Dating the Dark Earth: The Cheapside Valentinian


The countryside around Pitstone [Buckinghamshire] is generally described as “chalk grassland”.


Pitstone Hill is a 22.9 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Importance east of Pitstone in Buckinghamshire… The site is chalk grassland on a steeply sloping hill, with small areas of woodland and scrub.

But Pitstone Quarry is more exotic because wedged between the surface and the underlying chalk are hippopotamus bones, evidence of a “new interglacial” and plenty of sand with fine gravel that is covered by flint and chalk fragments [aka Coombe Rock – more on this in the next post].


Click to access 300788_Vol_2.pdf

Site Name: Pitstone Quarry

Three channels yielding significant faunal and/or floral assemblages have been recognised, each of demonstrably different ages. The oldest (stratigraphically) of these has been claimed to represent a new interglacial period between the established Hoxnian and Ipswichian interglacials.

It lies stratigraphically below the second channel deposit, which contains hippopotamus bones and is thought to represent the Ipswichian (last interglacial).

Pitstone Quarry citation – Sites of Special Scientific Interest – Natural England

Click to access 1001565.pdf


It’s worth noting these upper layers of sand and gravel because in Cologne [Germany] a small Roman aqueduct was discovered smothered under seven metres of sand and gravel.



In Pitstones these layers of sand and fine gravel include an intriguing “clear black horizon”.


This “clear black horizon” is found “all over southern England” and archaeologists have discovered this Dark Earth “covers Roman remains”.

… there is a clear black horizon, only an inch or so thick, which has now been recognised all over southern England.

The black colouration is due to charcoal fragments from burnt wood.

Nature of the Stratigraphic Record – Derek Ager – 1973

In archaeology the term black earth, in use since the 1980s, refers to a layer between 0.6 m to 2 m thick, covering archaeological sites.

In England black earth covers Roman remains, especially in urban areas, including London.

Finding this Dark Earth layer isn’t always easy.

In the Thames Valley the Roman remains are frequently found at a “considerable depth” whilst in London it may be buried “18 feet or more below street-level”.


It is well known that Roman remains are found at considerable depth in the lower Thames Valley and that the ‘Roman snail’ they introduced to Britain is found in hill wash and similar deposits.

Nature of the Stratigraphic Record – Derek Ager – 1973

The obstacles to the archaeological exploration of mediaeval sites in London are even more daunting that those that impede a study of the Roman remains.

While over a large part of the central area of the city the depth of the accumulations is such that the Roman levels survive to as much as 10 feet below the cellar floors – 18 feet or more below street-level – it is only rarely that the post-Roman deposits and structures have outlived the succession of drastic remodellings that has taken place since mediaeval times.

The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London – W. F. Grimes – 1968

But dating the Dark Earth is comparatively easy because it also blankets Roman coins.

In 1955 a “coin of the house of Valentinian” was found in Cheapside, London embedded in the “clay and burnt material” from the “late phase of the Roman city”.

Cheapside, South (38: 1955)

Since Wren recorded the presence of a Roman ’causeway’ on the site of the tower of St. Mary-le-Bow Church it has been an accepted axiom that Cheapside lies on or near the course of the Roman street which would have been one of the main thoroughfares of the city, linking the eastern centre on Cornhill with the important gate in the west wall at Newgate.

The existence of this road was confirmed in two short cuttings which a group of volunteers led by Messrs. Rybot and Atkinson were able to make in cellars just to the west of the church and between it and Bread Street in 1955.

The indications were of several surfaces, the best preserved (or more fully visible) being at a depth of just 6 feet bellow the cellar floor.

The natural surface of the ground was more than 2 feet lower than this at 8 feet 3 inches: between the two there were other incomplete gravel layers which may have been the remains of earlier roads; and above the main surface there was another thin layer of gravel, with an intervening deposit deposit of clay and burnt brick, which might have marked the final Roman street level.

The gravel of the ‘main’ road was hard-rammed, with a minimum thickness as surviving of 4-6 inches; its surface carried a number of irregular hollows, and some shell was incorporated in it.

Pottery from the deposits beneath it ranged through the second century, and from the clay and burnt material above it came a coin of the house of Valentinian (A.D. 360 or later); so that this version of the road belonged to a late phase of the Roman city.

As surviving the road extended southwards about 15 feet from the modern building frontage, its visible width in the cutting being a little over 8 feet.

It ended on a flat-bottomed trench or drain, the floor of which was 9 feet 6 inches below the cellar floor.

This feature had a row of small shallow stake- or post-holes along its north side, set slightly less than 18 inches apart.

It was probably the lateral drainage gully for the road.

The latest pottery from it indicates that it is at least of the late fourth century.

The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London – W. F. Grimes – 1968


In the ruins of Wroxeter [aka Viroconium aka Uriconium aka Viroconium Cornoviorum] that are covered in Dark Earth the latest Roman coins were dated at between 388 AD and 402 AD.

The latest coins, dating to 388-402, were found in the robber trench of the north portico colonnade….

The Baths Basilica Wroxeter Excavations: 1966-90
Philip Barker, Roger White, Kate Pretty, Heather Bird and Mike Corbishley
English Heritage – 1997

… we are justified in concluding, from this and other circumstances, that the city of Uriconium was destroyed at some period between the withdrawal of the Roman government from the island and the commencement of the Anglo-Saxon period, that is, probably between about the year 420 and the middle of the fifth century.

Uriconium; A Historical Account of the Ancient Roman City
Thomas Wright – 1872


Therefore, a broad brush mainstream dating [based upon Roman Coins] for the catastrophic conflagration that deposited Dark Earth over South England would be 410 AD ± 50 years.


That’s not to say this dating technique is perfect – but at least it looks to be in the right millennium.

The stratigraphy of Aachen, for example, illustrates Gunnar Heinsohn’s central theme that the mainstream has mistakenly populated 700 phantom years [in the 1st millennium] with Roman Architecture and Artefacts from Antiquity i.e. 1st – 3rd centuries.




The Old Japanese Cedar Tree chronology suggests this Dark Earth layer [The Roman Termination Event] was deposited at the Heinsohn Horizon around 914 CE.


On the other hand, the curious case of the Late Roman Terra Nigra [Hat Tip: Zainab A. Muller] that is filed away in one of the more obscure corners of the academic archives suggests there may be an even bigger problem with the Roman Empire Time Line.

The first iteration of Terra Nigra was “especially” popular during the first half of the 1st century AD but then [so we are told] it “gradually disappears” sometime during the 2nd or 3rd century AD.

Terra Nigra refers to antique black ceramics.

In the archaeological ceramics system, Terra Nigra is a Roman commodity from Rhineland production of the Roman imperial age, which is also called “Belgian commodity”.

This kind of commodity occurs in the north-western provinces of the Roman Empire, especially in the first half of the first century, and then gradually disappears from the inventory. [translation by Google]


However, in the 4th century Terra Nigra makes a mysterious comeback in the Rhineland.

In the 4th century the technology is temporarily re-emerged and reappears in Trier and the Rhineland as “Nigraware”. [translation by Google]

It is the so-called “Late Roman Terra Nigra“, which dates back to the 4th and early 5th century AD.

The term “terra nigra” means “black earth” and refers to the dark surface of the vessels.

The origins of the ‘Late Roman Terra Nigra’ is still unknown.

The riddle of the ‘Black Earth’ – Origin and production Late Antiquity Terra Nigra [translation by Google]

The second iteration of Terra Nigra in the 4th century is significantly different.

Firstly, 4th century Terra Nigra is no longer black.

The Late Roman Terra Nigra [aka Nigraware] is grey.


Late Roman Terra Nigra-Like Wares

All the terra nigra-like vessels from the study area are wheelmade, in some instances showing faint turning ridges, especially on the interior surface.

In fracture the colour of the paste can vary between dark grey to greyish-white.

Since the majority of the sherds found in cremation graves are burnt, it is often difficult to determine their original surface colour or finish.

The original surface colour can, however, vary between different shades of grey, including light grey, grey- black or a blueish-grey.

The surfaces of the vessels are smoothed and in some instances burnished on the exterior.

Germans Beyond the Limes :A Reassessment of the Archaeological Evidence in the Limesvorland of Southern Germania Inferior/Secunda
Karen Elizabeth Waugh – 1998 – Durham Theses – Durham University

Click to access 1130_v1.pdf

That might appear to be an insignificant and superficial observation until you realise the external black colouration of the early Terra Nigra was achieved by smoking the hot. fired earthenware in a container filled with wood chips [at 6:47 in the video].

Could it be that there was a shortage of wood because Roman Rhineland lumber had been buried under metres of sand and gravel [during the 2nd half of the 1st century AD] so that [centuries later] it could be exhumed as lignite?



Could it be this shortage of timber is echoed in the mainstream English Tree Gap?



Secondly, 4th century Terra Nigra contains “coarse sand” and “grit”.

Late Roman Terra Nigra-Like Wares

All the terra nigra-like vessels from the study area are wheelmade, in some instances showing faint turning ridges, especially on the interior surface.

The fabric can vary from containing very little visible tempering to containing fairly coarse sand and sometimes grit.

Germans Beyond the Limes :A Reassessment of the Archaeological Evidence in the Limesvorland of Southern Germania Inferior/Secunda
Karen Elizabeth Waugh – 1998 – Durham Theses – Durham University

Click to access 1130_v1.pdf

Could it be that the Roman Rhineland was blanketed in sand and gravel during the 2nd half of the 1st century AD?


However, this mêlée of mainstream misinformation becomes comprehensible when events are placed in their correct chronological context.

For example, events in the Rhineland coincide with the protracted disintegration of Justinian’s Comets which buried parts of the Vorgebirge Aqueduct [and probably two legions] under seven metres of sand and gravel in 68 AD.


Either way, Terra Nigra indicates the mainstream Roman chronology is far from perfect.

In fact, the discrepancy between the Cologne Aqueduct Burial in about 68 AD and the Roman Coin dating of the English Dark Earth Layer to 410 AD [± 50 years] suggests somebody [somewhere along the line] has [significantly] stretched the truth.

Roman Empire 27  BC  – 395  AD

Gallery | This entry was posted in Catastrophism, Dark Earth, Fossil Fuels, Geology, Heinsohn Horizon, History, Old Japanese Cedar Tree, Roman Chronology. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Dating the Dark Earth: The Cheapside Valentinian

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