Are the South East English actually Belgian?

The above image illustrates of some of my ancestral locations, as according to documented genealogy.  As can be seen.  I have quite a lot of East Anglian ancestry.  What might also be observed, is the location of East Anglia, and of South East England, in relation to Belgium, the Netherlands, and North East France.

I'm an East Anglian.  Much of my family tree is East Anglian.  Before documented genealogy picks up my family trail, who were the East Anglians, what were their origins?  The traditional answer would be that they were the descendants of the Angles.  An early 5th Century AD tribe, that relocated from Angeln, now in Schleswig Holstein, on the North Germany, South Denmark border.  Them, and maybe a few Saxons, Jutes, Suevvi, etc.  All pretty much from what is now North Germany and Denmark.  See the map below:

Archaeology sort of backs this up ... but also offers some slight alternatives.  At first, British Archaeology supported the Historians - that there was a near genocidal event during the 5th and 6th centuries, where the Anglo Saxon tribes arrived and displaced the Romano-Britons that had until then, lived in South East Britannia.  There certainly is plenty, even, overwhelming evidence, of Anglo-Saxon culture if not settlement in East Anglia at this time.  Below are the locations of a few of the many Anglo-Saxon cemeteries found in East Anglia - and their closest artifact correlations on the Continent - in Northern Germany:

It's all adding up.  However, then, a new trend appears in British Archaeology that plays down the Anglo-Saxon invasion hypothesis. From the 1980's onward, some British archaeologists started to argue that they saw patterns of land use continuity between the Romano-British and Pagan Saxon periods.  They argued there was no archaeology of genocide.  No battle sites.  No mass graves.  Instead they proposed that only limited numbers of Anglo Saxons arrived - and that their culture was largely adopted by the Romano-Britons that already lived here.  Some even suggested that no Anglo Saxons came here - it was merely a cultural import.

Then Genetics stepped in.  Most notably with POBI (Peopling of the British Isles) 2015, but also with a number of other studies, often comparing the DNA from excavated remains to modern populations.  They proposed a new middle house consensus.  No there was no genocide.  The modern English have more old British ancestry than Anglo-Saxon.  However, there was a significant Anglo Saxon immigration event.  But they mixed, intermarried.  Anglo-Saxon culture was adopted, but Anglo Saxons had not displaced the Britons.  They had married them.  The modern English it seems have around 10% to 40% Anglo Saxon ancestry, and 60% to 90% British.  Sort of watered down Celts.

The assumption that we have made, is that rural populations on the front-line immigration - such as East Anglians, were the most watered down, with highest percentages of Anglo-Saxon ancestry.  Why not.  The archaeology would support that.  The East Anglian landscape is littered with Anglo-Saxon, and Anglo-Danish place-names.  It is the most Anglo-Saxon landscape, and later, was firmly within the Dane-Law.

My Ancestry

It's all over this blog.  However, in summary, I am an East Anglian.  Born at Norwich, with all four grandparents of Norfolk birth.  I have been researching my family tree using genealogy, for thirty years, on and off.  I have accumulated the recorded names of 490 direct ancestors.  Around 80% or more of this ancestry lived here in East Anglia.  At Generation 6 (3rd great grandparent), my ancestry was 97% South East English, and 3% Swiss.  This is demonstrated in this fan chart of my recorded ancestry:

If that's not East Anglian enough - look at the right hand side of that fan chart, my mother's side.  My mother has 225 of her direct ancestors recorded, and everyone lived firmly in East Anglia.

I have documents, likenesses in family photos, and family stories to back my narrative ancestry; but I am also gradually building biological evidence through the use of DNA matches to other testers, that share a common ancestry with me, that correlates well with the shared DNA:

That the vast majority of our ancestry is very rural, and poor agricultural working class, would suggest that we have had ancestry here in East Anglia for a very, very, long time.  I have traced some lines back to early parish records in the 16th Century.  I would expect that many of our ancestors belonged to peasant families in Medieval Norfolk and Suffolk.  These, I'd expect were the descendants of Anglo Saxons, Romano-Britons, and Danes.

Here comes the paradox.

Population Genetics and the DNA

Documentary evidence confirms that I'm an East Anglian, and English.  But when I tested with the commercial DNA-for-ancestry vendors, such as 23andme or FT-DNA, my results, although seeing me as pretty firmly, a North West European, doesn't really see me as particularly British.  23andme suggested only 32% British.  They instead suggest that my ancestry is rather Continental.  High levels of "West European" or "French & German".  I at first assumed that this was ancient or early medieval ancestry, my Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish East Anglian roots showing through.

But is that the case?  Analysis using some of the latest calculators challenge that.  Here are the PCA locations of myself and my mother, on one such calculator.  This one (By David Wesolowski) includes many modern references grouped on language family, but also includes some references from actual ancient DNA in Northern Europe, including some extracted from Anglo Saxon remains in Cambridgeshire, close to East Anglia:

You see the red squares represent the Anglo Saxons in Cambridgeshire?  Mine and even my very rural East Anglian mother's place well to the right of them, closer to modern day Irish speakers, overlapping with modern day French speakers.  More Celtic it seems than Anglo Saxon.

Here's another PCA showing our positions (red myself, orange, my mother), this one by Lukasz, but based on the Eurogenes K36 calculator:

It puts me closer to Flemish then Walloon, followed by SE English.  Finally a third PCA, from Eurogenes K15: 

We consistently position between SE England and North France, Belgium, and the Netherlands; rather than between SE England and Northern Germany and Denmark.  It appears that we relate closer to Normans, Belgians, Walloons, Flemish, and Dutch - than we do to modern day North Germans or Danes.  Here is our K36 Oracle maps by Lukasz:

My mother has a slight more pull from Denmark and Schleswig Holstein.  Perhaps this is from early medieval Angle/Danish settler in East Anglia?  However, we both pull strongest outside of England, from the Low Countries.  Flemish, Dutch, and Walloon come up as closest Continental matches.  I'm not surprised.  I've noticed for some time, that the big vendors appear to give some testers of Normandy, Hauts-de-France, Belgium, and the Netherlands ancestry, very similar results to my own.

If our results were at all representative of East Anglians of local ancestry, then the modern East Anglian is perhaps as much, or more of a Belgian than he or she is a Dane or Angle.  So I've added a secondary circle to the map that I used above, to illustrate what are popularly beleved to be the origins of the East Anglians.  The new blue circle, represents not what history or archaeology suggests, but what my family's DNA currently suggests:

Note that I have included South East Britain in there - because clearly, there was no displacement.  The Romano-Britons were among our ancestors.

The Language Connection.

It has long been noted, that the very closest dialect or language to English, is West Frisian.  Old Frisian and Old English (or Anglo Saxon) were close.  Linguists group them together as "Anglo-Frisian".  Why is this?  If we all descend from Angles and Danes?

When did our "Belgian" ancestors arrive in Britain?

By Belgian, I'm referring to ancestors that we share not only with Belgians of local ancestry, but also the North French, and the Dutch.  Answer.  I don't know.  All that I am pointing out, is that the DNA of my East Anglian family appears to be more like that of people that today live in that part of the Continent, than in Denmark, Norway, or even North Germany.  However, here are a few ideas:

  1. The Bell Beaker.  During the Late Neolithic.  We believe that the British Bell Beaker people largely crossed over from the Lower Rhine Valley.
  2. The Belgae.  I'm not quite so sure about this one, but let's just go with it.  Roman historians recorded a late Iron Age migration from the Belgium area, into South East Britain.  They described them as using a Celtic language and culture, but being closer related to Germanic tribes to the east.
  3. An unrecorded migration from Northern France to Southern Britain during Late Prehistory.  This one was suggested by POBI 2015, that claimed to detect a relationship between the Southern British and Northern France, that they claimed was most likely Late Prehistoric.
  4. Roman Britain.  Britannia was often administered along with Gaul.
  5. Saxo Frisia.  Saxons didn't only Southern Britain, they also settled the Low Countries, where they took the name of the earlier tribe there - the Frisians.  Did many Anglo-Saxon settlers actually crossed over from Frisia?
  6. Norman.  1066 and all that.  A whole new elite arrived, often bringing artisans and supporters with them.
  7. Angevin and Medieval French.  For a time, large regions of France were ruled along with England.  French artisans, merchants, monks, priests, etc.
  8. The Elizabethan Strangers.  Protestant refugees were invited from the Low Countries, both Dutch and Walloons.  They particularly settled towns in South East England such as Norwich, and Colchester during the 16th and 17th centuries.
  9. The Huguenots.  French Protestant refugees that arrived during the 17th and 18th centuries.
  10. Background migration.  My favourite.  In addition to all of the aforementioned proposed migration events, the slow, gradual contact between South East England and the Low Countries / Northern France, that has always been there.  The drip-drip in the background.  That the North sea and Dover Strait separating the two areas is so narrow.  Merchants, refugees, masons, artisans, weavers - the Dutchmen and Frenchmen recorded as Aliens in many post medieval surveys.  The fishermen from Haut-de-France that frequently beached on the Norfolk coast.  The dutch herring fishermen that traded herring at Yarmouth market.
Summary.

All of this hinges on the DNA test results of just one Norfolk family.  I'm just making observations here, and I would so love to see more East Anglians test, and to use these calculators, to explore their ancient ancestry as well.  I have seen only one other East Anglian of a local family test, and their test results were similar to my own:

My 23andme "speculative Ancestry Composition results:
The other East Anglian local tester:
Pretty similar.

I'm NOT claiming that modern East Anglians or South East English, of local ancestry, do not have Anglo-Saxon, or perhaps Old Danish ancestry.  My mother's K36 radiates slightly around Denmark and Schleswig Holstein.  I'm NOT claiming that all East Anglians with local family trees would have the same results as my family.  However, if they did turn out to do so... then it would appear that we have so far under-rated our close relationship to the Low Countries.

We need more ancient DNA from Anglo Saxons, Angles in Schleswig Holstein, Frisians, Iron Age South-East British, South-East Romano-British, Franks, Old Danes, and others if we are ever to sort this out.  And we need more South east English of local recorded ancestry to DNA test, and to take an interest in population genetics.

Until then, I will postulate that on top of that red circle (Denmark, Northern Germany) - we South East English have more ancestry from that blue circle (Netherlands, Belgium, and North East France), than is popularly assumed.

The Iceni, their land, their people - Iron Age Britain

Britishmuseumsnettishamgreattorc See page for author [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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 Boudican Revolt

This article is principally about the Iceni people of the Later Iron Age.  However, I feel that first of all mention needs to be given of the event that brought the tribal name Iceni into the public sphere.  The Boadican Revolt.

Boudica, Boudicca or Boadicea, was the queen of the Iceni, when they led a rebellion against Roman rule across early Roman Britannia.  According to Roman historians, the Iceni were among a number of British tribes that surrendered to Rome, following the Claudian Invasion of  AD 43.  In exchange for peaceful surrender, the royal family of the Iceni were rewarded with client-king status.  The Romans then went on to found a Colonia at Colchester, in the former Trinovante lands south of the Iceni.  Tribute and taxation raised among local tribes to fund the new Roman town, and a massive new temple dedicated to the now deified Claudius,  may have increased anti-Roman sentiment.

The ruler of the Iceni, Pasutagus, died circa AD 60.  Properties of the family then became designated as property and loan repayment of Rome.  His widow, Boudica, protested.  The Romans responded by flogging her and raping her daughters.  Boudicca then raised an army of rebellion among the Iceni.  They marched south towards Colchester - the Trinovante joined.  They sacked Colchester.



Above.  Molten artefacts from the burning of Roman Colchester.

Boudica's rebel army enlargened as it moved.  They then marched onto the Roman towns of London, and St Albans, with an estimated army now of 100,000.  They killed an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 Romans and Britons in those three towns.

The remaining Roman forces in Britannia finally rerouted, and defeated the Boudican Revolt Army somewhere near to Watling Street.  Boudica is rumoured by Roman historians to have subsequently committed suicide.  The Roman occupation recovered, and over 320 years of the Romanisation of South-east Britain resumed.  Now onto the main theme of this article - who were the Iceni?

The Iceni.

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.

Flag Ben Iron Age Roundhouse

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:

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10408

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 oppidaCamulodunum, 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.".

Gold Iceni coin found and recorded by my late father at Morley St Botolph, Norfolk.

The die is cast.  Investigating Icenian coinage.  Current Archaeology Issue 341. August 2018.  p32.  "Aside from Boudica and her ill-fated rebellion of AD 60/61, the Iceni of northern East Anglia are particularly well known for their gold and silver work (see CA 217).  In fact, this industry provides one of the main archaeological indications of their existence.  This is particularly true in terms of their coinage, which most likely started around 50 BC and continued until the Boudican Revolt.  Likely the Iceni themselves, it was tightly focused around Norfolk, north Suffolk, and the Cambridgeshire fens.

It is often suggested that Iron Age coinage is not money in the modern sense of the word, being rather more analogous to prestige objects - used by socieies in various forms of gift exchange - but there was little evidence known to support this theory.  To address this question and hopefully learn more about the Iceni in the process, over the course of ten years I studied dies relating to over 10,000 coins.".

p33.  "Over the course of the project it became clear that the coinage did in fact have a monetary role similar to contemporary ones, but with more intrinsic value.".

p35.  "What is also clear from the die-study is that there was no coinage production after the Boudican Revolt, and there are no reliable finds which link Icenian coinage to Roman coinage thereafter.  While the evidence is not  definitive, this study strongly suggests that while the Iceni were allowed by Rome to continue minting coinage after their conquest and up until the Boudican Revolt, afterwards it was halted and circulation ceased.  This may be tied to the Icenian fate in general, which seems to have led to the loss of their autonomy and full incorporation into Roman authority.".

p35.  "Generally heads are shown in profile, stylised, and do not seem to depict any specific individual.  They are not abstracted as they are on the gold coinage from this period, and most show no facial hair, although there are some exceptions.  Emphasising the importance of the head to the Iceni, you can see many hidden faces on the coins - just one of the ways in which the coinage links to other Iron Age art.".

p38.  "The Iceni were not a barbaric tribe, as the Romans would have us believe, but were instead a sophisticated and advanced society with a seemingly thriving economy.".

The First East Anglians Part II

Above image modified from NordNordWest [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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.

The Spong Hill Man.  Norwich Castle Museum.

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.

Medieval Mobility, DNA tests, and the East Anglian

Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter c1325-1335 f74v - BL Add MS 42130

Two men threshing sheaf - Luttrell Psalter (c.1325-1335), f.74v  See page for author [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.  Originally published/produced in England [East Anglia].

My last post on the Norfolk 16th century surname study has made me look at my medieval East Anglian roots a little differently.  It suggests that there may have been a fair amount of mobility and migration in East Anglia, and from outside, from both Northern England, and from the nearby Continent.  Although current commercial autosomal DNA tests for ancestry are clearly contradictory, behind them lays a common pattern.  My auDNA is little bit more similar to people living on the Continent, in places like France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, and also further to the south - than it is for most British testers.  This is despite my known English family history and recorded ancestry.  These commercial DNA tests usually claim to investigate your family ancestry over the past 250 - 500 years only.  I'm convinced that is untrue.  I can't help but see population background, and shared patterns from testers that have no known, or little known migration or admixture in places such as England, and Northern France.  These appear to represent older migration and population admixture events that are shared across local genomes.

However, maybe there is something that these tests are telling me - but only after taking into account to the results of other British testers.  I now believe that I may have underestimated mobility around East Anglia and England between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries - that precedes any of my recorded ancestry.  I also feel the need to reassess Continental migration to East Anglia.  It appears it was not all urban or bourgeois.  The Anglo-Saxon fifth century AD may have marked the most significant migration event to south east Britain, but I know believe that I have underestimated how much migration and exchange has occurred across the North Sea ever since.

Focusing first on movements within East Anglia, and England, I have in my last post,  Norfolk surnames in the sixteenth century, provided locative surname evidence.

Let's look at some more historical research.

"Considerable personal mobility existed from the later Middle Ages.  From the mid fourteenth century the loosening of seigneurial bonds allowed English people to become even more mobile.  Landlords complained that tenants were deserting their holdings for better land elsewhere and that servants and labourers were seeking higher wages from other employers.".

"From the sixteenth century, migration and personal mobility becomes better documented.  A study of tax records for Towcester in Northamptonshire showed a considerable turnover of the population between consecutive years.  In 1525 47 of the 278 men taxed in the previous year had left.  This unusually full source shows that six of the 47 had died and 41 had migrated.  This represents a turnover rate of 16.9 per cent a year - higher than any other communities in pre-industrial England.".

The continuity (and discontinuity) of surnames over a period of time indicates the movement of individuals and families with the same surname in and out of the community.  The small 'close' village of Glynde (population 216 in the 1801 census) lies three miles from the East Sussex county town of Lewes.  Between 1558 and 1812 out of 444 different surnames that appeared in the parish register (excluding people whose only connection with the village was to marry in its church) 261 surnames (58.8 per cent) occurred only once and 71 per cent were found only during a period of 25 years or less.".

Source: The English Rural Community: Image and Analysis. Brian short. 1992.

So, maybe I need to discard ideas of my mother's tight cluster of recorded ancestry as having been so localised for so long.  Although, the density of the cluster does suggest that she probably have some direct ancestry in the Reedham area of East Norfolk for a very long time, perhaps back to the early medieval, there is also a good probability that her medieval ancestry stretched much further across the region, England, and to the Continent.  Indeed, her known ancestral proximity to the coast and a tidal navigable river makes that Continental ancestry more likely.  For my father's ancestry - the majority recorded East Anglian, but with known ancestry going back to Oxfordshire, Berkshire, London, and the East Midlands, this might be even more the case.

Norfolk Surnames in the Sixteenth Century

I spent too much money today on reading materials.  I was delighted to find a used copy of The Norfolk Broads A landscape history by Tom Williamson 1997 (Manchester University Press).  I had a copy of this excellent landscape history when it was published, but unfortunately lent it out, and never saw it again.  A brilliant book for tying my mother's East Norfolk ancestors to their ancestral landscape.

The April 2017 edition of Current Archaeology magazine has an interesting article on an excavation of an Iron Age site in Fenland, and is celebrating their 50th anniversary of publication.

The real treasure of today's book shop excavation however, was an old booklet published in 1969 by Leicester University Press in their Department of English Local History Occasional Papers.  It is entitled Norfolk Surnames in the Sixteenth Century by R.A McKinley.  Flicking through it's pages on the way home, sitting on the bus, I was well, almost mind blown - as some of the conclusions knocked down some of my preconceptions of my Norfolk ancestry and heritage.  An old, yellowing booklet that I've never heard of, found on a shelf in a second hand book shop in Norwich.

The book draws on surnames recorded in the County of Norfolk, during the 16th Century AD.  It uses as it's sources several returns, and rolls particularly a military survey, and subsidy roll from between 1522 and 1525.  I want to share at least some of the key points from two chapters of "Norfolk Surnames in the Sixteenth Century": 1) Surnames derived from localities in Norfolk, and 2) Locative surnames originating outside Norfolk.

1) Surnames derived from localities in Norfolk

  • The chapter begins by discussing the problems of using locative surnames in a study.
  • "The two main sources used for this study list 739 persons bearing locative surnames derived from places within Norfolk.  Of these, only 23 were living at the places from which their names were derived.".
  • A table then shows the distances of the persons (still within the County of Norfolk) with these locative surnames from origin.  23 were still at the place of origin, 81 were still within 5 miles of it, 123 were within 6 - 10 miles away, 239 were 11 - 20 miles away, 151 were 21 - 30 miles away, and 122 lived over 30 miles from the locative place of origin.  However, these are the locative surnames that still remain in Norfolk, that appear to have an origin within the County.  Many more would have crossed county boundaries into Suffolk, Lincolnshire, etc.
  • "It seems probable from this evidence, however, that most Norfolk families must have changed their place of residence at least between the period when surnames became hereditary, and the early sixteenth century.".
  • There was no pattern to suggest a large migration from any one part of the County, to another.

2) Locative surnames originating outside Norfolk

  • "In the two main sources, there are 1,260 persons bearing surnames which can be derived with fair certainty from places in England, but outside Norfolk".
  • The author then discusses possible biases, for example, some parts of England appear to have generated more locative surnames than others.  It also suggests that about a third of all English surnames are locative, and proposes a rough approximation, that this could "be about 2,500 persons of outside origin amongst the total of about 18,000 listed in the two main sources, or rather more than 13 per cent".  This suggests quite a few people had been moving from other parts of England, into Norfolk between the 13th and 15th centuries AD.
  • Where were they from?  The two main contributors were the neighbouring counties of Suffolk and Lincolnshire. Some had simply moved from close to the Norfolk county boundary.   
  • Cambridgeshire, another neighbouring county, for some reason contributed far fewer.  The East Midlands was also, surprisingly, not a major contributor of locative surnames in 16th Century Norfolk.  There were no locative surnames from Wales.
  • Here is another surprise, Yorkshire turned our to be a common origin - equally spread through the three ridings.  Each riding of Yorkshire had contributed about 40 persons in Norfolk with locative surnames.  The author does point out that Yorkshire is a big county, and is particularly rich in locative surnames, however: "it is evident that there must have been considerable movement from Yorkshire to Norfolk.  Yorkshire surnames are distributed throughout Norfolk in the early sixteenth century.  They are not particularly concentrated in ports or coastal areas, and indeed, are as widespread in central Norfolk, well away from the sea, as in other parts of the county.".
  • There was also a notable contribution of locative surnames from NW England - Lancashire, Cumbria, and Westmorland.
  • The distribution of these surnames was by no means urban based.  Yamouth and Norwich had lower concentrations than the average.  These migrations look more rural.
  • There were very few surnames of any origin type that could be safely regarded as Welsh.
  • There were very few surnames of any origin type that could be safely regarded as Scottish.
  • The author then moves on to records of other foreign born aliens.  I am aware of the influx of Dutch and Flemish religious refugees, into the City of Norwich during the early 16th Century, however, here I learn something new.
  • "there was certainly a considerable migration of aliens into Norfolk, and foreign immigrants came to reside in many Norfolk villages, not merely in a few ports or large towns.  In 1436, for example, when many aliens took oaths of allegiance, 146 persons who took oath are noted as living in Norfolk.  This was not the whole number of aliens in Norfolk...".  A list in 1440 for example, lists 192 aliens residing in Norfolk at 62 different places.  The author feels that those 15th Century records understate the real percentage of immigrants living in Norfolk at that time.
  • The Continental immigrants did not bring in many new surnames.  Many had no surname listed, or had adopted local surnames.  For example, immigrants listed at Norwich in 1440, included persons by the surnames Rider, Johnson, Forest, Skynner, Couper, Bush, Goldsmyth, and Glasier.  Some surnames marking their nationality did survive in 16th Century Norfolk, such as French, Ducheman, Briton / Brett (Breton) etc.

Brancaster, a North Norfolk village.

In summary, what this book has taught me today:

  1. Many families, despite our ideas of the dying fuedal system, were moving around East Anglia, and even England between the 13th and 16th centuries.
  2. There were relatively few people in 16th century Norfolk, with origins in Scotland, or Wales, and perhaps few from the nearby East Midlands or Cambridgeshire.  However, there was migration down from Northern England, particularly from Yorkshire, but even from NW England.
  3. There were also migrations, from the nearby Continent, and these migrations (and the above Northern English) migrations were not strictly urban.  They reached many villages.

Will ancestry DNA tests tell me my family origins?

I have taken several DNA tests for ancestry, including those provided by the FT-DNA, 23andMe, and Living DNA companies.  Unusual for a tester, I am actually of a single population, very local, well documented ancestry here in East Anglia, South-East England.  I'm not someone in the Americas or Australia, that might have very little clue what parts of the world that their ancestors lived in, previous to immigration.  I know my roots, I'm lucky.  I live them.  You might ask, why did I feel the need to test DNA for ancestry?  The answer is, curiosity, to test the documented evidence, fill the gaps, look for surprises, and in particular, to understand the longer term, to reach further back into my ancestry.

I have though, become a bit of a skeptic, even a critic, of autosomal DNA (auDNA) tests for ancestry.  They are the tests presented by the businesses in results called something like Ancestry, Family Ancestry, Origins, Family, Composition, etc.  Instead of testing the haplogroups on either the direct paternal (Y-DNA), or direct maternal (mtDNA), these tests scan the autosomal and X chromosomes.  That's good, because that is where all of the real business is, what makes you an individual.  However, it is subject to a phenomena that we call genetic recombination (the X chromosome is a little more complicated).  This means that every generation circa 50% of both parents DNA is randomly inherited from each parent.  I said randomly.  Each generation, that randomness chops up the inherited segments smaller, and moves them around.  After about seven or eight generations, the chances of inheriting any DNA from any particular ancestral line quickly diminishes.  It becomes washed out by genetic recombination.

Therefore, not only are the autosomes subject to a randomness, and genetic recombination - they are only useful for assessing family admixture only over the past three hundred years or so.  There is arguably, DNA that has been shared between populations much further back, that we call background population admixture.  It survived, because it entered many lines, for many families, following for example, a major ancient migration event.  If this phenomena is accepted - it can only cause more problems and confusion, because it can fool results into suggesting more recent family admixture - e.g. that a great grandparent in an American family must have been Scandinavian, when in fact many Scandinavians may have settled another part of Europe, and admixed with that ancestral population, more than one thousand years ago.

DNA businesses compare segments of auDNA, against those in a number of modern day reference populations or data sets from around the world.  They look for what segments are similar to these World populations, and then try to project, what percentages of your DNA is shared or similar to these other populations.  Therefore:

  1. Your results will depend on the quality and choice of geographic boundary, allocated to any reference population data set.  A number of distinct populations of different ancestry and ethnicity may exist with in them, and cross the boundaries into other data sets.  How well are the samples chosen? Do they include urban people (that tend to have more admixture and mobility than many rural people).  Do they include descendants of migrants that merely claim a certain ancestry previous to migration?What was the criteria for sample selection?
  2. Your results might be confused by background population admixture.
  3. You are testing against modern day populations, not those of your ancestors 300 - 500 years ago.  People may well have moved around since then.  In some parts of the World, they certainly have!

It is far truer to say that your auDNA test results reflect shared DNA with modern population data sets, rather than to claim descent from them.  For example, 10% Finnish simply means that you appear to share similar DNA with a number of people that were hopefully sampled in Finland (and hopefully not just claim Finnish ancestry) - not that 10% of your ancestors came from Finland.  That is, for the above reasons, presumptuous.  It might indeed suggest some Finnish ancestry, but this is where many people go wrong, it does not prove ancestry from anywhere.

Truth

This is my main quibble.  So many testers take their autosomal (for Family/Ancestry) DNA test results to be infallible truths.  They are NOT.  White papers do not make a test and analysis system perfect and proven as accurate.  Regarding something as Science does not make it unquestionable - quite the opposite.  The fact of the matter is, if you test with different companies, different siblings, add phasing, you receive different ancestry results.  Therefore which result is true and unquestionable?

A Tool for further investigation

So what use is DNA testing for ancestry?  Actually, I would say, lots of use.  If you take the results with a pinch of salt, test with different companies, then it can help point you in a direction.  Never however take autosomal results as infallible.  Critical is to test with companies with well thought out, high quality reference data sets.  Also to test with companies that intend to progress and improve their analysis and your results.

For DNA relative matching, then sure, the companies with the best matching system, the largest match (contactable customer) databases, and with custom in the regions of the world that you hope to match with. There is also, GEDmatch.  Personally, I find it thrilling when I match through DNA, but in truth, I had more genealogical success back in the days when genealogists posted their surname interests in printed magazines and directories. 

The results of each ancestry test should be taken as a clue.  Look at the results of testers with more proven documented and known genealogies.  Learn to recognise what might be population background, as opposed to recent admixture in a family.  Investigate haplogroup DNA - it has a relative truth, although over a much longer time, and wider area.  Just be aware that your haplogroup/s represent only one or two lines of descent - your ancestry over the past few thousand years may not be well represented by a haplogroup.  Investigate everything.  Enjoy the journey.  Explore World History.