Thursday, 16 August 2018

The submerged prehistoric forests on Trusthorpe and Cleethorpes beaches, Lincolnshire

The aim of this post is simply to share some recent images of the underwater prehistoric forests at Trusthorpe and Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire. The submerged forest at Trusthorpe is only rarely seen, especially since beach replenishment works along the coast here; however, an unusually low tide on Monday 13th August, 2018, exposed at least two of the tree stumps and I was able to take the following pictures of these.

One of the tree stumps exposed on Monday, 13th August 2018 at Trusthorpe, Lincolnshire; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Top view of the submerged prehistoric tree stump exposed at Trusthorpe, Lincolnshire, in August 2018, showing its tree rings; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Another of the prehistoric tree stumps exposed by an exceptionally low tide at Trusthorpe, Lincolnshire; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

The tree stumps and trunks that are revealed by such very low tides and in excavations all along the Lincolnshire coast from Immingham to Ingoldmells have their origins in a drowned prehistoric forest that once stretched out over what is now the floor of the North Sea after the last Ice Age, when global sea-levels dropped to around 120 metres below their current levels. For the early part of the Mesolithic era, beginning c. 9600 BC, the actual coastline lay a significant distance to the north-east and eastern Lincolnshire represented part of an upland district rather than a coastal zone. However, from about 8,500 years ago, this situation began to change as the inexorably rising sea-level due to the melting of the glaciers pushed the coastline ever nearer. Sometime around 6200 BC, the land bridge connecting Britain to the continent was severed, perhaps being finally destroyed by the Storegga Slide tsunami, and by approximately 6000 BC the flooding of what remained of Doggerland had advanced sufficiently that the coastline probably lay just to the seaward of its present position along much of east Lincolnshire. As this process continued, the trees that are now found submerged off the Lincolnshire coast were first subject to waterlogging as the water-table rose and were then submerged by the rising tide. The date of this waterlogging and submersion varies from site to site, depending on the elevation of the land on which the forest grew: at Immingham and Theddlethorpe the waterlogging of the prehistoric landscape has been dated to 5840–5373 BC and 6205–6012 BC respectively, whilst at Anderby Creek and Cleethorpes the trees on the foreshore were submerged in 3514–3349 BC and 2912–2299 BC, as determined by the radiocarbon dating of their wood.

The extent of Doggerland about 12,000 years ago at the end of the last glacial era, with possible reindeer migration routes shown (drawn by C. R. Green for Origins of Louth, based on Barton, 2005 and Shennan et al, 2000, with permission).

The last stages in the drowning of Mesolithic Doggerland, from the perspective of Lincolnshire and the Fens (drawn by C. R. Green for Origin of Louth, based on Shennan et al, 2000, with permission). Louth is marked to help in understanding the changes; darker blue indicates areas permanently under water, light blue the inter-tidal zone and low-lying marshland.

The photographs of submerged trees at Trusthorpe included above were taken at approximately 14:30 in the afternoon, when the tide was at its lowest point of 0.4 metres above chart datum, equivalent to around 3.35 metres below Ordnance Datum. Unfortunately, this wasn't quite low enough to expose more than a handful of tree stumps, especially after beach replenishment works along this coast, although wading a short way out beyond the shoreline revealed a number of additional tree stumps lying just below the water's surface. A number of photographs are available online of the more dramatic exposures in the Mablethorpe to Huttoft area visible in previous decades, especially those in 1984 and 1992, although none of these in turn seem to approach those recorded in previous centuries, leading to the suggestion that the drowned forest remains have been subject to recent erosion as well as being covered up by beach replenishment schemes. In particular, the outcrop of exposed forest seen in 1796 by Sir Joseph Banks and Joseph Correa de Serra was around 1 mile wide just to the south of Trusthorpe at Sutton-on-Sea (something also apparent on Robert Mitchell's 1765 coastal sailing chart, where the forest 'islets' are marked as a wide belt of 'Clay Huts' between Sutton and Anderby Creek), whereas in 1923 it was only 150 yards wide. According to A. J. Clapham, 'even allowing for the shifting pattern of the sand covering the foreshore and the fact that the tides might not have fallen as low in 1923 as on the 1796 visit, this is evidence for considerable erosion of the outcrop in a century and a quarter'.(1) With regard to the 1796 exposure, it is worth quoting Joseph Correa de Serra's 1799 description of the 'submarine forest' at length as an indication of what was visible in the eighteenth century:
It was a common report in Lincolnshire, that a large extent of islets of moor, situated along its coast, and visible only in the lowest ebbs of the year, was chiefly composed of decayed trees. These islets are marked in Mitchell's chart of that coast, by the name of the clay huts... In the month of September, 1796, I went to Sutton, the coast of Lincolnshire, in company with the Right Hon. President of this Society [Sir Joseph Banks], in order to examine their extent and nature. The 19th of the month, being the first day after the equinoctial full moon, when the lowest ebbs were to be expected, we went in a boat... and soon after set foot upon one of the largest islets then appearing. Its exposed surface was about thirty yards long, and twenty-five wide, when the tide was at its lowest. A great number of similar islets were visible round us, chiefly to the eastward and southward... These islets, according to the most accurate information, extend at least twelve miles in length, and about a mile in breadth, opposite to Sutton shore... The channels between the several islets [representing the eroded lines of drainage from wave backwash], when the islets are dry, in the lowest ebbs of the year, are from four to twelve feet deep.(2)
Banks and De Serra examined the composition of these 'islets' on the 19th, 20th and 21st of September, 1796, and concluded that
they consisted almost entirely of roots, trunks, branches, and leaves of trees and shrubs, intermixed with some leaves of aquatic plants. The remains of some of these trees were still standing on their roots; while the trunks of the greater part lay scattered on the ground, in every possible direction. The bark of the trees and roots appeared generally as fresh as when they were growing; in that of the birches particularly, of which a great quantity was found, even the thin silvery membranes of the outer skin were discernible. The timber of all kinds, on the contrary, was decomposed and soft, in the greatest part of the trees; in some, however, it was firm, especially in the knots.... The sorts of wood which are still distinguishable are birch, fir, and oak...
     The soil to which the trees are affixed, and in which they grew, is a soft, greasy clay; but for many inches above it is entirely composed of rotten leaves, scarcely distinguishable to the eye, many of which may be separated by putting the soil in water, and dextrously and patiently using a spatula, or a blunt knife. By this method, I obtained some perfect leaves of Ilex Aquifolium [holly], which are now in the Herbarium of the Right Hon. Sir Joseph Banks; and some other leaves which, though less perfect, seem to belong to some species of willow. In this stratum of rotten leaves, we could also distinguish several roots of Arundo Phragmites [common reed].

Robert Mitchell's 1765 coastal sailing chart of Lincolnshire, showing 'clay huts' (islets of exposed submerged forest separated by deep eroded backwash channels) extending significantly offshore from Sutton to Anderby Creek.

Whilst only the tops of a few tree stumps were visible at Trusthorpe as a result of the unusually low tides this August, rather more was visible of the submerged forest at Cleethorpes on 14 August 2018 (when low tide was only 0.1 metres higher than on the previous day) and some pictures from this visit are shared below as a comparison. As was noted above, the forest at Cleethorpes is perhaps a thousand years younger than that further south at Mablethorpe–Anderby, being probably drowned in the Late Neolithic era, and both this and the lack of intensive beach replenishment as seen elsewhere on the Lincolnshire coast may explain why significantly more trees are visible here. In any case, as can be seen from the pictures below, a variety of fallen tree trunks, stumps and roots were easily to be seen on Cleethorpes beach without having to venture too far out, many well-persevered due to a layer of marine crustaceans overlying them.

A tree stump from the Late Neolithic drowned forest on Cleethorpes beach; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Two fallen trees from the Late Neolithic drowned forest on Cleethorpes beach; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Another tree trunk from the Late Neolithic drowned forest on Cleethorpes beach; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

A tree stump from the submerged prehistoric forest on Cleethorpes beach; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Another piece of the drowned Late Neolithic forest visible on Cleethorpes beach; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Notes

1.     See A. J. Clapham, The Characterisation of Two Mid-Holocene Submerged Forests (Liverpool John Moores University PhD Thesis, 1999), pp. 62–4, for a brief discussion.
2.     This and the following quotation are taken from J. C. de Serra, 'On a submarine forest, on the east coast of England', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 89 (1799), 145–56.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations unless otherwise stated, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2018, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Indo-Pacific beads from Europe to Japan? Another fifth- to seventh-century AD global distribution

The aim of the following post is to briefly discuss another global distribution from Late Antiquity, this time of Indo-Pacific beads. Indo-Pacific beads were made in southern India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia from the third century BC onwards, and by c. 400 to 700 AD they have an impressive distribution stretching from northern and eastern Africa across to China, Korea and Japan, with recent research demonstrating that they were exported to Europe at this time too.

Distribution of Indo-Pacific beads and Jatim beads during Late Antiquity, c.AD 400 to c.700, showing both findspots (dots) and production sites (stars) thought to be active during finds of the fifth to seventh centuries; Indo-Pacific beads are shown in orange and Jatim beads in red, with the latter included here for interest due to the fact that an example has been recovered from the Byzantine Red Sea port of Berenike alongside a sizeable quantity of Indo-Pacific. For a larger version of this map, click here. Note, the map is based on the sources listed in fn. 1 and is not exhaustive; rather, it is intended to offer an impression of the wide distribution of these beads across Eurasia and Africa in this era based on published discussions. Likewise, findspots of Jatim beads are very general for some territories and are only be plotted at a country/region level in these cases. Image: C. R. Green.

Previous posts on this site have discussed fifth- to seventh-century AD global distributions of Early Byzantine and Late Sasanian objects stretching across Eurasia and Africa. The following piece looks at an additional global distribution from Late Antiquity, this time of tiny glass beads produced in southern India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, which are recognizable both morphologically/typologically and by chemical analysis due to their use of Southern Asian high aluminous soda glass. These Indo-Pacific monochrome drawn beads were first produced in the third century BC and continued to be made through until the early twenty-first century in India, but they seem to have reached their widest pre-modern distribution from the late fourth century through to the seventh century.(1) For example, over 150,000 of these beads were discovered during excavations of the Yongningsi Temple site in the Northern Wei capital of Luoyang, China, founded by the Empress Wu in AD 516 and destroyed by lightning in 534.(2) Similarly, thousands of these beads have been recovered from fifth- to seventh-century Silla and Kofun tombs in Korea and Japan, and significant numbers have also been found on a number of sites in Africa—indeed, 51% of the beads discovered from the Late Roman/Early Byzantine Red Sea port of Berenike, Egypt, are Indo-Pacific beads, with finds from this site also including a probably sixth-century Jatim bead made on the Indonesian island of Java, and such beads are also found as far afield as sixth- to seventh-century Zanzibar (Tanzania) and the Late Garamantian kingdom in the Fazzan area of the Libyan Sahara.(3)

In this light, recent work by Constantin Pion and Bernard Gratuze is of particular interest as it extends this Late Antique distribution of Indo-Pacific beads even further, into the far west of Eurasia. They have demonstrated that thousands of these tiny beads were imported into continental Europe during the fifth and sixth centuries, being found on 44 sites stretching from Spain across to Serbia, with one cemetery in France (Saint-Laurent-des-Hommes, Dordogne) containing as many as 3,037 of these Indo-Pacific beads.(4) Pion and Gratuze date the graves containing these beads primarily to the period from the mid-fifth to later sixth centuries and note that these are the smallest of the glass beads that appear in early medieval European cemeteries, being predominantly c. 2.5mm or smaller in diameter and green in colour. In 75% of the graves where the deposition context is clear, these tiny imported beads were used within necklaces, whilst in 25% of graves they were used to decorate the embroidery of textiles, notably headresses of silk, and it is possible that they arrived in Europe already attached to such textiles as well as on their own (the latter witnessed by the discovery of uniform strings of these beads at the Byzantine Red Sea port of Berenike).

Indo-Pacific beads discovered in the Roman/Early Byzantine cemetery at Qau, Egypt, similar to those discovered in fifth- to sixth-century Europe, from bead assemblage UC74134 (image: Petrie Museum, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).

As to the context of these imports from India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia, it should be remembered that they do not stand alone as Red Sea and Indian Ocean products traded through to western Europe in the fifth to seventh centuries AD. Perhaps the most obvious of these other imports were the garnets used in the polychrome gold jewellery of this period that is found widely distributed across Europe, notable examples including the garnet cloisonné items discovered in the late fifth-century burial of Childeric (at Tournai, Belgium) and the probably mid- to late sixth-century shoulder clasps from the early seventh-century Sutton Hoo ship-burial (Suffolk, England); these garnets have been shown via archaeometric data to have had their origins in India and Sri Lanka.(5) Likewise, the cowrie shells that were popular all across early medieval northern Europe and Anglo-Saxon England as amulets and elements within necklaces are believed to have their origins either in the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean, whilst recent studies of the large number of ivory rings found both in fifth- to seventh-century England and on the continent indicate that they came from the tusks of African savannah elephants, probably obtained via the Red Sea from the east coast of Africa.(6) Lastly, it is likely that a number of other gemstones in use in Europe during this period, such as sapphires and perhaps amethysts, were definitely or possibly ultimately obtained from India/Sri Lanka, as were most certainly the spices such as pepper that are recorded in impressive quantities in Europe during this period and after: for example, the mid-seventh-century Merovingian king Chlothar III granted an annual rent of 30 pounds of pepper (grown in India) to the monastery of Corbie in northern France, along with sizeable amounts of other spices including cinnamon (from Sri Lanka) and cloves (from Indonesia).(7)

Finally, in addition to such Indo-Pacific beads, the map included at the start of this post also shows the distribution of Jatim beads made in East Java, Indonesia, and these deserve a brief concluding comment too. Such beads were produced from the end of the fourth century AD through until perhaps the seventh century, and have a fairly extensive distribution in Southeast Asia and across to Korea and Japan, where—like Indo-Pacific beads—they are found in Silla Kingdom and Kofun period tombs. Although no examples of these beads are (yet) known from sites in Europe, at least some definitely made their way to the fifth-/sixth-century Byzantine Empire, as an example was found at the Byzantine Red Sea port of Berenike, Egypt, in 1999. This is, in itself, fascinating and worthy of note. However, what is particularly interesting about these beads is that they also help illustrate trade in the opposite direction too, as recent compositional analysis indicates that both Early Byzantine and Sasanian Persian glass was used to produce some of these beads in East Java!(8)

The distribution of possible Red Sea and Indian Ocean imports in fifth- to seventh-century Britain; click here for a larger version of this map. Finds of garnet are indicated by diamonds, cowries by dots, ivory rings by open squares, and amethysts by stars (image: C. R. Green).

The stunning gold, garnet and millefiori glass shoulder-clasps from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial, using garnets imported from India or Sri Lanka; although they were deposited in the early seventh-century, Noël Adams has concluded that they were probably made in the mid- to late sixth century, see N. Adams, 'Rethinking the Sutton Hoo shoulder clasps and armour', in C. Entwistle & N. Adams (eds.), Intelligible Beauty: Recent Research on Byzantine Jewellery (London, 2010), pp. 83–112 (image: British Museum).

A probable elephant ivory ring from an early Anglo-Saxon bag, found at Ruskington, Lincolnshire; such rings from early Anglo-Saxon burials have been to shown to be cut from the base of tusk of an African savannah elephant (image: C. R. Green). 

A cowrie shell from the Red Sea or Indian Ocean found in an Anglo-Saxon grave in Lincolnshire (image: PAS).

The fifth- or sixth-century AD Escrick Ring, found in Yorkshire, set with a central cabochon sapphire gem from Sri Lanka (image: Yorkshire Museums Trust, CC BY-SA 4.0).

Notes

1.     The distribution map of Indo-Pacific and Jatim beads and production sites in the fifth to seventh centuries AD included here is based on a number of sources including C. Pion & B. Gratuze, 'Indo-Pacific glass beads from the Indian subcontinent in Early Merovingian graves (5th–6th century AD)', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 51–64; A. K. Carter, 'The Production and Exchange of Glass and Stone Beads in Southeast Asia from 500 BCE to the early second millennium CE: an assessment of the work of Peter Francis in light of recent research', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 16–29; S. A. Abraham, 'Glass beads and glass production in early South India: contextualizing Indo-Pacific bead manufacture', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 4–15; J. W. Lankton, L. Dussubieux & T. Rehren, 'A Study of Mid-first Millennium CE Southeast Asian Specialized Glass Beadmaking Traditions', in E. Bacus, I. Glover & P. Sharrock (eds.), Interpreting Southeast Asia’s Past: Monument, Image and Text (Singapore, 2008), pp. 335–56; K-W. Wang, Cultural and Socio-Economic Interaction Reflected by Glass Beads in Early Iron Age Taiwan (University of Sheffield PhD Thesis, 2016); J. Then-Obluska, 'Cross-cultural bead encounters at the Red Sea port site of Berenike, Egypt: preliminary assessment (seasons 2009–2012)', Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 24 (2015), 735–77; M. Wood, 'Glass beads from pre-European contact sub-Saharan Africa: Peter Francis's work revisited and updated', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 65–80; M. Wood et al, 'Zanzibar and Indian Ocean trade in the first millennium CE: the glass bead evidence', Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 9 (2017), 879–901; V. Leitch et al, 'Early Saharan trade: the inorganic evidence', in D. J. Mattingly et al (eds.), Trade in the Ancient Sahara and Beyond (Cambridge, 2017), pp. 287–340; A. K. Carter, S. A. Abraham & G. O. Kelly (eds.), Asia's Maritime Bead Trade, special issue of Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), pp. 1–104; P. Frances, Asia's Maritime Bead Trade: 300 B.C. to the Present (Honolulu, 2002); A. K. Carter, 'Beads, exchange networks and emerging complexity: a case study from Cambodia and Thailand (500 BCE–CE 500)', Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 25 (2015), 733–57;A. Jiayao, 'Glass beads found at the Yongningsi Temple', Journal of Glass Studies, 42 (2000), 81–4; J. W. Lankton, I-S. Lee & J. D. Allen, 'Javanese (Jatim) beads in late fifth to early sixth-century Korean (Silla) tombs', in Annales du 16e Congrès de l'Association Internationale pour l'Histoire du Verre (Nottingham, 2005), pp. 327–30; T. Power, The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500–1000 (Oxford, 2012), pp. 38, 41, 45; S. Lee & D. P. Leidy, Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom (New York, 2013), pp. 115–9; I. Nakai & J. Shirataki, 'Chemical Composition of Glass Beads Excavated from Kofun (ca. AD 2nd to 7th c.) in Western Japan by Portable XRF Showing Glass Trade among Asian Countries', in F. Gan et al (eds.), Recent Advances In The Scientific Research On Ancient Glass And Glaze (Hackensack, 2016), pp. 73–94; and K. Oga & T. Tomomi, 'Ancient Japan and the Indian Ocean interaction sphere: chemical compositions, chronologies and trade routes of imported glass beads in the Yayoi-Kofun periods (3rd century BCE – 7th century CE', Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology, 9 (2013), 35–65. Unfortunately, no cemeteries in England were examined as part of Pion & Gratuze's research into early medieval European Indo-European beads; however, it seems more than credible that these beads were also imported to early Anglo-Saxon England too given both that other exotic imports of the period are indeed found on both sides of the English Channel and that some of the beads recorded from fifth- to sixth-century graves in eastern England appear to be similar to Pion & Gratuze's continental examples. Consequently, one such English site that contains potential Indo-Pacific beads is plotted here to reflect this; my thanks are due to Dr Sue Brunning, the curator of the European Early Medieval Collections at the British Museum, and to Dr Rose Broadley, archaeological glass specialist and Kent Historic Environment Record officer, for sharing photographs and thoughts on some of these beads from early Anglo-Saxon Kent.
2.     A. Jiayao, 'Glass beads found at the Yongningsi Temple', Journal of Glass Studies, 42 (2000), 81–4.
3.     For Korea and Japan, see S. Lee & D. P. Leidy, Silla: Korea's Golden Kingdom (New York, 2013), pp. 115–9; I. Nakai & J. Shirataki, 'Chemical Composition of Glass Beads Excavated from Kofun (ca. AD 2nd to 7th c.) in Western Japan by Portable XRF Showing Glass Trade among Asian Countries', in F. Gan et al (eds.), Recent Advances In The Scientific Research On Ancient Glass And Glaze (Hackensack, 2016), pp. 73–94; and K. Oga & T. Tomomi, 'Ancient Japan and the Indian Ocean interaction sphere: chemical compositions, chronologies and trade routes of iimported glass beads in the Yayoi-Kofun periods (3rd century BCE – 7th century CE', Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology, 9 (2013), 35–65. On Berenike, Egypt, see for example T. Power, The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500–1000 (Oxford, 2012), pp. 38, 41, 45; J. Then-Obluska, 'Cross-cultural bead encounters at the Red Sea port site of Berenike, Egypt: preliminary assessment (seasons 2009–2012)', Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 24 (2015), 735–77; J. W. Lankton, I-S. Lee & J. D. Allen, 'Javanese (Jatim) beads in late fifth to early sixth-century Korean (Silla) tombs', in Annales du 16e Congrès de l'Association Internationale pour l'Histoire du Verre (Nottingham, 2005), pp. 327–30. On Indo-Pacific beads from the earliest layers at the Unguja Ukuu site, Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, see for example M. Wood, 'Glass beads from pre-European contact sub-Saharan Africa: Peter Francis's work revisited and updated', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 65–80; M. Wood et al, 'Zanzibar and Indian Ocean trade in the first millennium CE: the glass bead evidence', Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, 9 (2017), 879–901, and M. Wood, 'Glass beads from pre-European contact sub-Saharan Africa: Peter Francis's work revisited and updated', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 65–80. For the Garamantian kingdom, see V. Leitch et al, 'Early Saharan trade: the inorganic evidence', in D. J. Mattingly et al (eds.), Trade in the Ancient Sahara and Beyond (Cambridge, 2017), pp. 287–340.
4.     C. Pion & B. Gratuze, 'Indo-Pacific glass beads from the Indian subcontinent in Early Merovingian graves (5th–6th century AD)', Archaeological Research in Asia, 6 (2016), 51–64.
5.     For the origins of the garnets in use in Europe from the fifth to seventh centuries AD, see T. Calligaro et al, 'Contribution à l'étude des grenats mérovingiens (Basilique de Saint-Denis et autres collections du musée d'Archéologie nationale, diverses collections publiques et objets de fouilles récentes): nouvelles analyses gemmologiques et géochimiques effectuées au Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France', Antiquités Nationales, 38 (2006–07), 111–44; for a distribution map and discussion of garnet finds from Britain, see H. Hamerow, 'The circulation of garnets in the North Sea Zone, AD 400–700', in A. Hilgner, S. Greiff & D. Quast (eds.), Gemstones in the First Millennium AD (Mainz, 2017), pp. 71–86; for the date of the Sutton Hoo shoulder clasps, see N. Adams, 'Rethinking the Sutton Hoo shoulder clasps and armour', in C. Entwistle & N. Adams (eds.), Intelligible Beauty: Recent Research on Byzantine Jewellery (London, 2010), pp. 83–112.
6.     For the continent, see J. Drauschke, '"Byzantine" and "oriental" imports in the Merovingian Empire from the second half of the fifth to the beginning of the eighth century', in A. Harris (ed.), Incipient Globalisation? Long-Distance Contacts in the Sixth Century (Oxford, 2007), pp. 53–73 at p. 67, and J. Drauschke, 'Byzantine Jewellery? Amethyst beads in East and West during the early Byzantine period', in C. Entwistle & N. Adams (eds.), 'Intelligible Beauty': Recent Research on Byzantine Jewellery (London, 2010), pp. 50–60. For Britain, see J. W. Huggett, 'Imported grave goods and the early Anglo-Saxon economy', Medieval Archaeology, 32 (1988), pp. 63–96, and H. Geake, The Use of Grave-Goods in Conversion-Period England, c.600–c.850 (Oxford, 1997), for the distributions of cowries and ivory rings; recent work on finds from Rutland and Kent confirm that the ivory in use in this era was indeed elephant ivory, e.g. seven of the nine ivory rings examined from Empingham Anglo-Saxon cemetery, Rutland, could be confirmed to be elephant ivory cut from the base of a tusk: G. Edwards & J. Watson, Ancient Monuments Laboratory Report 31/91: Mineral Preserved Organic Material from Empingham Anglo-Saxon Cemetery, Rutland (London, 1991), p. 2.
7.     D. W. Rollason, Early Medieval Europe 300-1050: The Birth of Western Society (London, 2012), p. 160; I. Wood, The Merovingian Kingdoms 450–751 (London, 1994), pp. 215–16.
8.     J. W. Lankton, L. Dussubieux & T. Rehren, 'A study of mid-first millennium CE Southeast Asian specialized glass beadmaking traditions', in E. Bacus, I. Glover & P. Sharrock (eds.), Interpreting Southeast Asia’s Past: Monument, Image and Text (Singapore, 2008), pp. 335–56; J. W. Lankton, I-S. Lee & J. D. Allen, 'Javanese (Jatim) beads in late fifth to early sixth-century Korean (Silla) tombs', in Annales du 16e Congrès de l'Association Internationale pour l'Histoire du Verre (Nottingham, 2005), pp. 327–30; T. Power, The Red Sea from Byzantium to the Caliphate: AD 500–1000 (Oxford, 2012), pp. 39–40; J. Then-Obluska, 'Cross-cultural bead encounters at the Red Sea port site of Berenike, Egypt: preliminary assessment (seasons 2009–2012)', Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean, 24 (2015), 735–77 at p. 751.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations unless otherwise stated, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2018, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Phillack and the Hayle Estuary in the Late Roman and early medieval periods

The existence of early medieval Christian and secular centres in the Hayle Estuary, Cornwall, was mentioned in a previous post. The aim of the following post is simply to share—for the sake of interest—a number of pictures of some of the key sites and finds from this area, not least the important late fourth-/fifth-century chi-rho stone now built into Phillack Church, along with a brief discussion of the Late and post-Roman archaeological evidence from here.

St Ives Bay and the Hayle Estuary on Christopher Saxton's 1576 map of Cornwall, showing Phillack, Lelant, St Ives and Gwithian (image: PD via the BSJW Trust).

A topographic map of the Hayle Estuary overlaid on top of the satellite image of the area. Marked on the map are Phillack church, Carnsew fort, Lelant church, and the early chapel and fourth-/fifth-century burial site just to the north-east of Lelant church, marked here by a simple cross. The coastal zone, estuary and low-lying land is shown in blue, with the surrounding higher land shown in green, yellow, orange and purple, in order of increasing height; note, with regard to the early extent of the East Pool of the estuary before the modern era, the British Geological Survey map of this area accords relatively well with this topographic map, showing Holocene tidal flat (estuarine) deposits extending eastwards beyond the current limit of the estuary across to approximately the A30 Loggans Moor Roundabout. Click here for a larger version of this map (image: C. R. Green, based on a topographic map from topographic-map.com that incorporates satellite imagery © 2018 Google, TerraMetrics, Data SIO, NOAA, U.S. Navy, NGA, GEBCO, and map data © 2018 Google, used in accordance with their attribution guidelines).

The Hayle Estuary is one of the few natural safe landing-ports of any size on the north coast of Cornwall and, as such, it is perhaps unsurprising that there should be evidence for activity here during the Roman and early medieval eras. In this light, the evidence from Phillack (or Egloshayle), which overlooks the East Pool of the Hayle Estuary may be of particular interest. A significant quantity of mainly Late Roman coins have been discovered from a number of sites in Phillack in recent years, with this regionally unusual concentration of Late Roman non-hoarded coinage including coins from eastern Mediterranean mints such as Alexandria and Heraclea that are rarely represented amongst site-finds in Britain.(1) Needless to say, such finds have attracted attention, being both supportive of the idea that the Hayle Estuary might have functioned as a Roman-era landing-port and also of there having potentially been a direct maritime trading link between Cornwall and the Mediterranean in the fourth century AD. Any such trading links between the north coast of Cornwall and Mediterranean would obviously prefigure the well-known post-Roman trading links between these areas, which are primarily evidenced by extensive finds of fifth- to sixth-century eastern Mediterranean imported pottery in the county (as discussed in a number of previous posts), and, as such, are of considerable interest, with the coins found at Phillack thus perhaps reflecting items lost or exchanged by seaborne long-distance traders who landed in the Hayle Estuary after following similar trade-routes to those in use in the following centuries.(2)

Two fourth-century AD Roman coins minted in the eastern Mediterranean and found on two different sites at Phillack. The top coin is a copper alloy nummus of Constantine I, mint of Heraclea, c. AD 330–3; the bottom coin is a copper alloy nummus of Constantius II, mint of Alexandria, c. AD 340. Click here for a larger version of these coins (images: PAS, CORN-367F46 and CORN-6D9753).

Phillack church; the church here was extensively rebuilt in the nineteenth century, but contains an unusual amount of physical evidence for post-Roman/early medieval activity. Click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Moving into the fifth and sixth centuries, there is good evidence for Phillack and the Hayle Estuary continuing to be a site of some significance. First and foremost, links with the eastern Mediterranean are indicated by the discovery at Phillack of a rim-sherd of late fifth- or early sixth-century Phocaean Red Slip-Ware from what is now western Turkey associated with a number of pre-Norman long-cist graves, some of which were cut into the underlying bedrock, during a limited excavation of the edge of the churchyard due to road-widening work in 1973.(3) Second, an important and very early chi-rho stone was found in the church walls during nineteenth century rebuilding work and was subsequently incorporated into the gable of the south porch. Charles Thomas has argued that this stone almost certainly dates from the early to mid-fifth century AD and the stone has subsequently been compared to early chi-rhos from the continent and eastern Mediterranean, which is intriguing given the above finds from Phillack and the potential Early Byzantine origins of St Ia, the patron saint of nearby St Ives.(4)

Other evidence and finds from Phillack develop this picture further. For example, a probably late sixth- or early seventh-century memorial stone inscribed with the name CLOTUALI MOBRATTI still stands in the churchyard and the church also seems to have been the focus for more than a hundred early cist burials, found both within the current churchyard and in its immediate vicinity, whilst Phillack's original patron saint Felec is named in a tenth-century list of Cornish saints, suggesting an early origin and significance. Taken together, this concentration of early medieval evidence has been considered indicative of Phillack probably being a significant and very early Christian centre and burial site from the fifth century onwards, potentially one that was monastic in character and comparable with early Welsh monasteries such as Llandough, and Charles Thomas moreover raises the possibility that Christianity may have been introduced to here via the sea from Gaul or even further afield.(5)

A probably fifth-century AD small chi-rho stone from the porch gable of the church at Phillack, or Egloshayle, photographed with raking evening light to show up the surface detail. This chi-rho which has been compared to early chi-rhos from the continent and eastern Mediterranean, e.g. S. M. Pearce, South-Western Britain in the Early Middle Ages (Leicester, 2004), p. 244, and C. Thomas, And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain (Cardiff 1994), pp. 199–200. Click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

A close-up view of the fifth-century Chi-Rho stone from Phillack; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Left: drawing of the Phillack chi-rho stone (photo: C. R. Green, from an original drawing by Charles Thomas in the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro). Right: drawing of the other early chi-rho stone found in Cornwall, from St Helen's Chapel, Cape Cornwall, near St Just; the original was taken to St Just church where it was displayed for a while, until it was apparently thrown down a well in the Rectory garden in the nineteenth century by a Rector who objected to it as being 'Roman Catholic' (image: Langdon 1893, plate I, Internet Archive). Click here for a larger version of this combined image.

A perhaps late sixth- or seventh-century memorial stone inscribed with the name CLOTUALI MOBRATTI in the churchyard at Phillack, and a slightly modified drawing of the lettering from R. A. S. Macalister, Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum (Dublin, 1945), vol. 1 (images: C. R. Green & Macalister 1945).

In addition to the finds from Phillack above the East Pool, there are also a number of interesting features around the Carnsew Pool, to the south of the mouth of the Hayle Estuary. This is the location for Carnsew Hillfort, a small coastal multivallate hillfort that commands the entrance to the Hayle Estuary and sits atop a low cliff around 15 metres high. The hillfort—which has been partially destroyed by ploughing, a deep railway cutting, and the construction of an ornamental park along its ramparts in 1845 ('The Plantation')—dates originally from the Iron Age, but there are indications of potential later activity. One of these is a Late Roman hoard of several thousand coins apparently deposited in the late third century in a bronze container; this was found a little to the west of the hillfort in 1825, when workmen were taking away the upper part of the cliff and the adjoining field during the construction of the Hayle causeway. Even more interesting is a late fifth- or very early sixth-century AD burial and associated inscribed memorial stone that originally stood at the foot of the hillfort on its eastern side. The stone pillar found by the grave in 1843 contains an unusually long Latin inscription running to ten lines which has been read as follows: 'Here in peace lately went to rest Cunaide. Here in the grave she lies. She lived 33 years.'(6) In light of this, it has been suggested that Carnsew Hillfort may well have had a role to play in our period, perhaps as a secondary centre of secular power within the post-Roman kingdom of Dumnonia, complementing an ecclesiastical centre at Phillack, with such a centre potentially being responsible for the distribution of Mediterranean imports within western Cornwall.(7)

Carnsew Hillfort, Hayle; the photo shows the north-east corner of this multivallate coastal hillfort, which was somewhat landscaped in the nineteenth century to become 'The Plantation'. Click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

The view from Carnsew Hillfort, which commands the entrance to the Hayle Estuary and sits atop a low cliff around 15 metres high. Click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Left: photograph of the late fifth- or very early sixth-century Cunaide Stone; this originally stood at the foot of the hillfort by a grave, but was set into a wall of The Plantation (a Victorian park created from the landscaped ramparts of Carnsew Hillfort) after its rediscovery in 1843 and was subsequently removed to Hayle Heritage Centre in December 2017. Right: drawing of the lettering on the stone from R. A. S. Macalister, Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum (Dublin, 1945), vol. 1; note, Charles Thomas reads the inscription differently to Macalister: HIC PACE NVP(er) REQVIEVIT CVNAIDE HIC (IN) TVMVLO IACIT VIXIT ANNOS XXXIII, 'Here in peace lately went to rest Cunaide. Here in the grave she lies. She lived 33 years.' (Photograph and image: CISP & Macalister 1945).

A number of coins from a Late Roman hoard deposited in the late third century in a bronze container on the edge of the Hayle Estuary; it was found a little to the west of Carnsew Hillfort in 1825, when workmen were taking away the upper part of the cliff and the adjoining field during the construction of the Hayle causeway. Click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Phillack Church seen from Carnsew Hillfort, Hayle, with the sand dunes of The Towans behind. Click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

If there were arguably Late/post-Roman centres within the Hayle Estuary at Phillack and Carnsew, it is worth noting that they didn't stand alone. For example, on the western side of the entrance to the estuary at Lelant there is a probably fourth- or fifth-century AD burial site and an apparently early chapel located close to the cliff edge that was uncovered during the laying of the railway to St Ives in the late nineteenth century, and it has moreover been suggested that the churchyard within which Lelant parish church now sits may preserve the rectangular platform of a Roman fort that was well placed to control access to the estuary.(8) Likewise of potential interest is the Neolithic tor enclosure and Iron Age multivallate hillfort of Trencrom Hill, which is located 1.5 miles to the west of the Hayle Estuary. This impressive site not only overlooks both the Hayle Estuary and Carnsew Hillfort, but also has good views across St Ives Bay—whose skyline it dominates—to the north and Mount's Bay/St Michael's Mount on the south coast. Although the site is unexcavated, an early medieval inscribed memorial stone has been identified in a stile at the foot of the hill and there are reports of early medieval grass-marked wares having been found on the fort, which might offer a degree of support for Charles Thomas's suggestion of some sort of role for Trencrom Hill in the post-Roman era.(9)

Lelant Church and churchyard as seen from Carnsew Hillfort, Hayle, showing the intervisibility of the two sites; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

A closer view of Lelant's rectangular churchyard which sits around 1.5 metres above the surrounding ground; it has been suggested that the churchyard may preserve the rectangular platform of a Roman fort that was well placed to control access to the estuary. Click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

View of the entrance to the Hayle Estuary from the north-east corner of Lelant churchyard; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Trencrom Hill as seen above the Hayle Estuary near to Carnsew Hillfort; the hillfort dominates the western skyline both from the estuary and from St Ives Bay. Click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

A view of St Ives Bay and the entrance to the Hayle Estuary from Trencrom Hill; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

St Michael's Mount and Mount's Bay on the south coast of Cornwall as seen from Trencrom Hill; click here for a larger version of this photograph (image: C. R. Green).

Notes

1.     R. D. Penhallurick, Ancient and Early Medieval Coins from Cornwall & Scilly, Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication 45 (London, 2009), pp. 183–90; M. Allen, P. De Jersey & S. Moorhead, 'Coin Register 2007', British Numismatic Journal, 77 (2007), p. 316; A. Tyacke, 'The work of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Cornwall', Cornish Archaeology, 50 (2011), pp. 71–6 at pp. 74–5; Portable Antiquities Scheme database, e.g. CORN-6D9753, a copper alloy nummus of Constantius II, mint of Alexandria, c. AD 340, and CORN-367F46, a copper alloy nummus of Constantine I, mint of Heraclea, c. AD 330–33.
2.     S. Moorhead, 'Early Byzantine copper coins found in Britain – a review in light of new finds recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme', in O. Tekin (ed.), Ancient History, Numismatics and Epigraphy in the Mediterranean World (Istanbul, 2009), pp. 263–74 at pp. 264 (n. 4) & 266; I. Tompsett, Social Dynamics in South-West England AD 350–1150: An Exploration of Maritime Oriented Identity in the Atlantic Approaches and Western Channel Region (University of Nottingham PhD Thesis, 2012), pp. 377, 423–4; S. Moorhead, 'A group of fourth-century Roman coins from Phillack Towans, Cornwall', Portable Antiquities Scheme Annual Report 2005/06 (London, 2006), pp. 56–7; S. Moorhead, 'Curator's report: site scatter of 35 Roman coins', Portable Antiquities Scheme entry IOW-85AAB2.
3.     C. Thomas, Phillack Church (Gwithian, 1990), pp. 24–5; C. Thomas, And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain (Cardiff, 1994), pp. 197–8; C. Thomas, A Provisional List of Imported Pottery in Post-Roman Western Britain and Ireland, Institute of Cornish Studies Special Report No. 7 (Redruth, 1981), p. 6; C. Thomas, 'The context of Tintagel: a new model for the diffusion of post-Roman Mediterranean imports', Cornish Archaeology, 27 (1988), 7–25 at p. 22.
4.     C. Thomas, And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain (Cardiff, 1994), pp. 198–200; S. M. Pearce, South-Western Britain in the Early Middle Ages (Leicester, 2004), pp. 12, 149–51, 244; E. Okasha, Corpus of Early Christian Inscribed Stones of South-west Britain (Leicester, 2003), pp. 205–07.
5.     C. Thomas, And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain (Cardiff, 1994), pp. 197–8, 206, 284–6; S. Turner, 'Making a Christian landscape: early medieval Cornwall', in M. Carver (ed.), The Cross Goes North: Processes of Conversion in Northern Europe, 300–1300 (Woodbridge, 2003), pp. 171–94 at pp. 175–6, 178; S. Turner, Making a Christian Landscape: How Christianity Shaped the Countryside in Early-Medieval Cornwall, Devon and Wessex (Exeter, 2006), pp. 35–6; I. Tompsett, Social Dynamics in South-West England AD 350–1150: An Exploration of Maritime Oriented Identity in the Atlantic Approaches and Western Channel Region (University of Nottingham PhD Thesis, 2012), pp. 39, 132–3, 138, 377–81; C. Thomas, Phillack Church (Gwithian, 1990), pp. 9–10, 25.
6.     For Carnsew Hillfort, see Historic England, 'Small multivallate hillfort, early Christian memorial stone and C19 landscaped paths at Carnsew', List entry no. 1006720. Details of the Roman coin hoard found just to the west are in R. D. Penhallurick, Ancient and Early Medieval Coins from Cornwall & Scilly, Royal Numismatic Society Special Publication 45 (London, 2009), pp. 50–1. For the probably fifth-century burial at Carnsew, see the extensive discussion in C. Thomas, And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain (Cardiff, 1994), pp. 190–4, translation of the inscription from Carnsew at p. 193.
7.     On Carnsew as a potential important secondary centre of power within the Dumnonian kingdom, see C. Thomas, 'The context of Tintagel. A new model for the diffusion of post-Roman Mediterranean imports', Cornish Archaeology, 27 (1988), 7–25, especially p. 16 and fig. 3 (p. 17); C. Thomas, Tintagel: Arthur and Archaeology (London, 1993), pp. 95–6; C. Thomas, And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain (Cardiff, 1994), pp. 193–5.
8.     For the fourth-/fifth-century burial site and early chapel at Lelant, see I. Tompsett, Social Dynamics in South-West England AD 350–1150: An Exploration of Maritime Oriented Identity in the Atlantic Approaches and Western Channel Region (University of Nottingham PhD Thesis, 2012), pp. 134 (fig. 45), 375 (fig. 201), and 379–81; C. Noall, 'Nineteenth-Century discoveries at Lelant', Cornish Archaeology, 3 (1964), 34–6; Cornwall & Scilly Historic Environment Record no. 31061; C. Thomas, And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain (Cardiff 1994), p. 198, fig. 12.1. For the possible Roman origins of the current Lelant graveyard, see N. Cahill, Hayle Historical Assessment, Cornwall: Main Report (Truro, 2000), p. 21; Cornwall & Scilly Historic Environment Record no. 140942; P. Herring et al, 'Early medieval Cornwall', Cornish Archaeology, 50 (2011), 263–86 at pp. 269–70.
9.     For the suggestion that Trencrom Hill may have had a significant role in post-Roman western Cornwall, see C. Thomas, And Shall These Mute Stones Speak? Post-Roman Inscriptions in Western Britain (Cardiff 1994), p. 194; for the early medieval inscribed stone, see Cornwall & Scilly Historic Environment Record no. 31051 and Celtic Inscribed Stones Project TCROM/1, online at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/archaeology/cisp/database/stone/tcrom_1.html; for the report of early medieval grass-marked pottery from Trencrom Hill, see C. Thomas, 'Evidence for post-Roman occupation of Chun Castle, Cornwall', Antiquaries Journal, 36 (1956), 75–8 at p. 78.

The content of this post and page, including any original illustrations, is Copyright © Caitlin R. Green, 2018, All Rights Reserved, and should not be used without permission.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

An eleventh-century Chinese coin in Britain and the evidence for East Asian contacts in the medieval period

This post is concerned with a rather curious and unique find of an eleventh-century Northern Song dynasty coin from China in Cheshire, looking first at its archaeological context before going on to explore the evidence for a degree of contact between people from East Asia and Britain in the medieval era, a topic that is of interest whatever the origins of this particular coin may be.

A Northern Song dynasty coin from China, minted during the Xining reign between 1068 and 1077, found in Cheshire; Click here for a larger version of this picture (image: PAS).

The coin in question was found in the Vale Royal area of Cheshire and has been identified by the British Museum as a cast copper alloy Chinese coin from the Northern Song dynasty (AD 960–1127), minted during the Xining reign period of Emperor Shenzong of Song between 1068 and 1077. Curiously, it appears to be a unique find from Britain—40 individual Chinese coins and one hoard are recorded on the Portable Antiquities Scheme, but only this eleventh-century example is of medieval date, with all of the other 146 Chinese coins being minted between the mid-seventeenth and early twentieth centuries. Needless to say, this coin has consequently been the subject of an understandable degree of scepticism, with the PAS record suggesting that it is 'doubtful that this is a genuine medieval find... more likely a more recent loss from an curated collection'. The aim of the following post is simply to ask whether it is at all possible that such a coin might have arrived in Britain during the medieval era, and, in doing so, review the evidence for contacts between East Asia and Britain in that period whatever our conclusion on this coin may be.

Looking first at the coin itself, recent losses or deliberate modern depositions of exotic finds are certainly encountered in Britain, including a group of 107 Chinese coins dated 1659 to 1850 found buried together at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria; another group of four coins from Foxhall, Suffolk; and a lovely Sasanian carnelian finger ring from East Sussex that was found with an odd collection of material of various dates including a modern replica of a Byzantine coin. Nonetheless, although the possibility of a loss from a curated collection certainly cannot be discounted, it can be perhaps overused as an explanation for 'surprising' finds—as Martin Biddle has observed, 'the proverbial absent-minded college don or cathedral canon, dropping items of his collection here, there and everywhere... has never seemed a very convincing character', and in recent years the hyper-scepticism over finds of at least some exotic coins in Britain has abated somewhat.(1) Given the above, it is worth looking at the local context of this medieval Chinese coin, to assess whether there are any positive reasons to believe it is part of such a 'suspicious' grouping of finds or deposited curated collection. The coin itself is one of a discrete group of 24 finds found in an area less than 100 metres in all directions from the findspot, and aside from the coin being considered here, none of these other finds appear especially 'suspicious' or exotic. They consist of two worn Roman coins (a common find across England, with 263,791 recorded on the PAS as of March 2018); two late medieval lead weights, two pieces of medieval copper-alloy casting waste, and two medieval or post-medieval weights; and fifteen post-medieval finds, dating from the sixteenth to early eighteenth centuries and ranging from coins of Elizabeth I to rings, trade weights and musket balls. All told, the post-Roman finds from the site suggest relatively unremarkable activity on the site from c. 1300 to c. 1750, with nothing else found that might hint at a deliberate exotic deposition or loss from a curated collection.

Looking more widely at the context of such a coin, whilst no other medieval Chinese coins are known from Britain, this find would not stand entirely alone as a medieval-era East Asian import to these islands if it is genuine, with two British sites having apparently produced such items from stratified contexts. One of these medieval imports is a sherd of Chinese blue-and-white porcelain from a small cup or bowl that was found in a late fourteenth-century context at Lower Brook Street, Winchester. The other import is a small piece of bronze with the character 藤 engraved upon it, possibly representing the name 藤原, Fujiwara, apparently found in a context of c. 1300 in the north bank of the Thames at London.(2) Of course, both finds are markedly later in date than the apparently eleventh-century coin found in Cheshire, as are the other finds from the site where the coin was discovered (c. 1300–1750) and, indeed, the other non-textile East Asian imports known from elsewhere in medieval Europe, such as the fragments of a small Chinese qingbai bowl that were recovered from a late thirteenth-century context in the medieval castle at Lucera, Italy.(3) However, this chronological difference is perhaps not such a major problem as might be assumed. Northern Song coins appear to have been minted in exceptional quantities and to have remained in circulation long after their initial minting date, so that in the fourteenth century around 88% of the coins both in circulation within China and exported outside of it seem to have been actually minted under the Northern Song dynasty (960–1126). As such, if the Northern Song coin from Cheshire is a genuine medieval import then it might quite credibly have arrived at any point up to perhaps the late fourteenth century, resolving the above issue.(4)

The Mongol Empire at its greatest extent in the late thirteenth century (image: Wikimedia Commons).

Such a potential thirteenth or fourteenth-century context for the arrival of an eleventh-century Chinese coin in Britain is not only supported by the archaeological evidence, but also by documentary sources. These texts make reference to both the presence of people from Britain and Ireland in East Asia and the presence of people who have, or may have, travelled from these regions in Britain during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. For example, the Flemish Franciscan missionary and explorer William of Rubruck (d. c. 1293) encountered a man of English origin whilst visiting Mongolia in 1254 AD. The man in question, named Basil, was living at Karakorum (near Kharkhorin, Mongolia), the capital of the Mongol Empire between 1235 and 1260, and is described as 'the son of an Englishman'; he is also probably the 'nephew of a bishop' that William later mentions that he met at Karakorum and who he states was captured by the Mongols at Belgrade.(5) Moreover, Basil is not the only Englishman known to have been living among the Mongols during the mid-thirteenth century. Ivo of Narbonne, for example, reported in a letter copied by Matthew Paris in his Chronica Majora that the 'prince of Dalmatia' captured eight fugitives in 1242 during the surprise withdrawal of the Mongols from Central Europe, just as they were at the gates of Vienna, and that these captives included 'an Englishman' who
had twice come as an envoy and interpreter from the king of Tattars to the king of Hungary, and plainly threatened and warned them of the evils which afterwards happened, unless he should give up himself and his kingdom to be subject to the Tattars.(6)
This English envoy of the Mongols (Tatars/'Tartars') was apparently an exile from England who had lost all he owned to gambling at Acre, Israel, and then wandered 'in a shameful state of want' further east into modern Iraq and beyond before the Mongols persuaded him to join them due to his apparent skill with languages, at which point he then travelled with them until he returned to Europe and was finally captured in Austria. Given that he had clearly travelled huge distances with the Mongols and, most especially, his role as envoy and interpreter for the Mongol khan, it seems possible that he was an earlier English visitor than Basil to the Mongol capital of Karakorum, Mongolia.

A detail from Andrea di Bonaiuto's fresco 'The Way of Salvation/The Church Militant and the Church Triumphant', c. 1365–8, with the figures at the centre identified by Jacques Paviot as an English knight of the Garter talking to a Mongol (Paviot, 2000, p. 318; Delvin, 1929); the fresco is located in the Spanish Chapel at Santa Maria Novella, Florence. Click here for a larger version of this image (image: Wikimedia Commons).

In addition to individual English people who were living amongst the Mongols on their own account or as slaves in the thirteenth century, there were also direct diplomatic contacts between Mongol rulers and the English then. Of particular note is the evidence for unidentified Mongol envoys ('Tartars') actually crossing the Channel to visit England in 1264, much to the apparent disgruntlement of the papal legate Guy Foulques—the future Pope Clement IV—who waiting in Boulogne for his own authorisation to cross!(7) Likewise, in 1287–8 the Turkic/Chinese Christian monk and diplomat Rabban Bar Sauma, originally from Beijing, China, visited Europe as an emissary of the Mongol Ilkhanate that stretched from Iraq to northern Afghanistan and met with King Edward I of England in Gascony:
And they went forth from that place, that is to say, from Paris, to go to the king of England, to Kasonia [Gascony]. And having arrived in twenty days at their city [Saint-Sever], the inhabitants of the city went forth to meet them, and they asked them, "Who are you?"And Rabban Sauma and his companions replied, "We are ambassadors, and we have come from beyond the eastern seas, and we are envoys of the King, and of the Patriarch, and the Kings of the Mongols."And the people made haste and went to the king and informed him [of their arrival], and the king welcomed them gladly, and the people introduced them into his presence. And those who were with Rabban Sauma straightway gave to the king the Pukdana [i.e. letter of authorisation] of King Arghun, and the gifts which he had sent to him, and the Letter of Mar Catholicus. And [King Edward] rejoiced greatly, and he was especially glad when Rabban Sauma talked about the matter of Jerusalem. And he said, "We the kings of these cities bear upon our bodies the sign of the Cross, and we have no subject of thought except this matter. And my mind is relieved on the subject about which I have been thinking, when I hear that King Arghun thinks as I think."And the king commanded Rabban Sauma to celebrate the Eucharist, and he performed the Glorious Mysteries; and the king and his officers of state stood up, and the king partook of the Sacrament, and made a great feast that day. 
Then Rabban Sauma said to the king, "We beseech you, O king, to give [your servants] in order to show us whatever churches and shrines there are in this country, so that when we go back to the Children of the East we may give them descriptions of them."And the king replied, "Thus shall you say to King Arghun and to all the Orientals: We have seen a thing than which there is nothing more wonderful, that is to say, that in the countries of the Franks there are not two Confessions of Faith, but only one Confession of Faith, namely, that which confesses Jesus Christ; and all the Christians confess it."And King Edward gave us many gifts and money for the expenses of the road.(8)
The route taken by Rabban Bar Sauma during his journey from Beijing to Gascony in the 1280s (image: Wikimedia Commons).

Yet another Mongol envoy named Buscarello de Ghizolfi, a Genoese adventurer who had settled in Persia, visited London in January 1290, accompanied by three squires who were probably themselves Mongols. Further envoys were sent from the Mongol Ilkhanate later that year, including a Mongol named Zagan and his nephew Gorgi, who were baptized by the Pope before being sent on to England on 2 December 1290 (accompanied again by Buscarello de Ghizolfi), and a certain Saabedin Archaon—a Nestorian cleric who had previously travelled to the west with Rabban Bar Sauma—who arrived after Zagan had left for England and who was, in turn, sent on with letters of credence in his favour addressed to Edward I by Pope Nicholas IV on 31 December.(9) Envoys were also dispatched in the opposite direction, with the regime at Acre sending the English Dominican friar David of Ashby eastwards in 1260 (he returned in 1274, accompanying the Mongol embassy that attended the Second Council of Lyon in that year) and King Edward I sending Geoffrey of Langley with Buscarello de Ghizolfi to the Mongol Ilkhanate capital of Tabriz, Iran, on a diplomatic mission in 1291.

In the early fourteenth century there is further evidence for direct diplomatic contact with both the Mongols and potentially China, which had been partly under Mongol control in the north since the first half of the thirteenth century and was ruled from 1271 by the Yuan Dynasty of China, founded by the Mongol ruler Kublai Khan. For example, in 1313 the royal household records for Edward II record a visit to England by an ambassador of 'the emperor of the Tartars', who Jacques Paviot suggests may have been representing the Great Khan in China, something perhaps supported by the fact that he was one William of Villeneuve.(10) This Franciscan missionary was one of seven suffragan bishops consecrated by Pope Clement V in 1307 to serve in the newly created archdiocese of Beijing, China (Khanbaliq), at the request of John of Montecorvino, the founder of the Chinese mission in the late thirteenth century. William is usually believed to have made it to India but to have then given up and not carried on to China with the others, instead returning to Italy, being next recorded at Avignon, France, in 1318.(11) However, this seems not to take account of the English record of his activities, which suggests that he returned to Europe as a Mongol envoy of 'the emperor of the Tartars' in 1313. Moreover, it is worth noting that Edward II sent a letter to the Emperor of China on 22 May 1313 in which he asks him to him to aid and protect the bishop William of Villeneuve, something that suggests that not only did William returned to Europe in 1313 as an envoy of the Great Khan in China, but also that he then aimed to return there.(12)

A fifteenth-century image of James of Ireland and Odoric of Pordenone in Sumatra, from BnF Français 2810, f.104r; click here for a larger version of this illustration (image: BnF).

In addition to the above, notice should also be made of the journey of James of Ireland, a cleric who travelled with Odoric of Pordenone to the east in the 1320s. Odoric's own account of the journey, written in 1330 after their return to Europe, indicates that they visited India, Sumatra, Java, and Champa (southern Vietnam), before arriving at Guangzhou, China, in 1323–4 and reaching Beijing in 1325, where they stayed for 3 years before travelling back home; Odoric died in 1331 at Udine, north-eastern Italy, and a present of 2 marks was subsequently paid to his companion, James of Ireland, according to the public books of Udine, who unfortunately then disappears from the pages of history.(13) Whether other subjects of the English king undertook similar journeys eastwards to Southeast Asia and China in the later thirteenth and fourteenth centuries is unrecorded, but it is by no means implausible that they did so. Certainly, we know of a number of European merchants who travelled to China at this time, from Marco Polo and Peter of Lucalongo in the late thirteenth century onwards, and there seem to have been communities of Genoese and Venetian merchants living in Yuan China during the fourteenth century, with Latin tombstones moreover known from Yangzhou and Zaiton (Quanzhou) in China. In this light, it is interesting to note that late medieval English coins have apparently been found in Vietnam.(14)

In conclusion, it may well be that this apparently eleventh-century Chinese coin from Cheshire is a modern loss from a curated collection, for example. However, given the lack of other 'exotic' items from the site where it was found, the possibility that it was actually a genuine medieval loss can perhaps be at least considered. Certainly, coins like this seem to have continued to circulate in significant numbers in China well into the fourteenth century, and in this light it is interesting that the other, largely unremarkable, post-Roman artefacts found at the site range in date from c. 1300–1750. Likewise, it is worth noting that there is, in fact, a small quantity of archaeological evidence for East Asian imports into thirteenth-/fourteenth-century England and, perhaps more importantly, a significant quantity of documentary evidence referring to both the presence of people from Britain and Ireland in East Asia and the presence of people who had, or who may have, travelled from these regions in England during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. In consequence, a potential context can be constructed for such a coin having arrived in England in c. 1300 or a little after, although this is—of course—not the same thing as saying that such an origin is by any means certain, especially whilst this coin remains a unique find in Britain.

The tombstone of Katerina Ilioni, daughter of the Genoese merchant Domenico Ilioni, dated 1342 and found at Yangzhou, China; click here for a larger version of this image (image: Wikimedia Commons).

Notes

1.     See, for example, M. Biddle, 'Ptolemaic coins from Winchester', Antiquity, 49 (1975), 213–15; S. Moorhead, 'Early Byzantine copper coins found in Britain – a review in light of new finds recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme', in O. Tekin (ed.), Ancient History, Numismatics and Epigraphy in the Mediterranean World (Istanbul, 2009), pp. 263–74; E. S. Georganteli, 'Byzantine coins', in M. Biddle (ed.), The Winchester Mint and Coins and Related Finds from the Excavations of 1961-71, Winchester Studies 8 (Oxford, 2012), pp. 669–78; and C. Morrisson, 'Byzantine coins in early medieval Britain: a Byzantinist's assessment', in R. Naismith et al (ed.), Early Medieval Monetary History: Studies in Memory of Mark Blackburn (London, 2014), pp. 207–42.
2.     D. Whitehouse, 'Chinese porcelain in medieval Europe', Medieval Archaeology, 16 (1972), 63–78 at p. 68; P. Ottaway, Winchester: Swithun’s ‘City of Happiness and Good Fortune’: An Archaeological Assessment (Oxford, 2017), online; M. Cooper, 'Cultural survey, 1991', Monumenta Nipponica, 47 (1992), 99–105 at p. 100. My thanks are due to Andrew West for drawing my attention to the London find.
3.     D. Whitehouse, 'Chinese porcelain in medieval Europe', Medieval Archaeology, 16 (1972), 63–78 at pp. 67–8.
4.     On the long life of Northern Song coins and their medieval export to Western Asia and East Africa, see J. Cribb & D. Potts, 'Chinese coin finds from Arabia and the Arabian Gulf', Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy, 7 (1996), 108–18. Note, both coins and pottery seem to have been exported westwards from China in the medieval period, see for example Bing Zhao, 'Chinese-style ceramics in East Africa from the 9th to 16th century: A case of changing values ​​and symbols in the multi-partner global trade', Afriques, 6 (2015), online at http://journals.openedition.org/afriques/1836.
5.     W. W. Rockhill (trans.), The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253–55 (London, 1900), pp. 211, 222–3.
6.     J. A. Giles (trans.), Matthew Paris's English History (London, 1889), vol. 1, pp. 470–1.
7.     J. Paviot, 'England and the Mongols (c. 1260–1330)', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 10 (2000), 305–18 at p. 308.
8.     E. A. Wallis Budge (trans.), The Monks of Kublai Khan, Emperor of China; or, The History of the Life and Travels of Rabban Sawma (London, 1928), pp. 185–7, spelling slightly modernised and adjusted for consistency.
9.     J. Paviot, 'England and the Mongols (c. 1260–1330)', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 10 (2000), 305–18 at pp. 314–5. The letters carried by Zagan and Saabedin are in the National Archives as SC 7/30/18 ('Commendation to Edward I of Andrew formerly called Zaganus, Buscarellus de Gisulfo and Moracius, envoys of Argon, king of the Tartars', 2 Dec 1290) and SC 7/31/16 ('Letters of credence to Edward I in favour of Saabedin Archaon, envoy of Argon, king of the Tartars', 31 Dec 1290); see also P. Jackson, The Mongols and the West 1221–1410 (London, 2005), p. 173, on Saabedin.
10.     J. Paviot, 'England and the Mongols (c. 1260–1330)', Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 10 (2000), 305–18 at p. 317; for the view that he was sent by the Middle Eastern Mongol il-khan, see for example J. R. S. Phillips, The Medieval Expansion of Europe, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1998), p. 129.
11.     J. B. Friedman & K. M. Figg (eds.), Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia (London, 2000), pp. 22, 402, 403.
12.     T. Rymer (ed.), Foedera, Conventiones, Literæ, et Cujuscunque Generis Acta Publica, Inter Reges Angliæ et Alios Quosvis Imperatores, Reges, Pontifices, Principes, vel Communitates (London, 1739), vol. 2 pt. 1, p. 40 (22 May 1313), which is also discussed in K. Warner, Edward II: The Unconventional King (Stroud, 2014). Edward II also sent letters asking for aid to be given to William of Villeneuve to the emperor of Trebizond (Alexios II), the king of Georgia (Davit VIII), and the il-khan Oljeitu, suggesting the route that William of Villeneuve was intending on taking; a similar route was followed by Odoric of Pordenone in 1318, as related in his The Eastern Parts of the World Described (1330).
13.     Odoric of Pordenone, The Eastern Parts of the World Described, translated by H. Yule, Cathay and the Way Thither (London, 1913), vol. 2, pp. 97–267, and p. 11 for the gift to James of Ireland; J. B. Friedman & K. M. Figg (eds.), Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia (London, 2000), p. 457.
14.     J. B. Friedman & K. M. Figg (eds.), Trade, Travel, and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia (London, 2000), pp. 107–09, 372–4, 474, 663; L. Arnold, Princely Gifts & Papal Treasures: The Franciscan Mission to China & Its Influence on the Art of the West, 1250–1350 (San Francisco, 1999); J. Purtle, 'The Far Side: expatriate medieval art and its languages in Sino-Mongol China', in J. Caskey et al (eds.), Confronting the Borders of Medieval Art (Leiden, 2011), pp. 167–97; and J. Kermode, Medieval Merchants: York, Beverley and Hull in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge, 1998), pp. 2–3 at fn. 10 for the claim that late medieval English coins have been found in Vietnam.

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