CA Letters 393 – November

Your views and opinions on issues raised in CA, plus information about CA Live! 2023!


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Medieval migrations

It was a bold decision to focus issue 392 so exclusively on early medieval migrations, but it succeeded brilliantly. I just wanted to offer one thought on the analysis there.

Inevitably, all the evidence sampled comes from cemeteries associated with settlement sites. But if there is any truth in Gildas’ version of events, there was a large-scale flight of the existing British population in the face of post-Roman invasions, with many having ‘no chance of being buried, save in the ruins of houses, or in the ravening bellies of wild beasts and birds’. Gildas would probably have regarded the British ‘WBI’ elements who remained in the settlements and their cemeteries as collaborators or worse!

So I entirely agree with Schiffels and Gretzinger that we need more data from the centre and west of Britain, but suggest it needs to be studied using isotopic analysis as well as aDNA. That way we might be able to see if there was any significant displacement of existing WBI people from east to west in the face of CNE incomers, and so check out the scale of Gildas’ fugitive population.

Brian Aldred
Preston, Lancashire  

London Bridge

Your article on the long history of old London Bridge, with its shops and houses (CA 391), concluded that by the 1830s it was demolished and gone. That is almost correct.

IMAGE: Rwendland (CC BY-SA 3.0)

At the head of the Walton Backwaters in north-east Essex lies the remote Beaumont Quay, now quietly sleeping on the edge of its creek (ABOVE). When it was constructed in about 1832 by Guy’s Hospital (which owned the land there), the quay would have been busy with sailing barges collecting farm produce for the London market and, by 1869, agricultural lime from a quayside kiln. Incoming coal for the lime kiln and outgoing hay for the many thousands of metropolitan horses were important commodities. Barges would have approached the quay and its small brick warehouse along a new ‘cut’ through the muddy saltings.

The quay itself, still there, is constructed from large blocks of dressed stone salvaged from the demolition of the old London Bridge: a handy and cheap source of stone for a Southwark-based institution like Guy’s Hospital. A plaque, itself of some age, had been set into the warehouse to record this, but the warehouse is now long gone and the quay is in a poor and deteriorating condition. Indeed, four of the facing stones have recently toppled into the mud.

So London Bridge lives on – but, unhappily, it is still falling down.

David Brooke
Westbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire

Oakington arrowhead

I found the Early Medieval Special Issue (CA 392) particularly interesting, and here is my own little story to tell about the Oakington cemetery. As a local volunteer, I spent a few days helping Oxford Archaeology East when they were excavating some of the graves in 2007. On the last day of this campaign, I was given the task of digging a section of a shallow ditch that was some distance from where the ‘regulars’ were busily engrossed in recording and bagging grave goods before finishing on site. This shallow feature had been notably devoid of finds until a beautifully fashioned, tanged and barbed flint arrowhead emerged, sitting on the very bottom of the ditch. I was just about to pack up myself. Scooping it up gleefully, I walked over and handed it to the site director, which then caused a little stir of excitement among the team.

I have often wondered whether this arrowhead had been someone’s cherished curio that had been deliberately ‘killed’ (noting that the tip of one barb is missing) before depositing it during a cemetery closing ceremony. If so, might this act be linked to a particular culture?

Rodney Scarle
Willingham, Cambridgeshire

Leaky tap

Sherds’ in CA 392 brought to mind a childhood memory of Michael Bentine’s TV comedy programme It’s a Square World, in which explorers followed a river to its source, which turned out to be a dripping standpipe tap in a field!

Graham Dodd 
Cradley Heath, West Midlands

Edible archaeology

We have been working with the Norton Disney History and Archaeology Group on a site at Norton Disney, just outside Lincoln. There, we have been excavating Iron Age enclosures in a field immediately to the south of a scheduled Roman villa, excavated in the 1930s. Attention to the site, however, dates back much earlier, and yesterday we marked the 300th anniversary of noted Lincolnshire antiquarian William Stukeley passing through the site, with this celebratory cake.

The cake recreates a rather fanciful sketch by Stukeley of the view along the A46, the former Roman Fosse Way towards the Roman town of Crococalana (Brough), from Potter Hill, the site of the scheduled villa. The barrow mound in the middle of the road is probably ‘artistic licence’, and the figure on the horse to the right of the mound is Stukeley himself, who was known for ‘photobombing’ his own sketches!

Chris Clay
Director, Allen Archaeology

CA online

Nathalie Cohen @Nathalie_Cohen
Love this cutaway view by Peter Urmston of two mid-17th-century properties on #LondonBridge, published in the latest issue of @CurrentArchaeo! #TotallyThames #TidalTuesday @ThamesDiscovery Image: © Dorian Gerhold

Kimberley Teale @surveylikeagirl
Enjoyed reading about #DinasDinlle in @CurrentArchaeo this morning after hearing so much about this @CHERISHproj site from @LouBarkerLou1 @Toby_Driver1 and @rjulianw! Need to fit a visit in next year #archaeology #hillfort #wales

David Gill @davidwjgill
@CurrentArchaeo features #heritagesignage in the ‘Odd Socs’ column. Examples from sites in the care of @EnglishHeritage @welovehistory

Paul Jeffery @HeritageMedic
There is one of the ‘Avoid Accidents’ signs at @cadwcymru #ConwyCastle. Sound if rather obvious advice!

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