My mtDNA and paper genealogy

The above photograph is believed to be of my maternal line great great grandmother Sarah Thacker (nee Daynes), who was born at Besthorpe, Norfolk in 1849.  One of my mtDNA donors?

While waiting for my 23andMe DNA results to process, I've returned to researching some of my genealogy, after a very long break from it.  I carried out most of my family tree research over twenty years ago, before Internet search facilities.

A few thoughts on commercial genetic profiling for ancestry

Let me just expand on my newcomer take on commercial genetic profiling.  Although I have finally subscribed to a genetic profiling service, I have been aware of the criticisms of such companies, particularly with regards to their claims to map ancestry.

Commercial genetic profiling companies, that offer services direct to the individual, all appear to have their markets in North America, particularly in the USA (where they all seem to be based) There are many millions of people in the New World, that feel disconnected from their heritage and family roots.  Grandpa said "we came from Poland", an Aunt said that "we had a Cherokee princess in the tree", a cousin claimed that great great grandma was Italian.  Of course, the traditional answer is to trace your ancestry on paper, using genealogical methods.  It is very time laborious, can take many years, and can incur an expense in order to access many documents and many different archives.  As a hobby, it never ends.  And then there are dead ends.  Genealogy is actually a little bit of a misnomer, as it traces records of descent rather than genes, and we don't know who really cheated, or what skeletons have been lost in the wardrobe.  People lie, or even make mistakes when they fill in paternity forms.

So it seems that for those interested in their roots, genetic profiling not only tells a truth that paper genealogy does not, but it is far easier, faster, and in the long term, cheaper.  Genetic profiling companies have done their market research, and can sniff a profit.  This is a big and growing market, as people become further distanced from their roots by the acceleration of globalism.  People want to know who their forbearers were!

However, and this is what concerns me - can these companies really, honestly, deliver ancestry? 

I'm new to it all, but I can see where some customers feel a bit robbed.  They want what they call Deep Ancestry, to know if they are descended from traditional historical groups such as the Celts or the Vikings.  They sometimes want to know exactly which European countries that their ancestors came from.  "Was it Serbia or Slovakia?".  Some of the customers at 23andMe on their forums get rather upset that the company doesn't provide this service, but when judging autosomal evidence, merely indicates which regions of Europe might be involved.  Britain is lumped in with Ireland for example.  They want to know more than that.  Some other companies do promise more definitive results, but are they really honest?  Some third parties will allow you to upload your data, then use some computer wizardry to give you your more precise results.

But is it all really good science?  My suspicions is that it is not.

There are two problems.

  1. As I have raised with my recent posts on the Anglo-Saxon origins, there are many origin myths within traditional histories.  People such as the Celts were not ever even a biological population.  History is written by victors, and has frequently been corrupted in order to make  political points that are now lost on us.  For all too long, we have seen history as consisting of one biological population against or replacing another, when the truth that keeps emerging, is that of people taking on new cultural identities, and of genetic admixture.
  2. Humans like to wander, and they like to have sex.  Human genes have been wandering all over Europe since prehistory.   They are mixed up through admixture.  Genes have a limited appreciation of the borders of nation-states - borders which are often modern political constructs. 

I'm saying that we Europeans are all mixed up.  There has been very little isolation, and a lot of immigration.  You cannot divide us up into neat little sub races.  It's a 19th/20th Century racist fantasy.

That is autosomal information.  Each generation back, we double our lines back.  I have four grandparent, eight great grandparents, sixteen g.g grandparents and so on.  It doesn't multiply forever of course, local genetic pooling kicks in, what some might call inbreeding.  I have a pair of ancestors on my mother's side, that are my g.g.g.g.g.g grandparents twice over.  Two of their great great grandchildren that were 3rd cousins to each other married.  This sort of event will increase as you go back into your ancestry, until we all trace our ancestry back to a small population of anatomically modern humans some 70,000 years ago - give or take the odd Neanderthal or two.

Autosomal evidence can be really hit and miss.  It's all of that general DNA from your mixed up ancestry.  Under the natural law of random selection, it's quite easy as I understand it, to lose any and every SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) from some quite recent ancestors.  Every reproduction randomly dumps half of your ancestor's combined DNA.  Please tell me if I misunderstand this, I am no expert.  I've seen claims on profiling forums that your recent ancestry up to between 300 and 500 years can safely be provenanced from your autosomal DNA.  I smell a fish.  I'm really not convinced.  If someone that knows better can convince me otherwise, please do so.

When I get my results, I'm not expecting no surprises.  I'm expecting autosomal ancestry of British/Irish, maybe some confusion with Scandinavia, and French/German, due to the general Western European blur.  If I do get a surprise though, well that would be interesting.

The two haplogroup markers that I am more interested in, than the general autosomal ancestry, are of course the mtDNA and the Y chromosome.  I'm blessed being male, women only get the mtDNA.  These two markers stand out of the general ancestral DNA.  The Y chromosome represents my strictly paternal lineage.  My mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA) represents my strictly maternal lineage.  They both mutate very rarely, at known rates and therefore have been used to successfully map origins.  They have been used for example, to mark waves of movement across Eurasia, and original movements into Europe.  They have been used to date Y chromosome Adam, and Mitochondrial Eve.  Not that humans nor our hominin heritage have ever been reduced to a genetic bottleneck as severe as one couple, but the ancient populations where all present day human populations can trace shared their direct paternal / maternal lineage ancestry.  For Y chromosome Adam it is 300,000 to 200,000 years ago.  For Mitochondrial Eve it is 200,000 to 100,000 years ago.  No, they were not a couple, there was never a first couple.

Y chromosome and mtDNA are far more interesting than the general autosomal DNA, even if they represent only two narrow lines of descent.  As we increase our knowledge and data, so we can start to say that a particular haplogoup mutated from another, and passed most likely, through a certain route towards you.

My mtDNA and paper genealogy

I've finally reached the point of this post.  Yesterday, I thought that I'd give Internet genealogy a crack.  I've done very little genealogical research for many years.  I found out a few new details about my enigmatic paternal great grandfather.  In 1939, I now know the address in Kent, where he and his partner Mabel Tanner were living.  I also learned that at that time, he was employed as a clerk and a civil servant, apparently by the Post Office in their engineering departments.  I imagine a bit of a come down for a guy that served for years as a gunner in the Royal Field Artillery, including throughout WW 1.  I do now remember one late aunt saying that she recalled he was something to do with the Post Office.

I wanted, with my genetic profiling in mind, to see if I can learn anything new on my Y chromosome / mtDNA lines, or in paper genealogical terms, in my strictly paternal and maternal lines.

The paternal was frustrating.  I couldn't advance on it.  Still stuck on my g.g.g.g grandfather John Brooker.  He is recorded on the 1841 census as fathering seven children in the parish of Rotherfield Peppard in Oxfordshire between 1815 and 1836.  He simply recorded N for not born in Oxfordshire.  His age suggests a birth date of c.1791.  The Internet couldn't help much on that one.  I still need to return to the Oxfordshire Record Office, and maybe the Berkshire Record Office, if it does transpire that he came from there.  I need parish registers.  A bit of driving to do.  I need to find his marriage somewhere before (or maybe around) 1815 to his wife Elizabeth.  I do hope that it is in Rotherfield Peppard, but I fear that it is not.

The maternal however, was fruitful.  That I am pleased with, as the strictly maternal line is the safest and most reliable.  With any paternity, you never know for sure, who the father really was.  People lied.  But maternal - as reliable as paper genealogy can ever be.  This is great, because it aligns with my mtDNA route.  Surely the best lineage to research, although as marriage changes the surname most generations in European cultures, not the easiest to follow.  A new surname nearly every generation.  My previous research on the maternal line had only reached a c.1848 date to the ancestor allegedly in the photograph at the top of this post - Sarah Ann Thacker (nee Daines), who lived at Rackheath, Norfolk, but was actually born around twenty miles away at Besthorpe, Norfolk.  Thinking bout it Daines might suggest Scandinavian origins might it not?  Except of course that most English surnames originate long after the Danelaw.

Anyway, I started to find references to her on census, and a free online transcription of Besthorpe baptisms.  She was born in 1849 at Besthorpe.  Her parents had married the previous year nearby at the market town of Wymondham, Norfolk. Her father was Reuben Daynes, a labourer that had been born at Brandon, Norfolk.  This appears to be Brandon Parva, a Norfolk parish between Wymondham and Dereham.  I'll chase that one up later, but I'm for now concentrating on that maternal line.  Sarah's mother was a Sarah Daynes (nee Quantrell), who was born at Wymondham around c.1827.  I can't find her family on the census yet.  She was living in a household of Longs at one point.  Quantrell / Quantril appears to have been a well established English surname locally, with families of them at least at Wymondham, Norwich, and Bunwell going way back.

So, I've traced my maternal line back another generation, and to a new surname and town.  What really pleased me is that none of my mother's family had any knowledge of family in the Besthorpe / Wymondham area.  And yet my mother, a sister, and a niece all live in Wymondham today!  An earlier copy of their mtDNA had lived in that Norfolk market town 175 years ago, but we wouldn't have known that before the new research.  A census also revealed Sarah Thacker (nee Daynes), staying in Besthorpe with her parents and her young son George Thacker.  Confirmation that she is my great great grandmother, and that Sarah Daynes (nee Quantrell) is my great great great grandmother.

I now need to visit the Norfolk Record Office in Norwich, to further confirm my research, and to see if I can go back another generation in my mtDNA story.

The above photograph is of Wymondham Abbey.  Was my mtDNA here?  Is this where Reuben Daynes married my great great great grandmother Sarah Quantrell in 1848?  Taken on the Bronica SQ-A Zenzanon PS 80mm f/2.8 lens, loaded with Ilford HP5+ film, developed in Ilford ID11.

Recovered Genealogy

The above portrait is of my great great grandfather Billy Baxter (William Bennet Baxter), who was born in Gressenhall workhouse, Norfolk, in 1846.

Now that I've submitted a DNA sample to 23andMe, while waiting for the results, I keep thinking, and wanting to write about my heritage and ancestry.  Hence maybe the recent posts on my past archaeology work, my interest in our Anglo-Saxon heritage, and now more directly, my past and recent experience with genealogy.

I first became interested in the family tree around the late 1980s.  I was a young married guy, on the brink of rearing my own family, so maybe there was a desire to find out where we came from, entwined with where we were going.  I can remember as a boy being interested in any tales about my alleged ancestors.  As I said in a recent post, I was always fascinated by the past.

I'm probably lucky in some ways.  Genealogy can be so Internet and computer databased these days.  I conducted most of my research before all of that.  I would visit county record offices and archives around England & Wales, and wearing white cotton gloves in reading rooms, sift through the original registers and documents - some of which were in the original handwriting of my ancestors.  Two of my ancestors had been long serving parish clerks in Norfolk.  I'd also visit archives in London, search through indexes of birth, marriage, and death (BMD).  If I wanted to order a BMD certificate, I'd write to a detective or genealogist, that would fetch bundles of certificates from the archives at a cheaper price than I could do it first hand.

With my wife, I'd also travel around the churches, cemeteries, and grave yards.  We'd interview elderly relatives, ask to see any family photographs or certificates.  Most were eager to tell their tales.

A nicer way of researching than sitting at home and paying to see transcript records in an internet database.  However, I made a mistake.  Computers were coming along.  I recorded too much onto obsolete system and using obsolete software.  Then I hit middle age.  I let go of too much, all of my notes, charts, and records.  My marriage collapsed, I moved on.  Holding onto things seemed futile when I have only one life.  I lost much of my genealogy.

Then a few days ago when I was looking at my old archaeology website on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I spotted a few pages on my old genealogy.  There was a link to a .gedcom file that included a lot of the data that I had accumulated years ago.  It worked, the Wayback Machine had captured my .gedcom file!  Data on over 1200 ancestors and relatives from both mine, and the ex's family.  I looked for some Open Source software and found the Gramps program.  I downloaded it and the .gedcom file onto both my Windows 7 PC, and onto my Linux netbook.  After fiddling for a little while, the software opened my old gedcom file - there was all of the data, or at least a lot of it.  Charts, resources, BMDs, baptisms, burials, etc.  Retrieved from an Internet Archive, and saved in a format that still works.

The above group photograph is of four generations.  The baby is my Aunt Gladys, the mother is my maternal grandmother, the man is her father, my great grandfather Sam Tammas-Tovell, and the old lady is my great great grandmother Eliza Tammas-Tovell (nee Lawn).  Probably taken in the Halvergate or Tunstall area of Norfolk around 1936

My Genealogy and 23andMe

Most of my recorded ancestry, and most likely, most of my actual ancestry, lived in the English county of my birth - Norfolk.  Seven of my eight grandparents were born in Norfolk. My autosomal data should be pretty typical for a Norfolk born East Anglian.  The exception was my paternal great grandfather, who was born in Victorian London, of mainly Oxfordshire descent.  On the 23andMe results, he should have passed down my Y chromosome haplogroup.  On paper I can go back another three generations, to a John Brooker, who fathered some children between 1815 and 1836 in the parish of Rotherfield Peppard in Oxfordshire.  All that I currently know of his origins, is that he stated that he himself was born outside of Oxfordshire.  He lived close to the county border with Berkshire, and I suspect that he may have originated from there.

My maternal line, which should represent my mtDNA haplogroup, as with most of my recorded ancestry, is very Norfolk.  I can trace it back to Sarah Daynes (nee Quantrill), born at Wymondham, Norfolk circa 1827.  I don't think that it would be too far fetched to suggest that my ancestors most likely lived in the Norfolk area since at least as far back as the old East Anglian Kingdom, and perhaps many of them much back further, perhaps thousands of years.  Some of them however were very likely to have been part of that Anglo-Saxon immigrant Third, and to have arrived from across the North Sea.  Some of them may have arrived a bit later.  East Anglia was very much a part of the Danelaw.  Many villages in East Norfolk - as in parts of Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire, are regarded as having names that were Old Danish in origin.  Apparently even one of my family surnames - Tovell, has been identified as Old Danish, coming from Tofi-son-of-Hilda.  Another family surname Thacker has also been suggested as a Scandinavian form of thatcher.

I'll be interested to see how 23andMe analyse the Ancestry.  In all of my ancestry, I have not found any evidence of anyone coming from outside of England.  It's all Norfolk, London, and Oxfordshire - English surnames.  Therefore I'd expect the 23andMe autosomal results to come out pretty much under the British & Irish group.  However, should we ethnic English, because of our more distant history, expect elements of Scandinavian, French & German, and North West European?  My understanding is that autosomal data mainly relates to the most recent several generations.  My Y chromosome should belong to a common British male haplogroup.  It most likely passed through Oxfordshire in SW Britain.  My mtDNA should belong to a very East English haplogroup.  It might have arrived in Britain in late prehistory, or it might have arrived during the Anglo-Saxon or Viking period.

Too much speculation, I must expect my DNA results to take weeks to process.

There Was No British Genocide II

The above image, captured on a Pentax K110D and Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens.  Loom weights in the West Stow Anglo-Saxon reconstruction village.

Literally, as soon as I posted my There was no British Genocide article, I come across links to yet a newer study.  Dr Stephan Schiffels of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, sequenced genomes of human remains from Hinxton, Saffron Walden, Linton and Oakington - all close to Cambridge. 

The dates of the remains ranged from the Late Iron Age, until the Middle Saxon.  The team reported that:

"In the cemetery at Oakington we see evidence even in the early Anglo-Saxon period for a genetically mixed but culturally Anglo-Saxon community, in contrast to claims for strong segregation between newcomers and indigenous peoples. The genomes of two sequenced individuals (O1 and O2) are consistent with them being of recent immigrant origin, from a source population close to modern Dutch, one was genetically similar to native Iron Age samples (O4), and the fourth was consistent with being an admixed individual (O3), indicating interbreeding. Despite this, their graves were conspicuously similar, with all four individuals buried in flexed position, and with similar grave furnishing. Interestingly the wealthiest grave, with a large cruciform brooch, belonged to the individual of native British ancestry (O4), and the individual without grave goods was one of the two genetically ‘foreign’ ones (O2), an observation consistent with isotope analysis at West Heslerton which suggests that new immigrants were frequently poorer".

Based on this study, the team proposed that the immigrant portion of English DNA lay around a third, or 20 - 40% of total.  Not so far from the findings of 10% to 40% by the POBA 2015 study.  The newer study though confirms that the populations appear to have mingled closely, and that people of Romano-British ancestry were quickly adopting an Anglo-Saxon identity.  It was a surprise to find that the higher status remains Anglo Saxon dressed remains were actually of local Romano-British heritage, while some of the poorest remains were immigrant Anglo-Saxons.

Based on comparative genetics, the team suggests the origins of the immigrant Anglo-Saxons were Denmark and the Netherlands.

Full story can be found published under Creative Commons in Nature here, and the BBC news release here.

So once again, the genetic analysis suggests that rather than an Anglo-Saxon invasion wiping out the Romano-Britons, that a series of immigrations - not outnumbering the locals, arrived, and apparently mingled in.  Around a third of the population were immigrant Anglo-Saxon from the Continent.  Even the higher status locals, were apparently copying the new Anglo-Saxon culture.

The ethnic English are a surprisingly homogeneous population, with roots here going back several thousand years.  Immigrations arrive, provide admixture, but are then absorbed.  That is who we are.  Bede exaggerated the genocide.


The Paleo Diet. A critique

The above photograph seems to illustrate how many modern people eat.  I took it in a Wisbech back street, using the 50p camera, Olympus XA2, loaded with Ilford HP5+ film, which I developed in Kodak D76.

Eat like a Caveman?

What prompted this post?  I was shopping in a local discount store today, and I spotted their range of Paleo and Atkins diet aids - ketosis pills, high protein this, high protein that, and a ... Paleo Protein Bar.  I just cannot imagine a palaeolithic hunter-forager unwrapping and then biting into factory produced "protein bar".  The ketosis pills were ridiculous enough.  Still, it reminded me of why I turned my back onto the Paleo diet crowd years ago.

The Paleo-Diet is based on the assumption that humans have not had time to adapt towards a modern diet.  This they might argue, is why we grow overweight, unfit, and suffer many illnesses.  They suggest that humans evolved to a hunter-gatherer diet over many thousands of years.  In order to replicate some of our "natural" food groups, Paleo-dieters do not eat: junk food, fast food, bread, cereals, any wheat or flour products, refined sugar, beans, legumes (including peanuts), potatoes, processed vegetable oils, or any dairy produce.  Some Paleo-dieters with European heritage, also avoid certain foods, that originated in the New World, including for example, tomatoes, avocados, and peppers.  Although this proscription does not appear in the mainstream, there are some Paleo-dieters that believe that people without a long New World heritage, have a genetic based conflict with such food groups.  On my recent excursion into genetic profiling, I've seen posts from some individuals actively looking for New World food intolerant genes. I know where they are coming from.

Before I launch my critique, I should just start with what I do agree with the Paleo-Diet.

  • I fully agree that we have not had time to adapt to the modern diet.  However, I refer to the massive changes to our diet over the past 100 years, not over the past 10,000 years.  I agree that we should avoid junk food, fast food, processed meat, sugary foods, and processed oils.  I feel that we should also reduce our consumption of refined white wheat flour products.
  • I do like how the more sensible paleo-dieters seek out and eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, and nuts.  By avoiding starchy foods (rice, pasta, and potatoes), they sometimes consume more portions of vegetables.
  • It might encourage people to think like a hunter forager. Foraging at the local farmshops, markets and stores for more variety of natural wholesome foods. To consume mindfully. Avoid cheap meats.

Now what I disagree with:

  • It is based on bad science, bad anthropology.  10,000 years represents lots of generations for us to adapt to an agricultural diet.  Lactose tolerance is evidence of that evolution.  The book The 10,000 year Explosion: How civilization accelerated human evolution. 2009.  Cochran and Harpending, explores these issues, and revealed that human evolution, in terms of deviations within our population alleles, has actually accelerated.  One of the pressures behind this acceleration has been identified as the agricultural diet.  Anthropologists can also point to farming populations, for example, some dairy farmers in Africa, that are particularly tall and strong.  The past 100 years, yes, I can agree, we have not had time to biologically adapt to the profusion of refined sugars and processed fats that surround us daily.  However, you cannot tell me that agricultural foods are all bad.  What are Paleo-dieters actually eating?  Those fruits, vegetables, grass-fed beef, and even nuts, are all agriculturally produced.  I don't see many Paleo-dieters living on whatever they forage or hunt from the wild alone.
  • The truth is that hunter-foragers were highly adaptable to different diets.  As they spread across the planet, so they encountered different resources.  They adapted partly by human culture, by lifestyle, but humans are also great omnivores  and opportunists.  I once saw a British TV documentary about a a woman with an eating disorder, that restricted her diet to one flavour and brand of corn snacks.  Okay, her skin looked a bit pasty, but she was not noticeably overweight, and her disorder had not prevented her from surviving to adulthood, and from raising her own children.  What I hate about the Paleo-diet, particularly about some of it's more extreme schools, is that it is restrictive.  It prohibits the consumption at least of legumes, potatoes, even whole grains cereals, and beans.  Some of it's followers also avoid tomatoes!  Come on people.
  • Again, I'm not criticising the mainstream Paleo.  But some of it's followers  really go for the meat, even processed meats!  They treat it as a high protein diet.  In their eyes, hunter-gatherers ate largely what they hunted.  Although some hunter-gatherer communities did eat a lot of fish and whale meat for example, most of them in reality more likely resourced most of their calorific requirements with foraged foods.  For example, humans have an enzyme that converts starches from plant roots and tubers, into useful sugars.  Other species of apes lack this enzyme.  This would suggest that at some point of our ancestry, the ability to eat and digest roots was pretty essential for survival.  The prized tool of many bush women in SW Africa until recently (it's now most likely a smartphone), was the digging stick.  Expertly used to dig up edible roots for the pot.  Hunted meat was culturally more valued - but foraged foods provided most of the calories.  I've seen Paleo-dieters praising American bacon and tinned ham as a good food source.  I've seen the same people wince at the idea of eating fresh liver or sprats.  I'm pretty sure that fresh tomatoes, rolled oats, and even local potatoes (in the right proportion), are healthier than fried processed bacon.  But that's just my opinion.
  • Any focus on diet, is only half the equation when it comes to living well.  The other half is activity.  Do we exercise?  How often do we get out of breath?  Are we really happy, Do we push our muscles to the limit?  Do we take time out, to stroll through green, clean air areas, do we relax properly?

That's today's sermon.  Eat more vegetables and fruit, and you don't need to avoid oats or tomatoes.  Consume mindfully. Get moving.  Enjoy life.



Thetford Forest Archaeology

I took the above photo using an old digital cam phone, a Sony Ericsson C510, at Two Mile Bottom, Thetford, in 2010.  I was on a run with my old dogs across Thetford Forest, when I couldn't resist picking up this flake of flint laying in the sand, and taking this photo.  It was struck by a human knapper sometime in late prehistory.  I would see flakes of flint like this laying on the soils and sands of the forest all of the time.  After taking this photo, I returned it back to the sand.

My Archaeology

I can remember as a boy, I was always attracted to the distant past.  I find it strange that some others have no interest in it, but then again, some people find it odd that I have no interest for example, in football.  Horses for courses.  I remember when my father's shop in the City of Norwich during the 1970's seemed surrounded by archaeological digs, and how I would leer through the fences at their excavation trenches.  My life didn't go that way though, I drifted into adulthood away from any future in the heritage business.

Years later, a few events.  The first occurred when I was around twenty years old.  I visited Ireland for a fishing, photography, and drinking holiday with my big brother.  Besides the Guinness and Irish whisky, I remember being deeply impressed by a visit to the Newgrange passage grave.  Deeply impressed.  I was struck by the engineering of the stones, how they managed to perfectly direct a shaft of light into the burial chamber, that would illuminate it on Solstice, when the Sun aligned perfectly. An American tourist in bright checkered shorts, also on the tour, was not so impressed, and loudly complained about the entry fee.  Horses for courses.

Second event.  I was now a young married agricultural worker, living in a farm cottage in Norfolk.  Walking our collie dog around the local fields one day, and I spotted a large stone on the ground.  It may have fallen off a recent hoe or plough.  I took it to the local museum, and they confirmed, it was the broken butt end of a Neolithic polished flint stone axe head.


At the time I was becoming increasingly involved in local politics, and other than occasionally browsing second hand bookshops for books on British Archaeology, I didn't take it any further.  However, in time, the politics all went sour, and I felt that I didn't want contact from people anymore.  It was easier to deal with long dead people.  I started looking for more flint artifacts.  I started identifying flakes, found some beautiful scrapers and piercers, treasured flint arrowheads.  I didn't want to become a collector though.  I wanted to do something more justifiable.  I started to search for unrecorded archaeological "sites" in Thetford Forest, and to submit them to the local government archaeologists for recording onto their sites & monuments records.  I signed up for a two year extra-mural course in Field Archaeology and Landscape History with the UEA.

Thetford Forest Archaeology Project


In 1997 I launched the Thetford Forest Archaeology project, a one man archaeological survey of disturbed soils in Thetford Forest.  I received support from the archaeology departments of Suffolk County Council, Norfolk County Council, and the local officers of the Forestry Commission.  I was supplied with maps each year, of the forestry compartments that were being felled and restocked.  During the restocking operation, the surface would be broken.  I would survey some of these compartments, and record the potential presence of any archaeological sites, such as clusters of artifacts, or earthworks.  More than that, and this was my own take on it, I would carefully measure and calculate the percentages of different artifacts in each area.  These artifact types consisted of late prehistoric lithics (human struck stone) by type, as well as the presence and densities of Roman and Medieval potsherds.

Here is a gallery of images from my original Thetford Forest Archaeology website.


The above gallery is quite important to me.  Like a fool, I used a web host that deleted my website, when I failed one year to subscribe.  I had also lost my back up.  This is why the Posthaven policy attracted me here.  The majority of my old Thetford Forest Archaeology website can still be seen, using the wonderful Internet Archive Wayback Machine, that captured several sweeps of the website around 2006.  Link to the archived Thetford Forest Archaeology website here! 

Getting back to survey, and what I was trying to accomplish:  Using spreadsheets, and very carefully mapping my surveyed areas (I was proud that I could provenance each find within ten metres using the National Grid Reference system), I would collate data such as the following example, from each survey:

Forest-walk 32.

Forestry Compartment Roudham 2045

Norfolk SMR - 34184

Parish - Roudham. Date - 14/02/99.

Survey Area - 2.94 ha. Sample Fraction - 11 %

Centre on TL 9480 8692

Soil - Methwold/Worlington - partly calcareous slope brown earths.

Relief - flat

Water - Little Ouse River 1.7 km; stream at Roudham DMV 600 metres.

Height OD - 25 to 30 metres.

Transects were spaced at 10 metres distance apart.

A few sherds of pottery, including one of Middle Saxon date, were collected here during an earthwork survey by Brian Cushion for the Forestry Commission. It was felt that the com­partment deserved a closer look.

1 sherd of ?Romano-British grey ware pottery

9 sherds of Medieval pottery (1 glazed, 8 unglazed).

2 sherds of Late Medieval / Early Post-medieval pottery.

1 crude flint scraper.BR>1 'nosed' flint scraper.

2 retouched flint flakes.

28 flint flakes.

147 burnt flints.

Background scatter of Post-medieval / Modern tile and brick fragments.

Although surrounded by the humps, hollows, and bars that are typical of gravel uplands and terraces in Breckland, the surveyed area is quite flat, and the soil is calcareous enough to deserve destumping. The light scatters of ceramics and rubbish from different periods suggests that the surveyed area has been cultivated and manured with domestic waste on a number of occasions. Corbett's soil map shows the surveyed area consists of partly calcareous brown earths, while the surrounding compartments contain deeper upland brown earth. This would appear to explain why the surveyed area is flat and contains manure scatter, while the surfaces of surrounding compartments are uneven.

Main raw material is weathered nodules of blackish flint (Grimes Graves type), with a few pebbles. Some flakes very sharp. Probably late prehistoric. High level of burnt flint noteworthy. - notes by Peter Robins for Norfolk Museum Services.

Lithic Sample Size = 32. Sample Area = 3234 M²

Low Lithic Density for Forest-walk 32 = 0.99 per are². Burnt flint density = 4.55 per are²


I was interested in percentages, landscape facets, distance to known water supply, etc.  It all seemed so nerdy, that I don't think that my liaisons in local archaeology departments ever really got what I was doing.  I was just starting to see some relationships between certain landscapes (such as river terraces), and certain types of lithics.  I was mapping the huge clusters of lithics between the Grimes Graves site and the river Little Ouse, I was mapping areas of previous cultivation, dating to the Romano-British periods, and the Medieval periods, based on densities of potsherds from those periods.

I don't think that all of the local archaeologists were ready for my sort of survey, they didn't know how to handle me.  They were much more use to metal detector find identification.  Anyway, after a mere forty one surveys, I petered out, and the project died.  A shame really, I was just starting to experiment with using GPS and in totally non-invasive surveying, that used very minimal sample removal, but digital images in the field instead.  I'm afraid that I engaged in abit of a slanging match with a member of Norfolk Archaeology in a popular archaeology magazine, then couldn't be doing with it anymore.  Anyway, I was ready to start dealing with living people again.

That was my amateur archaeology phase.


Why do I like Mandolins

Danse Macabre

I took the above photograph on Rollei Retro 400S film, loaded in a Pentax Spotmatic camera.  Anita holding my Chinese made Countryman F-style mandolin in the village church yard.  Developed in rodinal.

Why do I like mandolins?

I don't really know, but I absolutely love mandolins.

The mandolin descends from a long line of small oud or lute-type instruments that had been circulating Africa and Europe for many centuries or perhaps even more.  However, They really took form as the mandolino in the Naples area.  Between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries the Neapolitan mandolino (meaning almond-shaped) evolved to have as a default, a bowl shaped back made of glued strips of wood, a bent sound table, decorated beading around the sound board, a tortoise shell pick guard, a narrow neck, , four pairs of metal strings, tuned in pairs the same as a violin - GDAE, and good quality tuners.  It had evolved from being a small oud, into the classic Neapolitan bowl-backed mandolin.

The Neapolitan bowl backed, is still the mandolin of choice for many mandolinists performing for tourists in Italy, for fans of traditional Italian folk music, and for some classical mandolinists.  However, as the mandolin craze spread across Europe during the nineteenth century, so it took local turns and twists.  The bowl was sometimes replaced with a flat or curved back for example.  In Greece, they already had their own versions - the bouzoukis. In Portugal, it took the form of the bandolim - which also made it across the Atlantic to Brazil.  Meanwhile, both Brazilian bandolinists, and Italian mandolinists were wowing the thriving palour music scene in the USA.

It was in the USA, that new forms of mandolin were produced and popularised, particularly by the Gibson guitar company, with their A and F style American mandolins.  Mandolins started to fall into the hands of Blues musicians.  Jazz musicians picked them up.  When Bluegrass launched, Bill Munroe picked a Gibson F5-style.  Today, it seems as though the USA has replaced Italy, as the stronghold of the mandolin.

Here in the UK, when many people first see a modern mandolin, they often mistake it for a ukulele or even a banjo. They don't really know what it is, or what it sounds like.  The mandolin rarely makes it into popular music - although it has starred in songs by Led Zeppelin (the Battle of Evermore), R.E.M (Losing my Religion), and Rod Stewart (Maggie May).

So why do I love mandolins?

I have no musical background.  I had never really tried to play a musical instrument outside of a stylophone during the 1970s.  I sucked in music class.  I could not read noted music at all.  That was my musical experience up to the age of fifty two.

Then I walked into the local music shop.  He had the Countryman F5 style on the wall, at the end of a long row of guitars.  It was just so pretty, I didn't think about it.  I just handed over the plastic.  Nothing to do with liking any style of music, any musician, or the sound of the mandolin.  It was just the looks of it.  Ironically the owner of that shop was born in Italy - so that I can still say that I bought my first mandolin from an Italian.

The Countryman label is used sometimes by a Chinese distributor to the UK.  I have tracked the same mandolin under different labels in Europe and in the USA.  Like so many Chinese stringed instruments - perhaps not the best wood - it is quiet, and not the richest tone, but for the price it was incredible value, with all of the goodies that you'd expect on a much more expensive American-made bluegrass mandolin.  A simple change of the strings improved the tone noticeably.  It plays well.  A good mandolin to learn on.

I took classes with a very good mandolin teacher for a while.  Good, in the sense that he was a mature music teacher of the old school, and a genuine mandolinist himself, but not so good in that he was so strict, that I eventually felt too nervous to play, and after around six months, regrettably canceled my classes.

Since then I have tried to self-train, but instead have perhaps more simply taken the route of playing for fun.  I would like more spare time, and more self discipline in order to study more efficiently.  I have plenty of great books, and a host of great teaching videos on Youtube and elsewhere.  I'm attracted to traditional Italian, and to Irish or Scottish folk, but I'd like to have a crack at some blues.  So much music to learn, so many techniques.

Ever since my initial attraction to that instrument in the music shop, I have found other reasons to love mandolins.  Okay, they don't have the warm big sound of an acoustic guitar.  But they are so small, so portable.  I absolutely love practicing on my mandolin.  I can't really explain why.  It's not a guitar.  It is more personal.

I have to admit that I have wasted money buying a couple of cheap mandolins on Ebay.  An old Neapolitan bowl back, and a Romanian curve back, distributed by a Scottish company as the Celtic Petit.  Although both are louder, neither play as easily as my Chinese Countryman.

As I said in my last post, I have commissioned a hand-crafted mandolin from a local luthier, Gary Nava.  I'm so looking forward to it later this year.  

The below Youtube video stars Charlie Pig's World of Pluck.  He is playing one of Gary Nava's hand-made mandolins.  He's such a good player, and my playing sucks so bad.  I just hope Gary doesn't expect me to play it when I pick it up.  I really like Charlie's performance here, so I'm embedding it in this blog for inspiration.  This is why I now love the mandolin:


Losing weight

Looking down the Fen

I took the above photograph on the recent day trip to Huntingdon.  Taken between Warboys and Chatteris, I couldn't resist the shadows that the late sun was making that day.  Yashica T2 compact 35mm camera, loaded with Kodak Tmax 400 film, developed in Kodak Tmax developer.

Losing Weight

As I hover over the 12 stone mark (I was 13 stone 9 pounds in late November), the scales teasing me, I am considering weight loss as a subject.  Anita recently told me that a friend has just completed a week long fast, and is now embarking on some kind of ketosis programme, before she fasts again!

I guess that it's her health and body.  My system is really simple.  Eat super healthy and natural, with a large variety of vegetables and fruits, and some regular seeds, nuts, and whole grains. No processed meat.  No cheap red meat, instead, more fish, wild meat, some eggs, some dairy.  Then start an exercise program that makes you feel good, and that you enjoy.  Mine is running like a mad man through the countryside, strapped to a pair of hounds.  That burns calories okay.

Does it work?  Well I did it before, and I kept up the exercise and pretty much the healthy eating for around four years.  Even when I let myself go again, I know that I would make more of an effort to eat vegetables and fruit, so it took another five to six years, before I ended up close to where I started ten years earlier.  That effort was worth it.  It's not like a fad diet, where you chuck off the pounds, suffer from hunger, then stuff yourself after you hit your target weight - until you were fatter than when you started six months earlier.

I have on rare occasions,taken a 24 hour fast.  I'm not even convinced that it is a good thing.  A week?  I'd imagine that really hits your lean weight as well as your fat.  Bone, muscles, organs - your heart, I can see them suffering.  Why can't some people just avoid the cakes, and make a point out of getting out of breath a few times per week?  I really do not rate any diet plan that does nothing to increase consumption of the greens and berries.  If I stopped losing weight, it is either because I'm near enough to a healthy lean mass, or because I either / or need to:
  • Step up the activity.  Keep more active, or increase the exercise
  • Reduce calorific consumption.  Eat enough plants and you shouldn't need to, as they are low calorie and packed with fibre.  However, if I want to reduce fat further, I might calorie count, and carefully reduce my calorific consumption.

You know why?  Because losing the fat is 90% simply energy in - energy out.  Screw shit science and fad dieting.

Running with Dogs No.17

Ran the dog's favourite route this morning, 4.5 miles, 45 minutes.  It felt like an average to poor run, but we finally reached an average of 6 mph.  When I use to canicross run several years ago, I'd usually get around 6.2 mph, but I'm getting there.  I'm not sure if Flint will ever stop trying to piss up every tree though.  Loki though - I'd race canicross with that little dog, he'd be fine.

Below is a Youtube video that I made six years ago.  I was running with my old dogs, Wolfy, a large siberian husky, and Belle, a small dalmatian.  They are retired and living with my ex now.  It actually upsets me a little to see these videos, but even now I'm fifty four (so I'm told), there is no reason that I can't do it again.


The Mandolin

I haven't mentioned the mandolin yet have I?  I'm on the waiting list for a new, custom made, hand crafted wooden mandolin.  I have a very, very good guitar maker and luthier, a mere two or three miles away.  Gary Nava of Nava Guitars.  I've asked Gary to order some British hand crafted tuners from Robson Tuners, to be fitted to my mandolin.  The tuners are perhaps an extravagance.  But as much as feasible, I want my dream mandolin to be hand crafted.  Gary will be making the tailpiece himself.  I'm still considering woods, although I'm thinking Pao Ferro if he still has any, for back and sides.  Maybe Spruce for top.  This instrument is going to be my one instrument, that I want to use for the remainder of my life.