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Tim Laurie FSA
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Scots Dyke - A talk and two walks
Following her talk in March, Jane Harrison led two walks to look at sections of the Scots Dyke. The dyke is a linear earthwork which today stretches 14 kilometres, from near Stanwick St. John in the north, to just south of the river Swale in Richmond. Over time the embankment has become lower and wider, and the ditch has filled with debris. In places it has been ploughed out completely. Some better-preserved sections remain in the grounds of St. Nicholas and near Whitefields Farm, where a deliberate gap appears to exist. These were visited on the walks.

The purpose of the dyke is unknown, but it probably served as a boundary, rather than as a defensive barrier. It still forms the eastern boundary of Richmond today. Who built it is conjecture, but the occupants of the oppidum at Stanwick might have had the necessary manpower and resources to complete this huge undertaking. There has only been limited excavation of the earthwork and one dating of the ditch suggests that it might have started to infill during the first century B.C.

J. H.
Below Rimington Avenue Near St. Nicholas Drive
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News Record: 155     Updated: 26-05-2022 14:30:16

Touching the Past
30 March, British Summer Time, a select gathering in a pub in Reeth, sleety snow blowing around the doorway.

We had come together to touch, hear, and think about lithics - worked and used stone objects derived in the main from flint and chert, under the knowledgeable and passionate guidance of Ric Carter, SWAAG trustee and Heather, a fellow SWAAG member. 

Following a description of the characteristics of flint and chert (hard siliceous stones which can be quickly split into conchoidal pieces and shaped to form sharp edges) Ric and Heather passed round some of their collection of scrapers, saws, arrowheads, small sharp barbs, and lumps of partially worked and unworked stone. Mesolithic and Neolithic ancestors used the worked pieces for hunting, butchery, and other tasks, including trepanning. Their tools for doing this were hard stones and antler tips. In the Neolithic flint knapping became specialist work. Despite metal becoming available to produce artefacts, chert and flint continued to be worked. Looking at a barbed flint arrowhead, dated as Bronze Age, we considered the pride and artistic endeavour which would have been part of this activity. We also discovered that flint has a distinctive smell when split, that Mesolithic artefacts have more patina than Neolithic ones, and that the term “weapons grade chert” was coined by Tim Laurie.

Chert is found locally near Reeth whereas flint is often found at distance from the place of its geological formation. These hard stones were highly valued, and nodules would be worked (knapped) till they were too small for it to be possible to continue doing so. In some cases, the core of a stone could be “rejuvenated” by reshaping to make the last of it more workable.

We were reminded by Les Knight that finds of worked and unworked flint, in areas where flint is not part of the local geology, may not necessarily be because of importation by humans. Glaciation is likely to account for nodules of flint found in boulder clay in areas remote from the place in which they were formed, thus spreading the availability of a good material for tool and weapon making. Les also showed us a piece of worked stone (possibly volcanic) from the Lake District.

But the best was saved for last! We all handled a crude chopping flint, comfortable to hold, which Ric and his Dad found (some time ago) down south in their garden. Having sought expert opinion on the age of this find they were informed that it was 300,000 years old! So, what is in your garden?

S. I.
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News Record: 154     Updated: 14-04-2022 09:14:10

Here, there and who knows where?
In February members Alan Mills and Richard Hunt gave a talk with the intriguing title ‘Here, there and who knows where?’ The subject was King Athelstan and his ‘great battle’ of 937AD. Athelstan, who ruled the Anglo-Saxons from 924, is hardly a household name, unlike his grandfather Alfred the Great. He is, however, often regarded as the first King of all England, following his defeat of the Viking Kingdom of York and the submission of the Scots and Welsh kings in 927. Athelstan had the inscription ‘Rex Totius Brittanniae’ minted on his coinage.

Athelstan waged war several times during his reign, taking his army to the far north of Scotland in 934. At the Battle of Brunanburh in 937, Athelstan and his half-brother Edmund, defeated the combined forces of the Irish Vikings led by Anlaf Guthfrithson, the Scots under King Constantine, and the Strathclyde Welsh under King Owain.

Exactly where the battle took place is unknown. Nearly thirty possibilities have been suggested to date. Different sources and translations spell the name in different ways – Brunanburh, Brunnaburh, Brune, Brunandune, Wendune and Brunanwerc are some of these. The most popular contenders for the site are modern day Burnswark in the Scottish Borders, Bromborough in the Wirral, and Burghwallis in South Yorkshire. So far there has been little in the way of archaeological evidence to support the claims, except at Bromborough and even that has been questioned. Alan and Richard presented some of the arguments in favour of these three locations, based on the likely routes of the invading forces and place name evidence. Alan favoured the Scottish site, whilst Richard favoured South Yorkshire. The subject is still being debated amongst academics. After the talk members discussed some of the other contenders for the battle site. It is probable that unless fresh, convincing evidence emerges the issue might never be resolved!

J. H.
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News Record: 153     Updated: 13-04-2022 16:43:41

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