear to have been important to the Iceni. The harness fittings, as with a minority of local brooches, were sometimes artistically styled in the La Tène tradition.
Where did they live? An early focus, and a continued power base may have been Western Norfolk, close to the Fen Edge, from the Brecks of north west Suffolk, and south west Norfolk, up along the Fen edge to north west Norfolk. There are five rounded earthworks in Norfolk, dated to the Iron Age. Four are in north west Norfolk, near to the Wash and north Norfolk coast. the other one is located at Thetford in the Brecks. Another, Stonea Camp, is located further to the west, on an area of dryland in the Fens itself. These six large, prominent rounded bank and ditch defensive systems are often referred to as "Iron Age hill forts", although they differ to the classic hillforts of Southern England in style, artefact deposit, and certainly in terrain - they are not on hills. There may have been further enclosures of this class in Norfolk, that have been lost.
The ramparts of Thetford Castle Hill - refortified during the Medieval.
Warham Camp, in north Norfolk.
The soils of West Norfolk and the Brecks are light - the Brecks excessively drained, but these light soils may have suited the needs of Earlier Iron Age farmers, more so than the heavy soils to the east, on the East Anglian boulder-clay plateau. However, both coin evidence, and other metal detector finds, suggest a possible major expansion during the Late Iron Age, onto all soils and facets of Norfolk, even onto those heavy clay soils of the interior. None-the-less, we continue to see some sort of importance held in West Norfolk, and north-west Suffolk. Late Iron Age hoards concentrate there, particularly the spetacular Snettisham hoards in north-west Norfolk.
I described the local "lowland" hill forts as rounded enclosures, making the assumption that they were defensive structures. During the Mid Iron Age onwards, a new style of enclosure emerged in the region. Shallower dug, and square or rectanglar series of ditches. The classic was discovered by aerial reconnaisance, then excavated at Fison Way, Thetford, where the 1970s media named it "Boadicea's Palace". A square multiple ditch enclusure, with buildings at it's centre, one with posts so grand that it has been suggested that it could have been multi-level. Radio carbon dating suggests that the buildings were burnt down, and ditches filled in, shortly after the historical Boadiccan Rebellion. However, aerial reconnaisance has suggested a number of these square or rectangular enclosures scattered across the region. Including one at Barnham, Suffolk, on the opposing side of the Little Ouse valley to Fison Way. Test digs suggest a Mid Iron Age date. Perhaps it was replaced by Fison Way? The Iceni square enclosures have been compared to a number in France and Germany, often called Viereckshanzen, where it is assumed that they had a cult, or ritual purpose.
I mentioned 'tribal federation'. A number of local archaeologists during the 1980s to 1990s, that particularly saw the Iceni as a sedentary people, with a culture that adapted locally - argued that there was evidence that Cenimagni (Greater Iceni), and another Roman reference, infered that the Iceni may have pulled together from smaller groups in the area, in response to Roman, and Romo-Gallic contact.
As for who were the Iceni, my personal feeling, is that they were largely the local population, that had descended from earlier Iron Age, and Later Bronze Age peoples of Northern East Anglia, and south east Britain. Recent population genetic studies such as The Beaker Phenomenon And The Genomic Transformation Of Northwest Europe by Olde, Haak, Reich etal, propose an almost complete replacement of the British Neolithic population during the Later Neolithic, by a people that we identify archaeologically with the Bell Beaker Culture. There is support both genetically, and archaeologically, that the practioners of the British form of Bell Beaker Culture, migrated there from the Lower Rhineland area of the Continent. No genetic survey yet, has found significant later migration into late prehistoric Britain, nor in the Romano-British period, following this population replacement event. The majority of Irish and British Y-DNA haplogroups, particularly in areas of Britain, further away from later Anglo-Saxon, and Danish immigration, appear to have originated in Britain with Bell Beaker.
However, do I think that there was any Iron Age "Celtic" migration to south east Britain? Yes, my suspicions is that there would have continued to have been some migrations and exchanges with the nearby European Continent during the Later Bronze Age and the Iron Age. There may well have been some migration of groups for example, from what we now call north-east France, to some areas of Britain, that admixed with locals. If you wish, call it La Tène. Howabout the "Belgic migration as described by Caesar. No, the Iceni was outside of the direct influence of Rome, Gaul and the Belgae. Their artefacts were native, their pottery not Belgic. There is nothing Belgic about the Iceni.
This brings me to the Schiffels, Haak, etal study 2016:
The Hinxton Rings Iron Age cemetery is unusual. It doesn't really follow funerary conventions in Eastern England, so it is possible, that it's DNA isn't completely representative of all Iron Age populations in SE England. It's an unusual site. Delineated inhumations from the 1st century BC, surrounded by an large ring ditch. The Iron Age samples from Hinxton (including one from nearby Linton) consisted of four females, and two males. Male 1. Y-DNA was was R1b1a2a1a2c1 with CTS241/DF13/S521+ according to Jean Manco's excellent Ancient DNA reference web pages, while Male 2 was R1b1a2a1a2c with L21/M529/S145+, S461/Z290+. That's all that we have for Iron Age Y-DNA in England.
The POBI (Peopling of the British Isles) Study 2015, mentioned something else on Page 5. "A subsequent migration, best captured by FRA17 (France), contributed a substantial amount of ancestry to the UK outside Wales. Although we cannot formally exclude this being part of the Saxon migration, this seems unlikely (see Methods) and instead it might represent movement of people taking place between the early migrations and those known from historical records.". Garrett Hellenthal, on the Youtube presentation said that there was a pattern found both in England, and Scotland, that relates to France, but appears to predate the Anglo-Saxon:
36 minutes 20 seconds.
What else can I conclude from my venture into Iceni lands?
References and quotes
East Anglia: R. Rainbird Clarke. 1960. S.R Publishers Ltd. "Rainbird" was a local Norfolk "old school" archaeologist, and his theories followed the older invasion hypotheses that are now coming back into fashion in population genetics circles. Chapter VI "The Iron Age" starts like this: "In the last chapter we have noted that raiders, based in Belgium, harassed the East Coast during the sixth century B.C. About 500 B.C., peasant farmers, driven by the mounting pressure of migrating tribes, came to East Anglia from southern Holland, and central and eastern Belgium. These displaced persons brought with them a knowledge of iron, the use of which had been general in central Europe for three centuries. The arrival in England of these new Iron Age A people opened the first phase of the Iron Age, which lasted till c. 300 B.C.".
"the presence of Iron Age A immigrants is chiefly indicated by their domestic pottery, mainly jars and bowls of both coarse and fine fabric, which are found on the earliest sites.".
"Variations in pottery form and decoration establish that this invasion was a gradual infiltration of family groups or small clans. Sometimes they settled down peaceably alongside Bronze Age farmers, as at Snettisham, Norfolk; other settlers selected sites some distances from any known Late Bronze Age farms, as at West Harling, where the plan of the round-houses indicates the peaceful absorption of native architectural ideas.
"The invaders from the Low Countries who settled in Breckland are clearly related to communities round the Fenland basin in Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, though the Fenland itself was uninhabitable owing to a minor rise in sea level. The settlers in the Ipswich region, related to those in the Colchester Loam area and in the Lower Thames area, came from other parts of the Low Countries.
I think that it's fair to compare Rainbird's idea of an "Iron Age A" people, with Continental Hallstatt Celtic Culture.
"The peaceful development of this pleasant society of the Iron Age A culture, engaged in tilling small plots, pasturing sheep, oxen, and horses, was rudely shattered in the middle of the third century B.C. by the arrival of aristocratic warriors and their retainers, hailing from the Marne region of France, who introduced to eastern Britain the first of our Iron Age B cultures. These people, known to archaeologists as Marnians, raided East Anglia probably along rivers leading inland from the Wash, or overland from the Thames estuary.".
Substitute Rainbird's "Iron Age B" for La Tène Celtic Culture. He goes on to suggest, or rather, to state: "The success of the Marnians was due to their military prowess and to the superiority of their equipment, for they introduced chariot warfare to Britain, as devastating an innovation as that of the tank in modern times.".
Rainbird then sees a third "invasion". "The Belgae were a powerful confederation of tribes of Germanic origin, though their language was Celtic; they came from eastern France and Belgium, chiefly south of the Ardennes. Alone among the tribes of Gaul they were able to repel the assaults of the Cimbri and Teutones in 110 B.C., but the insecurity of this invasion may have influenced many of them to cross the Channel about ten years later and settle in south-east England, thus introducing our Iron Age C culture..".
"We have noted, during Phase II, the arrival of the Marnian warriors who established themselves as a ruling class over the Iron Age A peasantry and minor chiefs of the Cambridge region, Breckland, and west Norfolk, while the inhabitants of south-east Suffolk remained immune from their influence. The cultural distinctions between these two areas, separated by the afforested belt of High Suffolk, are reflected by Caesar. In 54 B.C. he mentions the Trinovantes whose tribal area probably included the Ipswich and Colchester regions, while the 'Cenimagni' who sent envoys to Caesar with their submission, are probably identified with the Iceni, whose sway extended over Norfolk and north -west Suffolk. The beginning of this tribal system is uncertain and may go back to the initial Iron Age A occupation, reflecting the diverse origins of the settlers in the two regions. The independant cultural development of the Breckland and Ipswich regions has been shown in earlier chapters to be a distinctive feature of East Anglian pre-history - it survives today as two county councils for Suffolk. Though the Trinovantes were one of the most powerful tribes in the south-east of England during the mid-first century B.C., they were obviously being harassed by their Belgic neighbours of Hertfordshire, since Caesar records the arrival of a Trinovantian king as a refugee from the attacks of Cassivellaunus, king of the Catuvallauni.".
So there you have it. Plain as A, B, C. Such a different interpretation of the archaeology to the views of archaeologists from the 1970s on. Later archaeologists avoid all mention of invasion or occupation. They only see continuity. They avoid comparing finds in East Anglia, with those found on the Continent, under the "pots are not people" warning. Rainbird saw it very different. Warrior elites from Marne. A lot of romantic assumptions and even certainty, although read between the lines, he does see admixture, and some continuity for the "peasants".
Iron Age Communities in Britain. Barry Cunliffe. 1975. Book Club Associates. I'll go straight to Chapter 11: "The Settlement Pattern and Economy of the South and East".
"To the Roman military mind the south-east was clearly the part to become a province, for grain was an immensely valuable commodity, and arable farmers, because of their dependence upon the seasons, were sedentary and thus easier to control.". Cunliffe goes on to describe the types of Iron Age settlement found in South-East Britain. There is a general agreement that the archaeology of Iron age Britain is very regionalised in style. The South-East for example, being very different in it's nature to that of the North or West. Generally speaking, Iron Age settlements in what is now East Anglia, typically consisted of a farmstead or small village - a cluster of round houses, that is not surrounded by any earthwork or defensive system. They were open. No souterrain or other features. This is in contrast to settlements elsewhere in Iron Age Britain. However Cunliffe does illustrate the plan of one site at West Harling in Norfolk, that contradicts this pattern, a single domestic round house, surrounded by a circular ditch with two wide causeways and an internal bank.
The Norfolk Landscape. David Dymond. 1985. Alastair Press. A local landscape history. Doesn't really focus much on the Iron Age in Norfolk, except to discuss Iron Age agricultural evidence. Pollen analysis suggests significant deforestation in Norfolk during the Early Iron Age. He discusses the evidence of surviving coaxial field boundaries in parts of Norfolk, that appear to underlay known Roman road systems that cut across the pattern. "By the early first century AD., all the various ethnic and cultural groups which existed in northern East Anglia had fused to form a tribe and kingdom known as the Iceni. Derek Allen attempted to reconstruct their fluctuating boundaries and internal organisation: for example, he suggested that the political centre of the kingdom was originally the Breckland of Norfolk and Suffolk. However, shortly before the Roman conquest of A.D. 43, Belgic immigrants from the south may have pushed the boundary back to the line of the Little Ouse-Waveney valley. The Iron Age fort, which Rainbird Clarke confirmed under the Norman castle at Thetford, deliberately commanded the Icknield Way as it crossed the Little Ouse, and it's secondary refurbishing may be connected with this phase of political contraction. The southern boundary of what later became Norfolk (or a part of it) may therefore go back to the political and military frontier of the late Iron Age.".
The Origins of Norfolk. Tom Williamson. 1993. Manchester University Press. Professor Tom Williamson is a leading landscape historian, based from the local University of East Anglia. His approach focuses on landscape history methods.
I'll start with the Iron age chapters. Evidence of unprecedented deforestation during the Iron Age. A number of coaxial "Celtic field", boundaries dated to late prehistory, have been proposed across parts of Norfolk, cut through by known Roman roads. Williamson goes on to describe the Iron Age "hill forts" of Norfolk - Narborough, South Creake, Holkham, Warham, Thetford, and possibly Tasburgh. Four of which are clustered up in North West Norfolk, by the North Sea coast, the Wash, and the Fens. He suggests place-name evidence of other lost hillforts in Norfolk.
Then he discusses Iceni coinage: "Coinage came rather late to the Iceni, first appearing in their area around 10 BC. The first coins were of gold, copies of Trinovantian and Catuvallaunian types; but silver soon became universal.All the coins carry a horse on the reverse, but the obverse takes three distinct forms: a wild beast (a boar?); a badly drawn head; and a design based on two conjoined, mirror-image crescents.".
After coinage, he goes on to describe the federal hypothesis, popular among local archaeologists: "But, we must be careful not to exaggerate the territorial cohesion, the political centralisation, of the 'Iceni'. They may, in fact, have been a loose group of tribes, rather than a centralised polity. When the Cenomagni surrendered to Caesar in 54 BC, they did so with a number of other tribes, the Segontiaci, the Ancalites, the Bibracti, and the Cassi. These groups are never mentioned by name again in classical sources; but subsequent references to the Iceni show them, once again, acting in association with unnamed allies or neighbours. Thus according to Tacitus, when the Iceni revolted in AD 47 they carried a number of neighbouring tribes with them, while their revolt in AD 60 was supported by the Trinovantes and other unnamed neighbouring tribes. Moreover, the suffix magni, 'greater', appended by Caesar to his rendering of the word 'Iceni' suggests the existence of more than one group bearing this tribal name.".
This is interesting. "This kind of loose political structure seems to have been a feature of other areas of late Iron Age Britain. Caesar himself made a distinction between those regions nearest the Channel - comparatively civilised and settled (he believed) by recent immigrants from the Continent; and the more socially and economically primitive areas of the interior. In archaeological terms, a similar distinction is apparent, between the south-east of the country - which was actively involved in contact and exchange with Gaul and the Roman Empire - and the areas further to the north and west, which were marginal to or excluded from such contacts (Darvill 1987: 166-80; Haselgrove 1982). It was in the former region, in the Home Counties, northern Northamptonshire, and Essex that coinage was first used, and that the so-called oppida were developing in the late first century BC: large, sprawling, semi-urban agglomerations of settlement, usually defended by long stretches of linear earthwork. It is in this area too, that foreign imports, especially amphorae which once contained wine, are most frequently discovered in graves or in settlements of late Iron Age date. Here the tribal groups who are named by Roman writers, or who gave their names to the administrative subdivisions of the Roman province of Britannia, were comparatively small and centralised polities. Their elites had grown wealthy and powerful through contacts with, and control of the exchange of luxury items with, the Roman world. Outside this core zone were less civilised, less centralised tribal federations. The line between these two broad zones runs through the middle of East Anglia. The Trinovantes belonged firmly to the 'core zone' of the south-east; they were a comparatively centralised polity with a great oppida, Camulodunum, at Colchester (Dunnett 1975: 18-27). The Iceni, in contrast, lay outside the main sphere of economic exchange; they had no true oppida, and no imported amphorae or other foreign luxuries.".
Williamson goes on to explain, that the Iceni were not however poor, with an abundance of precious metals, including an abundant use of torcs. He then goes on, as in repeated above in "The Land of Boudica. Prehistoric and Roman Norfolk. John Davies 2009", to mention a paper in 1970, that suggested that the three common obverses of Iceni coins, reflected three sub-tribes. The boar-obverse being most common in the Norwich area, the face obverse in North West Norfolk, and the pattern obverse most common in South West Norfolk / North West Suffolk.
The Boudican Revolt against Rome. Paul R Sealey. 1997 Shire Publications. This small book focuses on the Iceni revolt against Rome of AD 60. Once again, the author emphasises how different that the Iceni were in comparison to their more Belgic and Romanised neighbours, the Trinovantes, to the south. "One major area of difference in the archaeology of the two nations was their pottery. The Trinovantes used wheel-thrown pottery called Belgic; among the Iceni more traditional hand-made wares remained in use right up to the time of the Boudican revolt. In both regions the forms of the vessels are also distinct, although on some Icenian settlements there is a gradual adoption of Belgic pottery in the fifty years or so before AD 60. These developments are illustrated by the pottery from the Icenian farmstead at West Stow, Suffolk. The Trinovantes and Catuvellauni had important trade links with the Roman world in the century before AD 43. Icenian participation in this exchange was negligible. The tribe apparently denied access to Roman merchants in the late iron age, a policy also followed by some tribes in Gaul and Germany who believed that wine and other imports with the Roman world undermined traditional values.
The author discusses the hypothesis that the three obverses on Iceni coins represented three sub-tribes, but dismisses it "but no geographical clusters that would support this are now apparent. Sealey then discusses the first Iceni revolt, of AD 47, believed to be at Stonea Camp, the furthest west "hill fort" (I've been there, it's in the Fens and other than the earthworks, the area is flat as a pancake) credited to the Iceni. I remember on my visit there, information boards explained that there was archaeological evidence of the Roman attack on the hill fort, in the form of human remains and Roman artillery missiles.
Land of the Iceni. The Iron Age in Northern East Anglia. Edited by John Davies and Tom Williamson (eds), etal. Centre of East Anglian Studies. 1999.
John Davies was curator for Norfolk Museum Services. I'd say that he has spent many years as a local professional archaeologist. Tom Williamson is a UEA (University of East Anglia) lecturer in Landscape Archaeology. Different background and perspective, but still local based.
The book starts out by discussing and accrediting the work of field walkers. This might seem a strange methodology to forum members. I was a field-walker with several years experience, before I decided to start living more. I prefer the description "surface collection survey". It involves simply walking ploughed or otherwise disturbed top soils, and recording / plotting any archaeological evidence (artifacts) that you spot looking down at the ground. It's far less evasive and more quantitative than excavation. It complements other landscape history methods such as old map study, place name study, or metal detection survey. Did I find much Iron Age? No. I found some sherds of pottery that appear most likely Iron Age here and there, but most prehistoric ceramic is very frail in top soils. I found lots of very roughly knapped flint, and burnt flints - some of which could be Iron Age, or alternatively, a little earlier. The idea of Bell Beaker folk arriving some 1,600 years earlier, and totally replacing all stone tools with beautiful bronze is absolutely incorrect. Sorry R1 guys. " (sic) ... by classical writers like Caesar, Tacitus, Cassius Dio and Strabo. Our view of Iron Age society is still considerably coloured by these writers, who presenta picture of a Britain populated by warlike tribal states dominated by warrior nobilities. Popular images of Boudica, Queen of the Iceni, leading her army against the Roman invaders, have done much to fuel this conventional view.".
"Archaeology is currently showing that the communities living in the various regions of Iron Age Britain had, in fact, limited contacts beyond their immediate localities. It is becoming clear that communities living in the various regions of Britain were neither unified nor uniform". "Of the tribes named by Caesar at the time of his British expeditions of 55 and 54 BC, only the Trinovantes and Atrebates are referred to just a century later.".
Davies goes on to explain that a lot of archaeology has been discovered since Rainbird Clarke's time, through a range of methods from excavation, through field walking, to metal detection. He points out that for territorial limits, we've looked too much at those suggested by Roman writers, and by coinage, that largely reflect the early Roman period. He suggests earlier territorial boundaries could have been wider, before Roman influence or campaigns. He then goes on to attack the traditional neat packaging of late Iron Age Britain into centralised tribal kingdoms as presented by Roman writers.
"Torcs are a form of hoop shaped jewelry associated with Late Iron Age people, apparently used as neck ornaments. The name, which derives from Latin, actually describes one of the more common varieties, which is formed from twisted strands of metal. These rings were visually impressive: the Classical writer Dio describes Queen Boudica wearing 'a large golden torc and a voluminous patterned cloak with a thick plaid fastened over it'. Torcs are frequently found on the Continent but they are seldom recovered from such contexts in Britain.".
Davies goes on to map the distribution of recovered torcs in Norfolk. They are concentrated in the west of the county, in the north west near to the Wash, and alongside the Fen edge. He then goes on to describe a more common metal find - chariot and horse fittings. These are more widespread across Norfolk. There appeared to be an importance on horses, horsemanship, and chariot driving among the late Iron Age Iceni.
"More sites are known from the Middle Iron Age. Settlement still appears to appears to have been dense across west Norfolk, but sites now appear further to the east, away from the Fen-edge, although still avoiding the heavier soils. Indeed, the only certain example of a clayland site of this period is that recently excavated at Park Farm, Wymondham, and this seems to date to rather late in the middle Iron Age (Ashwin 1996)."
"The Late Iron Age saw increased population growth and this is reflected in the greater number of known settlements. Some of the earlier sites remained in use, while many new ones appeared. Sites now spread onto the heavier boulder-clay soils of central and southern Norfolk, and onto the high interfluves, resulting in a more even spread of settlement across the county."
"The model proposed is one of settlement expansion over time, with people moving across the landscape, from west to east, and eventually into the more remote and less hospitable interior regions. It appears that the Early Iron Age landscape was a fairly empty one: people preferred to live on the lighter and better drained soils. The Middle Iron Age saw an expansion of settlement. People were moving onto, and exploiting the resources, of the claylands, but there is of yet no evidence for occupation here. During the Late Iron Age, however, settlements began to appear right across the claylands, and eventually covered the whole county (Davies 1996). The overall picture is one of a predominantly agrarian society whose members lived in open settlements, engaging in a successful farming regime able to produce a significant surplus.".
Next, the book looks at artifact evidence, starting with metal objects. The local government archaeology unit, has had a long history of working alongside metal detector enthusiasts, in order to encourage the voluntary submission of finds to be examined and added to the public record. Finds of torcs are considered. "In Norfolk they have been found at twelve locations, their distribution displaying a western, and essentially north-western, bias. Snettisham appears to have had a focal role in their distribution: a number of hoards were discovered in this parish between 1948 and 1990 (stead 1991).".
"Some of the most common Late Iron Age artefacts are various forms of chariot and horse harness fittings. In particular, D-shaped bronze rein-rings, called terrets, have been discovered at a number of locations in Norfolk. Each chariot was fitted with a set of five terrets. Four, of similar size, were strapped to the yoke and a fifth, the largest of the set, was fixed to the central pole."
"They have been recovered from locations scattered right across Norfolk, with a major concentration - comprising around a third of the total number known - coming from Saham Toney and its immediate vicinity in central Norfolk.
Davies then goes on to look at the evidence of Iceni coins. The evidence of coin obverses representing different sub tribes is reassessed in light of so many more Iceni coins on the record, from submissions made by metal detectorists. 65 Icenni types are now recognised. Some 500 "stray" (not in a hoard) coins so far recorded at time of publication. The earliest date to circa 65 BC.
There are patterns to where the different coin obverses are scattered, but it's complex. Gold coins were slightly concentrated in the north west but almost not at all in the South west (Breckland). Silver coins, 'Bury' types found in the south, 'Boar-horses' in the south, Face-horses all over except the north west. That gold coins tend to be a little earlier, made up to 40 BC, and silver later, could indicate that the power base was moving out of NW Norfolk, across the region. What does Davies have to say about it?
"The evidence outlined above appears to indicate diverse behaviour by some groups occupying different regions of Norfolk for the whole of the Iron Age. Yet more order and coherence emerges when a tighter chronological framework is applied. In the Early Iron Age, occupation seems to have been concentrated in the Breckland and Fen-edge of south-west Norfolk. By the 1st century BC, Snettisham in the north west, had become a focus of artefact deposition: the Snettisham torcs have been dated to the first half of the 1st century BC (Stead 1991). The gold coin hoards from north-west Norfolk, in contrast, date from the middle of the 1st century BC. The absence of gold coins, and the presence of later silver coin hoards and artefacts, at the Breckland sites of Thetford and Saham Toney/Ashill suggest that this area became prominent some what later, perhaps replacing Snettisham as a major tribal centre during the later 1st century BC. The prominence of 'Pattern-Horse' coins at Caister St Edmund, and the lower percentages of 'Face-Horse' and 'Boar-Horse' varieties recovered from here, suggests that this site came to prominence later still, during the 1st century AD.".
The book also explores the Iron Age enclosures of Norfolk. Tasburgh has been dismissed as Iron Age, dating much later to Anglo-Saxon or Anglo-Danish. That leaves the four "hill forts" of North west and Western Norfolk, close to the Wash, and Thetford, down in south-west Norfolk (Breckland). However, there is another type of enclosure in Norfolk, dated to the Iron Age. These usually only survive as crop or soil marks. The "hill forts" are rounded or oval. These field marks are square or rectangular! The suggestion is that these shallower rectangular enclosures had very different purposes to the hill fort type enclosures, and may have had ritual uses. They are found in North, West, and South west Norfolk, and north west Suffolk (Breckland). Davies makes a rare association with a Continental class of Iron Age earthwork, known as Viereckshanzen. Possibly belonging to this group is the Fison Way site at Gallows Hill, Thetford. This was a very late, magnificant, multiple ditched square enclosure with central buildings, one of which could have had more than one level. There is evidence that it was purposely destroyed after the Boudican Revolt during the second half of the 1st century AD. Square enclosures on the Continent in the Cologne Basin, Moselle, and in the Champagne regions, were used as burial enclosures. Fison Way could also relate to a rectangular enclosure, found on the opposite ridge of the Little Ouse valley, at Barnham in Suffolk. This has been dated to Middle Iron Age.
Now Oppida Those sprawling Late Iron Age settlement and activity sites most famously represented by the oppida in Essex, close to Colchester. My other, earlier text books have stated that no oppida have been found associated with the Iceni lands. However, largely through coin and artifact survey - several have now been proposed, including at Saham Toney, Thetford, and finally, Caister St Edmund, where the Roman authorities laid down the foundations of the town of Venta Icenorum.
In later chapters by other authors. More settlement has been detected from the Iron Age in Norfolk. Rescue archaeological digs of two Early Bronze Age round barrows that were going to be destroyed by the Norwich Bypass road development, revealed SE facing Iron Age round houses in between them, apparently respecting the earlier mounds in their boundaries. A number of four poster features have been discovered at numerous sites, of unknown use. A favoured suggestion is raised granary buildings. At a rescue dig at the Wymondham bypass road development, a site already recorded through field-walking (Iron Age pottery and burnt flint scatter), revealed a multiple industry site, with pits accredited to softening bones, antler, and horn for processing as raw material, and a lot of flint knapping. The site serves to remind us that flint tools and use did not end with the discovery of metal-working. Something that I was always aware of when I use to survey worked flint scatters in Thetford Forest. In another essay, two parishes were fieldwalked for Iron Age potsherds. The parish in west Norfolk, between the North-West Norfolk and Breckland Iron Age hot spots produced far more clusters indicating settlement, than did the parish, further to the east on the clay soils.
A Gallo-Roman dated shipwreck off the coast of Armorica, France, produced 271 lead ingots. Most were stamped with BRIGANTES, but five were stamped with ICENES or similar. They appeared to be on their way from those Roman civitas in Eastern Britain. That suggests that they were being marketed in Northern East Anglia perhaps for roof tile manufacture, but as the region doesn't have local lead, it suggests middle man trading. "Whatever the case, this may have been a well-established trade route with antecedents in the Iron Age - perhaps some of the silver in Icenian coins came from similar ingots from the Continent or Britain.". Chapter 7. Tasking the Iron Age: the Iceni and Minting. Amanda Chadburn.
The Land of Boudica. Prehistoric and Roman Norfolk. John Davies 2009. Oxbow Books in association with Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service. "A complex social structure had become established during the Bronze Age. Power had grown through the control of long-distance trade networks which had ensured the provision of the raw materials used to make bronze. Then, as ironworking was adopted, this system fragmented. As the supply and production of metalwork became easier, the basis for the organisation of society changed.
"As the Iron Age progressed, society became organised into chiefdoms and tribes. These groupings fluctuated in size and composition over time and were associated with territories. At the same time we can also detect an increase in warfare, which was to play a significant role in social relations. Fighting seemed to have been common practice within and between tribal societies.".
"Then around 400 BC, the previously close relations with the Continent appear to have lapsed and European artifacts were no longer being brought to Britain. It was at this stage that developed hillforts dominated the landscape in parts of the country. There was also an appreciable growth in the number of settlements and population pressure began to develop on the better agricultural land.
"By the 2nd century BC, increased economic specialisation can clearly be seen in the archaeological record once again. Special items such as glass and beads were made at some places and not others. Salt was produced at coastal sites. Some chalkland sites specialised in different types of cereals. A system of weights was developed and artifacts were produced for exchange. It is at this stage that we have evidence for increasing conflict within society."
Later in the chapter: "A number of brooches of Middle Iron Age date have been found in Norfolk. Although not common, the La Tène -style forms have been found at Caistor St Edmund, Wicklewood, Gayton, Beachamwell, Hockering, and at Narborough."
The book reports that only 14 Iron Age human remains have been recovered in Norfolk, and suggests that funerary rights such as excarnation must have been employed. Of the 14 remains, 5 are only skulls. This could suggest that these remains that have been found are not typical. The book goes on to describe Norfolk's linear earthworks (usually on a North-South alignment, dividing East and West, with suggestions of a series in alignment dividing West Norfolk from the Fens.) that have been proposed as Iron Age in date, then moves onto Norfolk's six peculiar "lowland" Iron Age hillforts, concentrated on the North West coast of Norfolk near to the Wash, facing what is now the Fens and Lincolnshire.
This is a theme that constantly rises in Norfolk - that the archaeology of Norfolk, East Cambridgeshire, and North Suffolk (the area that roughly correlates to the spread of Iceni coins), is different. There is a saying that "Norfolk do different", and it appears to have been the case during the Iron Age. Different coinage, the highest density of torc finds (even my late father once found one), small roundhouse farmsteads that were unenclosed, open, and this array of river valley "hillforts". The reluctance to use wheel thrown Belgic pottery - clinging onto hand moulded ceramics. I've more than once pointed this out to posters - that it wasn't a blanket Celtic Culture across the British Isles.
"More torcs have been found in East Anglia than in the rest of Britain".
The book then turns to another popular trend in norfolk Archaeology over the past thirty years. That the Late Iron Age area of northern East Anglia, that was to become associated with Iceni coinage, was fragmented, into at least three smaller groupings, each with their own tribal centre of influence marked in archaeology. The suggestion is that the Iceni were a federation of smaller local societies with a common interest. Caesar had referred to a group north of the Thames that he called the Cenimagni. "The name used by Caesar may have been a version of the name, meaning Eceni Magni or the Great Iceni.". "It may be that Caesar's Cenimagni were one of the smaller social groups. These groupings would have come together under a single senior leader at times of stress, coalescing into larger regional entities whose organisation was based on kingship and associated client networks.
"With the external threat from Rome, the loose decentralised communities within northern East Anglia came together as a single larger unit, under a senior chieftain or king. It was at that stage the grouping recognised as the Iceni became identified by Roman writers.".
In the previous post (The First Anglians Part I), I referred to excavation reports from Caistor St Edmund, as published in 1973. Here, I mainly refer to a book that was recommended to the landscape history, The Origins of Norfolk by Tom Williamson, MUP 1993.
Williamson refers to local Pagan Saxon cemeteries, that largely date to the 5th to 7th centuries AD. He tells us that a large number of these cemeteries have been found in Norfolk, with many of the earlier cemeteries containing decorated urns of the cremated dead.
I recently visited one of these cemeteries, the infamous Spong Hill, near to North Elmham, Norfolk:
The book reports that:
Catherine Hills, moreover, has shown that the burial practices employed at the largest Norfolk cemetery yet excavated, at Spong Hill near North Elmham, are so close to those practised in parts of northern Europe that they surely must represent the graves of people of Continental origin or descent. More than this, she has demonstrated that the cemetery's closest parallels are with the Anglian, rather than with the Saxon, areas of the Continent. Hills compared the burials at Spong Hill with those at Suderbrarup and Bordesholm in Schleswig-Holstein, and at Westerwanna in Lower Saxony. The range of grave-goods found at all the sites was similar, but the closest similarities were consistently between Spong and the Schleswig sites. Thus for example 'The most characteristic late fourth to fifth century burials at Suderbrarup seem to be those which contain sets of miniatures with combs, in pots which either have no decoration or a horizontal/vertical bossed and grooved design. Very similar burials occur at Spong Hill' (Hills, forthcoming).
The Anglian affinities were not entirely clear-cut. In particular, the Spong pottery urns, with their use of stamped ornament, showed closest affinities with those from the Westerwanna cemetery.
It's not clear cut is it? I think that what we see in East Anglia, is a general migration from the area of northern Germany and Jutland. Perhaps even further afield, from Frisia, and from tribes further to the south - a Norfolk inhumation suggests Allemani, a place name (Swaffham) suggests Suevvi. However, culturally, that area of what is now Northern Germany, including Schleswig-Holstein, appears to have given lead in identity.
I currently feel that late 5th / early 6th century AD East Anglia, although with this Anglian bias, was a pretty multicultural area, with many people the descendants of Angles, but also from other tribes scattered from Frisia to Jutland - and also often sharing local Romano-British ancestry. During the 6th Century, as new elites emerged, they claimed heroic ancestry from the Angles of Schleswig-Holstein. It may, or may not have been true. The East Anglian Royal family actually claimed dual ancestry - to be descended both from Woden, and from Julius Caesar! (That might suggest some lingering Romano-British identity in the emerging kingdom). However, it was 7th century cool to be associated with Beowulf adventurers of the North Sea.
A recent purchase in a Norwich shop, was a used book: The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall Norfolk by J.N.L Myres and Barbara Green. The Society of Antiquities. 1973. Caistor-by-Norwich, or as it is also known, Caistor-St Edmund, is located close to the confluence of the River Tas with the River Yare, in East Norfolk. The Anglo-Saxon cremation urn cemetery there, was built outside of the walls of Venta Icenorum, a Romano-British town. The book's authors suggest that the cemetery belonged to Anglo-Saxon mercenary soldiers, that were employed to defend the town, and their families that they brought over. This fits the context of the Anglo-Saxon invasion, as proposed by traditionalist historians that support the accounts made in later centuries by Gildas and by Bede. In this context, these finds could be suggested to have belonged to the very first East Anglians
I could wax on about it's extensive finds catalogue, and illustrations:
But instead, I'm going to copy here, a passage from the above book that I read this morning, after recieving an email from Stephen Arbon, concerning the Anglo-Saxon settlement of East Anglia.
"The suggested reorganization of the town defences in the third century implies a community still sufficiently large and viable to warrant such an expense. The enclosure of some 35 acres must indicate that this area was thought worth defending. Until the whole system is securely dated uncertainty must remain. But the existence of external bastions does indicate that the defences were probably improved in the later part of the fourth century. Further evidence for the existence of an adequate defensive system at the time comes from the forum and Building 4. Five pieces of military equipment of the type associated with barbarian troops of this period have been found on these two sites, while a sixth was included in a nineteenth century collection. All are late fourth - or early fifth century types and indicate the presence of a military force stationed in or near the town at this time. A bone sword guard was picked up after ploughing in 1969 in the area of the Baths. This too can perhaps be associated with the users of the metal objects. By this time also, if the dating here suggested for the earliest barbarian burials in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery is correct, Germanic folk were already cremating their dead only some 400 yards outside the east gate of Venta.
It may also be significant in this context to note that a number of pieces of so-called 'Romano-Saxon' pottery have been recorded from the Roman town. One such, unstratified, has already been published; three others are here illustrated on fig. 70. Pottery of this kind has been held to indicate the impact of Germanic decorative taste on ceramic fashions in the later days of Roman Britain. It certainly displays motifs that were popular beyond the Roman frontiers at this time; where datable, it occurs mostly in late fourth-century contexts, and its distribution lies mainly in those eastern parts of Britain where the barbarian influence was likely to be felt at the earliest date. The presence of this hybrid pottery is another piece of evidence for the cultural conditions prevailing at Venta in its final phase.
Caistor is in fact one of the few Roman towns in Britain where Romano-Saxon pottery, late Roman military equipment, and early Germanic cremation cemeteries have all been found in close association. The relationship between the soldiery to whom the military equipment found in the town belonged and the folk whose cremated remains were buried outside the walls is difficult to determine. It is most natural to suppose that these finds represent two aspects of the same phenomenon, a body of Germanic mercenaries who in life defended the walls in their final form and in death were buried, in accordance with continuing Roman practice, outside. If as is suggested by the presence of beads in some of the earliest urns, they had their families with them, they too would have been settled somewhere close at hand. It may be objected that barbarian irregulars in Roman, or sub-Roman employment would be unlikely to cremate their dead with such persistence as the earliest users of the cemetery appear to have done. It is true that most cemeteries of Germanic troops that have been recognized in Roman frontier areas on the Continent consist of inhumations, and the well known Dorchester burials are a similar instance in this country. But it has to be remembered that most of the continental laeti in northern Gaul came of Frankish stock or from related German tribes beyond the Rhine who had long been familiar with Roman ways, while the Angles and Saxons who first settled at Caistor came from regions much further afield in north Germany and southern Scandinavia on which Roman civilization had made little cultural impact. And, while it is true that no objects of Roman uniform equipment have been recognized in our cremation urns, such instances have been recorded in north German cremation cemeteries, indicating no doubt that individual Saxons who had served in Roman irregular units did sometimes return home to die and be cremated in accordance with their own ancestral customs. At Caistor and elsewhere in eastern England such folk had fewer opportunities to return home to the Continent: they had come here to stay, and they continued to cremate their dead in their new homeland, unaffected by Romano-British habits, for which, in any case, they probably had some contempt.
The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall Norfolk by J.N.L Myres and Barbara Green. The Society of Antiquities. 1973.
A surviving stretch of Venta's wall at Caistor St Edmund.
An information board at the site of the old Roman town.
Drawing of Romano-British potsherds from a site that I recorded in Thetford Forest many years ago. The bottom left sherd is of the type known as Romano-Saxon pottery.
In conclusion, I'm not prepared to take sides on this one. we know that some very early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries surround the old Roman town of Venta Icenorum in Norfolk. We still don't know with any degree of certainty what was the relationship between the town and these cemeteries. Another Anglo-Saxon cemetery has been found close to the walls of the Roman shore fort nearby at Burgh Castle. Did they arrive as Gildas indicated, as invited guests and mercenaries?
Nearly twenty ago I was a keen amateur archaeologist, submitting finds from a large number of field-walk or surface collection surveys in East Anglia (Thetford Forest Archaeology). I studied Field Archaeology and Landscape History for two years on a part time course organised by the UEA. I also spent one week with Suffolk Archaeology, as a volunteer, helping to record sites from aerial reconnaissance photos.
A few years later, I was regularly running and cycling through the forest with my dogs. Studying maps for my running areas, I spotted crop marks in a field in the forest. I was concerned that being located in an area that was mainly forest, that it might have been missed by aerial reconnaissance surveys for archaeology. However, I never got around to reporting it.
So I finally, years later, just did.
Two ring ditches, one around 63 metres in diameter, and another nearby around 31 metres in diameter. The larger was only partially visible as a semi circle in the form of a soil mark on the 2006 September image. The smaller one, close by to the east, has been much more regularly visible, as both a soil mark, and a crop mark, in 1999, 2006, 2007, and June 2017 images.
My interpretation? Probably ploughed out Bronze Age round barrows. There a mound not far away in the forest that I have my suspicions about as well.
So, let's see if Heritage@Norfolk.gov.uk replies or not.
I made an awesome heritage day trip yesterday. My first encounter with Seahenge (Holme Timber Circle I) occurred in 1998. I was living at Thetford, and made daily visits to a local dig of a Pagan Saxon site there, by the NAU (Norfolk Archaeological Unit). On my last visit, the young digger remarked that he was being relocated to a remarkable timber circle rescue dig on the North Norfolk coast.
It was an eroded timber circle, with an inverted tree stump at the centre. It was dated through dendrochronology to be 4,060 years old (2049 BC) felled and erected during the Early Bronze Age. There were concerns that the site could soon be lost to sea erosion. An attempt was launched by the NAU in collaboration with the TV show Time Team, to remove the timbers from the beach for conservation. There was significant protest by both local groups, and by neo-pagans, that felt that the timbers should be left on the beach.
The removal continued despite the protests. It has been postulated that it may have been used as a small shrine, or perhaps as a burial chamber - with the corpse placed on top of the inverted tree stump "altar".
I next saw the timbers a few years later, under preservation process at the Flag Fen archaeological museum near to Peterborough:
The tanks at Flag Fen were under canvas, and you could literally touch the timbers in the water tanks. Since preservation was completed, most of the timbers, and the tree stump "alter", have been on display in Norfolk, at the Kings Lynn Museum. I've visited it several times over the years, but I had never been to the original site. Until yesterday!
I parked the car back near to the White Horse pub in the village. I wanted to take a short pilgrimage of a few miles to the spot that I had identified from grid references online. It also follows where the Peddars Way joins the North Norfolk Coastal Path. Two long distance trails that I completed with my dog years ago.
Been there, done them, got the T shirt.
The path follows behind the sea dunes and a stretch of freshwater marsh - that is most likely, similar to the environment that the timber circles were built in. Sea erosion over the past 4,000 years has been driving the sealine and dunes back. The dunes must have gradually crossed over the timber circles as it slowly retreated, leaving the archaeology on the beach surrounded by the eroding features of ancient fresh water marshes.
I had pre-programmed my trusty handheld GPS unit to track down the find spots.
I can't tell you how much I loved retracing my old steps along this section of the North Norfolk Coastal Path. It's beautiful:
When I started to near to the point, and to the archaeological site, I safely traversed a foot path down to the beach. An awesome, beautiful day:
I followed the GPS to the find spot here. During the dig, it was alongside a patch of ancient marsh mud. It's all gone. Just bleached sands now. A few years after removing Seahenge (Holme I), a second timber circle (Holme II) and altar was spotted close by. It was a larger circle, with planks rather than posts, and signs of a timber causeway near by. Following the experience of the public opposition to removing Holme I, it was decided this time, to leave this other timber circle in-situ. Today, it appears to be gone. Eroded away by storms and tides. Clearly, the archaeologists and conservators were perfectly correct to have removed the smaller circle for preservation. The above photo looks across where the two circles were. A metal rod presumably left to mark the spot of Holme I:
More modern timbers can be found closer to the eroding marsh mud:
Some timbers on the site have also been identified as being much older tree stumps from the old marsh.
Then it was off the Kings Lynn Museum, in order to revisit the timbers of Seahenge (Holme I) circle:
Below, a reconstruction of an Early Bronze Age man (carrying a flat bronze axe), based on the dress of contemporary bog bodies found in Denmark:
Finally, a display case with other Bronze Age finds from the area:
Population Genetics Discussion.
Only within the past few weeks, a major new study of ancient European DNA has suggested that the earlier Neolithic peoples of the British Isles were largely replaced (or even perhaps displaced) by a new people carrying an artifact assemblage that we call the Bell Beaker Culture, most likely arriving first in Southeast Britain, from what is now the area of the Netherlands. They would arrived in the British Isles circa 4,200 years ago. This is just previous to the Holme Timber Circles. The conclusion would be that most likely, the timber circles on the North Norfolk Coast were the burial practices of this new Beaker population. However... the story remains to be detailed, or even perhaps rewritten with future study.
This afternoon, I decided to visit Arminghall Henge. Only 55 minutes cycle ride from my home, it sits just outside of the Norwich southern bypass, near to County Hall. It was not in any way sign posted. Not as much as an information sign. Even though the "Boadicea Way" trail runs right past it:
Indeed, the only way that I found it was through online resources and my GPS:
It was first spotted in 1929 - a first in the history of aerial photography for archaeology. It was excavated in 1935:
The ambiance can only detected by the imaginative. As a seasoned time traveller, it gave me the kick, despite it being in a horse field, with overhead HV power cables, right next to a major power sub station for the City of Norwich:
Not really an attraction for tourists. No standing stones. this is East Anglia, we don't have boulder-stones. The Neolithic creators of this site erected earthworks and massive timbers - the post-holes that sometimes be seen from above. Incidentally, in archaeology, a "Henge" is not a stone circle. Stone circles were sometimes erected inside a henge, often later. It's a circular bank and ditch earthwork, with the ditch on the inside - as though keeping something in - a defensive rampart has the ditch on the outside. A henge keeps something "in". Interesting is that the most famous henge - Stonehenge, breaks that convention.
Looking up at the site of the Henge from the nearby water course at the bottom of the valley.
and the modern water course itself.
If you've seen my posts in this section before, you know that I like to do a little mole hill archaeology:
Yes, that's a flint flake in the mole hill. Displaying it's dorsal surface, showing the scars of previously removed flakes.
An inspection before returning it to it's topsoil context. I'm here showing you the striking platform, point of impact, and conchoidal fracture bulb. On the right, I can tell you it has wear from being used as a "notched flake", maybe to clean a bone, or an arrow-shaft or similar.
Another flint flake, dorsal surface, showing the scars of previously struck flakes from the core.
Finally, more recent archaeology. A lens cap circa AD 2010?
I hope that someone out there gets some enjoyment from these third person explores of East Anglian sites.
British archaeologists have long been aware of a late prehistoric artifact culture found across the British Isles, and across large areas of Western Europe. It bridged the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods around 4,400 to 3,800 years ago. It was characterised by the use of fine bell-shaped beaker pots, usually red ceramic fabric, heavily decorated with simple motifs. These motifs were characteristically impressed with a fine toothed comb or dentated spatula. Many Bell beaker burial rituals have been excavated and studied. The inhumed body would usually be crouched on the side, roughly on a north to south alignment. A bell beaker would often be stood near to the body, at the feet, or near the head. Other grave goods often included barbed and tanged flint arrowheads, flint flakes and blades, antler picks, sometimes one or two more beakers, amber beads, copper awls, and gold earrings / hair rings. 64% of British Beaker burials were flat graves, but sometimes a barrow or cist would be erected above it (Beaker Pottery of Great Britain & Ireland. DL Clarke. CUP 1970).
Above, a flint barbed & tanged arrowhead of the Beaker Culture, that I found and recorded during a surface collection survey some years ago.
Archaeologists studying the artifact culture in Britain, compared the British finds to those on the Continent in order to try to find an origin for these people. They suggested either Brittany in North West France, or the Lower Rhine Valley, in the Netherlands and Northern Germany. Some alternatively promoted Iberia as the origin.
Then British Archaeology entered an intellectual phase where it became fashionable to dismiss migration or invasions of people, in favour of cultural exchange. Pots not People. Rather like today, we British wear denim, t-shirts, listen to R&B, and drink coke. However, we have not been displaced by North Americans - we just absorbed the artifacts of another culture. From the 1970s on, many late prehistoric migrations were dismissed by British archaeologists as cultural exchanges rather than representing population displacement.
2. The New Population Genetics and the Steppe Pastoralists.
A new field of study has been gathering pace with the arrival of the 21st Century, that uses genetic evidence, to explore past migrations, movements, admixtures, and origins of peoples. The earliest pioneers used blood types, then mitochondrial DNA mutations, followed by STR of Y-DNA. Some of the early conclusions supported the new orthodoxy of British Archaeology. Stephen Oppenheimer's infamous publication "The Origins of the British" championed that there had been little change in British populations since the Ice Age. They were to be proven wrong. Early conclusions, based on little evidence, misunderstandings that were later corrected with more data, seriously damaged the reputation of population genetics in British prehistoric studies.
The most common Y-DNA haplogroup of Western Europe, particularly of Ireland and Britain was R1b. Early mistakes gave this male haplogroup an Ice Age origin of the Basque Region in Southwest Europe. As more data gathered, and debate developed, it became apparent that the origin was not the Basque region, but the Pontic and Caspian Steppes of Eurasia! It became associated with an archaeological culture in Southern Russia called the Yamna. The R1b and R1a haplogroups appeared to have spilled off the Steppes into Europe during the Copper Age during a significant migration event around 4,900 - 4,600 years ago. In Eastern and Central Europe, this migration of pastoralists appears to be responsible for the fused artifact culture known as the Corded Ware (again, after a prehistoric pottery style).
A few lectures on Youtube to watch:
Havard lecture by David Reich 2015.
CARTA lecture by Johannes Krause 2016
That brings us up to date. In summary, population geneticists have discovered a movement of people, not just pots, from the Steppes into Europe. Modern Europeans descend from an admixture of three major founder populations: 1) the Western Eurasian hunter-gatherers, then a layer of 2) Early Neolithic farmers (that originated in Anatolia and the Middle East), and finally, 3) the Steppe Pastoralists. The actual mix varies not only from person to person, but also regionally across Europe.
So how does the Bell Beaker Culture of Britain and Western Europe fit into all of this? The strong assumption over the past couple of years was that the diffusion of R1b Y-DNA haplogroups occurred then, so therefore, it was a simple extension of this westward drift across Europe that originated on the Pontic and Caspian Steppes. It first spawned the Corded Ware Culture in Central Europe, but then when it met Western Europe, spawned the Bell Beaker Culture. However, until now, this hypothesis hadn't been tested.
The Beaker phenomenon and genetic transformation of Northwest Europe 2017
Has now examined some of these questions, through the examination of an unprecedented scale of ancient DNA sampling. The link to their published document (which is still awaiting peer review) is at the top of this post, and I'd invite others to read it for themselves. An article covering the document can also be read on the Scientific American. However, I personally with my layman head take five suggestions from the study.
They found that the DNA of human remains on Continental Europe did not suggest one cohesive or homogeneous population. There was in this case, evidence of cultural diffusion. Different peoples were taking on the Bell Beaker artifact assemblage in Western Europe. Pots rather more than people. This was a great surprise, as we still know from the earlier study, that much of our DNA and Y-DNA in particular, originated around 400 years earlier from the Eurasian Steppes. However, although the Central European Corded Ware Culture does still appear to have been a response to that great influx of new people from the Steppes, the picture with the Western European Bell Beaker is more complex.
An exception was Britain. Here, the remains associated with Bell Beaker Culture were all one population, and they were very different to the earlier Neolithic population of Britain. It appears to have been a case of population displacement. They suggest at least 90% displacement! It means that very few or none of our Neolithic ancestors built the amazing monuments of Neolithic Britain. They were built by earlier peoples, that our ancestors displaced.
They confirm a Lower Rhine origin as most likely for the British Beaker People. The ancient DNA that most closely matched British Beaker DNA, came from Beaker human remains in the Netherlands and Northern Germany. This correlates nicely with the 1970 archaeological study mentioned above.
It's confirmed. Previous to their entry into the British Isles, there is no evidence of any Steppe ancestry, no Steppe autosomal DNA, no Steppe Y haplogroups such as R1b-L21 here. (Nor any mtDNA haplogroup H6a1). The Beaker people from the Lower Rhine, brought the initial layers of this DNA to Britain. The founder population were admixed, but with significant percentages of Steppe ancestry, particularly on Y lines.
The previous Neolithic Farmer population were mainly Y haplogroup I2, and appear to have descended mainly from populations in the South, from Iberia, rather than from the Danube, although before that from Anatolia. The modern population that is closest to them today are Sardinians.
Also as a layman, I guess that this suggests that most, or even any "Neolithic Farmer" DNA suggested by our ancient ancestry calculators, was most likely picked up elsewhere than Britain, and brought here by later migrants (descended through that mixture of cultural diffusion and admixture), rather than directly from the British Neolithic population.
I also notice a correlation with an Irish study last year ("Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and
establishment of the insular Atlantic genome" Cassidy etal. Queens University Belfast 2016), that again, suggested major displacement of earlier peoples in Ireland, at the end of the Neolithic, by a population with largely Steppes origins.