The group’s October meeting explored life in these parts before the British Isles first left Europe and in Roman times in London and Yorkshire, as Pat Smith reports
‘German Bight, Fisher, Dogger…’ Most people will recognise these as shipping forecast areas around the UK. But how many realise that the word Dogger takes them back to pre-history? Member of the Archaeology group Peter Shelley told us that over 10,000 years ago the British Isles were just one part of the huge landmass that was Europe. The 23,000sq km in between was known as Doggerland. Rising sea levels followed by an earthquake and tsunami flooded the area – and the first Brexit took place.
More recently oil companies surveyed the area and created a map of this lost and once inhabited world. A major feature they discovered is the Outer Silver Pit Lake, a depression in the seabed once fed by the Thames and Rhine. Abundant fish made the area into a magnet for trawlers, and even today fishermen discover arrowheads or other traces of prehistoric life in their nets. In September 2015 Bradford University began a project to create a 3D map of Doggerland. This involves taking samples from the seabed and analysing their DNA to discover the plants, animals – even people – living there all those years ago.
Our focus shifted to ‘modern’ (in archaeological terms) when Sue Wills told us about a ground-breaking discovery in the City of London near the former course of the Wallbrook river. Excavators found what must have been a Roman office. As many as 405 writing tablets had lain there for centuries, some incised with multiple messages, which are very hard to decipher as they’re written on top of each other. One that stands out was an IOU for 105 dinars written in AD57. This was half the annual wage of a soldier. Quite appropriate when you consider where it was discovered…
David Draper gave us another angle on living in a Roman-occupied area, based on digs in Hayton, Yorkshire. His illustrated talk gave us a fascinating insight into how archaeologists interpret what they find – or don’t find.
The area was occupied by the Parisii, an Iron Age tribe who were traders. How do we know this? The village was on the banks of a river and at the crossing point of two major trade routes. But archaeologists found no coins and no trace of minting them. Either the Parisii were unbelievably careful with their money or they bartered. Traces of agriculture, iron smelting, charcoal burning and sheep farming showed a prosperous community careful enough to build a fort near the river bank.
The Romans arrived in AD70 and stayed for 20 years. What effect did this have on the settled and thriving community? There are no traces of burning or violence, so the Parisii must have accepted them. The soldiers built their own fort of stone on the site of the original fort; the Parisii built two large roundhouses close by.
More signs of acceptance? No traces of pottery or jewellery have been found to support or refute this claim and it’s interesting to ponder why.
The arrival of around 400 soldiers must have boosted trade, and excavators discovered many sheep bones inside the fort – bones of the best parts of the sheep. The Parisii were obviously left with the scrag ends.
And then the soldiers left, though the Romans remained in Britain. The community gradually started to prosper again, with a new Roman highway being built. New settlements sprang up along this M6 of Roman times, with two large houses. How do we know it prospered? Archaeologists discovered many coins: always a sign of wealth.
As always, the earth hides its secrets well, which is the magic of archaeology. Who knows what you might discover the next time you weed your garden or take your dog for a walk? No one yet knows the route of Stane Street as it heads north from Ockley…