As the fictional Indiana Jones once reminded his students: "Archaeology is the search for facts; not truth. If it's truth you want then try the philosophy class down the hall."
Never has this maxim been more appropriate than on the subject of the origins of Anglo-Saxon England. A recent article by Christopher Catling in issue 322 of Current Archaeology titled: 'Roman Mucking' begins: "An increasing number of archaeologists are refusing to come to neat conclusions about the sites they excavate or write up."
Yet by the end of that article, the author seems to have succumbed to that very temptation. At least, he accepts the 'neat conclusion' arrived at by the authors of the new book he reviews, titled: 'Romano-British Settlement & Cemeteries at Mucking: Excavations by Margaret & Tom Jones, 1965-1978, Oxbow Books (authors: Sam Lucy & Christopher Evans with Rosemary Jefferies, Grahame Appleby & Chris Going). But to quote the final section of issue 322, p.32:
'Migrants at Mucking':
"There is a final surprise in the Mucking report. The Thames-side gravel terrace saw little by way of intensive settlement after the mid 3rd-c. What then are we to make of the presence of substantial [sic] quantities of late-Roman pottery (dating from the 4th c.) in some of the Anglo-Saxon Grubenhauser that represent the next phase of occupation at Mucking? Either the accepted pottery dating is incorrect, or Anglo-Saxon settlement began earlier at Mucking than the accepted 5th c. date for similar settlement elsewhere in S/E Britain. Weighing the evidence, the Mucking authors conclude that the pottery chronology is solid: thus the terminal Roman settlement phase at Mucking must have involved an 'Anglo-Saxon' community - put more plainly, Anglo-Saxon migrants were living in and among their Romano-British counterparts & acquiring & using Romano-British pottery in the later part of the 4th c."
"Why should we be surprised by this? Only because, going back to the start of this review, quasi-historical explanations for archaeological material have been out of fashion now for some decades. But occasionally, the coincidence between archaeological data and historical interpretation is too strong to ignore. Margaret & Tom Jones were convinced that Mucking's Anglo-Saxon settlement represented a community of foederati, or auxiliary soldiers, recruited from among Rome's Germanic allies on the near Continent. Maybe this is not the only possible solution, but this report demonstrates clearly that there were 'Anglo-Saxons' among the 'Romans' at Mucking for some decades before the traditional 'end' of the Roman Britain and the beginning of 'Anglo-Saxon' settlement in S/E Britain."
But of course, that final claim is not true. Such a conjectured coexistence at Mucking is not demonstrated (and certainly not 'clearly'). And perhaps the fact that more secure archaeological dating for the earliest presence of 'Anglo-Saxons' elsewhere in S/E Britain confirms the historical date of c. 450 onwards should have been considered before making such a claim. (Such as Dr. Andrew Richardson's recent work on the Anglo-Saxon cemeteries of Kent, including his seminar at Canterbury University in 2007, where he compared Jutish brooches in Kent with those in Jutland. When I asked him if the latest archaeological dating corroborated the date for the 'Adventus Saxonum' in Bede, he replied: "You don't see anything Jutish in Kent before c. 450 AD.") But to be fair, the issue 322 review (and the new Oxbow book) are only repeating some of the original claims made by the excavators of Mucking 40 years ago. Though as we can see, such claims are neither the only interpretations of the archaeology, nor are they consistent with all the original findings themselves. To explain why, let's go back to 'Excavations at Mucking, volume 1: The Site Atlas', by Ann Clark, 1993, English Heritage. From the end of the section 'The Roman period', by C. J. Going, p.21:
"By the later 4th c. the landscape itself was no longer being maintained; ditches were being allowed to silt up, and the lack of maintenance strongly suggests that the landscape was being returned to scrub or rough grazing. This raises important questions about the significance of the placing of the Saxon settlement at this site. If the landscape was in effect semi-derelict, having been deteriorating since the later 4th c., the incoming Saxons would have found themselves on a landscape which had been allowed to return to scrub for a substantial period, perhaps as little as 50, but probably more like 75 years."
Indeed, in the following section 'The early to middle Anglo-Saxon period', H. Hamerow admits:
"The evidence regarding the origins of the Anglo-Saxon settlement, and particularly for the presence of Germanic foederati, is inconclusive... Despite apparent continuity of land use from the Romano-British period..." [though that, too, seems to be in contradiction of the previous section, which declared a period of desertion of 50-75 years. Ed.] "...there is no clear evidence for socio-economic continuity or for the integration of the Romano-British and the Anglo-Saxon communities. The Roman ditches had largely silted up by the time of the Anglo-Saxon settlement."
In other words, there never was any actual archaeological evidence at Mucking of 'coexistence' between the latest Romano-Britons & the earliest Anglo-Saxons. Which is a similar situation to that pertaining at West Heslerton, N. Yorkshire. At that site, a former Romano-British settlement was later taken over by incoming Angles. However the excavators initially claimed continuity of occupation on the site between the two groups, only for that to be disproven upon review. See the West Heslerton seminar in: 'Antiquity', June 2001, Prof. Philip Rahtz:
"It was remarkable that there was little mention of theory, though it underpinned much of the work. There was, for instance, no talk of ethnicity; people were still apparently happy to think about the post-Roman community as 'Anglo-Saxons' with at least partly continental antecedents. Although Dominic Powlesland stressed his own belief in continuity, it was generally seen to be more a case of continuity of 'place', with a dichotomy between late-Romans and the new Anglian settlers."
Furthermore, in the intervening period since the excavations at Mucking 40 years ago, the late (great) Martin Welch produced his seminal volume: 'Anglo-Saxon England', 1992, English Heritage. In this, he thoroughly calls into question the interpretation of the archaeology of that site (and Caistor by Norwich) which infers any Anglo-Saxon presence in the 4th c. (or at any time before the late 5th c.) I don't have time (or space) to repeat what the sadly missed Dr. Welch said, but I did quote it at great length in the Britarch archives, and the relevant passages can still be found by searching here: ITEM#: 080728, Date: 2015-07-28, Time: 16:31, Subject: Re: East Anglian aDNA.
Suffice to say, part of chapter 8: 'From Roman Britain to Anglo-Saxon England', says this:
"There is nothing else to link the so-called 'Romano-Saxon' pottery to the Anglo-Saxons. No complete pots of this type have ever been found to accompany an Anglo-Saxon burial or building. There were a few small fragments of this pottery in a couple of Grubenhauser at Mucking, but these may well have been dumped in a Roman field with manure perhaps a century or more earlier and then accidentally transferred into the Anglo-Saxon pits, back-filled with local ploughsoil... It seems, then, that the case for regarding the Saxon Shore as a coastal region of Britain *settled* in the 4th c. by Saxons under Roman control has been built on quicksand."
And as anyone knows, who has visited the modern reconstructions of Grubenhauser at West Stow archaeological park, it doesn't take long for the pits beneath them to fill up with surrounding soil. But to answer the question posed in the CA review of the modern Oxbow volume on Mucking, I don't think there has ever been any question that the tiny sherds of Roman wheel-made pottery found within the pits under the Grubenhauser at Mucking don't themselves date to the 4th c. The far more pertinent question for this debate is surely: 'How did they get there?' And an even simpler explanation is possible. Because if, by their very definition, Anglo-Saxon Grubenhauser are dug down through earlier stratigraphy, then it is perfectly easy to see how the remains of late 4th c. Roman pottery could appear within those pits when dug by the earliest Anglo-Saxon settlers 50 or 75 years later; which, again, would accord with Bede's dating of the arrival of the first Anglo-Saxon from c.450 onwards.
Indeed, Grubenhauser have caused confusion in dating like this elsewhere. At Catterick, in N. Yorkshire, as reported in an earlier issue of CA:
"At least three Grubenhauser, or sunken featured buildings, *of 6th c. date*, are known; one of them being cut into the remains of 4th c. Roman buildings...". Similarly, there is a photo of an Anglian grave with the caption: "This 6th c. Anglian burial... cut into the remains of (4th c.) Roman buildings."
And I have previously seen precisely that evidence taken (by non-archaeologists, who didn't understand the nuances of what was being reported, but who nevertheless had caught the bug of trying to 'rewrite the history books') in an attempt to claim that Angles were settled among the Romano-British population of Catterick *in the 4th c.*! And to the best of my knowledge, that's what those persons may still convince themselves and others to believe.
And one last point about the lack of continuity of occupation at Mucking: If there was indeed (as the original report maintains) a period of 50-75 years between the abandonment of the last Romano-British settlements and the building of the earliest Anglo-Saxon ones, then perhaps one reason for that might be the increasing Anglo-Saxon piracy in the Thames estuary towards and beyond the end of Roman administration in Britain. Especially if the Classis Britannica (or its successor squadrons of coastal patrol-ships based at the Saxon Shore forts) were no longer protecting the approaches to London.
But to return to Indiana Jones, the 'facts' of the case are that a few late-4th c. Roman wheel-turned pottery sherds appear within the pits of (probably late 5th c.) Anglo-Saxon Grubenhauser at Mucking, whereas the 'truth' of how they got there may in fact support the date of the Adventus Saxonum in Bede. And what I think he was warning his students against was that, while you can legitimately use archaeology to *corroborate* the historical record, *when the dating happens to coincide* (as with Andrew Richardson's dating of the earliest Jutish brooches in Kent), it's not legitimate to use any clearly inconclusive or even ambiguous archaeological dating of the kind found at Mucking to *disprove* that historical record. And unfortunately, for the last 40 years or so, the latter has become great sport among those who don't like the traditional version of British history (for reasons best known to themselves). Talk about an age of 'post truth'... we've been living through one for decades. (wink)