The First East Anglians Part I

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?

Archaeology by Google Maps

Images on this post are Map data ©2015 Google.

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.

Images on this post are Map data ©2015 Google.

The families that sailed far, far away

Above painting of a British passenger clipper that sailed the route to Australia.

Researching not just direct ancestry, but the branches down, I come across so many stories.  The story of my own lines is usually the one of those that stayed at home.  I have previously published the story of one of my direct ancestors, David Peach, that was forced through the process of convict transportation to leave home for Tasmania in 1837.

Recent research into what happened to the descendants of ancestral siblings has revealed another new story, of those that didn't stay at home.

My mother's family board the Epaminondas 

My 4th great uncle Thomas Thacker, was born in Salhouse, Norfolk in 1825 - the older brother of my 3x great grandmother, Susannah Thacker. Thomas married Mary Ann Emerson, and at the age of 26, with his wife and two young sons John and Walter, sailed for three months on the clipper Epaminondas to Port Adelaide, Australia. They berthed on Christmas Eve 1853.

The Launceston Immigration Aid Society 1855 - 1862

A group of congregationalists and anti-transportationists in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) and Victoria formed this society, with the aim of attracting respectable and hard working new settlers to Van Diemen's Land, through a bounty resettlement scheme.  My father's ancestor David Peach, was a transported convict in Van Diemen's Land at this time, serving a life sentence after being found guilty at the Lincoln Assizes, of stealing two steers.  This new scheme hoped to attract "men and women who would leaven the labouring classes and become part of a stock that would supply the ever-increasing wants of a new and fertile country".  The Society focused on the rural labouring classes of East Anglia.

The Reverend Benjamin Drake sailed from Victoria to Eastern England in order to interview and select suitable migrants for the scheme.  Drake visited South-West Norfolk.  There he encountered members of my ancestral family from father's side.

My father's family board the Whirlwind

The Riches family had moved to Great Hockham, Norfolk, from the nearby parish of Old Buckenham.  Benjamin Riches was an agricultural labourer, born at Old Buckenham in 1779.  His wife Elizabeth Riches (nee Snelling) had given birth to at least nine children at Great Hockham between 1805 and 1825.

Drake must have interviewed some of their offspring at Hockham.  He offered a bounty resettlement package to Benjamin's son, my 4th great uncle, Henry Riches, his wife Harriet Riches (nee Hubbard), and to their three young sons, George, John, and Henry Riches.  They accepted.  Not only that, but an offer was made to Henry's older sister Maria Hudson (nee Riches), and to her family.  The two families, that most likely had never seen a ship, or had travelled more than a few miles, made their way from Norfolk to Plymouth over the 1854 Christmas holidays.  There they were to board a fast clipper ship called the Whirlwind.  The clipper embarked from Plymouth on the 4th January 1855, and made a fast 86 day passsage, and arrived at Launceston, Van Diemen's Land on the 5th April.  It wasn't all plain sailing however.  Read this, it doesn't sound good:

The emigrants have passed through a fearful ordeal. An accident to the rudder compelled the commander to put into Portsmouth, where the necessary repair could have been effected in a few hours, had not the use of the empty government dock been denied by the official personage in charge who eats the salt of that nation whose funds furnished the accommodation.

Scarletina broke out: its victims were removed to an inhospitable hulk, for which the British government charged a high price, forgetful of the first duties of humanity; inclement weather aggravated the disease, which assumed a serious type, and carried off a number of victims. Twenty- three died on the passage, and although the survivors are healthy and robust, the loss of relatives and friends casts a shade of sorrow on the enterprise. We deeply sympathise with the bereaved, and the painful circumstances in which Mr. Drake has been placed must evoke the kindest feelings of his friends. His was no mercenary mission, and though he may not calculate on the gratitude of those he has sought to benefit by a removal from comparative penury to immediate plenty and ultimate affluence, he has earned their respect, and will secure the esteem of the colonists. His position has been one of great responsibility, much risk, incessant anxiety, and no profit. When years have elapsed, he may expect adequate acknowledgment from those he has served, and not till then.

The captain, too, has had his trials: his crew have been in a state of insubordination in consequence of the proper and rigidly enforced rules that excluded the seamen from intercourse with the emigrants, and the sailors have, at the conclusion of the voyage, struck. The misguided men will soon learn that here their misconduct will not be countenanced—that punishment will visit the refractory—that extravagant pay no longer prevails, and that the gold-diggers, on the average, do not make ordinary wages.

We trust the hopes of the emigrants have not been unduly elated, and that they will be prepared to accommodate themselves, as thousands more affluent have done before them, to the exigencies of a new country. The farm labourer and mechanic will not be carried off by force at any wage they may demand: the unmarried females will not be surrounded by sighing lovers, solicitous to make then brides. Australia is a land where privations must be endured, and hard work encountered. At the end of the vista, which is not long, there is settlement and independence to the industrious, the economical, and sober. Every young woman will find a husband in process of time, but before she obtain a good one she must show by her behaviour she deserves him. Everything will be new to the emigrants; they must be surprised at nothing, and become quickly reconciled to the condition of the colony. If they display those qualifications of temper and aptitude which make people uselul they will be appreciated, and experience consideration and kindness from their employers, who will in general promote their welfare to the utmost. We repeat, hard work, frugality, and sobriety for a time will inevitably lead to independence; but those who seek the latter by the shortest line must be prepared to "rough it" for a season.

LAUNCESTON EXAMINER, Tuesday, April 3, 1855.

What intrigues me is that they had a relative already in Tasmania.  They must have known about him.  He was David Peach, Henry and Maria's brother-in-law.  David was married to their sister Sarah Peach (nee Riches).  He may have been on the other side of the island.  He had been transported to Holbart, then moved to Port Arthur, some 17 years earlier.  Did they ever meet?  He had been pardoned four years before the Riches arrived, but not granted Leave.  It was a Life sentence.  Did he manage to communicate with his wife, and daughter that he had left behind?  Did they get word of him back to their sister Sarah?

Two years after her husband was transported away, my 3rd great grandmother Sarah, now living in Attleborough, Norfolk, gave birth to a son.  She named him David Wilson Peach.  I'd hazard to guess that a Mr Wilson was the biological father.  However, she named him after her husband - David Peach.  She was trapped.  She could not remarry (although ironically the transported convicts could).  She worked hard the remainder of her life as a washer woman in Attleborough.

My mother's family board the Solway

Several years after the Whirlwind sailed from Plymouth, more of my family entered another ship under the same scheme.  My mother's family mainly lived at this time in the area of East Norfolk.  However, somehow, two sisters ended up working in service in South West Norfolk.  A family friend?  A trade fair?  They were both born to Thomas and Mary Ann Jarmy, who were parents-in-law of a fourth uncle of mine.  The Jarmy family lived for a while in Salhouse, Norfolk.  Although located in the Norfolk Broads, to the north east of the City of Norwich, two daughters gained employment in service in households in South West Norfolk.  In 1861, Mary Jarmy was a 25 year old cook at the local vicarage in Hockham.  Her younger sister Emily Jarmy, lived a few miles away, working as a 15 year old house servant in the household a butcher in East Harling, called Fred Jolly.

In 1861, settlers from local labouring families were selected, although Drake himself was not involved this time.  However, Hockham had clearly become known to the Society, as one of their East Anglian recruiting spots.  Mary, working in the vicarage was in the perfect place, at the right time.  My guess is that she messaged her little sister in nearby East Harling.  The recruiters wanted settlers that were "respectable and really useful persons - as far as it is possible to judge".  I believe that the father of the two sisters, Thomas Jarmy, a shepherd born 1812 in Salhouse, Norfolk, may have been imprisoned twice for larcony.  If this was the case, I'd guess that the sisters were careful to hide this past.

The Solway sailed the two sisters into Melbourne harbour on the 7th March 1862, and then they quickly boarded The Black Swan, which arrived at Launceston, Tasmania, a few days later.  En route, it appears that Mary had a friendship with Robert Mickleborough from Old Buckenham, Norfolk.  They were to marry in 1862.

Links / Sources

http://www.ayton.id.au/wiki/doku.php?id=genealogy:tasemigrantsbyship

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~austashs/immig/title.htm

http://belindacohen.tripod.com/woolnoughfamily/id9.html

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~austashs/immig/imgships_w.htm

Ancient ancestry - K11 Ancients Common and rarer Alleles, and a fresh assessment

Emmanuel Benner - Prehistoric Man Hunting Bears

Above image by Emmanuel Benner the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The new K11 Ancients Common and Rarer Alleles tests are being run by Dilawer Khan, creator of the Gedrosia stable of admixture calculators available on GEDMatch.com, and of the EurasianDNA.com website.  This new test uses a new set of principles, based on using ADMIXTURE to produce more reliable ancient results.  I commissioned him to run my own 23andMe file through the tests, to produce the following results and PCA's/

PCA for Common Alleles (my position "Norfolk"):

PCA for Rarer Alleles (my position "Norfolk"):

The K11 Ancients common Alleles results should reflect the older ancestry most accurately.  In summary, that gave me:

  1. 48.6% Neolithic Farmer
  2. 26.5% Copper Age Steppe Pastoralist
  3. 24.9% Western Hunter-Gatherer

Thank you Dilawer.

How have other tests seen similar admixture?

I previously commissioned David Wesolowski (Eurogenes stable on GEDMatch and of Eurogenes Blog) to run my raw file through his K7 Basal-rich test.  He produced the following results:

  1. 57.1% Villabruna-related
  2. 28.8% Basal-rich
  3. 14% Ancient North Eurasian.

These are two very different tests, of admixture between different sets of population, of different time periods.  What I do find interesting is the 14% percentage of ANE (Ancient north Eurasian) relates quite favourably to what I understand it's admixture percentage is to Yamna or Steppe pastoralist.  Dilawer gives me 26.5% Steppe.   I have previously heard that the Yamna were circa 50% ANE, and the remainder of mixture of other Western Eurasian Hunter-Gatherer groups, including Caucasus Hunter-Gatherers.

The K11 Ancients test does suggest that I have a surprisingly high amount of ancestry from the Neolithic Farmers, that were in Europe previous to the arrival of the Steppe migrants around 4,900 years ago.  This is actually consistent with my other Ancient admixture test results.  The K7 Basal-rich test for example, had given me 28.8% Basal.  The Basal Eurasians are a hypo-theoretical "ghost" population that was among the founding admixture of the Neolithic Farmers, in a similar way that the ANE were among the founding admixture of the Steppe Pastoralists.  Again then, the two tests do tally reasonably well in determining where my personal percentages of ancient DNA  originate.

Why do I have so high percentages of Neolithic Farmer and Basal Eurasian I do not know.  My DNA flavour is a slight extreme, and atypical even for an English person, and more so for a Briton.  My recorded genealogy is all SE English, mainly East Anglian.  I would love to see the results of other East Anglians, as I suspect to them, that I am not such an extreme.  However, even if this was the case, it doesn't explain why modern East Anglians would have lower Steppe, and more Neolithic than either West British, Scandinavians, or even ancient DNA from Anglo-Saxons.  Higher percentages of Neolithic ancestry today are usually found to the South, peaking in Sardinia, then Iberia.  A favoured explanation is that the SE English could have had a lot of input from the South, via the French during Norman and Medieval periods.  I'm not totally convinced - yet.

A third new ancient admixture test that I might use here in the MDLP Project Modern K11.  On GEDMatch Oracle, it proposes a number of genetic distances to ancient DNA samples:

1 British_Celtic @ 6.948432
2 Bell_Beaker_Germany @ 8.143357
3 Alberstedt_LN @ 8.426399
4 British_IronAge @ 9.027687
5 Halberstadt_LBA @ 10.273615
6 Bell_Beaker_Czech @ 12.190828
7 Hungary_BA @ 12.297826
8 Nordic_MN_B @ 12.959966
9 British_AngloSaxon @ 12.993559
10 Nordic_BA @ 13.170285

Using 4 populations approximation:
1 Bell_Beaker_Germany + Bell_Beaker_Germany + Corded_Ware_Germany + Hungary_CA @ 1.085814
2 BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Corded_Ware_Estonia + Hungary_CA @ 1.089547
3 Alberstedt_LN + Bell_Beaker_Germany + Corded_Ware_Germany + Hungary_CA @ 1.117882
4 Bell_Beaker_Germany + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Hungary_CA + Srubnaya_LBA @ 1.149613
5 Bell_Beaker_Germany + British_IronAge + Hungary_CA + Karsdorf_LN @ 1.185312
6 Alberstedt_LN + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Hungary_CA + Sintashta_MBA @ 1.226794
7 Nordic_BattleAxe + Hungary_BA + Hungary_CA + Karsdorf_LN @ 1.234930
8 Nordic_BattleAxe + BenzigerodeHeimburg_LN + Hungary_CA + Unetice_EBA @ 1.238376
9 Alberstedt_LN + Hungary_BA + Hungary_CA + Yamnaya_Samara_EBA @ 1.247371
10 Bell_Beaker_Germany + Hungary_CA + Nordic_LN + Srubnaya_LBA @ 1.268124

If I look at four population distances, then based on the samples available in the test, I'm looking pretty European Bell Beaker, with Corded Ware and Yamna appearing. My closest single population in the samples is a surprising British Celtic!  More samples from the European Neolithic might turn those results around.

Seahenge Day - the HolmeTimber Circles, Norfolk

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.


Arminghall Henge, Norwich, Norfolk

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.

Day Trip to Grimes Graves, Norfolk

Dog-sitting duties yesterday for this old fellah:

12 years old, and with a large out of control tumour on his back, it was awesome to take him into the forest again, even though he ran away - just like he would as a young dog.  He had me running around this monument looking for him:

Thetford Warren Lodge, the handsome ruin of a medieval rabbit warrener's fortified house.  Possibly commissioned by the nearby Prior of Thetford Cluniac Priory.

After our little adventure, I dropped the dogs off to keep cool during the mid day, and then took the opportunity to revisit an awesome prehistoric site in the Thetford Forest area, the Neolithic flint mines at Grimes Graves.  It use to be a regular haunt of mine.

This is an aerial view of the site.  An almost Martian landscape of craters and earthworks.  Surveys have recorded a total of at least 430 shafts sunk into the ground.  Each reaches down to a seam of black flint known as floor-stone, about 10 meters down from the surface.  Shallow galleries then radiate along this layer of floor-stone flint in all directions.

Until excavations revealed the nature of these craters during the 19th Century AD, no one knew what this landscape represented.  The Anglo-Saxons named it Grimes Graves, after the god Woden (Grim). They set all of the local parish boundaries to meet at the site, where they erected a moot hill, a meeting place for the hundred.  Later antiquarians suggested that it was the site of Danish encampments.

We now know that these craters are the scars of a remarkable flint mine complex, that was in use during the Neolithic period between 4,675 and 4,200 years ago.  Each year, an average of one shaft was mined.  The tools that they used appear to have consisted largely of picks made from red deer antlers, stone axes, and tools made from wood and basketry.  So many red deer antlers appear to have been used, that it has been estimated that they will have needed to manage a population of 120 red deer in order to supply them!

One shaft is presently open to the general public, but there are plans to reopen another shaft later this year.  The English Heritage site has a small museum and presentation on the site:

From there, you can walk over to Pit 1, the shaft open to the public.

Descent to the floorstone level is via a sturdy 30 feet ladder.

The galleries themselves are not open to public access, for reasons of safety.  However, you can enter some of them a short distance before reaching barriers.

It is a little bit of a mystery as to why they were going to such dramatic and exhaustive efforts to mine this flint over a 475 year period.  There is plenty of good flint much closer to the surface, even on the surface.  However, the floor-stone flint has a particular fresh looking, black colour and quality.  It may have even had a ritual value, for coming so far deep out of the earth, and even for being so difficult to mine.  Here's a reconstructed Neolithic axe that I could play with, made of local black flint.

I got a little dirty crawling through the galleries.  Notice the exposed chalky spoil on the surface.  Moved there thousands of years ago by the Neolithic miners.

It's a beautiful place, the Martian looking craters, spoil heaps, often grazed by sheep, and nested on by larks.

I thought it was also recording that Anglo-Saxon moot-hill on the edge of the site.

Discussion - Population Genetics

Okay, so where does this site sit in with the latest news in population genetics?  The population that mined this site for so many years, was most likely (based on ancient DNA from other British Neolithic sites) largely descended from farming immigrants from the South, that arrived in Britain some 6,100 years ago.  The men most likely had I2a Y-DNA haplogroups, and the population today that most resembles them today are the Sardinians.  Their ancestors may have migrated from Iberia, but ultimately, some of their ancestors at earlier dates, had moved along the Mediterranean from an origin in Anatolia and the Levant.  They brought with them, the technologies, livestock, and seeds of the Neolithic Revolution, that had exploded in the Fertile Crescent of the Levant, and the Tigris / Euphrates valleys some 10,000 years ago.

The mining stops around 2,800 years ago.  This corresponds well with what we now believe to be the arrival of a new people - the Bell Beaker People, that had crossed the North Sea from the Lower Rhine area around what is now the Netherlands.  They most likely brought with them, the first horses, and the first metallurgy of copper, bronze, and gold.  What happened to the Neolithic community that had mined for so many years here?  There is some evidence that their economy was falling into trouble, and that forest was returning to many farmed areas.  They may have had their population and social structure depleted by a suspect plague that had reached Western Europe from Asia.  The latest evidence, as presented in my last post, The Beaker phenomenon and genetic transformation of Northwest Europe 2017suggests an almost complete displacement of the British Neolithic farmers by this new population of Bell Beaker.

Thetford Forest Archaeology

The value of the floor-stone flint appears to have fell.  However, it is a fallacy to believe that people stopped using flint.  The new metals were precious, but flint continued to have an importance through the Beaker, and into the Bronze and even Iron Ages.  It has been speculated that the majority of struck flint in the district actually dates to the Beaker and Bronze Ages, rather than to the Neolithic.  Thousands of tonnes of flakes, hammer-stones, piercers, awls, scrapers, notched flakes, and waste cores can be found in the soils to the south and west of Grimes Graves - down to the northern banks of the Little Ouse, and across the Brecks district, and the Fen Edge.  Many years ago, I found a barbed and tanged flint arrowhead very, very close to the Grimes Graves site.  This class of arrowhead belongs to Bell Beaker assemblage.  They were here, salvaging the tonnes of discarded flint on or close to the surface of the site.  They carried it down to the river valley, where I can say from my old surface collection surveys, that they struck and worked that flint like never before nor since.

Link to a post about my old Thetford Forest Archaeology Survey.

Some of the worked flint that I recorded in the area.

Indeed, the excavation of one of the shafts at Grimes Graves revealed that the site was being used during the Middle Bronze Age, where a nearby settlement were depositing their rubbish into a midden in a disused shaft.  The archaeology of the midden suggested that the people living there then were most likely dairy cattle farmers.

That's Grimes Graves done.