A Canterbury Tale by Saucy Chaucer


On the last day of September, Henry Z. and I went to a lecture at the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York City. The impressive Mertz library, which stands in one corner of this large, beautiful and scientifically important park, was the location for remarks by Professor Robin Fleming of Boston College. Dr. Fleming’s topic: “Vanishing Plants, Animals and Places: Britain’s Transformation from Roman to Medieval.”

I was surprised to learn from Prof. Fleming that Roman conquerors introduced many — perhaps as many as 50 — new and valuable food plants and animals (such as the donkey) to its province of Britannia, where these crops were successfully cultivated for some 300 years.

Among the foodstuffs that Roman civilization brought to Britain are walnuts, carrots, broad beans, grapes, beets, cabbage, leeks, turnips, parsnips, cucumbers, cherries, plums, peaches, almonds, chestnuts, pears, lettuce, celery, white mustard, mint, einkorn, millet, and many more. These valuable plants took root in Britain and so did Roman horticulture. British gardens produced a bounty of tasty and nourishing foods.

But I was astonished to hear Prof. Fleming say that, following the collapse of Roman rule after 400 AD, almost all of these food plants vanished from Britain, as did Roman horticulture itself.

“Post-Roman Britons,” Prof. Fleming said, “suddenly went from gardening to foraging. Even Roman water mills vanished from British streams. But similar mills came back in large numbers in the 10th and 11th centuries, along with Roman food plants and farming techniques.”

Now, we’ve all heard about barbarian hordes descending on Roman provinces – not to mention Rome itself – and sweeping away the empire’s highly organized culture. But what possible explanation could there be for the disappearance of extremely valuable food plants, which had long since become established in the soil of Britain?

“Roman towns came tumbling down,” Prof. Fleming said, “and took Roman food plants down with them.”

All well and good, but why would Britons – who must have mastered Roman horticulture during centuries of imperial rule – have been reduced to foraging?

As part of her PowerPoint presentation, Prof. Fleming showed two images: Roman Canterbury at the height of imperial rule…


…and the ruins of post-Roman Canterbury, with the remains of the encircling Roman city wall still visible in the distance.


I stared at the second image in shock. To me it looked like a tornado had swept across Canterbury, or that perhaps the town had been wrecked by some other kind of natural catastrophe. But Prof. Fleming explained the disappearance of Roman food plants by saying that post-Roman Britons did not know how to grow them. But how much skill does it take to plant beans and turnips?

And did the Romans really take their ploughs back to Italy? Even some insects introduced by Romans, such as the cockroach, disappeared from the province.

During the question period, I asked Prof. Fleming if perhaps “climate change” might have been responsible for the disappearance of Roman food plants. She replied that the British climate did get “colder and wetter,” and that other scholars are working on the question of climate change in post-Roman Britain. Prof. Fleming added that her conclusions about the disappearance of Roman agriculture and plants from Britain will be a chapter in her forthcoming book on the subject.

Her specialty at Boston College, by the way, is “Viking and Anglo-Saxon History.” I look forward to Dr. Fleming’s explanation of why Angl0-Saxons settlers left very little evidence in post-Roman Britain.

I will certainly be sending a copy of Fleming’s book to Prof. (ret.) Gunnar Heinsohn of the U. of Bremen, whose revised and shortened chronology of the 1st millennium AD offers a startling explanation for why Roman food plants seem to have vanished from Britain.

Heinsohn holds that this disappearance is illusory because Rome and its western empire did not fall in the 5th/6th centuries, to be followed by a “dark age.” Heinsohn’s research shows that Romans and Anglo Saxons settled in Britain simultaneously and, for several centuries, competed for control of the island. Both cultures suffered a horrendous setback when Europe and the western Roman empire were struck down by a huge natural catastrophe circa 930 AD.

The apparent restoration of Roman technology and agriculture cited by Prof. Fleming in the 10th and 11th centuries is in fact the recovery of post-Roman pre-Norman Britain from the 930 AD catastrophe, the impact of which can be seen in that heartrending image of a wrecked and ruined Canterbury, which, along with the rest of Europe, entered the High Middle Ages around the year we call 1000 AD.

Which means Chaucer’s fictional pilgrims, who made their celebrated journey to Canterbury in the 14th century AD, lived about 450 years after the catastrophic fall of the Roman Empire and its bountiful province of Britannia. As they made their way to Canterbury, the pilgrims almost certainly dined on foods that were introduced to Britain by the Romans, and never forgotten.


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14 Responses to A Canterbury Tale by Saucy Chaucer

  1. Louis Hissink says:

    The logical fallacy of arguing the consequent seems to be extremely well developed in academia; the Lyellian Legacy, perhaps,

  2. malagabay says:

    Roman Britain officially fizzled out in 410 AD.

    In terms of the Old Japanese Cedar Tree chronology and the Realigned Roman Time Line the year 410 AD should me moved forward by about 634 years.

    Which suggests:

    Roman Britain fizzled out in 1044 so that Real History could begin in 1066…

    • Louis Hissink says:

      Here’s the rub; why the English preoccupation with parts of France – or during Roman times England and France were contiguous landmasses and the Romans did not sail to Brittannia but marched? Were Breton and Brittany and Britain all one before? Hence the Norman invasion to regain control of what existed before sundered by the channel.

      • rishrac says:

        I think there is an account of a Roman officer on board a boat. The Druid priests were casting spells and generally acting weird. So weird that the Romans almost turned back. The Romans went on to conquer Britain as the Druid priests were the only line of defense. Casting spells wasn’t much of a defense against swords and arrows. I don’t think the Romans marched across the channel. .

  3. malagabay says:

    Louis: That scenario has a lot of merit…

    Any idea how long it takes for raw chalk to cure and solidify into chalk formations?

    The opening of the Atlantic basin eventually separated Greenland from Scandinavia and Great Britain whilst dragging the British Isles westward as the continental shelf began to subside into the Atlantic basin.

    The draining of the The Greater British Bath can be observed in the geology of eastern England as a series of bath rings beginning in the Lower Permian and terminating in the Upper Jurassic.


    Unfortunately, the strange British fixation regarding the “white cliffs of Dover” seems to have caused the etymologists to overlook a third possible Proto-Indo-European conjunction: White Hill.

    Scrape away the superficial layer of dirt that swathe large areas of southern England and a vista of rolling white downs is revealed that truly merits the wry Albion appellation.

    See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/360-shades-of-albion-whitewash/

  4. Louis Hissink says:

    The chalk deposits are deemed Cretaceous in age and being limestone I would guess could solidly as fast as cement which is chemically the same, Ca CO3. Maybe faster if electric currents are involved.

    In Egypt the pyramids and Sphinx are constructed on top of Cretaceous limestones, and are made from those rocks, so Roman Era buildings must be built on top of chalk/limestone deposits and must post-date their formation. Hence I would expect to see all Roman urban centres built on the chalk deposits and using those deposits where practicable in England, and for that matter Europe.

    The appearance of vast chalk deposits at the end of the Cretaceous Period is associated with, what we in the De Beers school of kimberlite formation, a massive global kimberlite formation which is associated with massive emissions of CO2. Kimberlite magma is basically supercharged CO2 fluid plasma etc. (Kimberlites not erupt from depth but start from the surface and, vortex-like, screw down into the Earth lifting up and mixing all the stratigraphy along their path).

    The UK Chalk deposits do contain marine plankton fossils, but descriptions include “calcite’ which makes it crystalline and not chalk per se.

    Geology has zero appreciation or understanding of the role electric or telluric currents have in rock formation, especially sedimentary formation.

    Given Australia Aboriginal traditions/tales of the landscape being formed by the rainbow serpent, which I tentatively place in the 1st millennium catastrophe, then massive electrical currents sourced from the ionosphere etc would have sculpted the European landscape. Mike Baillie noted that the 6th century event left no survivors on Ireland.

    If the Roman Era people were basically civilised and hence urbanised, and experienced a massive global climate catastrophe, most would be killed off or die soon after since urban folk don’t know how to grow food. Hence one would expect a paucity of descriptions of events,

    In contrast hunter-gatherer subsistence tribes such as Australian Aboriginals, could easily survive these calamities, albeit with a reduction in population, and would remember the event more so than ‘civilised’ urbanites. So the European region would have a shortage of first hand accounts, but a plethora of memories or imaginings after the event which resulted in the fabrication of history that Gunnar has focussed on.

    Explaining the chalk deposit formation is as problematical as explaining dolomite formation but rapid deposition and solidification could be facilitated with electric currents operating in the process. How much of the chalk is fossil and the rest other types of CaCO3 needs to be clarified. How does one get massive deposits of plankton? Slow deposition over millions of years or more rapid deposits?

  5. malagabay says:

    The chalk deposits are deemed Cretaceous in age and being limestone I would guess could solidly as fast as cement

    That works for me!

    My line of thinking:

    Raw Chalk forms as a slurry at the bottom of the ancient inland seas.

    In 1853, when a transatlantic telephone cable was being laid, the first samples of the ocean floor were retrieved, from a depth of around 10,000 feet.

    Mud dredged up from the bottom, when examined under the microscope, was found to consist almost entirely of the skeletons of a still-existing Globigerina species, along with the calcium carbonate skeletons of round, single-celled phytoplankton algae called Coccosphaerales, more commonly know as coccoliths.

    In short, the Atlantic mud, which stretches over a huge plain of thousands of square miles, is raw chalk.

    Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death – Bernd Heinrich – 2012

    The Ocean Basins open up and the ancient inland seas drain off into the oceans.

    When the Raw Chalk Slurry [at the bottom of the ancient inland seas] finally drains off it tends to accumulate [and solidify] at “choke points” like the Danish Straits [from the Baltic Basin], the Dover Straits [from the North Sea Basin] and the valley that crosses the Isle of Wight.

    The ancient inland [sea] basins that are fully drained leave behind chalk formations that are rich in fish fossils [which are only found on dry land] – as in Kansas, USA.

    If the Raw Chalk Slurry sets as fast as cement then the formation of new, virginal white terrain [such as Albion = White Hill] is a very rapid process.

    • Louis Hissink says:

      Earth expansion could achieve this process associated with degassing of the interior. But as diamond is a high PT mineral phase, and graphite a low PT phase, does this mean diamond ultimately spontaneously transforms into grpahite

      Here’s another red herring – Castle rock Kansas – remnants of chalk deposits – so where are the deposits of eroded chalk? In the oceans basins? Or in younger post Cretaceous sediments? Where the deposits of chalk removed from the European chalk beds? In the existing ocean basins?

      Inland seas – are there accumulations of chalk in these basins? Are there plankton living in the sea? Caspian Sea for example, or the Great Lakes in the US. Are there chalk deposits on the continental shelves? Or calcareous muds I should say, and are those muds eroded from existing carbonate sediments on land, or what?

  6. Louis Hissink says:


    There’s a complicating factor at work I’ve realised – Age dating of sediments was done by fossil remains and application of Darwin’s theory of evolution to sequence them in order. Smith’s geology of England needs a revisit – and I need to study Lyell.

    Incidentally Gunnar puts the catastrophe ~ 935 AD – at which time Greenland became Whiteland, which has to be linked to the Pleistocene event. This leads back to Lyell and how he manipulated Louis Agassis’s concept of ice age etc. So back to Agassis and reason out why he concluded what he did.

    Libby’s Cedar tree chronology has a distinct 650 +/- event – a whopper compared to before and after and just what could that be associated with?

    I can’t get my around the chronology at present – probably because I’ve been habituated with physical time and its reification.

    Oh incidentally Charles Ginenthal passed on a couple of months ago.

    And my comments above assumed conventional sedimentation principles – I’m beginning to think they were originally formed by plasma electro machining, deposited as magnetohydrodynamic deposits that have subsequently been reworked in the current era by water and wind etc and interpreted as products of these agents.

    Basically I’m ducking under the parapet until sense appears. 🙂

    Note that the Thunderbirds related everything to the settled chronology or if not, remain dateless.

    • malagabay says:

      I experience “brain freezes” whenever I try to recalibrate too quickly…
      Perhaps that’s nature’s way of saying: Chill Out.

      Take care and enjoy.

  7. daveyoung52 says:

    Would ‘Caesars Comet’,obviously,at the start of the Julian Calendar,fit the 650+/-event,if it could actually be proved to be fact?

  8. daveyoung52 says:

    There seems to be evidence that the eruptions of Etna at the time caused downturns recorded in Italy and China.

  9. Pingback: Gunnar Heinsohn: Finding Bede’s Missing Metropolis – Part Two | MalagaBay

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