Thursday, 22 December 2016

Some possible Phoenician/Punic names in Britain and Ireland

The current post follows on from a previous discussion of the potential Phoenician/Punic roots of the island-name Thanet and the linguistic, historical and archaeological context and support for such a suggestion. Needless to say, the aim of what follows is not to revisit in detail the arguments made in that post, nor the additional archaeological, isotopic and numismatic evidence for contact between North Africa/the Mediterranean and pre-Roman Britain discussed in three subsequent posts. Instead, the aim here is simply to offer, for the sake of interest, a map and list of all the British and Irish place-names that are currently thought by a number of linguists to be of potentially Phoenician/Punic origin, along with a few brief observations on these and their distribution.

British and Irish place-names considered to be of potentially Phoenician/Punic origin (image: C. R. Green).

The names listed below include some of the most obscure and difficult toponyms surviving from Britain, many of which have no satisfactory explanation aside from a potential Phoenician/Punic origin, as both Richard Coates and George Broderick have recently emphasised in their important discussions of this evidence.(1) The Phoenician language and its later, divergent form Punic are extinct Semitic languages that originated in the Near East and were spoken in antiquity across into North Africa and southern Iberia by Phoenician and Carthaginian traders and colonists. Needless to say, an origin for a number of British and Irish names in these languages is an intriguing possibility, and such a linguistic hypothesis does, in fact, have a potential historical context too. A degree of direct contact between the ancient Punic world and pre-Roman Britain has, after all, often been argued for since the sixteenth century on the basis of a small number of Classical sources that seem to point in this direction, and in recent years this notion has gained a degree of additional support from a variety of numismatic, isotopic, and archaeological evidence, as has been discussed in previous posts.(2)

With regard to the names themselves, several points can be made by way of a brief introduction. First and foremost, it is worth observing that they are all either coastal or island names, something that obviously accords well with the idea of them having Phoenician/Punic origins, given that any contacts between pre-Roman Britain and the Punic world of southern Iberia and North Africa are likely to have been primarily maritime in nature. Likewise, the suggested Proto-Semitic/Punic roots identified by Coates and others as potentially underlying these British and Irish coastal/island names are—importantly—plausible in terms of their lexical content too, referring to islands, the coast, cliffs/rocks, plants and animals, relative positions and/or compass points, culturally significant metals, and divine words or names.(3) In other words, the basic characteristics of the group as a whole, in terms of not only their general difficulty within the overall corpus of British names, but also their shared geographic characteristics and the range of meanings that they would possess, is credible and might inspire a degree of confidence.

Second, looking more closely at their geographic distribution, the names seem to fall naturally into two major groups. The first group is located in southern Britain from the Scilly Isles/Cornwall in the west across to the Isle of Thanet, Kent, in the east. Needless to say, such a southern group of Phoenician/Punic names in Britain would obviously accord well with the often-noted textual hints of Punic traders visiting pre-Roman southern Britain, primarily to obtain tin, a rare metal that was certainly exported to the Continent and Mediterranean from the Bronze Age onwards.(4) Indeed, in this context it is interesting to observe that several of these potential Punic names are, in fact, located at or close-by sites with links to the ancient tin trade and/or with evidence for significant pre-Roman Mediterranean contacts, as is discussed in more detail in the list below. The second group is located in the west, from Ram Head in Ireland up to the Outer Hebrides in the far north-west. The significance of this concentration of potential Punic island and coastal names is open to debate, although the well-known archaeological evidence for copper mining in Bronze Age Ireland is certainly worth noting with regard to the Irish names (see further below), as is the find of a North African Barbary ape skull from a probable third- to second-century BC context at Navan Fort, Northern Ireland. The fragmentary surviving records of the later fourth-century BC voyage of Pytheas of Massalia may also be relevant here too, given that they indicate the presence of at least some Continental traders along the west coast of Britain up to the area of the Hebrides and beyond by the fourth century BC.(5)

A trapezoidal lead core from a Mediterranean Type IIa wooden anchor of the fifth to second century BC that was found in Plymouth Sound, close to Rane Head, one of the potentially Punic names listed below; note, other finds of such early anchor stocks in Atlantic waters are usually thought to be of Phoenician or Punico-Mauretanian origin, see fn. 12 (image: ProMare, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

Third and finally, it is interesting to note that a Punic origin has also been tentatively suggested for three major island names in the region as well as a number of more minor island and coastal names, the names in question being Britain, Ireland and Thule. Needless to say, these suggestions are perhaps the most contentious of all those outlined below, not least because Britain and Ireland already have frequently cited Celtic etymologies, in a notable contrast to the more local or regional names covered here, with Britain usually believed to derive from a word meaning 'the people of the forms' or 'the tattooed people', whilst Ireland (Éire) is often considered to mean 'the fat, or fertile, country'. However, as Broderick in particular has pointed out, these etymologies are not, in fact, wholly certain nor universally agreed upon, and neither are they totally without linguistic issues; moreover, it might be wondered how plausible some of the proposed meanings are as specific people-/country-names too (the use of tattooing and body art was not, for example, confined or specific to the Britons, but seems rather to have been fairly widespread in Iron Age Europe). In this light, it is intriguing to observe that Phoenician/Punic etymologies are also available for both of these major island-names, giving the ‘tin land’ (pretan, ‘tin’) for Britain (*Pritan-) and the ‘copper island’ (*’i: weriju:, ‘island of copper’) for Éire/Ireland (*Īweryon). As Richard Coates notes, these suggestions cannot be casually dismissed, especially in light of the likely presence of other Proto-Semitic/Punic island- and coastal-names in the British Isles. Indeed, the fact that the suggested Phoenician/Punic roots of these two names would actually complement each other remarkably well and are, moreover, semantically credible—making reference to key material resources that were certainly available and exported from these islands in the pre-Roman period—is notable.(6) In this context, it is worth observing that it has been recently independently argued from the available archaeological evidence that there existed a 'maritime' Atlantic network carrying metalwork and metal north from the Mediterranean/Iberia to Sweden via Britain in the Bronze Age and that, as part of this, 'ports in the British Isles acted as transit centres for copper from other parts of Europe as well as providing local tin ore', something that obviously offers a potentially significant degree of support to the above idea of Britain being originally known as the 'tin land'.(7)

In sum, the evidence relating to these names is undoubtedly intriguing and the case for at least a proportion of these names being genuinely Proto-Semitic/Phoenician/Punic in origin would appear to be worthy of some serious consideration. Obviously the suggested Punic etymologies for these island and coastal names are open to debate and potential alternative explanations might be advanced for them, with a greater or lesser degree of plausibility. However, what matters is not any individual name, but rather their collective weight and the fact that a Proto-Semitic/Punic origin both appears to be at least possible and appropriate for a small but significant number of otherwise often very difficult British coastal names.

The list that follows contains all of the British and Irish names included on the map above, these having been identified as possibly or probably of Phoenician/Punic origin by Prof Richard Coates, Prof George Broderick and others.(8)
  1. The Isle of Thanet, Kent — TanatusTanatosTenetTanet, originally probably *Tanitā or similar. A difficult name with no credible etymology in insular languages and often considered inexplicable. However, it is readily explicable as a Phoenician/Punic island-name 'Y TNT, meaning the 'Isle (of) Tanit', the chief goddess of the ancient Phoenician mercantile power of Carthage, a name also seemingly applied to the island on which the Phoenician Atlantic colony of Cádiz was built (said by Pliny, Natural History, IV.36, to have been called by the natives the 'Isle of Juno', i.e. the 'Isle of Tanit', given that the Roman goddess Juno corresponded to the Phoenician Tanit under the interpretatio Romana). It has been argued that name could well have been transferred/applied to a secondary trading colony established in Britain from Cádiz in a similar geographic location to the original and as a result of Phoenician mercantile, colonial activities in the Atlantic, especially in light of the really quite exceptional concentration of Carthaginian coins in eastern Kent. See further the in-depth discussion of this name in a previous post.(9) In terms of the motivation for this name, it is worth emphasising that the Isle of Thanet in Kent has recently been independently identified as a potential key strategic 'Late Bronze Age trading centre' lying at a mid-point on a trade route between Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, acting as a 'transit centre' for metalwork from other parts of Europe as well as 'providing local tin ore' to these traders, a scenario strongly supported by both the presence of multiple people who grew up in North Africa and in Scandinavia within a ninth- to third-century BC cemetery discovered at Cliffs End, Thanet, and the recent isotopic analysis of a pure tin ring-ingot from  c. 950–700 BC found at Vårdinge, Sweden, which revealed that the tin in question did indeed come from Cornwall.(10)
  2. Rame Head, Cornwall — Rame in 1086 and thereafter. No credible etymology in insular languages; 'completely obscure' and 'unexplained'. However, would make good sense as a derivative of the Semitic height-word *rām, compare Ramat Gan, Israel, and Ramallah, Palestine (Proto-Semitic root *rwm), especially as it is the name of a conspicuous conical headland guarding the western entrance to Plymouth Sound.(11) Interestingly, not only is Rame Head located in Cornwall, an ancient tin-producing region, but a major excavated Late Bronze Age and Iron Age trading site, Mount Batten, lies within Plymouth Sound itself, just to the north-east of Rame. Barry Cunliffe has argued that this trading site can be plausibly identified as the pre-Roman British tin-trading centre of Ictis, mentioned in the fourth century BC by Pytheas of Massalia (via Diodoros), and it is especially intriguing in this context  to note that Plymouth Sound itself has actually produced a potentially Punic trapezoidal lead core from a Mediterranean Type IIa wooden anchor of the fifth to mid-second century BC too.(12)
  3. Sark — Sargia, Serc, Serk. No known etymology in insular/European languages. The only credible explanation is an origin in the Proto-Semitic root *śrq, ‘redden; rise (as of the sun); east’, compare Modern Arabic šarq, ‘east’, which would give good sense as Sark is the easternmost and outermost island of the Guernsey group.(13)
  4. Echri (Flat Holm, Severn Estuary) — The Welsh name for this island in the Severn Estuary, Echri, is apparently unexplained via insular languages, but a solution is possible if it is an island-name involving Proto-Semitic *’ħr, ‘behind, back’, meaning the 'rearmost island' or similar, which would be topographically appropriate given that Flat Holm is the last usable island encountered as one journeys up the Severn Estuary from the sea.(14)
  5. Isles of Scilly — Early spellings include SylinancimSully and Sullia. No good etymology in insular languages, with those that have been proposed having significant issues. The island-name could, however, plausibly reflect a Proto-Semitic root *s-l-, meaning 'rock, cliff', as found in Hebrew sela' (note, the -c- in the modern name is a post-medieval innovation). Alternatively, Richard Coates also compares the Punic site Zilis, modern Asilah, Morocco, which has been interpreted as meaning 'fishery'. Interestingly, the Atlantic Kassiterides, or 'Tin Islands', mentioned by Strabo and others have often been credibly identified with either the Isles of Scilly or Cornwall, with Strabo stating that 'in former times it was the Phoenicians alone', from their southern Iberian colony of Gades (Cádiz), 'who carried on this commerce'.(15)
  6. The Solent — Soluente in 737 and 890. Only debatable etymologies in insular languages, although an Indo-European root is possible. However, the Proto-Semitic root *s-l- (cf. Hebrew sela) meaning 'rock, cliff' would also potentially work, as Vennemann and Coates note, giving a topographically not-implausible meaning of ‘place of cliffs’ or, more likely, ‘the prominent cliffs’.(16)
  7. Uist — Scottish Gaelic Uibhist. No etymology in insular languages. The most credible solution, according to Richard Coates, is that it is identical in origin to the Mediterranean name Ibiza (Catalan EivissaEbusos/'Ebousos in Pliny and Diodorus Siculus), a Phoenician island-name possibly meaning 'island of some fragrant plant, e.g. balsam or pine', implying lush vegetation, with a final /t/ gained under influence from Old Norse. The name may have been directly coined as a Phoenican/Punic island-name meaning ‘the ?lush island’ or it may be the result of transference, with the island-name Uist consciously coined after Ibiza; compare the situation suggested for Thanet and the ‘island of Juno/Tanit’ on which the Phoenician colony of Cádiz was originally sited, above. The name is either Phoenician/Punic in origin, as outlined here, or inexplicable.(17
  8. Iona — Ioua, Old Irish Í. No good etymology in insular languages. The easiest and most credible solution is that the name simply represents the Punic/Phoenician for 'island, isolated place', 'y or iw. Both Coates and Broderick suggest that such a simplex name could have carried the sense of Iona as an ‘island of a special sort, a holy place’, something that perhaps underlies the island’s later religious significance. Broderick notes that the island-name Iona is either a Phoenician/Punic name meaning ‘the island (possibly of some special/religious significance)’, or it is impossible to satisfactorily explain. (18
  9. Islay — Gaelic Eilean Ìleach, earlier Ile/Ila/Ilea insula. Coates notes that there are only problematic etymologies for this island-name in insular languages and suggests instead that the most credible solution is to see the name as resulting from the Punic/Phoenician generic for island, 'y, in initial position + a form of root of the divine name seen in Phoenician 'l (cf. Hebrew ’Eloah, Biblical Aramaic ’Ĕlāhā and Arabic Aḷḷāh, < Proto-Semitic *al-’ilāh, 'the god, God'), passed through Gaelic: so 'island of the god' or similar (compare Thanet, above, probably originally 'Y TNT, ‘the island of the goddess Tanit’).(19)
  10. Southern Inner Hebrides (Islay, Colonsay, Jura) — EbudaeEboudai in Pliny and other classical sources. There is no etymology for this name available in insular or Western European languages; however, the name can be potentially explained as a Punic/Phoenician name meaning 'the sheep/lamb islands’. ‘Hebrides’ is either this Phoenician name or is impossible to satisfactorily explain.(20)
  11. Ram Head, Co. Waterford, Ireland — Gaelic Ceann or Carraig an Ráma. Richard Coates suggests that an origin identical to that of Rame Head, Cornwall (above), might offer a solution to this name, especially as it is ‘a seamark of the greatest conspicuousness and importance’ on the south-eastern Irish coast.(21)
  12. Rum — Ruimm in the Annals of Ulster (677). Once again, it is argued that there is no satisfactory explanation for this island-name in an insular languages. As with Rame Head and Ram Head, an origin in a Semitic height-word would give good sense, given its mountainous topography from all approaches and possession of the second highest mountain in the Western Isles; Broderick suggests Semitic *rūm, ‘be high’, would regularly give the name as recorded, with a later shortening of the vowel in the southern Hebrides. Otherwise, the name is inexplicable.(22)
  13. Bute — Botis in the Ravenna Cosmography. The name is root-identical with Proto-Celtic *butā, British *bot-, ‘dwelling’; however, Richard Coates considers the word *butā/*bot- to be, in fact, a direct borrowing from Proto-Semitic *but-, ‘hut’, and therefore suggests that this island-name could well be itself another surviving Proto-Semitic island-name in the Hebrides, meaning ‘dwelling island’ or similar, given the others discussed here.(23)
  14. Seil — Gaelic Saoil, earlier Sóil. Richard Coates compares Arabic sāħil, 'coast' from the Proto-Semitic root *šħl, considering the final form of the island-name to reflect this root under Gaelic influence. It is worth noting that a name derived from a Punic/Phoenician root meaning 'coast island' would be topographically appropriate here, as Seil/Saoil is separated from the mainland by a thin ocean channel spanned by the eighteenth-century Clachan Bridge.(24
  15. Britain & Éire/IrelandBritannia/Prydain/*Pritan- and Ivernia/Hibernia/*Īweryon. Celtic etymologies for both of these major island-names are often cited, although these are not certain (see further above). Broderick, Coates and Vennemann all argue that plausible Proto-Semitic roots for both names are also available, however, and would moreover offer good sense when taken as a pair, with Britain being the ‘tin land’ (pretan, ‘tin’) and Éire/Ireland the ‘copper island’ (*’i: weriju:, ‘island of copper’) on this basis. Needless to say, tin and copper together make bronze, and archaeological, literary and isotopic evidence all combine to suggest that not only was long-distance trading taking place in the Late Bronze Age between Britain, the Mediterranean and Scandinavia, but also that these metals were likely one of the key drivers of this trade.(25)
  16. Thule — An appropriate and credible Proto-Semitic etymology is available for this very difficult and often unexplained name in the root *ṯl, ‘become dark, shaded’, which would obviously work well for an island said to have been located in the far north where the ‘Arctic peculiarity’ of the Midnight Sun took hold, a phenomenon known to Pliny and other ancient authors.(26)
The Bronze Age 'Nebra sky disk' of c. 1600 BC; found near Nebra, Germany, & made using Cornish tin and gold (image: Wikimedia Commons).

Notes

1.     R. Coates, 'A glimpse through a dirty window into an unlit house: names of some north-west European islands', in W. Ahrens et al (edd.), Names in Multi-Lingual, Multi-Cultural and Multi-Ethnic Contact: Proceedings of the 23rd International Congress of Onomastic Sciences, August 17-22, 2008 (Toronto, 2009), pp. 228–42 at pp. 234–5; R. Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, Nomina 35 (2012), 49‒102; G. Broderick, 'Some island names in the former "Kingdom of the Isles": a reappraisal', Journal of Scottish Name Studies, 7 (2013), 1–28; and G. Broderick, ‘The names of Britain and Ireland revisited’, Beiträge zur Namenforschung, 44 (2009), 151‒7. See further C. R. Green, 'Thanet, Tanit and the Phoenicians: place-names, archaeology and pre-Roman trading settlements in eastern Kent?', 21 April 2015, blog post, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/04/thanet-tanit-and-the-phoenicians.html; T. Vennemann, 'The name of the Isle of Thanet', in A. J. Johnstone et al (edd.), Language and Text: Current Perspectives on English and Germanic Historical Linguistics and Philology (Heidelberg, 2006), pp. 345–74; and T. Vennemann, ‘Remarks on some British place-names’, in G. F. Carr et al (edd.), Interdigitations: Essays for Irmengard Rauch (New York, 1999), pp. 25‒62.
2.     See Avienus, Ora Maritima, LI.108-119; Strabo, Geography, 3.5.11; and especially D. W. Roller, Through the Pillars of Herakles: Greco-Roman Exploration of the Atlantic (London, 2006), pp. 12–14, 27–9. See also D. W. Roller, 'Himilco the Navigator', in E. K. Akyeampong & H. L. Gates Jnr. (edd.), Dictionary of African Biography, 6 vols. (Oxford, 2012), III.70; T. Vennemann, 'The name of the Isle of Thanet', in A. J. Johnstone et al (edd.), Language and Text: Current Perspectives on English and Germanic Historical Linguistics and Philology (Heidelberg, 2006), p. 356 and fn. 40; G. Broderick, ‘The names of Britain and Ireland revisited’, Beiträge zur Namenforschung, 44 (2009), 151‒7; and C. R. Green, 'Thanet, Tanit and the Phoenicians: place-names, archaeology and pre-Roman trading settlements in eastern Kent?', 21 April 2015, blog post, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/04/thanet-tanit-and-the-phoenicians.html.
3.     Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, passim.
4.     Strabo, Geography, 3.5.11; D. W. Roller, Through the Pillars of Herakles: Greco-Roman Exploration of the Atlantic (London, 2006), pp. 12–14; T. Vennemann, 'The name of the Isle of Thanet', in A. J. Johnstone et al (edd.), Language and Text: Current Perspectives on English and Germanic Historical Linguistics and Philology (Heidelberg, 2006), p. 356 and fn. 40; G. Broderick, ‘The names of Britain and Ireland revisited’, Beiträge zur Namenforschung, 44 (2009), 151‒7. On the export of British tin to the Continent and Mediterranean from the Bronze Age through to the medieval era, see for example J. Ling et al, 'Moving metals II: provenancing Scandinavian Bronze Age artefacts by lead isotope and elemental analyses', Journal of Archaeological Science, 41 (2014), 106–32; M. Hausten et al, 'Tin isotopy – a new method for solving old questions', Archaeometry 52.5 (2010), 816–32; B. Cunliffe, The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek: The Man Who Discovered Britain, rev. edn (London, 2002); and B. Cunliffe, Britain Begins (Oxford, 2013), pp. 319–21. The continuance of this trade into the medieval period is confirmed by a number of sources, including (a) the seventh-century Byzantine Life of St John the Almsgiver, which tells of a ship from Alexandria that visited Britain around AD 610–620 and exchanged a cargo of corn for one of tin, and (b) the thirteenth-century Arabic account of Sa'id al-Maghribi, preserved in the early fourteenth-century Geography of Abu'l-Fida, who mentions the export of 'tin and copper... from the island of England and island of Ireland' to Alexandria, Egypt: Leontius, Life of St John the Almsgiver, chapter 10; C. A. Snyder, An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons, AD 400–600 (Stroud, 1998), p. 152; C. J. Salter, 'Early tin extraction in the south-west of England: a resource for Mediterranean metalworkers of late antiquity', in M. M. Mango (ed.), Byzantine Trade, 4th–12th Centuries: The Archaeology of Local, Regional and International Exchange (Farnham, 2009), pp. 315–22 at p. 320; and D. N. Dunlop, 'The British Isles according to medieval Arabic authors', Islamic Quarterly, 4 (1957), 11–28 at p. 25. Note, although tin is only found in the south-west of Britain, the spread of names all along the south-coast through to Kent does not conflict with the idea of some connection between them and the tin trade. For example, the Isle of Thanet in Kent has recently been identified as a key strategic 'Late Bronze Age trading centre' lying at a mid-point on a trade route between Scandinavia and the Mediterranean and acting as a 'transit centre' for metalwork from other parts of Europe as well as 'providing local tin ore' to these traders (Ling et al, 'Moving metals II', p. 126. See also J. Ling & C. Uhnér, 'Rock art and metal trade', Adoranten, 21 (2014), 23–43, and T. Earle et al, 'The political economy and metal trade in Bronze Age Europe: understanding regional variability in terms of comparative advantages and articulations', European Journal of Archaeology, 18.4 (2015), 633–57, esp. pp. 642–4).
5.     On the Barbary ape from Navan Fort, Northern Ireland, see, for example, I. Armit, Headhunting and the Body in Iron Age Europe (Cambridge, 2012), pp. 72–3, and K. A. Costa, 'Marketing archaeological heritage sites in Ireland', in Y. M. Rowan and U. Baram (eds.), Marketing Heritage: Archaeology and the Consumption of the Past (Walnut Creek, 2004), pp. 69–92 at p. 73. On Pytheas of Massalia, see especially B. Cunliffe, The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek: The Man Who Discovered Britain, rev. edn (London, 2002) and B. Cunliffe, Britain Begins (Oxford, 2013), pp. 319–21.
6.     See especially on the etymology of Britain, Ireland and Thule G. Broderick, ‘The names of Britain and Ireland revisited’, Beiträge zur Namenforschung, 44 (2009), 151‒7 and R. Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, Nomina 35 (2012), 49‒102. For the scientific analysis confirming the presence of Cornish tin on the Continent and in Scandinavia, see M. Hausten et al, 'Tin isotopy – a new method for solving old questions', Archaeometry 52.5 (2010), 816–32, on the Bronze Age Nebra sky disk found near Nebra, Germany, and J. Ling et al, 'Moving metals II: provenancing Scandinavian Bronze Age artefacts by lead isotope and elemental analyses', Journal of Archaeological Science, 41 (2014), 106–32, on the pure Cornish tin ring-ingot found at Vårdinge, Sweden, which is dated to c. 950–700 BC. See, for example, Cunliffe, The Extraordinary Voyage of Pytheas the Greek, on Iron Age references to this trade and Sa'id al-Maghribi's medieval account of its continuance into the thirteenth century, cited in note 4 above.
7.     J. Ling et al, 'Moving metals II: provenancing Scandinavian Bronze Age artefacts by lead isotope and elemental analyses', Journal of Archaeological Science, 41 (2014), 106–32; J. Ling & C. Uhnér, 'Rock art and metal trade', Adoranten, 21 (2014), 23–43; T. Earle et al, 'The political economy and metal trade in Bronze Age Europe: understanding regional variability in terms of comparative advantages and articulations', European Journal of Archaeology, 18.4 (2015), 633–57, esp. pp. 642–4.
8.     The following list is based primarily on the four papers by Richard Coates and George Broderick cited in note 1, above, supplemented by a number of important papers by Theo Vennemann, cited in the footnotes to the list; note, Vennemann identifies a significant number of potential Punic names in Britain, but these are only listed below if they are discussed and endorsed by Coates and/or Broderick. All names and vocabulary discussed in the papers by Coates and Broderick are listed here, excluding the Isle of Mull, suggested as possibly Punic by Coates but rejected as probably Celtic by Broderick, 'Some island names', p. 13.
9.     C. R. Green, 'Thanet, Tanit and the Phoenicians: place-names, archaeology and pre-Roman trading settlements in eastern Kent?', 21 April 2015, blog post, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/04/thanet-tanit-and-the-phoenicians.html; T. Vennemann, 'The name of the Isle of Thanet', in A. J. Johnstone et al (edd.), Language and Text: Current Perspectives on English and Germanic Historical Linguistics and Philology (Heidelberg, 2006), pp. 345–74, especially pp. 345–8, 357–9; R. Coates, 'A glimpse through a dirty window into an unlit house: names of some north-west European islands', in W. Ahrens et al (edd.), Names in Multi-Lingual, Multi-Cultural and Multi-Ethnic Contact: Proceedings of the 23rd International Congress of Onomastic Sciences, August 17-22, 2008 (Toronto, 2009), pp. 228–42 at pp. 234–5; R. Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, Nomina 35 (2012), 49‒102. Note, the notion that the name Thanet derives from Greek thanatos, 'death', is a learned folk-etymology, see V. Watts, The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names (Cambridge, 2004), p. 606; R. Coates in R. Coates et alCeltic Voices, English Places: Studies of the Celtic Impact on Place-Names in England (Stamford, 2000), p. 32; and A. L. F. Rivet & C. Smith, The Place-Names of Roman Britain (Cambridge, 1979), pp. 70, 469.
10.     See the references cited in note 7, above. For a brief discussion of the burial site on the Isle of Thanet, see C. R. Green, '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, and 'A Mediterranean anchor stock of the fifth to mid-second century BC found off the coast of Britain', 29 August 2015, blog post, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/08/a-mediterranean-anchor.html. Full details of the site and the burials are available in J. I. McKinley et al, 'Dead-sea connections: a Bronze Age and Iron Age ritual site on the Isle of Thanet', in J. T. Koch & B. Cunliffe (eds.), Celtic from the West 2. Rethinking the Bronze Age and the Arrival of Indo-European in Atlantic Europe (Oxford, 2013), pp. 157–83, esp. pp. 166–8, and J. I. McKinley et alCliffs 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).
11.     O. J. Padel, Dictionary of Cornish Place-Names (Penzance, 1988), p. 147; Coates, 'A glimpse through a dirty window into an unlit house: names of some north-west European islands', p. 237; Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, pp. 80‒1.
12.     On the anchor, other finds of such early anchor stocks in Atlantic waters are usually thought to be of Phoenician or Punico-Mauretanian origin: so, a similar Type IIa lead anchor core found at Ras Achakar, Morocco, on the Atlantic side of the Straits of Gibraltar, is thought to have been lost by a Punic ship en route to the important Phoenician settlement of Cádiz, and another Type IIa anchor has been recovered from Cap Spartel, Morocco, that almost certainly dates from the fifth century BC and is similarly though to be from Phoenician/Punico-Mauretanian ship. See further C. R. Green, 'A Mediterranean anchor stock of the fifth to mid-second century BC found off the coast of Britain', 29 August 2015, blog post, online at http://www.caitlingreen.org/2015/08/a-mediterranean-anchor.html. On the Moroccan examples of Type IIa Mediterranean anchors, see A. Trakadas & E. Erbati, 'Lead anchor elements from Tangier, Morocco', Bulletin D'Archeologie Marocaine, 21 (2009), 250–67 at pp. 253–4, 256; A. Trakadas, 'Morocco Maritime Survey: the 2002 season', The INA Quarterly, 30 (2003), 12–21, esp. pp. 18–20 on a radiocarbon-dated Type IIa anchor. See also A. Trakadas & S. Claesson, 'On the shores of the Maghreb-al-Asqa: the 1999 survey of Tangier Bay, Morocco', The INA Quarterly, 28 (2001), 3–15; A. Trakadas, 'Morocco Maritime Survey: 2003 season', The INA Quarterly, 31 (2004), 3–9, especially pp. 8–9; and E. Erbati & A. Trakadas, The Morocco Maritime Survey (Oxford, 2008), for example p. 63. A fifth-century date for the Cap Spartel anchor core is based on a combination of the general chronology of Type IIa anchors, that is fifth to mid-second century BC, and the fact that the core still had some of its original wooden stock attached which has been radiocarbon dated to 785–400 cal BC. On Mount Batten and Plymouth Sound/the Tamar Estuary, see E. Wilkes, Iron Age Maritime Nodes on the English Channel Coast: An Investigation into the Location, Nature and Context of Early Ports and Harbours, 2 vols. (Bournemouth University PhD Thesis, 2004), I.139–42, II.466–7; A. Firth et alTamar Estuaries Historic Environment: A Review of Marine and Coastal Archaeology (Plymouth, 1998); B. Cunliffe, Mount Batten, Plymouth: a Prehistoric and Roman Port (Oxford, 1988).
13.     Coates, 'A glimpse through a dirty window into an unlit house: names of some north-west European islands', p. 235, and Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’.
14.     Broderick, 'Some island names in the former "Kingdom of the Isles": a reappraisal', p. 11; Coates, 'A glimpse through a dirty window into an unlit house: names of some north-west European islands', p. 237; Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, pp. 80‒1.
15.     T. Vennemann, ‘Remarks on some British place-names’, in G. F. Carr et al (edd.), Interdigitations: Essays for Irmengard Rauch (New York, 1999), pp. 25‒62 at pp. 40‒2; Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’; Coates, 'A glimpse through a dirty window into an unlit house: names of some north-west European islands', p. 234. On the identification of the Atlantic Kassiterides with the Scilly Isles, see especially D. W. Roller, Through the Pillars of Herakles: Greco-Roman Exploration of the Atlantic (London, 2006), pp. 12–14.
16.     R. Coates, ‘Periplus: a voyage round The Solent’, in R. Coates, Toponymic Topics: Essays on the Early Toponomy of the British Isles (Brighton, 1988), pp. 1‒20; Vennemann, ‘Remarks on some British place-names’, pp. 38‒40; G. Broderick, ‘The names of Britain and Ireland revisited’, Beiträge zur Namenforschung, 44 (2009), 151‒7.
17.     G. Broderick, 'Some island names in the former "Kingdom of the Isles": a reappraisal', Journal of Scottish Name Studies, 7 (2013), 1–28 at pp. 8‒9; R. Coates, ‘Uist ‒ Ibiza’, in R. Coates, Toponymic Topics: Essays on the Early Toponomy of the British Isles (Brighton, 1988), pp. 21‒3; Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, pp. 63‒5.
18.     Broderick, 'Some island names in the former "Kingdom of the Isles": a reappraisal', pp. 13‒15; Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, p. 66; Coates, 'A glimpse through a dirty window into an unlit house: names of some north-west European islands', p. 234.
19.     Coates, 'A glimpse through a dirty window into an unlit house: names of some north-west European islands', pp. 233‒4; Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’; Broderick, 'Some island names in the former "Kingdom of the Isles": a reappraisal', pp. 15‒16.
20.     See especially Broderick, 2013, pp. 4‒5; also Coates, 2009, p. 234; Coates, 2012, pp. 70‒1; and Vennemann, ‘Remarks on some British place-names’, p. 46.
21.     Coates, 'A glimpse through a dirty window into an unlit house: names of some north-west European islands', p. 237; Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, pp. 80‒1. This name is otherwise described as 'derivation unknown', following P. Power, The Place-Names of Decies (London, 1907), p. 68, although an Irish root has been suggested by Terry O'Hagan (@VoxHib).
22.     Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, pp. 80‒1.
23.     Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, p. 81, although see Broderick, 'Some island names in the former "Kingdom of the Isles": a reappraisal', pp. 19‒20.
24.     Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’; Coates, 'A glimpse through a dirty window into an unlit house: names of some north-west European islands', p. 233.
25.     See especially G. Broderick, ‘The names of Britain and Ireland revisited’, Beiträge zur Namenforschung, 44 (2009), 151‒7, who gives a thorough survey of the ancient textual evidence for the tin trade too; also Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’, and T. Vennemann, ‘Zur Etymologie von Éire, dem Namen Irlands’, Sprachwissenschaft, 23.4 (1998), 461‒9. See further the following on Phoenician traders/colonists and the early trade in British tin: D. W. Roller, Through the Pillars of Herakles: Greco-Roman Exploration of the Atlantic (London, 2006), pp. 12–14, 27–9; D. W. Roller, 'Himilco the Navigator', in E. K. Akyeampong & H. L. Gates Jnr. (edd.), Dictionary of African Biography, 6 vols. (Oxford, 2012), III.70; Vennemann, 'Name of the Isle of Thanet', p. 356 and fn. 40; J. Ling et al, 'Moving metals II: provenancing Scandinavian Bronze Age artefacts by lead isotope and elemental analyses', Journal of Archaeological Science, 41 (2014), 106–32; J. Ling & C. Uhnér, 'Rock art and metal trade', Adoranten, 21 (2014), 23–43; and T. Earle et al, 'The political economy and metal trade in Bronze Age Europe: understanding regional variability in terms of comparative advantages and articulations', European Journal of Archaeology, 18.4 (2015), 633–57, esp. pp. 642–4.
26.     See further the discussion in Coates, ‘A toponomastic contribution to the linguistic prehistory of the British Isles’.

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.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Ludford, Tealby and the Taifali: a major Late Iron Age to early post-Roman settlement on the Lincolnshire Wolds

The following post is intended to offer a brief introduction to the archaeology and early history of Ludford, Lincolnshire, along with some thoughts on its Late Roman and post-Roman significance. Although Ludford is nowadays simply a village on the road from Louth to Market Rasen, sitting atop the Lincolnshire Wolds, in the Late Iron Age, Roman, and possibly early post-Roman eras it appears to have been a site of some considerable significance.

The major Late Iron Age settlements of northern Lincolnshire and their suggested territories, after May, 1984 (image: C. R. Green)

A Late Iron Age gold coin of the local Corieltavi tribe, South Ferriby type, dated c. 45 BC–10 BC, found at Ludford (image: PAS)

The earliest evidence for significant activity at Ludford comes from the Late Iron Age, with a large number of brooches and other items recorded from here on the Portable Antiquities Scheme and elsewhere, including 80 gold, silver and copper-alloy coins, all of which were mostly found just to the east of the current village in fields near to Ludford Grange. The impressive concentration of Late Iron Age coinage in particular has led Jeffrey May to identify Ludford as one of a small number of major Late Iron Age settlement found spread fairly evenly across the landscape of northern Lincolnshire, each probably controlling a substantial territory 15–20 miles or so across, the suggested extent of which is depicted on the map above.

This first phase of occupation at Ludford continued into the early Roman period and was followed by a second, even more intensive phase of occupation in the third and fourth centuries. Extensive finds of Roman pottery, coins, burials, building materials and other artefacts from the area around Ludford Grange and the head of the River Bain indicate that Ludford was probably functioning as a 'small town' in that period and, as such, is likely to have continued to control a significant territory all around it, something supported by the fairly wide and even spacing of such major Roman-era settlements in Lincolnshire (see the map below). These indications of a significant degree of activity at Ludford in the Late Iron Age and Roman eras are reinforced by extensive cropmarks observed in this area by the RCHME and the results of fluxgate gradiometer surveys, which demonstrated that there was intensive activity in several phases at the site even in areas where no cropmarks are now visible.

The major settlements and forts of Roman Lincolnshire, set against the probable late/post- Roman landscape and certain major Roman-era routes (image drawn by C. R. Green after Green, 2012, fig. 4, with additions). Note, both Caistor and Horncastle were Late Roman forts with impressive stone walls, and linguistic and historical evidence combine to suggest that there may well have been another Roman walled fort at Skegness that was destroyed by the sea around 500 years ago. Also shown are the locations of three earthen fortifications that are thought to date from the late/post-Roman periods, at Yarborough, Yarburgh and Cun Hu Hill (Grimsby); these are depicted by an 'open square' symbol.

A late fourth-century Roman adjustable silver bracelet from Ludford (image: PAS). Another Roman precious-metal item of jewellery from this site is a gold and garnet earring of the second or third century. 

It is thus clear that Ludford was a locally important settlement and 'central place' within Lincolnshire in both the Late Iron Age and Romano-British eras, and it seems likely that this local importance was maintained into the very late Roman period and potentially a little beyond too. Perhaps the most interesting evidence in this regard comes in the form of a later fourth-century gold coin and three Late Roman spurs that have been found at Ludford 'Roman small town'. Such artefacts have a very similar distribution within the Lincoln region and have been considered indicative of the final stage of official Roman military activity in this region, which was arguably focused on creating a defensive 'ring' around the Late Roman provincial capital and episcopal see of Lincoln, with troops apparently primarily stationed not in the walled forts of the region, but instead at rural strategic sites close to major routeways and/or the coast. Certainly, such a scenario accords well with the fact that the Late Roman field army appears to have been normally billeted in civilian towns rather than assigned to specific military forts, and Ludford was clearly both a civilian 'small town' and a strategic site, being located on top of the Lincolnshire Wolds on a Roman road that ran from the east coast to Lincoln (Margary 272) and also very close to the crossing point of this road with the north–south road linking the Roman walled forts of Caistor and Horncastle (Margary 270).

As to who these cavalry troops potentially billeted and losing spurs at Ludford might have been, one reasonable possibility is that they were members of the very late Roman Equites Taifali. This cavalry unit was probably established between 395 and 398 from the Taifali of northern Italy and Gaul and is known to have been in Britain under the command of the Comes Britanniarum ('Count of the Britains') in the very late fourth to early fifth centuries. Perhaps most significantly, however, it just so happens that a neighbouring parish to Ludford, Tealby, actually bears an originally Old English name that almost certainly derives from the continental tribal-name Taifali and means '(the settlement of) the Taifali', to which the Old Norse for village, -bȳ, was added in the Anglo-Scandinavian period (Tealby < Tavelesbi/Teflesbi < Old English *Tāflas/*Tǣflas + Old Norse , with *Tāflas/*Tǣflas being the Old English form of the tribal-name Taifali). Needless to say, such a coincidence is highly suggestive, and it has furthermore been argued that the presence of this tribal-name in Lincolnshire is difficult to explain in a convincing manner without recourse to the Equites Taifali.

The location of Tealby in relation to Ludford and key Late Roman sites & routeways; fortified sites are indicated by an open square around a filled square. Image: Green, 2014, fig. 1, with additions; the latter being the two probable earthen fortifications at Yarburgh, near Louth, and Cun Hu Hill, Grimsby, that potentially date from the late/post-Roman period (depicted as open squares).

If Ludford at the very end of the fourth century and beginning of the fifth potentially played host to at least elements of the Equites Taifali, what then of it in the post-Roman period? With regard to this, several points can be made. First, the nature of the place-name evidence from neighbouring Tealby is such that, if the name does derive from members of the Equites Taifali (as seems most most likely), then it would require that descendants of former members of the Equites Taifali were still living on the Lincolnshire Wolds in the post-Roman era and retained a separate identity for at least part of that period. This is, needless to say, intriguing in itself, and it is worth noting here that the idea that some members, or former members, of the Equites Taifali might have stayed in this region rather than returning to the continent in the early fifth century could well find an explanation and context in the evidence for the Late Roman provincial capital of Lincoln being able to defend and maintain a significant territory all around itself into the sixth century. In other words, it is possible that the apparent presence of Taifali in the area around Ludford in the post-Roman period resulted from the clear need, apparently successfully met, of those in charge of the provincial capital at Lincoln to employ defenders for their territory as official Roman military activities in Britain drew to a close.

Second, there are two deserted medieval villages named East and West Wykeham that lie within Ludford parish and near to the site of the Romano-British town. This place-name derives from Old English wīchām, which in turn comes from Latin vicus + Old English hām. Such names are generally considered to derive their Latin first element from their close proximity to a significant Romano-British settlement that was known as a vicus in the Late and post-Roman periods, with vici in this context being probably Romano-British settlements that functioned as local administrative centres, a description which would seem to fit Ludford well. Most important of all, however, is the fact that names in wīchām have often been plausibly considered both to date from the fifth or sixth centuries and to be indicative of some sort of administrative continuity between the Late Roman and 'early Anglo-Saxon' periods, a point of considerable significance in the present context.

Taken together, the above points suggest that the Romano-British small town at Ludford and its immediate surrounding area may have continued to be of some local significance into at least the early part of the post-Roman era, that is into the fifth century and perhaps also the sixth. However, when we look beyond this, into the 'Anglo-Saxon' period proper for Lincolnshire, the situation looks somewhat different. For example, Ludford lies not at the heart of one of the recorded Anglo-Scandinavian wapentakes of Lincolnshire, but instead at the junction of three separate wapentakes (Louthesk, Wraggoe, and Walshcroft), suggesting that by the later Anglo-Saxon era any local administrative role and territory for Ludford had been lost and divided. Similarly, whilst the archaeological material recovered from the site of the Romano-British 'small town' and its immediate environs indicates that there was probably a degree of activity hereabouts in the pre-Viking period, there is nothing to really make us think that the site retained any of its earlier importance at that time.

A copper-alloy annular brooch of the seventh century, found in Ludford parish to the south- east of the small town (image: PAS)

The territorial context of the South Elkington-Louth early Anglo-Saxon cremation cemetery. Shown here are the cemetery, the later wapentake boundaries of Louthesk (in grey), relevant place-names, and the suggested extent of a pre-Viking territory focused on the Louth cemetery (image: Green, 2012, fig. 43).

As to both when and why Ludford's apparent Iron Age–early post-Roman local administrative role and territory ended and was divided, this is open to debate. It has been argued that many of Lincolnshire's Anglo-Scandinavian wapentakes had their ultimate origins in the pre-Viking period, and a study of Louthesk wapentake certainly indicates that this wapentake could well have had its roots in a territory associated with the important and massive fifth- to sixth-century cremation cemetery at South Elkington–Louth. This cemetery probably functioned as a funerary, social and sacred 'central place' for the surrounding region in the early Anglo-Saxon period, and was established at a site overlooking the Lincolnshire Marshes and the east coast by 'Anglian' immigrants to the region in the fifth century, who, like the Taifaliwere arguably initially used by the post-Roman Britons of Lincoln for the defence of their territory (indeed, they may well have been somehow associated with the possible late/post-Roman coastal fortification at nearby Yarburgh). Furthermore, the Old English place-name 'Ludford' is suggestive too, as not only does it appear to be, in type, a potentially early pre-Viking coinage, but it is also probably best interpreted as meaning 'the ford belonging to Louth', indicating that Ludford had actually come to be under the control of Louth in this period, perhaps lying on the very western edge of its territory.

On the basis of the above, it seems likely that the process of Ludford losing at least some of its local centrality and any associated administrative role/territory that had survived into the post-Roman era was already begun by the end of the sixth century. Moreover, it can be suggested that this loss of centrality and division of its probable administrative territory could have been a direct result of the foundation of a new, Anglo-Saxon 'central place' at a strategic site only a few miles to the east of Ludford in the fifth century. In this light, an acceptable hypothesis that accounts for all of the material discussed above might be that Ludford and its immediate environs retained a degree of local centrality into the fifth and sixth centuries, so long as the Britons were still in at least nominal charge of the Lincoln region. However, when the 'Anglo-Saxon' immigrant groups gained control of the region in the sixth century, Ludford's status and centrality precipitously declined in favour of the immigrants' own, already-established regional centre a few miles to the east at South Elkington–Louth.

Tealby All Saints' church (image: Richard Croft, CC BY-SA 2.0)

If Ludford itself and the eastern parts of any territory it administered in the late and post- Roman periods may thus have come under the control of the early 'Anglian' immigrant group that was seemingly based a few miles to the east at South Elkington–Louth in the sixth century, what then of the rest of Ludford's 'territory' and, indeed, the Taifali? With regard to this question, it is worth noting that the whole area to the north and west of Ludford lay within the Walshcroft wapentake by the Late Saxon period, with this district including within its bounds not only the modern village of Tealby—'(the settlement of) the Taifali'—but also its neighbouring village of Walesby. Given that there is a case to be made for both the place-name Walesby (DB Walesby) and the wapentake-name Walshcroft (DB Walescros) having derived from Old English Walas, 'the Britons, the Welsh-speakers', it might well be wondered whether Walshcroft wapentake could not have somehow derived from a portion of the territory associated with Ludford that remained, at least nominally, in British/Taifali hands, for a period at any rate? Of course, such a suggestion can only be very tentatively made, but it is an interesting possibility nonetheless.

In sum, the archaeology, history and place-names of Ludford and its immediate surroundings suggest that it was of some considerable significance in the past. It was clearly once the site of a major Late Iron Age settlement and Romano-British 'small town' that probably functioned as a local administrative centre for the surrounding region. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that at the very end of the Roman era the small town here was home to cavalry troops of the Late Roman military, quite possibly of the Equites Taifali, some of whom may have stayed on in this area to help protect the territory of the former provincial capital of Lincoln into the fifth century, their continued presence arguably underlying the name of a neighbouring parish, Tealby. Finally, it can be cautiously argued that Ludford and its immediate environs may have retained a degree of local centrality into the fifth and sixth centuries, but with this perhaps only lasting so long as the Britons were still in at least nominal charge of the Lincoln region. Certainly, it seems likely that Ludford itself had lost its centrality at some point in the early Anglo-Saxon period to the new Anglo-Saxon 'central place' of South Elkington–Louth, a few miles to the east, although it can be tentatively suggested that the later wapentake of Walshcroft could represent a surviving rump of Ludford's territory that remained nominally under British and Taifali control, at least for a time.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2015, 2016, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

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).

Notes

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: (a) that 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) that 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) that 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 very 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.