Archaeology by Google Maps

Images on this post are Map data ©2015 Google.

Nearly twenty ago I was a keen amateur archaeologist, submitting finds from a large number of field-walk or surface collection surveys in East Anglia (Thetford Forest Archaeology).  I studied Field Archaeology and Landscape History for two years on a part time course organised by the UEA.  I also spent one week with Suffolk Archaeology, as a volunteer, helping to record sites from aerial reconnaissance photos.

A few years later, I was regularly running and cycling through the forest with my dogs.  Studying maps for my running areas, I spotted crop marks in a field in the forest.  I was concerned that being located in an area that was mainly forest, that it might have been missed by aerial reconnaissance surveys for archaeology.  However, I never got around to reporting it.

So I finally, years later, just did.

Two ring ditches, one around 63 metres in diameter, and another nearby  around 31 metres in diameter.  The larger was only partially visible as a semi circle in the form of a soil mark on the 2006 September image.  The smaller one, close by to the east, has been much more regularly visible, as both a soil mark, and a crop mark, in 1999, 2006, 2007, and June 2017 images.

My interpretation?  Probably ploughed out Bronze Age round barrows.  There a mound not far away in the forest that I have my suspicions about as well.

So, let's see if replies or not.

Images on this post are Map data ©2015 Google.

Origins of the British, Irish, and English

Above photo taken by myself of the Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

I've modified this from a post that I made on a DNA forum, in response to people discussing out-dated origin stories, in response to a thread looking at ancestral composition for the English.  There is so much misinformation out there, and few people actually try to look at the latest evidences.

It starts by looking at the key points of a recent Irish study.

Cassidy, Martiniano, Murphy etal Study of Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland

Key points.

  • Ancient DNA from earlier Neolithic farmers suggests an origin from the Near East.

  • Later DNA from Bronze Age suggests a new population had arrived and dominated, with origins from the Eurasian Steppes, including the present day predominance of Y haplogroup R1b, lactose tolerance, and blue eyes. This displacement event appears to have occurred throughout much of Western Europe. The founder population on the Steppes has been linked to the archaeological population known as the Yamna or Yamnaya.

A background to the Yamna hypothesis to help people understand what the above study supported:

The Yamnaya were a population that existed across the Pontic and Caspian Steppes from what is now Ukraine, to Kazakhistan. They themselves were an admixed population, with ancestry from various different groups of Eurasian hunter-gatherers, and from the ANE (Ancient North Eurasian). They carried a number of successful adaptations, including the use of the wheel, improved selective breeding of horses for both riding and haulage, lactose tolerance, use of horse drawn wheeled carts, and a very successful pastoral based economy revolving around the herding of a number of species of livestock.

They are strongly figured to have carried an Indo-European language into Europe and elsewhere (South and Western Asia). That Indo-European language being the ancestor of the vast majority of modern European languages today. They may have also carried many of the most common haplogroups of modern Europeans, including Y hg R1a, R1b, and some mt hg H types among others.

There is a hypothesis that the earlier peoples of Europe, the Early Neolithic farmers, who had largely descended from early farmers in the Levant / Anatolia, had been suppressed by a number of possible environmental and climatic events. This might have paved the way for such a successful displacement of European populations.

As the descendants of the Yamna swept westwards into Europe during the Copper Age, so they spawned a series of new archaeological cultures including the Corded Ware of Eastern and Central Europe, and the Bell Beaker culture of Western Europe.

The Bell Beaker culture spread from Central Europe to the Western Atlantic Seaboard, and from Portugal up to Scotland. Classic artifacts include archer burials in round barrows, the bell beaker ware pottery, round scrapers, and barbed and tanged arrowheads. It was the dominant culture of Early Bronze Age Europe.

One suggestion is that it spawned the later Iron Age Celtic cultures, including the classic Western Atlantic Seaboard Celtic Culture. This culture may have simply evolved locally and through trade links along that seaboard.

The Irish study above supports the Yamnaya hypothesis. It supports displacement during the Early Bronze Age, and that the present day, fairly homogeneous population of Ireland, largely descends from Copper Age Eurasian Steppe pastoralists.

Okay, so what if we apply that also to the late prehistoric British populations? Scottish and West British today appear to have a close genetic distance to the Irish. How about the lowland SE British? It might be the case, that they had fresh admixture, exchanged with the Continent, and particularly with the expanding Germanic cultures. These events could have occurred even during late prehistory.

Now People of the British Isles (POBI) Study 2015:

This genetic study looked at the British Isles including Northern Ireland, but excluding the Republic of Ireland. It tested a large sample group of present day British with known local ancestry.

Key points.

  • Orkney had the most distinctive population, with a known high percentage of Norse ancestry.

  • The Welsh were distinct from the English. However, they were the most diverse group, with a clear division between the North Welsh and South Welsh. Cornwall was also distinctive from English.

  • Northern Ireland clusters with Scottish.

  • There was no homogeneous shared British “Celtic” population. The Scottish, North Welsh, South Welsh, and Cornish being quite distinct from each other.

  • The South-East British (most of the English) were surprisingly homogeneous, although the boundaries of the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms could still be distinguished.

  • The Continental Anglo-Saxon contributiion to present day English people appeared to be circa 10% to 40%. This contradicts Bede's claims of a genocide. The English descend more from earlier British populations than they do from Anglo-Saxon immigrants.

  • Although the Norwegian Viking contribution to Orkney was distinctive, the Danish contribution to Eastern England could not be detected. This may be because of the close genetic distance between Danish Viking and some earlier Anglo Saxon settlers makes it impossible to see.

  • Although there was no “Celtic Fringe”, the Welsh appear to be closest to the late prehistoric British population.

  • Any Iberian contribution appears to be tiny and insignificant.

  • There appeared to be a contribution in Southern Britain, particularly in Cornwall, from a population shared today by the North French. This contribution appears to have occurred during late prehistory and is historically unknown.

Okay, so that is suggesting a diversity across the British Isles that extends into Prehistory. A key finding to this thread is that it found the English to be an admixed population, with earlier British ancestry dominating Anglo Saxon ancestry from the Continent.

Finally, I think it is worthwhile bringing up another recent study:

Iron Age and Anglo Saxon Genomes from Eastern England. Schiffels, Haak, etal. 2015.

This qualitative study focused on ancient DNA from a number of Iron Age and Anglo Saxon cemeteries in the Cambridge area of SE England, referenced against modern populations.

Key points.

  • The East English derive 38% of their ancestry from Anglo-Saxon immigrants

  • The closest genetic distances on the Continent between the Anglo Saxon settlers and present day Europeans was to the Dutch and Danish.

  • They found evidence of admixture and intermarrying. Individuals with both Iron Age British, and Anglo Saxon ancestry.

  • People of Iron Age British ancestry were adopting and embracing Anglo-Saxon culture and grave goods.

  • The richest graves were of local Iron Age British ancestry (with Anglo Saxon cultural artifacts). The poorest graves were recent Anglo-Saxon arrivals.

My conclusion:

  • We have to be careful about who we regard as the Celts. A Celtic culture did exist, but it wasn’t necessarily brought to the British Isles and Ireland by an Iron Age people. It may have developed on the Western Atlantic Seaboard from earlier Bronze Age peoples.

  • Those Bronze Age peoples, predominantly descended, from Eurasian Steppe Pastoralists, that had swept across Europe, bringing innovations. They are the oldest peoples of Ireland and the British Isles, but they did not form a homogeneous Celtic Fringe. There must be more to it.

  • The Anglo-Saxon event in SE Britain was a major and significant migration. However, it was not the genocide of Bede's claims. Hengist and Horsa were clearly mythological origin characters akin to Romulus and Remus.

  • The modern day English are an admixed population. They have a foot both in earlier British ancestry, and in Anglo-Saxon / North Sea migration.

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.