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Viewing swaag.org website implies consent to set cookies on your computer. Full details Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group
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“The other Maiden Castle”
The stimulus for December’s talk was an organised walk in July 2022 to Maiden Castle, a small Roman fortlet overlooking the A66 and the Eden Valley, led by Judith and Alan Mills; ten people came on the walk including John Nolan of the Northumberland Archaeology Group. (See item 158 on the news archive.)

Alan began by contrasting the subject of this talk with both a ‘normal’ Roman fort such as that at Birdoswald on Hadrian’s Wall and the probable Iron Age Maiden Castle on the north facing slopes of Harkerside, Swaledale. The Roman Maiden Castle is considerably smaller than both and is one of approximately 50 known Roman fortlets, mostly found in the Scottish borders and North of England. They are characterised by the lack of a principia, the administrative centre of an ordinary fort, and only being of sufficient size to hold one or maybe two ‘centuries’ of troops; 80 -200 soldiers. They are typically found guarding strategic points such as river crossings or as here, important roads– the Roman road through the Pennines from York to Carlisle.

He went on to consider the fortlet’s place in the Roman landscape. It was an interval fort, set between the major Roman forts at Bowes and Brough. He explained how it fitted in with the three earlier marching camps at Rokeby Park, near Greta Bridge, Rey Cross and Crackenthorpe, thought to date from Governor Cerialis’ invasion of around 70AD and the later construction of the road, the forts along it and Maiden Castle, all probably part of Governor Agricola’s campaign a decade or so later.

In addition to the Roman road, marching camps, and forts there are a number of what are thought to be the sites of Roman Signal Stations or Watch Towers. It has been suggested that these were part of a chain of Signal Stations for the rapid transmission of information along the line of the road. Alan spent some time considering this and was of the view that the likelihood of inclement weather, and the absence of any evidence of long distance transmission of information in this way, made it much more likely that the sites were Watch Towers; that is to provide early warning of incursions, for example, to the nearby forts. He concluded that an early form of ‘Pony Express’ would be the quickest and most reliable form of communication between York and Carlisle!

Alan Mills
The Roman Road looking west
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News Record: 162     Updated: 14-01-2023 17:52:14

West Yorkshire – the Kingdom of Elmet?
This was the question posed by November’s speaker, SWAAG member Ian Earnshaw.

Many people believe that after centuries of inter-marriage between Roman, Irish, Jute, Saxon, Angle, Viking and Norman French invaders with the pre-Roman Celtic population, that the DNA signatures of the population of the UK would be consistent across the whole country.

A report published in The Nature Magazine during 2015 (Peter Donnelly & Ewen Callaway), actually did confirm that in the main, the spread of DNA signatures across the UK (with the participants being people who could trace the birth of their own 4 Grandparents & their Families back to within 80km of each other) was as expected.

However, the report also identified some clusters in the UK that do have DNA differences from the majority population. When you overlay the post-1974 UK map on the location of these DNA differences the areas appear as: Cornwall; Devon; North Wales, Cumbria, Scotland, South Wales, Northern Ireland and West Yorkshire.

As someone who can trace their own family back to living in West Yorkshire in the late 18th Century, Ian questioned how West Yorkshire came to be so different not just from the UK but also from North or East Yorkshire. Why is it even called West Yorkshire and why is it located where it is?

The story of West Yorkshire starts in 383 AD, when the soon-to-be Roman Emperor, Magnus Maximus, known as Macsen Wledig in Gaelic, made local British ruler Coel Hen “Protector” of the Old North, which extended from the Humber up to Hadrian’s Wall and even to the Antonine Wall. Coel Hen, who was more than likely the leader of the Brigantes Confederation and his family, then went on to rule Northern Britain in one form or another for the next 250 years before finally being conquered by the Angles and later the Vikings.

In around 470 AD, out of the Old North, came the Kingdom of Elmet on land controlled by the “Ledees” tribe which was “Betwixt the Aire and Wharfe rivers”. This area was then attacked by both Angles and Vikings between 627 AD and 886 AD but in the main, was never colonized by them, leaving the resident Celtic-Christian population in situ. Examples of their presence can be found in the Celtic names of the rivers and hills within the area that we still use today.

Following the Danelaw agreement in 886 AD, the Vikings took over the North of England, except for Northumbria and Cumbria, and renamed it Jorvik-Scir (Yorkshire) after their main city Jorvik. They also divided the area in “Thrydings” creating the Ridings of Yorkshire with the West Riding of Yorkshire extended westwards from the River Ouse between York and The Humber to the border with the Kingdom of Cumbria.

Finally, after the Battle of Brunanburgh in 937 AD, the great King Aethelstan created the “Liberty of Cawood, Wistow and Otley” giving royal protection to local Celtic-Christian population from pagan Viking attacks originating from North and East Yorkshire This Liberty lasted until 1864 when it was merged with the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Finally, as a Christmas Mystery, new research by a local author, Alistair Hall, points to the possibility of the actual existence of “King Arthur” and for him to have been a North Britain Warlord and not associated with the South.

It is thought that his famous series of 12 battles against the Jutes and Saxons Invaders, quite possibly took place along the southern border of the Kingdom of Elmet and between the Humber and the Wash. The final battle at Mount Badon, was now thought to have taken place in 469 AD, at Bardon Hill, Leicestershire.

At this time and with such locations, the name of “King Arthur” may have been Arthwys ap Mor Pendragon (fl. 450 – 520), great-grandson of Coel Hen, the “Protector” of the Old North.

Ian Earnshaw
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News Record: 161     Updated: 17-11-2022 15:01:06

Aurochs and Elk
Following his talk on Neolithic Farming, we were delighted to welcome back Professor Emeritus Peter Rowley-Conwy to tell us about “Hunting the Biggest Beasts: Aurochs and Elk in Prehistoric Europe”. His talk discussed how prehistoric man might have killed these large animals and looked at evidence for the hunting techniques in the archaeological record.

Elk or moose were stalked and then hunted using tanged point arrows. Prehistoric sites where elk bones have been butchered have often been found close to water, suggesting that the animals may have been hunted in lakes. Some rock art paintings appear to show such scenes. Ethnographic evidence provides insight into the more recent hunting of moose using canoes and harpoons.

Aurochs, we learned, were huge, muscular, and intelligent. With huge horns they stood at 180cm at the shoulder and weighed up to 900kg, they were 50cm taller than a modern Spanish fighting bull and were nearly double the weight. Getting close would have been highly dangerous, so hunting techniques were different. The skeleton of the Prejlerup Auroch, from Denmark, was found to contain flint microliths, showing that bows and arrows were used to hunt these animals. Mesolithic bows have been found in Europe, although none so far in the UK. They are carved from the dense wood of elm saplings, which gives the bow its spring. The size of the aurochs suggests a more substantial weapon, such as a spear, would have been needed to complete the killing. Considerable skill and expertise would have been required.

It was a fascinating talk and we all enjoyed having a speaker with us again in the hall and having the opportunity to chat afterwards.

J. H.
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News Record: 160     Updated: 23-10-2022 13:27:55

 
 
 
 
 
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