Dark Age Traffic on the Bristol Channel 2019

We were pleased to welcome Nancy Hollinrake, who came to talk to what turned out to be a very large group, on the subject of ‘Dark Age Traffic on the Bristol Channel’.

She told us that pottery from the Eastern Mediterranean and Southern Gaul, dating back to the late 5th to 7th centuries, is recognised as a characteristic find from Dark Age sites in Ireland and Western Britain. Although there is no consensus on how the relics of the pottery arrived here in Britain, the quantities of pottery and the number of sites used would indicate that this was, indeed, a commercial trade.

Because no written records exist for the time following the departure of the Romans from Britain in the 4th century AD until the 8th century AD, there has to be a certain amount of conjecture on the subject. However, since the 1960s it has been known that the Bristol Channel area was a major trade route for the importation of goods from the Mediterranean and Gaul in the so-called Dark Ages.

To date, the catchment area of the Bristol Channel has produced evidence of at least 100 pottery vessels from excavations at Glastonbury Tor and Mount Cadbury, Congresbury, Cannington and Athelney. And interestingly – from a very local point of view – at Carhampton!

Evaluation excavations at Eastbury Farm, Carhampton, produced a different type of site from the others. Near the vicarage garden is a dispersed cemetery of west-east oriented graves, presumably Christian. Low lying, Carhampton was likely the victim of a Viking attack: it has been tentatively suggested that one trench there – producing many intercutting pits and small ditches full of charcoal with a radiocarbon date showing it to be late 8th early 9th century – may represent the results of such a raid.

Nancy told us that she is looking forward to resuming work at Carhampton, so we look forward to hearing what may be uncovered from the site in the future.

Report by Jan Lamacraft.    February 2019