In the previous post (The First Anglians Part I), I referred to excavation reports from Caistor St Edmund, as published in 1973. Here, I mainly refer to a book that was recommended to the landscape history, The Origins of Norfolk by Tom Williamson, MUP 1993.
Williamson refers to local Pagan Saxon cemeteries, that largely date to the 5th to 7th centuries AD. He tells us that a large number of these cemeteries have been found in Norfolk, with many of the earlier cemeteries containing decorated urns of the cremated dead.
I recently visited one of these cemeteries, the infamous Spong Hill, near to North Elmham, Norfolk:
The book reports that:
Catherine Hills, moreover, has shown that the burial practices employed at the largest Norfolk cemetery yet excavated, at Spong Hill near North Elmham, are so close to those practised in parts of northern Europe that they surely must represent the graves of people of Continental origin or descent. More than this, she has demonstrated that the cemetery's closest parallels are with the Anglian, rather than with the Saxon, areas of the Continent. Hills compared the burials at Spong Hill with those at Suderbrarup and Bordesholm in Schleswig-Holstein, and at Westerwanna in Lower Saxony. The range of grave-goods found at all the sites was similar, but the closest similarities were consistently between Spong and the Schleswig sites. Thus for example 'The most characteristic late fourth to fifth century burials at Suderbrarup seem to be those which contain sets of miniatures with combs, in pots which either have no decoration or a horizontal/vertical bossed and grooved design. Very similar burials occur at Spong Hill' (Hills, forthcoming).
The Anglian affinities were not entirely clear-cut. In particular, the Spong pottery urns, with their use of stamped ornament, showed closest affinities with those from the Westerwanna cemetery.
It's not clear cut is it? I think that what we see in East Anglia, is a general migration from the area of northern Germany and Jutland. Perhaps even further afield, from Frisia, and from tribes further to the south - a Norfolk inhumation suggests Allemani, a place name (Swaffham) suggests Suevvi. However, culturally, that area of what is now Northern Germany, including Schleswig-Holstein, appears to have given lead in identity.
I currently feel that late 5th / early 6th century AD East Anglia, although with this Anglian bias, was a pretty multicultural area, with many people the descendants of Angles, but also from other tribes scattered from Frisia to Jutland - and also often sharing local Romano-British ancestry. During the 6th Century, as new elites emerged, they claimed heroic ancestry from the Angles of Schleswig-Holstein. It may, or may not have been true. The East Anglian Royal family actually claimed dual ancestry - to be descended both from Woden, and from Julius Caesar! (That might suggest some lingering Romano-British identity in the emerging kingdom). However, it was 7th century cool to be associated with Beowulf adventurers of the North Sea.
A recent purchase in a Norwich shop, was a used book: The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall Norfolk by J.N.L Myres and Barbara Green. The Society of Antiquities. 1973. Caistor-by-Norwich, or as it is also known, Caistor-St Edmund, is located close to the confluence of the River Tas with the River Yare, in East Norfolk. The Anglo-Saxon cremation urn cemetery there, was built outside of the walls of Venta Icenorum, a Romano-British town. The book's authors suggest that the cemetery belonged to Anglo-Saxon mercenary soldiers, that were employed to defend the town, and their families that they brought over. This fits the context of the Anglo-Saxon invasion, as proposed by traditionalist historians that support the accounts made in later centuries by Gildas and by Bede. In this context, these finds could be suggested to have belonged to the very first East Anglians
I could wax on about it's extensive finds catalogue, and illustrations:
But instead, I'm going to copy here, a passage from the above book that I read this morning, after recieving an email from Stephen Arbon, concerning the Anglo-Saxon settlement of East Anglia.
"The suggested reorganization of the town defences in the third century implies a community still sufficiently large and viable to warrant such an expense. The enclosure of some 35 acres must indicate that this area was thought worth defending. Until the whole system is securely dated uncertainty must remain. But the existence of external bastions does indicate that the defences were probably improved in the later part of the fourth century. Further evidence for the existence of an adequate defensive system at the time comes from the forum and Building 4. Five pieces of military equipment of the type associated with barbarian troops of this period have been found on these two sites, while a sixth was included in a nineteenth century collection. All are late fourth - or early fifth century types and indicate the presence of a military force stationed in or near the town at this time. A bone sword guard was picked up after ploughing in 1969 in the area of the Baths. This too can perhaps be associated with the users of the metal objects. By this time also, if the dating here suggested for the earliest barbarian burials in the Anglo-Saxon cemetery is correct, Germanic folk were already cremating their dead only some 400 yards outside the east gate of Venta.
It may also be significant in this context to note that a number of pieces of so-called 'Romano-Saxon' pottery have been recorded from the Roman town. One such, unstratified, has already been published; three others are here illustrated on fig. 70. Pottery of this kind has been held to indicate the impact of Germanic decorative taste on ceramic fashions in the later days of Roman Britain. It certainly displays motifs that were popular beyond the Roman frontiers at this time; where datable, it occurs mostly in late fourth-century contexts, and its distribution lies mainly in those eastern parts of Britain where the barbarian influence was likely to be felt at the earliest date. The presence of this hybrid pottery is another piece of evidence for the cultural conditions prevailing at Venta in its final phase.
Caistor is in fact one of the few Roman towns in Britain where Romano-Saxon pottery, late Roman military equipment, and early Germanic cremation cemeteries have all been found in close association. The relationship between the soldiery to whom the military equipment found in the town belonged and the folk whose cremated remains were buried outside the walls is difficult to determine. It is most natural to suppose that these finds represent two aspects of the same phenomenon, a body of Germanic mercenaries who in life defended the walls in their final form and in death were buried, in accordance with continuing Roman practice, outside. If as is suggested by the presence of beads in some of the earliest urns, they had their families with them, they too would have been settled somewhere close at hand. It may be objected that barbarian irregulars in Roman, or sub-Roman employment would be unlikely to cremate their dead with such persistence as the earliest users of the cemetery appear to have done. It is true that most cemeteries of Germanic troops that have been recognized in Roman frontier areas on the Continent consist of inhumations, and the well known Dorchester burials are a similar instance in this country. But it has to be remembered that most of the continental laeti in northern Gaul came of Frankish stock or from related German tribes beyond the Rhine who had long been familiar with Roman ways, while the Angles and Saxons who first settled at Caistor came from regions much further afield in north Germany and southern Scandinavia on which Roman civilization had made little cultural impact. And, while it is true that no objects of Roman uniform equipment have been recognized in our cremation urns, such instances have been recorded in north German cremation cemeteries, indicating no doubt that individual Saxons who had served in Roman irregular units did sometimes return home to die and be cremated in accordance with their own ancestral customs. At Caistor and elsewhere in eastern England such folk had fewer opportunities to return home to the Continent: they had come here to stay, and they continued to cremate their dead in their new homeland, unaffected by Romano-British habits, for which, in any case, they probably had some contempt.
The Anglo-Saxon Cemeteries of Caistor-by-Norwich and Markshall Norfolk by J.N.L Myres and Barbara Green. The Society of Antiquities. 1973.
A surviving stretch of Venta's wall at Caistor St Edmund.
An information board at the site of the old Roman town.
Drawing of Romano-British potsherds from a site that I recorded in Thetford Forest many years ago. The bottom left sherd is of the type known as Romano-Saxon pottery.
In conclusion, I'm not prepared to take sides on this one. we know that some very early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries surround the old Roman town of Venta Icenorum in Norfolk. We still don't know with any degree of certainty what was the relationship between the town and these cemeteries. Another Anglo-Saxon cemetery has been found close to the walls of the Roman shore fort nearby at Burgh Castle. Did they arrive as Gildas indicated, as invited guests and mercenaries?
Nearly twenty ago I was a keen amateur archaeologist, submitting finds from a large number of field-walk or surface collection surveys in East Anglia (Thetford Forest Archaeology). I studied Field Archaeology and Landscape History for two years on a part time course organised by the UEA. I also spent one week with Suffolk Archaeology, as a volunteer, helping to record sites from aerial reconnaissance photos.
A few years later, I was regularly running and cycling through the forest with my dogs. Studying maps for my running areas, I spotted crop marks in a field in the forest. I was concerned that being located in an area that was mainly forest, that it might have been missed by aerial reconnaissance surveys for archaeology. However, I never got around to reporting it.
So I finally, years later, just did.
Two ring ditches, one around 63 metres in diameter, and another nearby around 31 metres in diameter. The larger was only partially visible as a semi circle in the form of a soil mark on the 2006 September image. The smaller one, close by to the east, has been much more regularly visible, as both a soil mark, and a crop mark, in 1999, 2006, 2007, and June 2017 images.
My interpretation? Probably ploughed out Bronze Age round barrows. There a mound not far away in the forest that I have my suspicions about as well.
So, let's see if Heritage@Norfolk.gov.uk replies or not.
I made an awesome heritage day trip yesterday. My first encounter with Seahenge (Holme Timber Circle I) occurred in 1998. I was living at Thetford, and made daily visits to a local dig of a Pagan Saxon site there, by the NAU (Norfolk Archaeological Unit). On my last visit, the young digger remarked that he was being relocated to a remarkable timber circle rescue dig on the North Norfolk coast.
It was an eroded timber circle, with an inverted tree stump at the centre. It was dated through dendrochronology to be 4,060 years old (2049 BC) felled and erected during the Early Bronze Age. There were concerns that the site could soon be lost to sea erosion. An attempt was launched by the NAU in collaboration with the TV show Time Team, to remove the timbers from the beach for conservation. There was significant protest by both local groups, and by neo-pagans, that felt that the timbers should be left on the beach.
The removal continued despite the protests. It has been postulated that it may have been used as a small shrine, or perhaps as a burial chamber - with the corpse placed on top of the inverted tree stump "altar".
I next saw the timbers a few years later, under preservation process at the Flag Fen archaeological museum near to Peterborough:
The tanks at Flag Fen were under canvas, and you could literally touch the timbers in the water tanks. Since preservation was completed, most of the timbers, and the tree stump "alter", have been on display in Norfolk, at the Kings Lynn Museum. I've visited it several times over the years, but I had never been to the original site. Until yesterday!
I parked the car back near to the White Horse pub in the village. I wanted to take a short pilgrimage of a few miles to the spot that I had identified from grid references online. It also follows where the Peddars Way joins the North Norfolk Coastal Path. Two long distance trails that I completed with my dog years ago.
Been there, done them, got the T shirt.
The path follows behind the sea dunes and a stretch of freshwater marsh - that is most likely, similar to the environment that the timber circles were built in. Sea erosion over the past 4,000 years has been driving the sealine and dunes back. The dunes must have gradually crossed over the timber circles as it slowly retreated, leaving the archaeology on the beach surrounded by the eroding features of ancient fresh water marshes.
I had pre-programmed my trusty handheld GPS unit to track down the find spots.
I can't tell you how much I loved retracing my old steps along this section of the North Norfolk Coastal Path. It's beautiful:
When I started to near to the point, and to the archaeological site, I safely traversed a foot path down to the beach. An awesome, beautiful day:
I followed the GPS to the find spot here. During the dig, it was alongside a patch of ancient marsh mud. It's all gone. Just bleached sands now. A few years after removing Seahenge (Holme I), a second timber circle (Holme II) and altar was spotted close by. It was a larger circle, with planks rather than posts, and signs of a timber causeway near by. Following the experience of the public opposition to removing Holme I, it was decided this time, to leave this other timber circle in-situ. Today, it appears to be gone. Eroded away by storms and tides. Clearly, the archaeologists and conservators were perfectly correct to have removed the smaller circle for preservation. The above photo looks across where the two circles were. A metal rod presumably left to mark the spot of Holme I:
More modern timbers can be found closer to the eroding marsh mud:
Some timbers on the site have also been identified as being much older tree stumps from the old marsh.
Then it was off the Kings Lynn Museum, in order to revisit the timbers of Seahenge (Holme I) circle:
Below, a reconstruction of an Early Bronze Age man (carrying a flat bronze axe), based on the dress of contemporary bog bodies found in Denmark:
Finally, a display case with other Bronze Age finds from the area:
Population Genetics Discussion.
Only within the past few weeks, a major new study of ancient European DNA has suggested that the earlier Neolithic peoples of the British Isles were largely replaced (or even perhaps displaced) by a new people carrying an artifact assemblage that we call the Bell Beaker Culture, most likely arriving first in Southeast Britain, from what is now the area of the Netherlands. They would arrived in the British Isles circa 4,200 years ago. This is just previous to the Holme Timber Circles. The conclusion would be that most likely, the timber circles on the North Norfolk Coast were the burial practices of this new Beaker population. However... the story remains to be detailed, or even perhaps rewritten with future study.
This afternoon, I decided to visit Arminghall Henge. Only 55 minutes cycle ride from my home, it sits just outside of the Norwich southern bypass, near to County Hall. It was not in any way sign posted. Not as much as an information sign. Even though the "Boadicea Way" trail runs right past it:
Indeed, the only way that I found it was through online resources and my GPS:
It was first spotted in 1929 - a first in the history of aerial photography for archaeology. It was excavated in 1935:
The ambiance can only detected by the imaginative. As a seasoned time traveller, it gave me the kick, despite it being in a horse field, with overhead HV power cables, right next to a major power sub station for the City of Norwich:
Not really an attraction for tourists. No standing stones. this is East Anglia, we don't have boulder-stones. The Neolithic creators of this site erected earthworks and massive timbers - the post-holes that sometimes be seen from above. Incidentally, in archaeology, a "Henge" is not a stone circle. Stone circles were sometimes erected inside a henge, often later. It's a circular bank and ditch earthwork, with the ditch on the inside - as though keeping something in - a defensive rampart has the ditch on the outside. A henge keeps something "in". Interesting is that the most famous henge - Stonehenge, breaks that convention.
Looking up at the site of the Henge from the nearby water course at the bottom of the valley.
and the modern water course itself.
If you've seen my posts in this section before, you know that I like to do a little mole hill archaeology:
Yes, that's a flint flake in the mole hill. Displaying it's dorsal surface, showing the scars of previously removed flakes.
An inspection before returning it to it's topsoil context. I'm here showing you the striking platform, point of impact, and conchoidal fracture bulb. On the right, I can tell you it has wear from being used as a "notched flake", maybe to clean a bone, or an arrow-shaft or similar.
Another flint flake, dorsal surface, showing the scars of previously struck flakes from the core.
Finally, more recent archaeology. A lens cap circa AD 2010?
I hope that someone out there gets some enjoyment from these third person explores of East Anglian sites.
British archaeologists have long been aware of a late prehistoric artifact culture found across the British Isles, and across large areas of Western Europe. It bridged the Late Neolithic and Early Bronze Age periods around 4,400 to 3,800 years ago. It was characterised by the use of fine bell-shaped beaker pots, usually red ceramic fabric, heavily decorated with simple motifs. These motifs were characteristically impressed with a fine toothed comb or dentated spatula. Many Bell beaker burial rituals have been excavated and studied. The inhumed body would usually be crouched on the side, roughly on a north to south alignment. A bell beaker would often be stood near to the body, at the feet, or near the head. Other grave goods often included barbed and tanged flint arrowheads, flint flakes and blades, antler picks, sometimes one or two more beakers, amber beads, copper awls, and gold earrings / hair rings. 64% of British Beaker burials were flat graves, but sometimes a barrow or cist would be erected above it (Beaker Pottery of Great Britain & Ireland. DL Clarke. CUP 1970).
Above, a flint barbed & tanged arrowhead of the Beaker Culture, that I found and recorded during a surface collection survey some years ago.
Archaeologists studying the artifact culture in Britain, compared the British finds to those on the Continent in order to try to find an origin for these people. They suggested either Brittany in North West France, or the Lower Rhine Valley, in the Netherlands and Northern Germany. Some alternatively promoted Iberia as the origin.
Then British Archaeology entered an intellectual phase where it became fashionable to dismiss migration or invasions of people, in favour of cultural exchange. Pots not People. Rather like today, we British wear denim, t-shirts, listen to R&B, and drink coke. However, we have not been displaced by North Americans - we just absorbed the artifacts of another culture. From the 1970s on, many late prehistoric migrations were dismissed by British archaeologists as cultural exchanges rather than representing population displacement.
2. The New Population Genetics and the Steppe Pastoralists.
A new field of study has been gathering pace with the arrival of the 21st Century, that uses genetic evidence, to explore past migrations, movements, admixtures, and origins of peoples. The earliest pioneers used blood types, then mitochondrial DNA mutations, followed by STR of Y-DNA. Some of the early conclusions supported the new orthodoxy of British Archaeology. Stephen Oppenheimer's infamous publication "The Origins of the British" championed that there had been little change in British populations since the Ice Age. They were to be proven wrong. Early conclusions, based on little evidence, misunderstandings that were later corrected with more data, seriously damaged the reputation of population genetics in British prehistoric studies.
The most common Y-DNA haplogroup of Western Europe, particularly of Ireland and Britain was R1b. Early mistakes gave this male haplogroup an Ice Age origin of the Basque Region in Southwest Europe. As more data gathered, and debate developed, it became apparent that the origin was not the Basque region, but the Pontic and Caspian Steppes of Eurasia! It became associated with an archaeological culture in Southern Russia called the Yamna. The R1b and R1a haplogroups appeared to have spilled off the Steppes into Europe during the Copper Age during a significant migration event around 4,900 - 4,600 years ago. In Eastern and Central Europe, this migration of pastoralists appears to be responsible for the fused artifact culture known as the Corded Ware (again, after a prehistoric pottery style).
A few lectures on Youtube to watch:
Havard lecture by David Reich 2015.
CARTA lecture by Johannes Krause 2016
That brings us up to date. In summary, population geneticists have discovered a movement of people, not just pots, from the Steppes into Europe. Modern Europeans descend from an admixture of three major founder populations: 1) the Western Eurasian hunter-gatherers, then a layer of 2) Early Neolithic farmers (that originated in Anatolia and the Middle East), and finally, 3) the Steppe Pastoralists. The actual mix varies not only from person to person, but also regionally across Europe.
So how does the Bell Beaker Culture of Britain and Western Europe fit into all of this? The strong assumption over the past couple of years was that the diffusion of R1b Y-DNA haplogroups occurred then, so therefore, it was a simple extension of this westward drift across Europe that originated on the Pontic and Caspian Steppes. It first spawned the Corded Ware Culture in Central Europe, but then when it met Western Europe, spawned the Bell Beaker Culture. However, until now, this hypothesis hadn't been tested.
The Beaker phenomenon and genetic transformation of Northwest Europe 2017
Has now examined some of these questions, through the examination of an unprecedented scale of ancient DNA sampling. The link to their published document (which is still awaiting peer review) is at the top of this post, and I'd invite others to read it for themselves. An article covering the document can also be read on the Scientific American. However, I personally with my layman head take five suggestions from the study.
They found that the DNA of human remains on Continental Europe did not suggest one cohesive or homogeneous population. There was in this case, evidence of cultural diffusion. Different peoples were taking on the Bell Beaker artifact assemblage in Western Europe. Pots rather more than people. This was a great surprise, as we still know from the earlier study, that much of our DNA and Y-DNA in particular, originated around 400 years earlier from the Eurasian Steppes. However, although the Central European Corded Ware Culture does still appear to have been a response to that great influx of new people from the Steppes, the picture with the Western European Bell Beaker is more complex.
An exception was Britain. Here, the remains associated with Bell Beaker Culture were all one population, and they were very different to the earlier Neolithic population of Britain. It appears to have been a case of population displacement. They suggest at least 90% displacement! It means that very few or none of our Neolithic ancestors built the amazing monuments of Neolithic Britain. They were built by earlier peoples, that our ancestors displaced.
They confirm a Lower Rhine origin as most likely for the British Beaker People. The ancient DNA that most closely matched British Beaker DNA, came from Beaker human remains in the Netherlands and Northern Germany. This correlates nicely with the 1970 archaeological study mentioned above.
It's confirmed. Previous to their entry into the British Isles, there is no evidence of any Steppe ancestry, no Steppe autosomal DNA, no Steppe Y haplogroups such as R1b-L21 here. (Nor any mtDNA haplogroup H6a1). The Beaker people from the Lower Rhine, brought the initial layers of this DNA to Britain. The founder population were admixed, but with significant percentages of Steppe ancestry, particularly on Y lines.
The previous Neolithic Farmer population were mainly Y haplogroup I2, and appear to have descended mainly from populations in the South, from Iberia, rather than from the Danube, although before that from Anatolia. The modern population that is closest to them today are Sardinians.
Also as a layman, I guess that this suggests that most, or even any "Neolithic Farmer" DNA suggested by our ancient ancestry calculators, was most likely picked up elsewhere than Britain, and brought here by later migrants (descended through that mixture of cultural diffusion and admixture), rather than directly from the British Neolithic population.
I also notice a correlation with an Irish study last year ("Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and
establishment of the insular Atlantic genome" Cassidy etal. Queens University Belfast 2016), that again, suggested major displacement of earlier peoples in Ireland, at the end of the Neolithic, by a population with largely Steppes origins.
Another of my day trips. Another day off. As a Norfolk bloke, I almost felt as though I was following in the footsteps of the Iceni during the Boudiccan Uprising. I had a good day. One to one tour of the Roman vaults of the old Claudian temple. Here are my photos.
Colchester Castle. Norman medieval, but built directly onto the foundations of the old Roman temple, and recycling much of it's old building material. When the Romans invaded the British Isles in AD 43, they quickly headed for this site. It was an area of importance for the Trinovante tribe. The Romans considered it as the nearest that the South East British had to a Capital City. Claudius followed the crossing with a herd of armoured elephants. He accepted submission here.
Here I'm in the vaults. These were Roman laid foundations for an enormous temple, built for the late emperor Claudius, who had been deified. A monument to the Roman dominance of Britannia.
A Roman tile, with finger prints where it was handled still soft.
The Colchester "Sphinx".
Romano-British smiley on a crematory jar.
The Colchester Hercules.
Hunting scenes in ceramic.
Gladiators at Colchester, Essex.
I'm becoming increasingly interested in shipping and vessels. The North Sea and Channel were bridges rather than walls.
I learned about this one on an archaeology course years ago. The Colchester Roman Doctor's grave. Complete with surgery kit and ... games!
Claudius. Found in a local river. Far too small to have been from the huge bronze effigy that was housed in the temple when Boudicca attacked.
Reconstruction of the Boudiccan siege of the Claudian temple - where the castle was later built, now a museum. Having been beaten, while her daughters were raped, the widow of King Prasutagus of the Iceni (the Iron Age tribe of what is now Norfolk), rose against Rome. Her army stormed down to Colchester. The citizens hid in the temple, which was laid siege for two days, before her warriors broke through and murdered every Roman citizen before burning the town down.
Finds, including molten glass, from the burning of the Roman town by the Iceni led rebels.
More finds from this burning event.
Tombstone of a Roman Legionnaire at Colchester. This one was Thracian, born in what is now Bulgaria. His figure stomping down on a local Briton. This sort of arrogance may have inflamed the rebellion.
Another soldier's tombstone at Colchester. The town was created as a reward to retiring soldiers, that were granted land in reward for their service to Rome. Colchester today is still a Garrison town.
The Colchester Roman Circus
I then walked a mile to the site of a Roman circus.
A little exposed archaeology. The circus was discovered close to the modern garrison in recent years, and excavations are ongoing. The only Roman circus so far discovered in the British Isles. A centre of chariot racing. The stands would have held up to 8,000 spectators:
Today, nothing stands above the surface, other than a few reconstructed foundations.
These reconstructions, along with a glass viewing pane invite us to time travel:
In summary, Colchester was indeed an impressive, large town on the edge of the Western Roman Empire. My personal opinion is that population geneticists that dismiss the contribution of RB haplogroups and DNA to the Southern British population should beware.