Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Some evidence for people of 'East Asian' ancestry living in Roman London

The following brief note discusses a number of individuals buried in Roman London who have results indicative of an 'East Asian' ancestry. These people seem to have formed part of a diverse community living in the southern suburb of Londinium during the second to fourth centuries AD, with over 40% of the individuals studied having results consistent with an African or Asian ancestry and/or childhood residence.

A fifteenth-century map of the world based on the second-century AD Geography of Claudius Ptolemy, with the British Isles on the far left and China on the far right (Image: Wikimedia Commons).

The evidence in question consists of a sample of 22 burials from the southern burial area of Roman London which have been subjected to a recent isotopic and/or macromorphoscopic trait analysis in order to establish the ancestry and childhood residency of these individuals.(1) The results of this analysis offer a picture that is broadly in line with the situation at Roman York and other similar sites, as reported in a number of previous posts, namely that the evidence points towards a considerable degree of diversity in the Roman-era population of Britain. So, 41% of the 17 individuals buried at London and subjected to macromorphoscopic trait analysis (n=7) had results consistent with a non-European—African or Asian—ancestry, and 45% of the 20 individuals whose teeth were analysed (n=9) had oxygen isotope results of 19.2–21.0‰ δ¹⁸Op, well outside the credible British range and most consistent with a childhood spent in North Africa or even further afield, as discussed elsewhere. Needless to say, whilst such results are perhaps in many ways unsurprising, it is nonetheless worth knowing that the conclusions regarding the diversity of the population of Roman Britain reached previously on the basis of evidence from York, Winchester and elsewhere hold good for London too. However, the importance of the London burial data goes beyond simply adding further weight to previous conclusions, as the data reported not only identifies a number of people of probable 'African descent' within the Roman-era urban population (four individuals or 24% of the sample investigated), but also two or three individuals who appear to be of 'East Asian' ancestry.

The individuals in question are two men, aged 18–25 and 26–35, who were buried in the second and fourth centuries AD, respectively, and who are both identified as being of probable 'Asian' ancestry on the basis of a macromorphoscopic trait analysis (that is to say, their macromorphoscopic trait results are comparable to those of the modern populations of China and Japan), along with a woman aged over 18 who was buried in the second century AD and whose results are possibly indicative of Asian ancestry.(2) None of these three people had oxygen isotope results consistent with an early life spent in the London area, although pinning down their childhood residency beyond this is difficult. Drinking water that would produce tooth enamel oxygen isotope values similar to those of the man and woman from the second-century AD is found across a broad swathe of the globe from western Britain and southern Europe across to China. Equally, although the oxygen isotope result of the man buried in the fourth-century AD is outside both the British and European ranges, it would still be consistent with a childhood spent in, for example, large areas of North Africa, the Near East, India, Central Asia or the western parts of Han China, making identifying where he spent his early life problematic. Finally, as to question of whether these people were resident in London or simply passing through, it is worth noting that the dietary isotope ranges of the two individuals who were tested for this are within the local ranges encountered in other Romano-British cemeteries, suggesting that these people, whatever their childhood origins and ancestry, may well have spent the last decade of their lives in Britain, something that is in itself notable.

Needless to say, the probable presence of people of 'East Asian' ancestry in Roman London is a matter of considerable interest. As to the circumstances of their apparent residency within the western Roman Empire, it needs to be emphasised that these inhabitants of second- to fourth-century AD Londinium are not wholly alone nor without context. Most notably, a recent isotopic and mitochondrial DNA study of burials on the Imperial estate at Vagnari, southern Italy, has indicated that one of the adults buried there in the first or second century AD was likewise a migrant of 'East Asian' ancestry, given that 'all modern mtDNA matches to her available haplotype sequence are from Japan'.(3) Similarly, it should be emphasised that there is a small quantity of written evidence which mentions embassies and travellers between China and the Roman Empire in this era and after; that the Roman appetite for silk is well documented; and that at least some Roman coins have been found in China and Vietnam, along with Roman beads in Japan. In the past, such contacts and trade have been considered to be extremely infrequent and largely indirect, but the evidence from Vagnari and now London suggest that this judgement perhaps ought to be partially revisited and that a greater degree of contact and movement between the eastern and western extremes of Eurasia may now need to be allowed for.

Map of the Roman-era Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, showing maritime trading routes between the Roman Empire and Asia; click for a larger version of the image (image: Wikimedia Commons).

A first- to fourth-century AD Roman glass bead found in a fifth-century AD grave in Japan (image via strangehistory.net).

A bronze coin of the Roman emperor Constantius II (337–61), found in Karghalik, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, China (image: Wikimedia Commons).


1.     R. C. Redfern et al, 'Going south of the river: a multidisciplinary analysis of ancestry, mobility and diet in a population from Roman Southwark, London', Journal of Archaeological Science, 74 (October 2016), 11–22, online at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440316301030.
2. The two burials considered to be those of ‘probable Asians’ are BL3 and BL29; the individual considered to be a ‘possible Asian’ is BL5. For the methodology used, see R. Redfern et al, 'Going south of the river: a multidisciplinary analysis of ancestry, mobility and diet in a population from Roman Southwark, London', Journal of Archaeological Science, 74 (October 2016), 11–22, where it is outlined in detail. It should be noted that a recent online magazine piece by Kristina Killgrove expresses scepticism over the conclusion that there were 'Chinese'/'East Asian' people in Roman London as publicised in press reports on this research, but the critique there is arguably a tad hyper-critical and ought to be in turn treated with a degree of circumspection. So, for example, Kristina Killgrove suggests that 'news outlets would do well to read thoroughly the articles they’re covering and not exaggerate their headlines'; however, the press coverage is, in fact, largely in accord with the main thrust of the published article, which states that it represents 'the first identification of people with African and Asian ancestry in Roman London' and describes two of the people as 'probable Asians' and 'likely to have had… Asian ancestry', a confidence confirmed by the radio interviews given by the team on the 23 September 2016 (see, for example, Rebecca Redfern on The World at One, BBC Radio 4, 23 September 2016, available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p048t3c5). Similarly, Killgrove states first of all that one shortcoming of the study’s methodology is that 'many of the samples… had only two traits to score… [which] can affect classification accuracies'. However, what is not made clear in this magazine piece is that such concerns as this don’t actually apply to the identification of the two 'probable Asians' (BL29 and BL3) under consideration here. Rather, their identification and classification as 'probable Asians' is based on fifteen and seven traits, respectively, not two or fewer, although no mention of this is made in the magazine article (incidentally, it is also worth noting that the authors of the study clearly state that '[w]hen insufficient data are available, ancestry estimations remain "indeterminate"' and mark them as such). Finally, Killgrove’s magazine article criticises the authors for not using DNA evidence and relying instead on forensic anthropology techniques and stable isotope analysis. Whilst DNA work would certainly be interesting to read and would be both valuable and welcome, as Kristina Killgrove says, it has to be asked whether its absence really is as fatal as she suggests and if such an absence really means that the forensic ancestry assessment in the paper ought to be largely dismissed out of hand? In this context, it is worth pointing out that a similar combination of forensic anthropology techniques and stable isotopes—likewise without DNA—was successfully used as part of the recent, well-respected 'A Long Way from Home: Diaspora Communities in Roman Britain' project dealing with multiple Roman-era burials at York (see S. Leach et al, 'Migration and diversity in Roman Britain: a multidisciplinary approach to the identification of immigrants in Roman York, England', American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 140 (2009), 546–61; S. Leach et al, 'A Lady of York: migration, ethnicity and identity in Roman Britain', Antiquity, 84 (2010), 131–45; and the Archaeology Data Service's 2012 project website at http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/diaspora_ahrc_2011/), and it has also been used to identify, for example, the medieval ‘Ipswich Man’ and the Roman-era ‘Beachy Head Lady’ as of African descent too. Needless to say, if we are happy with the use of forensic anthropology techniques and stable isotope analysis without DNA in these cases and generally accept their conclusions with regard to ancestry, then there seems little reason why the new study of Roman Londinium deserves to be treated any differently! In sum, therefore, I'd suggest that: (a) the press coverage didn't, so far I can tell, materially misrepresent the research and that the authors of the 2016 Journal of Archaeological Science study are, in fact, clear that they've identified 'probable Asians' in the burial record of Roman London, as demonstrated by the published work and their subsequent interviews; (b) the two 'probable Asians' in this cemetery were identified on the basis of significantly more than two traits, something that is perhaps less than clear in the online critique; and (c) similar or related methodologies have been successfully used in the past, most notably by the 'Diaspora Communities in Roman Britain' project relating to Roman York, and there seems little obvious reason to treat this new study of the London evidence any differently than we do those.
3.     T. L. Prowse et al, 'Stable isotope and mitochondrial DNA evidence for geographic origins on a Roman estate at Vagnari (Italy)', in H. Eckardt (ed.), Roman Diasporas: Arachaeological Approaches to Mobility and Diversity in the Roman Empire (Portsmouth RI, 2010), pp. 175–97 at pp. 186, 189, 191, quotation at pp. 189–91; T. L. Prowse, 'Isotopes and mobility in the ancient Roman world', in L. de Ligt & L. E. Tacoma (eds.), Migration and Mobility in the Early Roman Empire (Leiden, 2016), pp. 205–34 at p. 194.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2016, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

A note on some probable Scandinavian burials in the 'Late Saxon' cemetery at Ketton, Rutland

The following brief note is aimed at drawing further attention to an intriguing Late Saxon cemetery at Ketton, Rutland, mentioned briefly in a previous post. Although the cemetery is in many ways typical of the era, with very few grave-goods and no obvious signs of it being a Scandinavian/Viking immigrant burial site, an isotopic analysis suggests that at least one of the people buried in this cemetery—and potentially several more—very probably spent their early life in Scandinavia.

Scandinavian and Anglo-Scandinavian finds of the late ninth and early tenth centuries set against the likely Middle Saxon landscape of the region (light blue indicates saltmarsh and freshwater marsh/wetlands). Note, this map includes finds of imported Islamic dirhams, denoted by stars, which probably arrived via Scandinavian trade networks, and an indication of the number of finds is provided by the relative size of each symbol. Image: C. R. Green; finds after K. Leahy and J. Kershaw, with additions from the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds.

In general, remarkably few burials of immigrant Scandinavians/Vikings are known from England, despite the fact that documentary, linguistic and archaeological evidence all appears to point to a degree of significant Scandinavian immigration into eastern England during the mid–late ninth century and after. As such, the early medieval cemetery at Ketton would seem to be of some potential wider interest if it does indeed include first-generation immigrants from Scandinavia, especially as it it is located in an area with, as yet, little material evidence for the presence of such Scandinavian migrants.

With regard to site itself, 72 'Late Saxon' inhumation graves arranged in rows were excavated from Ketton, Rutland, in the late 1990s, with this cemetery having been subsequently radiocarbon dated to between the late ninth and the mid-eleventh centuries. These burials were located around the root hole of a large tree (possibly an ancient yew) and a simple rectangular timber church, with at least four other timber buildings/halls situated to the north and south of the cemetery that were associated with tenth- to eleventh-century pottery. Teeth from 22 of these 'Late Saxon' burials were subject to post-excavation isotopic analysis, with the results being reported in Sarah Tatham's 2004 PhD thesis and a 2012 survey of all British oxygen and strontium isotope results. Whilst the initial report from 2004 implied that the results of all of these burials fell within the expected local oxygen and strontium isotope ranges for Rutland, more recent work makes it clear that this is almost certainly not the case. Instead, five of the burials (c. 23% of the total examined) have oxygen isotope results significantly below the expected range for not only Rutland but also Britain as a whole—discussed in more detail in a previous post—and one of these burials moreover returned a value of 15.5‰ δ¹⁸Op, well below any credible British range for tooth enamel phosphate oxygen isotope values.

The five results in question are presented below with the tooth enamel δ¹⁸Op values converted to drinking-water values using both the 2010 revised Levinson equation (Drinking-water value A) and the 2008 Daux et al equation (Drinking-water value B); note, the expected drinking-water oxygen isotope value for the Ketton area is around -7.8‰.

Era Site & burial ID  Oxygen isotope value Drinking-water value A Drinking-water value B Strontium value
Anglo-SaxonKetton – KCC 06515.5-11.5-10.40.710489
Anglo-SaxonKetton – KCC 98 5416.1-10.2-9.40.709835
Anglo-SaxonKetton – KCC 98 916.1-10.2-9.40.709349
Anglo-SaxonKetton – KCC 04716.2-10.0-9.20.709372
Anglo-SaxonKetton – KCC 98 4016.2-10.0-9.20.709564

Plan of the 'Late Saxon' settlement and graveyard at Ketton, Rutland (image: Medieval Settlement Research Group, used in accordance with the ADS/Archaeology Data Service's Terms of Use). 

With regard to these five results, several points can be made. First, it is worth emphasising that there are few environmental, biological, or cultural processes that that can result in human tooth oxygen isotope values that are lower than would be expected on the basis of the consumed drinking-water, as has been recently emphasised by a study of Viking-era burials in Britain and Ireland, and values similar to the five highlighted here are considered 'likely to indicate origins in a colder or more northerly climate' than Britain or Ireland (Montgomery et al, 2014, pp. 62–3), rather than, say, an unusual cultural practice relating to food preparation or natural biological variation. Furthermore, the exceptionally depleted δ¹⁸Op value of 15.5‰ produced by one individual at Ketton (KCC 065) is more than 3 standard deviations below the British mean, meaning that there is a less than a 0.5% probability that this individual originates in either Britain or Ireland. Consequently, his result, at least, must be considered almost certainly indicative of a childhood spent somewhere like Norway, Sweden or Iceland, where drinking-water with values similar to those he consumed in early life—potentially as low as -11.5‰ δ¹⁸Odw—are encountered.

Second, whilst the place-name Ketton is of Old English origin, it is worth noting that there is a potentially very suggestive place-name found only two miles to the west of the Ketton cemetery, namely Normanton, a name that means 'the farm or estate of the Norwegians'. Such a name is, of course, arguably highly suggestive given the isotope results reported above, especially that of KCC 065.

Third and finally, the presence of at least one individual of Scandinavian origin—and perhaps as many as five—in a 'normal' Late Saxon cemetery is generally worthy of wider note, especially as the people buried here otherwise look simply like rural workers on a manorial estate of the late ninth- to eleventh-centuries. In this context, it can be observed that the Ketton burials are not totally alone in this regard, as a similar situation has very recently been recognised at Masham, Yorkshire, too, and it might be consequently suggested that these two sites ought to be taken together when considering the degree of Scandinavian immigration to the Danelaw and the nature of Anglo-Scandinavian interaction within this region, something that continues to be a topic of interest.

The geographic distribution of areas with rainwater/drinking water oxygen isotope values below ‑10.0‰, shown in dark grey, and below -12.0‰, shown in black; note, drinking water in the UK has δ¹⁸O values ranges from around -9.0‰ to -4.5‰. Image: C. R. Green; see further the caption to figure 1 in this previous post.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2016, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Romano-British pottery in the fifth- to sixth-century Lincoln region

The question of whether Romano-British pottery continued to be produced into the fifth century AD continues to be a topic of some considerable interest, as most recently demonstrated by the fact that the latest issue (volume 41, 2016) of the journal Internet Archaeology is entirely devoted to this question. In this light, I thought that I'd offer some draft notes on the potential situation in the Lincoln region, based primarily on the brief discussions of the evidence found in my Britons and Anglo-Saxons and an earlier article, with additions and expansion as required.(1)

Reconstruction of the fifth- to sixth-century apsidal church at St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, located in the centre of the Roman forum and entered from the western portico (image: extract from Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012), fig. 13, by David Vale/SLHA).

Needless to say, the Lincoln region is arguably as good a place as any to look for continued circulation and production of Romano-British pottery into the fifth century AD. Lincoln was, after all, a Late Roman provincial capital—*Lindocolōnia or Lindum Colonia—and appears to have remained prosperous and remarkably vital right into the very late fourth century, with evidence for continued urban activity into the early fifth century too. Similarly, the probable villa-palace of the provincial governor, located around a mile to the east of the city, was occupied right up until the end of the coin sequence in the early fifth century and maintained to a high standard.(2) Perhaps even more significantly, a detailed examination of the available archaeological, linguistic, literary and historical evidence indicates that Lincoln continued to see a degree of activity and be of both local and regional importance even after the early fifth century. Not only does it seem to have lain at the heart of a significant British post-Roman territory named *Lindēs (from British-Latin Lindenses), which probably survived into the sixth century and clearly had some sort of intimate connection with the early seventh-century Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindissi (Lindsey), but a reconsideration and Bayesian analysis of the radiocarbon data and other evidence from St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, indicates that the famous apsidal church excavated there was indeed a British church of the fifth–sixth centuries that was located in the centre of the Roman forum and able to hold up to 100 worshippers, not a later Anglo-Saxon construction as has sometimes been suggested.(3)

Turning to the actual evidence for the continued use and production of Romano-British pottery in the fifth-century Lincoln region, the most obvious place to start is with the Romano-British pottery retrieved from the city itself. As Mark Whyman and others have noted, pottery is generally dated through its association with coins and, as such, the fact that very few fifth-century coins appear to have found their way to Britain may well have caused archaeologists to mistakenly assign a c. AD 400 end-date to Romano-British pottery fabrics and forms when these actually continued in production and/or use for some time after this.(4) An awareness of this possibility has, in recent years, increasingly led to the identification of very Late Roman pottery wares that show some signs of having continued in production after c. AD 400, via finds in 'post-Roman' contexts and in association with fifth-century and later items such as brooches, with notable examples here being Black Burnished ware in Dorset and Somerset, calcite-gritted wares in Yorkshire and the north, and Much Hadham and Verulamium wares in Hertfordshire.(5) In this light, Lincoln's Local Coarse Pebbly ware (LCOA) may also be of some potential interest. With over 1,800 sherds recorded, this relatively popular local wheel-thrown ware—the forms of which show a marked similarity to items produced by the Late Roman Swanpool kilns just to the south of Lincoln—seems to have its origins in the mid- to late fourth century and is most commonly found in both assemblages of the last decades of that century and in 'post-Roman' contexts. Indeed, over 50% of all LCOA sherds come from 'post-Roman' contexts, particularly those at Flaxengate, an area of Lincoln that is thought to have seen continued urban activity into the early fifth century. In consequence, this ware would seem to be a credible candidate for a Lincoln-region analogue to the Late Roman pottery industries recently identified in other parts of Britain as arguably continuing into the largely coin-less fifth century, something perhaps reinforced by the fact that some of the same 'post-Roman' contexts it appears in have produced small quantities of Anglo-Saxon pottery of broadly fifth- to eighth-century date too.(6)

Roman-type wheel-thrown pots used for cremations at the Cleatham Anglo-Saxon cemetery; these are considered to represent products of the mid- to late fifth-century 'post-Roman' British pottery industry by Maggie Darling and Kevin Leahy (image: fig. 23 from Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012), drawn by Kevin Leahy and used by kind permission).

If Local Coarse Pebbly ware is at the very least most suggestive, it does not stand alone as the only evidence for a degree of continued Romano-British pottery production and/or use in the fifth-century Lincoln region. Of particular interest in this context are a number of individual pots that are thought to be potentially of Romano-British manufacture but which are either found in early Anglo-Saxon contexts and/or show signs of early Anglo-Saxon influence in their form or design. Perhaps the most convincing candidates here are four pots excavated in the 1980s from the exceptionally large fifth- to sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery at Cleatham, Lincolnshire, located around 30 km to the north of Lincoln. These cremation urns were all made using Romano-British wheel-throwing techniques but, as both Maggie Darling and Kevin Leahy have observed, they cannot be seen as re-used Roman-era pots due to their body-shapes and fabrics, and are instead considered to represent products of the mid- to late fifth-century 'post-Roman' British pottery industry, given their phasing in the cemetery.(7) Interestingly, another urn of the same type and manufacture was found in the fifth- to sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery at Millgate, Newark, 25 km to the south-west of Lincoln, and further fragments have been found in the south of the county at the Roman 'small town' of Great Casterton—in a destruction layer coin-dated to some point after AD 375—and close to the Roman 'small town' of Littleborough (Segelocum), on the Trent north-west of Lincoln, with the first of these Roman sites possessing a well-known Late Roman to early Anglo-Saxon cemetery that is considered to offer 'a convincing case of Roman–Saxon burial continuity' and the second appearing to have still been a key site in the Lincoln region into the early seventh century.(8) Needless to say, the above evidence would thus seem to indicate that the local Late Roman pottery industry not only continued to function into at least the mid-fifth century in this area, given the nature and contexts of these wheel-thrown vessels, but that its products also circulated relatively widely in the region around the former provincial capital at that time, being found to both the north and the south of Lincoln.

Other material that may well also be indicative of a degree of continued Romano-British pottery production into the fifth century and potentially beyond includes a wheel-thrown bottle sherd from Hibaldstow, the site of a Romano-British 'small town' that has evidence for activity into at least the late fourth/early fifth century and is located just a little to the north-east of the Cleatham cemetery. This item was found in a ditch along with Romano-British greyware and some ‘normal’ early-mid Saxon sherds, and, intriguingly, is in an attested local very late fourth-century Romano-British fabric despite having the form of a 'Germanic' sixth-century or later bottle.(9) Similarly worthy of note is a sixth-century 'Anglo-Saxon' domestic pot that is believed to show signs of Romano-British manufacture in terms of both its fabric and technique and was found in the former provincial governor's villa-palace at Lincoln, an intriguing findspot given that the villa-palace was not only maintained to a very high standard right into the early fifth century on the basis of the coin record, but its estate also apparently survived largely intact right through into the medieval period.(10) Potentially most interesting of all, however, is a final sixth-century Anglo-Saxon vessel that was recovered from the flue ashes of one of the Late Roman Swanpool kilns at Rookery Lane, Lincoln. This highly unusual findspot is, of course, most suggestive, and Ken Dark has argued that the pot both dates and represent the last firing of this 'Late Roman' kiln, which is a point of considerable interest in the present context.(11) Moreover, it is noteworthy in this light that the pot itself actually features a distinctive rosette stamp motif that also occurs on some Late Roman pottery from Flaxengate, Lincoln, a fact that has been considered to be potential evidence in its own right for some sort of continuity in pottery production in the Lincoln region!(12)

Sherd from a greyware vessel of the same type as the Roman-type pots recovered from Cleatham; dated to the mid-fifth century by Kevin Leahy and found near to Littleborough on the Trent (image: PAS).

The distribution of early 'Anglian' cremation-predominant cemeteries, represented by filled squares, plotted against 'Saxon' artefacts of the second half of the fifth century, represented by stars, and the Late Roman provincial boundaries as reconstructed by J. C. Mann in Britannia, 1998 (image: fig. 21a from Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012)).

All told, then, we would appear to have a potentially interesting situation in the 'post-Roman' Lincoln region. Taken together, the contexts and nature of the finds of Local Coarse Pebbly ware and Cleatham-style wheel-thrown vessels from Lincoln and its surrounding region would seem to offer a credible case for the likely continuance of the Romano-British pottery industry here at least partway into the fifth century and potentially some considerable distance into it too, given the phased dating of the Cleatham vessels to the mid–late fifth century. Furthermore, the finds from Hibaldstow, the Lincoln villa-palace, and the Rookery Lane/Swanpool kiln all hint at the possibility that this could even have continued as late as the early sixth century. Of course, as was noted above, we should perhaps not be terribly surprised by this: not only is fifth-century continuity in the Romano-British pottery industry suspected from other parts of Britain too, but there is also good evidence for a significant degree of 'post-Roman' British activity in Lincoln and the wider Lincoln region during the fifth and sixth centuries, including the construction of a large fifth- to sixth-century church in the centre of the Roman forum. Indeed, it has been argued that Lincoln may well have retained control of its whole province at least partway through the fifth century and that at least some of the known villas and major residences within its province likewise saw a degree of continued activity and maintenance into the fifth century.(13) Finally, it is worth observing that the locally-produced vessels discussed here were not the only Roman-style pottery apparently present in 'post-Roman' Lincolnshire, as very small quantities of imported post-Roman wares have also been identified from Lincoln, including a body sherd from a potentially fifth- or sixth-century Biv eastern Mediterranean amphora found in a post-Roman deposit at Flaxengate; a rim sherd from a fifth-century Keay's form LII central/eastern Mediterranean amphora found in Saltergate; and a possible sixth-century Gaulish 'D ware' bowl found in or near Lincoln in the nineteenth century.(14)


1     Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons: Lincolnshire AD 400–650 (Lincoln, 2012), pp. 111–12, and Green, 'The British kingdom of Lindsey', Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 56 (2008), 1–43 at pp. 23–4.
2     See Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons, pp. 25–7, fig. 2, and the references cited therein; M. J. Jones, ‘The Colonia era: archaeological account’ in D. Stocker (ed.), The City by the Pool: Assessing the Archaeology of the City of Lincoln (Oxford, 2003), pp. 56–138, at pp. 97–8, 124–38.
3     Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons, especially chapters 2–4, fully develops the case for a British territory based at Lincoln and named *Lindēs that was taken over to become the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindissi; see also Green, 'British kingdom of Lindsey', passim. The apsidal church at St Paul in the Bail, Lincoln, and its dating is discussed at length in Britons and Anglo-Saxons, pp. 65–9, 82–3, which partially supersedes the discussion in 'British kingdom of Lindsey', pp. 18–22.
4     See, for example, M. Whyman, ‘Invisible people? Material culture in ‘Dark Age’ Yorkshire’, in M. Carver (ed.), In Search of Cult (Woodbridge, 1992), pp. 61–8; K. R. Dark, ‘Pottery and local production at the end of Roman Britain’, in K. R. Dark (ed.), External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman and Post-Roman Britain (Woodbridge, 1996), pp. 53–65 at p. 59; P. Rahtz, ‘Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire: current research problems’, in H. Geake & J. Kenny (eds.), Early Deira: Archaeological Studies of the East Riding in the Fourth to Ninth Centuries AD (Oxford, 2000), p. 1; J. Gerrard, 'How late is late? Pottery and the fifth century in southwest Britain', in R. Collins & J. Gerrard (eds.), Debating Late Antiquity in Britain AD 300–700 (Oxford, 2004), pp. 65–75 at p. 66; H. Cool, Eating and Drinking in Roman Britain (Cambridge, 2006), pp. 222–38; J. Gerrard, 'Finding the fifth century: a late fourth- and early fifth-century pottery fabric from south-east Dorset', Britannia 41 (2010), 293–312; K. J. Fitzpatrick-Matthews, 'Defining fifth-century ceramics in north Hertfordshire', Internet Archaeology, 41 (2016), online at http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue41/4/toc.html.
5     For the wares mentioned, see Gerrard, 'Pottery and the fifth century in southwest Britain' and J. Gerrard, 'The Black Burnished type 18 bowl and the fifth century', Internet Archaeology, 41 (2016), online at http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue41/5/toc.html; M. Whyman, Late Roman Britain in Transition, A.D. 300–500: A Ceramic Perspective from East Yorkshire (University of York PhD Thesis, 2001); and Fitzpatrick-Matthews, 'Defining fifth-century ceramics in north Hertfordshire'.
6     See M. Darling and B. Precious, A Corpus of Roman Pottery from Lincoln (Oxford, 2014), pp. vi, 109, 114, who support the possibility of this local ware continuing in production into the fifth century. With regard to urban activity into the early fifth century at Flaxengate, see for example Jones, ‘The Colonia era: archaeological account’, p. 133; Darling and Precious, Corpus of Roman Pottery from Lincoln, p. 215.
7     K. Leahy, The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey (Stroud, 2007), pp. 52–3, 86; K. Leahy, ‘Interrupting the Pots’: The Excavation of Cleatham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery (York, 2007), pp. 122, 126–7.
8     Leahy, ‘Interrupting the Pots’: The Excavation of Cleatham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, pp. 125, 126–7; Leahy, Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey, pp. 52–3; K. Leahy, 'Vessel', Portable Antiquities Scheme FAKL-895042, 5 September 2013, online at https://finds.org.uk/database/artefacts/record/id/575261. For the quote on Great Casterton and Roman–Saxon burial continuity, see S. Lucy, The Anglo-Saxon Way of Death (Stroud, 2000), p. 150; on Littleborough/Segelocum in the time of Edwin of Deira, see B. Yorke, ‘Lindsey: the lost kingdom found?’, in A. Vince (ed.), Pre-Viking Lindsey (Lincoln, 1993), pp. 141–50 at pp. 141–2.
9     C. F. Lingard and L. Bonner, Blyborough-Brigg 300mm Gas Pipeline, 1993, Archaeological Report (1994), pp. 21–6, 79, fig. 7.
10     J. N. L. Myres, ‘Lincoln in the fifth century A.D.’, The Archaeological Journal, 103 (1946), 85–88 at pp. 87–88; C. R. Green, 'An early Anglo-Saxon pot from the Greetwell villa-palace', blog post, 8 April 2015, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/04/an-early-anglo-saxon-pot-from-greetwell.html; D. Stocker et al, 'The Greetwell villa', LARA RAZ 7.23, Heritage Connect Lincoln, online at http://www.heritageconnectlincoln.com/lara-raz/the-greetwell-villa/908; D. Stocker & P. Everson, 'The straight and narrow way: Fenland causeways and the conversion of the landscape in the Witham valley, Lincolnshire', in M. O. H. Carver (ed.), The Cross Goes North: Processes of Conversion in Northern Europe, A.D. 300–1300 (Woodbridge, 2002), pp. 271–88 at p. 279.
11     K. R. Dark, ‘Pottery and local production at the end of Roman Britain’, in K. R. Dark (ed.), External Contacts and the Economy of Late Roman and Post-Roman Britain, edited by K. R. Dark (Woodbridge, 1996), pp. 53–65 at pp. 58–9; see also Jones, ‘The Colonia era: archaeological account’, p. 138. It should be noted that whilst Dark's argument has been approached with some caution in the past due to an apparent lack of other evidence for the continuence of the Romano-British pottery industry beyond c. AD 400 in the Lincoln region, this is clearly no longer a credible objection in light of the other evidence noted above. See also Green, 'British kingdom of Lindsey', pp. 23 and fn. 97, for another Romano-British kiln in the Lincoln region, at Lea near Gainsborough, which has some curious magnetic dating results that appear to indicate that its last firing could have taken place in the mid–late fifth century—Dr D. Tarling and Mrs N. H. Yassi's note that ‘[i]f the kiln was not last fired at this time, then the reason for the observed deviation is not known and urgently requires further study’: N. Field, ‘Romano-British pottery kilns in the Trent Valley’, Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, 19 (1984), 100–02 at pp. 101–02.
12     D. C. Briscoe, 'Two important stamp motifs in Roman Britain and thereafter', Internet Archaeology, 41 (2016), online at http://intarch.ac.uk/journal/issue41/2/index.html.
13     See Green, Britons and Anglo-Saxons (Lincoln, 2012), pp. 93–5, 113, 152 and fig. 21a on possible provincial continuity. On major Late Roman residences in the region that may have seen continued maintenance and use into the fifth century, see, for example, the Roman palace at Castor, located 10 miles to the south-east of Great Casterton—the walls here still stood up to 11 feet high in the nineteenth century and it has been suggested that both they and the roof of this structure were maintained and remained sound at least partway into the 'post-Roman' era. Likewise, the Late Roman villa at Denton, near Grantham, had at least one additional phase of building work after the very late fourth century and appears to have still had a sound roof as late as the early sixth century, which is clearly intriguing. Finally, the previously mentioned sixth-century domestic vessel found in the villa-palace at Lincoln has been considered indicative of continued occupation there into the sixth century, and the recovery of an exceptionally high status British silver proto-hand-pin of potentially fifth-century date from the villa at Welton le Wold, near Louth, is clearly similarly suggestive. See further on these examples S. G. Upex, 'The Praetorium of Edmund Artis: a summary of excavations and surveys of the palatial Roman structure at Castor, Cambridgeshire 1828–2010', Britannia, 42 (2011), 23–112 at pp. 97–8; J. T. Smith, 'The Roman villa at Denton', Lincolnshire Architectural and Archaeological Society Reports and Papers, 10.2 (1964), 75–104 and C. R, Green, 'Roman mosaics from the Greetwell villa-palace and other sites in Lincolnshire', blog post, 11 February 2015, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/02/roman-mosaics-from-lincolnshire.html; J. N. L. Myres, ‘Lincoln in the fifth century A.D.’, The Archaeological Journal, 103 (1946), 85–88 at pp. 87–88, and J. N. L. Myres, The English Settlements (Oxford, 1986), p. 182; and S. M. Youngs, 'Welton le Wold, Lincolnshire', in DCMS, Treasure Annual Report 2001, pp. 43–4, and C. R. Green, 'Villas and ranches on the late Roman Lincolnshire Wolds: the Welton le Wold villa and its landscape context', blog post, 5 December 2014, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2014/12/villas-and-ranches-roman-wolds.html.
14     M. Darling and B. Precious, A Corpus of Roman Pottery from Lincoln (Oxford, 2014), pp. 228, 241; L. A. Gilmour, Early Medieval Pottery from Flaxengate, Lincoln (London, 1988), p. 167; C. Thomas, 'Imported pottery in Dark-Age western Britain', Medieval Archaeology, 3 (1959), 89–111 at p. 95.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2016, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Camels in early medieval western Europe: beasts of burden & tools of ritual humiliation

The aim of the following post is simply to collect together some of the references to camels in early medieval Europe, where they seem to have been used as both beasts of burden and a means of humiliating one's enemies, the latter perhaps being inspired by Late Roman/Byzantine practice.

A line of dancing camels, aka an illustration for Genesis 24, from the eleventh-century Old English Hexateuch, British Library, MS Cotton Claudius B IV, f. 39r (image: British Library).

There is now a fairly substantial body of archaeological evidence showing that both dromedaries and Bactrian camels were present in modern Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and the Balkans between the first and the fifth centuries AD. Roman-era camel bones—all from adult animals—have been recovered from military settlements, villas, civilian urban sites and amphitheatres, and it is generally thought that these animals were being primarily used as pack animals/beasts of burden, with finds of Bactrian camels perhaps being related to civilian traders and caravans arriving from Central Asia whilst dromedaries from North Africa and Arabia are thought to have been used for both Roman military and civilian traffic. In addition, it is possible that a few of the finds of camel bones may reflect curiosities in the collections of rich landowners, and amphitheatre finds have been sometimes considered suggestive of the use of camels in public shows, although this latter notion is open to question: certainly, an investigation into the camel skeleton from the amphitheatre at Viminacium, Serbia, shows that this dates from after the amphitheatre had ceased to be used in that way.

Turning to the early medieval period (from the late fifth century onwards), the evidence suggests that camels continued to play a role as pack animals in western Europe even after the political dissolution of the Western Roman Empire, with the camels so used being potentially bred in North Africa before being exported to Europe. So, for example, Ennodius, a Milanese deacon, provided camels to Pope Symmachus for his trip to Ravenna to see Theoderic the Great in around AD 499. Similarly, Gregory of Tours noted the use of camels as pack animals in southern Gaul in the 580s in his History of the FranksVII.35:
By now King Guntram's leaders had learnt that Gundovald was ensconced on the opposite bank of the Garonne, with a huge force of enemy troops and having in his possession the entire treasure of Rigunth, which he had stolen. They advanced until they reached he Garonne and then swam across with their horses, some of the soldiers being drowned in the process. The remainder reached the opposite bank. In their search for Gundovald they came upon camels and horses, still carrying huge loads of gold and silver, which his men had abandoned along the roads because the animals were exhausted...
Pack-camels and riding camels in the late sixth- or early seventh-century Tours Pentateuch, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, MS nouv. acq. lat. 2334 f. 69 (image: BnF Gallica).

This use of pack-camels in Gaul apparently continued into at least the seventh-century. Dado's contemporary Vita S. Eligii, II.13, recounts the following of St Eligius, who died in 660:
Eligius prepared to pack all his things and leave for his own country from the house of Aspasius of the Iuvini family, a most illustrious Christian man. Last of all, he met with Bishop Aurelian of Uzes, who told him that amidst the bustling of the servants of both their houses one of his servants had suddenly lost a basket which he always kept with him to lead the pack-camel so that in the confusion he could keep him to the road.
Needless to say, St Eligius with miraculous knowledge identified the thief and was able to shame him into returning the necessary basket. Another reference to an early medieval pack-camel occurs in the Gesta Pontificum Anglorum of William of Malmesbury, who records a credible tale of St Aldhelm—the late seventh- and early eighth-century Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne—visiting Rome, before describing his homeward journey using a camel as a beast of burden:
Aldhelm set out energetically on his journey home... carrying with him many different pieces of valuable foreign merchandise, intending to bring to England a quantity of splendid novelties. Among these was an altar of gleaming marble, white in colour, six feet thick, four feet long and three hands wide, with a lip jutting out from the stone and beautifully decorated all around. A camel, so it is said (for what animal of our country could shoulder such a burden?) carried it safely all the way to the Alps. But there the camel (or whatever animal it was, for it does not matter which particular beast carried it) collapsed, injured by the excessive weight or undone by the steep slopes of the track. The fall crushed the animal and broke the marble into two parts.
A baby camel/brontosaurus tied to a tree, from Marvels of the East in the Beowulf-manuscript, which dates from c. AD 1000, British Library Cotton MS Vitellius A XV f.101r (image: British Library).

Other evidence for the presence of camels in early medieval western Europe includes a camel bone from Lyon dated to the eighth or ninth century and references to their use for transport in Iberia after the Muslim conquest. Perhaps the most interesting evidence comes not from their use as pack animals, however, but rather as a means to humiliate one's enemies. The most famous example here is that of Brunhilda (d. 613), who ruled the eastern Frankish kingdoms of Austrasia and Burgundy for three periods as regent for her son, grandson and great-grandson, until she was finally overthrown and killed by Chlothar II. The eighth-century Liber Historiae Francorum, 96, describes her shockingly brutal death as follows:
Then the army of the Franks and Burgundians joined into one, all shouted together that death would be most fitting for the very wicked Brunhilda. Then King Clotaire ordered that she be lifted on to a camel and led through the entire army. Then she was tied to the feet of wild horses and torn apart limb from limb. Finally she died. Her final grave was the fire. Her bones were burnt.
The contemporary Visigothic king in Hispania and Septimania, Sisebut, who died in 621, gives further details of both her death and the use of camels in his Life of St Desiderius21:
Concerning her end, it will not irk me to relate what I have learnt from common opinion. There is a hunched beast with a huge body and naturally possessed of certain humps (the top of its back is thick and broad, higher than the rest of its frame, and very well fitted for carrying loads) and is more useful for carrying loads than any other animal. She was stripped of her clothes and raised up onto this proud central place and paraded in humiliation before the gaze of her enemies. For a short while she offered this sorry spectacle to her onlookers, then, bound to some unbroken horses, she was dragged over some pathless rocky terrain. Thus her body, already broken by old age, was plucked apart by these spirited horses and her limbs, bloody and nameless, scattered abroad.
Brunhilda was not the only person in the early medieval west to be exposed to mockery on the back of a camel in this fashion, however. Another example comes from Julian of Toldeo's late seventh-century Historia Wambae Regis30, in which he describes the Visigothic King Wamba's triumph over the rebellious Duke Paul in AD 673 and a similar subsequent humiliation of the rebels via the use of camels:
At about the fourth milestone from the royal city, Paul, the chief of the rebellion and other leaders of his conspiracy, with shorn heads, shaved beards, bare feet, and dressed in filthy garments of tunics, are placed on camels. The king of perdition himself went at the head of the pageant, worthy of all the shame of defeat and crowned with pitch on his flayed scalp. A procession of his ministers advancing in a long line followed the king, all of them sitting on the same sort of conveyances as he and driven forward by the same mockeries, with the people standing on either side as they entered the city. Nor should we believe that this befell them without the consent of the just judgment of God, so that their sitting on these mounts raise above all others should mark the lofty summit of their dishonor and so that those who had aimed at sublime heights beyond human nature through the deviousness of their minds should now expiate the treason of their elevation set high above the rest.
Dromedaries as depicted in the sixth-century Vienna Genesis in an illustration of the story of Rebecca, Genesis 24 (image: Wikimedia Commons).

The concept of humiliating one's enemies by making them ride upon the hump of a camel continued to carry weight in western Europe for some considerable period of time. Notker's ninth-century Life of Charlemagne, 31, for example, included a story of a cleric who fell asleep whilst waiting for Charlemagne to go to mass and dreamt of a giant, 'taller than the adversary of Saint Anthony', who was going to lead the royal steward Liutfrid to hell on top of a camel for embezzling the king's wealth! Moreover, as late as 1121 the antipope Gregory VIII was paraded by Pope Callistus II through the streets of Rome riding backwards on a camel and exposed to 'the crudest mockery'. As to the origins of this punishment, it seems to have its roots in Late Roman/Byzantine practice, perhaps parodying the consular investiture ceremony. One of the earliest apparent references from Late Antiquity comes via Socrates Scholasticus—in his fifth-century Historia Ecclesiastica, 3.2—and other sources, who describe George of Cappadocia as having been 'fastened to a camel' in c. 362 and led through Alexandria before being torn to pieces and burnt by the pagans there, and it has been suggested that this eastern Roman humiliation was passed to the west via Justinian's use of the camel in this way against the treasonous Armenian Arsaces at Constantinople, as described by Procopius in the mid-sixth century in his History of the WarsVII.32.3:
There was also a certain Arsaces in Byzantium, an Armenian by birth and one of the Arsacidae, related to Artabanes by blood. This man had been detected not long before this in an attempt to harm the state, and he had been clearly convicted of treason, since he was negotiating with Chosroes, the Persian king, to stir up trouble for the Romans. But the emperor did him no further harm than to beat his back with not many blows and parade him through the city mounted on a camel...
Whatever the case may be on the latter, the practice continued to be used against state enemies in the Byzantine world as well as western Europe into the twelfth century, the last recorded instance being when it was used against the deposed emperor Andronicus I Comnenus in AD 1185, as the contemporary Robert of Clari relates:
But there was there a certain wise man, who said, “Sirs, if ye would trust me, I would show you how we might avenge ourselves right well of him. I have at home a camel, which is the foulest beast and the most bedunged and ugliest in the world. Now we will take Andronicus, and we will strip him stark naked, and we will bind him to the camel’s back in such fashion that his face shall be against its rump, and we will lead him from one end of the city even unto the other. Thus will all they, both men and women, whom he hath wronged, be able to avenge themselves right well.” And all agreed to that which that man had told them. And they took Andronicus and bound him even as the man had devised. And as they were leading him adown the city, then came those that he had wronged; and they stabbed him and pricked him, some with knives, and others with daggers, and yet others with swords. And they cried, “Twas thou didst hang my father! ‘Twas thou didst ravish my wife!”

A twelfth-century Spanish fresco of a camel from the hermitage of San Baudelio de Berlanga, halfway between Madrid and Saragossa (image: The Met).

A twelfth-century mosaic of camels, illustrating the story of Rebecca from Genesis, from the Palatine Chapel, Palermo (image: Andrew & Suzanne, Flickr CC BY-NC).

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2016, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Monday, 23 May 2016

A note on the evidence for African migrants in Britain from the Bronze Age to the medieval period

The degree to which pre-modern Britain included people of African origin within its population continues to be a topic of considerable interest and some controversy. Previous posts on this site have discussed a variety of textual, linguistic, archaeological and isotopic evidence for people from the Mediterranean and/or Africa in the British Isles from the Late Bronze Age through to the eleventh century AD. However, the focus in these posts has been on individual sites, events or periods, rather than the question of the potential proportion of people from Africa present in pre-modern Britain per se and how this may have varied over time. The aim of the following post is thus to briefly ponder whether an overview of the increasingly substantial British corpus of oxygen isotope evidence drawn from pre-modern archaeological human teeth has anything interesting to tell us with regard to this question.

Map of the British Isles, showing drinking-water oxygen isotope values and the 16 British archaeological sites (including three in York) with evidence for pre-modern people whose results are consistent with an early life spent in North Africa (image: C. R. Green, using a base-map image © BGS/NERC, reproduced under their non-commercial licence, as detailed on the BGS website).

Proportion of investigated sites from each period with at least one oxygen isotope result consistent with an origin in North Africa (image: C. R. Green).

The rationale for using oxygen isotope evidence as a tool for identifying people from Africa in pre-modern Britain was set out at some length in a previous post—essentially, tooth enamel oxygen isotope values reflect those of the water that was drunk by an individual in childhood, with drinking-water values varying markedly with climate and related factors. As such, it should be possible to identify first-generation migrants to Britain in the archaeological record by measuring their tooth enamel oxygen isotope levels, so long as they grew up in a region with significantly different drinking-water values to those found in Britain, a criteria North Africa fits comfortably, with many parts of it possessing levels notably higher than those found anywhere in Britain or, indeed, Europe.

In order to make a first pass at trying to assess whether isotopic data can help answer the question of the potential number of African people in medieval and earlier Britain and the variations in this number over time, I pulled together a rough corpus of 909 oxygen isotopes results taken from individuals buried at 79 Bronze Age–Medieval sites across Britain published up to the start of 2016, and then sorted these into four broad chronological periods: Bronze Age–Iron Age (22 sites), Roman (15 sites), Early Medieval (29 sites) and Medieval (14 sites), with one site in use across two of the periods.(1) I then went through this material to identify individuals whose results are sufficiently elevated so as to be both clearly indicative of a non-local origin and most consistent with a childhood spent in North Africa, rather than anywhere in Britain or Europe.(2) Needless to say, taking such an overview of the entire period from the Bronze Age to the Medieval era via a single dataset produces some interesting results, as well as some pitfalls. The former can be summarized as follows:
  • 20.3% of the 79 surveyed Bronze Age–Medieval sites contained at least one person who has results consistent with a childhood spent in Africa (n=16). As can be seen from the map included above, these sites are spread across Britain, with the majority coming from what is now England, although not exclusively so. Note, some of the 'gaps' in the resultant distribution may well be more apparent than real, stemming from a lack of published sites in some areas, such as north-western England and Norfolk. 
  • Sites possessing isotopic evidence consistent with the presence of first-generation immigrants from North Africa are found in all periods looked at, although there is a clear peak in the Roman era. The Roman era—the mid-first to early fifth centuries AD—has the greatest number of sites with such evidence, namely seven, these being Winchester (Lankhills), Gloucester, York (three sites: Trentholme Drive, The Railway & Driffield Terrace), Scorton near Catterick, and Wasperton. Furthermore, nearly 47% of all Roman sites where isotopic analysis has occurred have produced evidence suggestive of the presence of people who grew up in North Africa, a significantly higher proportion than is found for any other era. The next highest raw totals of sites with such isotopic evidence belong jointly to the 'Early Medieval' and 'Medieval' eras (four sites each), although it is important to note that the Early Medieval total results from over twice as many sites being isotopically investigated than is the case for the Medieval era—as such, whilst 28.6% of the Medieval-era sites in the corpus have isotopic evidence consistent with the presence of North African migrants, only 13.8% of the Early Medieval sites do. Finally, the Bronze Age–Iron Age is represented by only a single qualifying site on the Isle of Thanet, Kent, equivalent to 4.5% of all Bronze Age–Iron Age sites where isotopic analysis has taken place, although this Late Bronze Age–Middle Iron Age cemetery has multiple people with such results buried within it.
  • In total, 3.7% of the 909 Bronze Age–Medieval individuals surveyed from these 79 sites have results consistent with a childhood spent in Africa (n=34). This percentage reflects the fact that the majority of the sites looked at here only contain one or two individuals with values high enough for inclusion in the present study.
  • A small number of results are elevated to such a degree that they strongly indicate a childhood spent in the Nile Valley or Delta. Around 11.8% of the individual oxygen isotope results that were highlighted here were exceptionally elevated to above 21.0‰ δ¹⁸Op (n=4), a level that is probably indicative of a childhood spent in or around the Nile Valley, where equivalent values have been recorded from the ancient burial site at Mendes in the Nile Delta, Egypt, and other sites up to the third Nile cataract at Tombos. Interestingly, these results come from individuals spread across the chronological range: one from a Late Bronze Age burial at Thanet, Kent (ninth century BC); one from a Middle Iron Age grave at the same site (fourth century BC); one from Roman York (the Driffield Terrace site); and one from the medieval cemetery at Whithorn, Scotland (late twelfth to thirteenth century AD).
With regard to explanations for such a potential presence of people who grew up in North Africa in Britain from the Late Bronze Age through to the medieval period, several possibilities can be identified. For example, the peak in sites with isotopic evidence consistent with the presence of such people in the Roman era is perhaps unsurprising, given the significant epigraphic, textual and archaeological evidence for people from Africa and/or of African descent in Britain at that time, and a major research project has, in fact, recently been completed on the topic of diaspora communities in Roman Britain. Indeed, at York around 11–12% of the individuals buried in two of the large Roman-era cemeteries there are considered to be very likely of 'African descent' on the basis of anthroposcopic/craniometric analysis, whilst yet more are thought to have potential 'mixed' or 'black' ancestry, up to a possible maximum of 51% of the population in the higher-status 'The Railway' cemetery. Similarly, there is documentary and archaeological evidence for contacts between the Byzantine Empire, North Africa and post-Roman western Britain and England in the early medieval period which may well offer a potential explanation for some of the results retrieved—significant quantities of fifth- to sixth-century Byzantine imported pottery have, for example, been found along the west coast of Britain, including some produced in the Carthage region, and Middle Saxon England included churchmen such as Hadrian, the later seventh and early eighth-century Abbot of St Augustine's, Canterbury, who was 'a man of African race' (Bede, Historia Ecclesiastica, IV.1) and is thought to have grown up in Libya Cyrenaica before moving to Italy following the mid-seventh-century Arab conquest of North Africa. For the Medieval period, the Crusades and the evidence for trade and contacts between England and the Mediterranean/Spain have been suggested as obvious potential reasons for the presence of people from Africa here then, whilst the Late Bronze Age to Middle Iron Age evidence from Thanet can perhaps be seen in the context of both the well-evidenced Bronze Age trading along the Atlantic coast between the Mediterranean, Iberia, Britain and Scandinavia, and the increasing body of linguistic, numismatic and archaeological evidence for Mediterranean/Punic contacts with Britain during the Iron Age.

Of course, whilst the above isotopic evidence is certainly intriguing, there are undoubtedly pitfalls to be aware of. On the one hand, we need to be wary of overestimating the proportion of any North African migrants in pre-modern Britain using isotopic evidence. For example, sites are sometimes chosen for isotopic analysis because they look potentially 'interesting', as was arguably the case with the cemeteries at York, Winchester and Thanet, and such a situation might well lead to a greater proportion of positive 'hits' in any corpus aiming to look for potential evidence of long-distance migration. Similarly, it is not totally impossible that a few of the people with the more marginal results discussed here could just have had their origins in a small area of southernmost Iberia rather than North Africa, although the bar for inclusion in the present corpus was set at such a level as to hopefully significantly reduce the possibility of this, and a substantial proportion of the results included here are, moreover, well above any plausible southern Iberian range.(3) On the other hand, the corpus could well underestimate both the number of individuals who may have had their origins in North Africa and their chronological spread. So, for example, whilst over 900 results were surveyed here, we still end up with a situation whereby none of the individuals with elevated values date from the Late Saxon/Anglo-Scandinavian period (later ninth to eleventh centuries). Taking this as a reflection of a lack of people from Africa in Britain at that time would, however, be a mistake: not only do we have good textual evidence for the presence of such people in the British Isles, but there are three burials of people of African descent known from tenth- and eleventh-century Gloucestershire and East Anglia—the problem is simply that none of them have been subjected to isotopic analysis and so they haven't been included here. Likewise, there are at least four burials of people who appear to be of African descent in the medieval cemetery at Ipswich, but only one has been isotopically tested (interestingly, five of the post-medieval/sixteenth-century burials there also appear to be those of people of African descent). Finally, by adopting a fairly high bar to inclusion in the corpus so as to avoid—as much as possible—the risk of 'false positives', we actually end up excluding a significant number of individuals who are generally accepted as being of African origin. So, only three members of a group of thirteen burials from Lankhills (Winchester) have results high enough to be included in the current corpus, despite the fact that all thirteen are considered to form a sub-group that is probably of African origin within the cemetery. All told, therefore, it might well be wondered whether the above tendencies to both overestimate and underestimate don't, in fact, cancel each other out.

North African unguentaria found in a grave from the Late Roman cemetery at Lankhills, Winchester, that is part of the sub-group with elevated oxygen isotope results mentioned above, but which has values just a little below the cut-off for inclusion in the corpus used in this post (image: Oxford Archaeology, reused under their CC BY-SA 3.0 license).


1     This corpus is based primarily upon J. A. Evans, C. A. Chenery & J. Montgomery, 'A summary of strontium and oxygen isotope variation in archaeological human tooth enamel excavated from Britain', Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, 27 (2012), 754–64 and 'Supplementary Material I' (14 pp.), to which have been added studies published after that paper or missing from it, using a Google Scholar search to catch any publications that weren't already known. Note, the periods assigned to the results taken from Evans et al, 'Supplementary Material I', have been checked and revised by me for this corpus, as they were occasionally idiosyncratic: 'Roman' is here used as a catch-all term for results from the first to early fifth centuries AD, 'Early Medieval' for those results from the period between the early fifth and late eleventh centuries AD, and 'Medieval' for those from the twelfth through to the fifteenth centuries. The additional studies used in creating this corpus are as follows, arranged by date of publication: S. Lucy et al, 'The burial of a princess? The later seventh-­century cemetery at Westfield Farm, Ely', Antiquity, 89 (2009), 81–141; J. Montgomery, 'Isotope analysis of bone collagen and tooth enamel', in C. Lowe (ed.), The P.R. Ritchie Excavations at Whithorn Priory, 1957–67: Medieval Bishops' Graves and Other Discoveries (Edinburgh, 2010), pp. 65–82; A. M. Pollard et al, '"Sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat": The St Brice's Day Massacre and the isotopic analysis of human bones from St John's College, Oxford', Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 31 (2012), 83–102; S. E. Groves et al, 'Mobility histories of 7th–9th century AD people buried at early medieval Bamburgh, Northumberland, England', American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 151 (2013), 462–76; K. A. Hemer et al, 'Evidence of early medieval trade and migration between Wales and the Mediterranean Sea region', Journal of Archaeological Science, 40 (2013), 2352–59; M. Jay et al, 'British Iron Age burials of the Arras culture: a multi-isotope approach to investigating mobility levels and subsistence practices', World Archaeology, 45 (2013), 473–91; E. Kendall et al, 'Mobility, mortality, and the middle ages: identification of migrant individuals in a 14th century black death cemetery population', American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 150 (2013), 210–22; C. A. Roberts et al, 'Isotopic tracing of the impact of mobility on infectious disease: the origin of people with treponematosis buried in Hull, England, in the Late Medieval period', American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 150 (2013), 273–85; K. A. Hemer et al, 'No Man is an island: evidence of pre-Viking Age migration to the Isle of Man'. Journal of Archaeological Science, 52 (2014), 242–9; J. I. McKinley et al, Cliffs End Farm, Isle of Thanet, Kent. A Mortuary and Ritual Site of the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon Period with Evidence for Long-Distance Maritime Mobility (Salisbury, 2014); J. Montgomery et al, 'Finding Vikings with isotope analysis: the view from wet and windy islands', Journal of the North Atlantic, Special Volume 7 (2014), 54–70; H. Eckardt et al, 'The Late Roman field army in northern Britain? Mobility, material culture and multi-isotope analysis at Scorton (N. Yorks)', Britannia, 46 (2015), 191–223; S. A. Inskip et al, 'Osteological, biomolecular and geochemical examination of an early Anglo-Saxon case of lepromatous leprosy', PLoS ONE, 10.5 (2015), pp. 1–22, online at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0124282; R. Martiniano et al, 'Genomic signals of migration and continuity in Britain before the Anglo-Saxons', Nature Communications, 7 (2016), article 10326, 8 pp., online at http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2016/160119/ncomms10326/full/ncomms10326.html, and Supplementary Materials, 54 pp. (Table 3 and discussion in Supplementary Note 2). I also include 'Ipswich Man' in the corpus, a man of African descent who was buried in the thirteenth century in Ipswich, as he was isotopically investigated and consequently determined to probably have his origins in North Africa, although the results are still as yet unpublished: BBC, History Cold Case: Series 1, Episode 1—Ipswich Man (broadcast 27 July 2010); 'Medieval African found buried in England', Discovery News, 11 February 2013, online at http://news.discovery.com/history/medieval-african-england.htm; K. Wade, Ipswich Archive Summaries: Franciscan Way, IAS 5003 (2014), online at http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/ipswich_5003_2015/downloads.cfm; and Xanthé Mallett, pers. comm..
2     The following footnote outlines the methodology adopted here. The conventional upper cut-off for phosphate oxygen isotope values for people who grew up in the British Isles is 18.6‰ δ¹⁸Op, although it has been suggested that people brought up on the far western margins of Britain and Ireland—where drinking-water oxygen isotope values are at their highest, between -5.0‰ and -4.5‰ δ¹⁸Odw (see map)—could theoretically have values up to 19.2‰ δ¹⁸Op (see K. A. Hemer et al, 'Evidence of early medieval trade and migration between Wales and the Mediterranean Sea region', Journal of Archaeological Science, 40 (2013), 2352–59; C. Chenery et al, 'Strontium and stable isotope evidence for diet and mobility in Roman Gloucester, UK', Journal of Archaeological Science, 37 (2010), 150–63; and especially J. A. Evans et al, 'A summary of strontium and oxygen isotope variation in archaeological human tooth enamel excavated from Britain', Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry, 27 (2012), 754–64). As such, and in order to avoid as much doubt as possible, I decided only to look at people with tooth enamel phosphate oxygen isotope results of 19.2‰+ for this post. This reflects, across the entire resulting corpus, the childhood consumption of drinking-water with values from -3.5‰ δ¹⁸Odw up to +2.0‰ δ¹⁸Odw on the 2010 revised Levinson equation or -4.0‰ δ¹⁸Odw to +0.3‰ δ¹⁸Odw on the 2008 Daux et al equation—needless to say, whichever equation is used, these values are notably higher than the maximum British drinking-water value of c. -4.5‰ δ¹⁸Odw (found only in a few spots in the far west of the Outer Hebrides and Cornwall), but in line with results from North Africa, whilst the highest of the recorded results in the corpus can only be matched in the Nile Valley, as was discussed in a previous post. Indeed, over 50% of the individuals studied in this post have results of at least 19.5‰ δ¹⁸Op, equivalent to a drinking-water value of -2.8‰ δ¹⁸Odw (-3.5‰ δ¹⁸Odw) or more, significantly above any credible British range and only really paralleled in some areas of North Africa. Moreover, it is worth noting from the map attached to this post that none of the individuals who are included in the study corpus were actually found in the areas with the highest drinking-water values in Britain, removing any lingering potential doubt as to their non-local origin. In fact, only a single individual of the 34 discussed here was found in an area with a local drinking-water value above -6.0‰ δ¹⁸Odw, whilst the vast majority (79%) come from areas where drinking water values are between -7.0‰ and -8.5‰. As such, not only do they largely come from areas where the theoretical maximum for tooth enamel phosphate oxygen isotope values is closer to c. 18.5‰, according to Evans et al (2012, p. 759), not 19.2‰, but their results actually reflect the childhood consumption of water with values at least 3.0‰ higher than the local level right up to potentially as much as 10.2‰ higher (at the Driffield Terrace, York, site)—in all cases, this is significantly above any plausible variations around the local range and is massively so in the case of many results. Finally, it is worth noting that the adoption of this relatively conservative approach may mean that the number of individuals of in Britain who grew up in North Africa is underestimated, rather than overestimated. For example, even a small drop of the bar to include all those with results of 19.0‰ δ¹⁸Op or above more more than doubles the number to be taken into the current corpus from our main source (the 2012 Evans et al corpus), and it is worth noting that many of the people with results at this level are indeed usually accepted as being probable migrants from North Africa, as are a significant number of people with slightly lower results too (see, for example, Evans et al, 'A summary of strontium and oxygen isotope variation', pp. 760–2; K. A. Hemer et al, 'Evidence of early medieval trade and migration between Wales and the Mediterranean Sea region'; and the discussion in a previous post, 'Some oxygen isotope evidence for long-distance migration to Britain from North Africa & southern Iberia, c.1100 BC–AD 800', 24 October 2015, blog post, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/10/oxygen-isotope-evidence.html). Nonetheless, it was felt worthwhile to set the bar higher in the present study in order to minimize as fully as possible the risk of false positives, and also to avoid as much as possible increasing the chance of some of the people studied here could have their origins in the one other area of Europe with very high drinking-water oxygen isotope values, southernmost Iberia, see note 3.
3     The map included in Evans et al, 'A summary of strontium and oxygen isotope variation', p. 761, indicates that the only part of Europe other than Britain with water oxygen isotope values above -5.0‰ is a small area of the south-eastern Iberian peninsula. L. J. Araguas-Araguas & M. F. Diaz Teijeiro, 'Isotope composition of precipitation and water vapour in the Iberian Peninsula', in IAEA, Isotopic composition of precipitation in the Mediterranean Basin in relation to air circulation patterns and climate (Vienna, 2005), pp. 173–90 at p. 178, state that values in this area range down to -4.3‰ δ¹⁸O, which is slightly enriched over the upper end of the British range (c. -4.5‰ δ¹⁸O); they also indicate that similar values above -5.0‰ δ¹⁸O are found in limited areas of the south-western coast of Iberia too, contrary to Evans et al, with groundwater results of c. 4.0‰ or even slightly higher reported from a very small zone around Cádiz (Araguas-Araguas & Diaz Teijeiro, fig. 3 at p. 180). In consequence, the bar for consideration in the present post was set relatively high to reduce the chance of including people from southernmost Iberia in the corpus—as was mentioned in note 2, above, only people with tooth enamel phosphate oxygen isotope results of 19.2‰+ were considered here, which on the 2010 revised Levinson equation (as used in K. A. Hemer et al, 'Evidence of early medieval trade and migration between Wales and the Mediterranean Sea region', Journal of Archaeological Science, 40 (2013), 2352–59, and other recent studies) equates to the consumption of drinking-water with values of -3.5‰ δ¹⁸O or above, with the majority of the results included here moreover reflecting the consumption of drinking-water with even higher values than this, ranging from -2.8‰ δ¹⁸O right up to +2.0‰ δ¹⁸O, well above the southern Iberian range.

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