Sutton Courtney and the Saxon Swamp

Wading into the Scholarly Saxon Swamp is a surreal experience.

A couple of weeks ago I was delving into the sand and fine gravel deposits in Buckinghamshire which contain [amongst other things] hippopotamus bones and evidence of a new interglacial.

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].

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/dating-the-dark-earth-the-cheapside-valentinian/

Moving Westward into Oxfordshire it’s apparent there’s also a lot of sand and gravel laying around.

Ewelme is a village and civil parish in the Chiltern Hills in South Oxfordshire, 2.5 miles (4 km) north-east of the market town of Wallingford.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ewelme

In fact, the sand and gravel in Oxfordshire is really quite special.

The superficial Faringdon Sponge Gravel deposits [for example] contain 115 million year old fossilised sponges, shellfish, sea urchins, belemnites, vertebrate bones and teeth.

Faringdon is a historic market town in the Vale of White Horse, Oxfordshire, England, about 18 miles (29 km) southwest of Oxford, 10 miles (16 km) northwest of Wantage, 34 miles (55 km) northwest of Reading and 12 miles (19 km) east-northeast of Swindon.

Faringdon is the site of the noted Faringdon Sponge Gravel Member, part of the Cretaceous Lower Greensand Group.

It is rich in fossil sponges, other invertebrates, a few vertebrate bones and teeth, and good examples of bioerosion.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faringdon

Wicklesham Quarry is extracting a type of rock called the Faringdon Sponge Gravel, which formed in the Cretaceous around 115 million years ago.

The Sponge Gravel makes excellent building sand and is used for gravel paths.

Most of the fossils are sponges, but other common fossils include shellfish, sea urchins and their spines, and bullet-like belemnites.

Wicklesham Quarry – Oxfordshire Geology Trust
http://www.oxfordshiregeologytrust.org.uk/wicklesham_quarry.htm

And the superficial gravel deposits at the Oxfordshire village of Sutton Courtenay are very special.

Sutton Courtenay is a village and civil parish on the River Thames 2 miles (3 km) south of Abingdon and 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Didcot.

It was part of Berkshire until the 1974 boundary changes transferred it to Oxfordshire.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutton_Courtenay

The Sutton Courtenay gravel doesn’t contain hippo bones or a new interglacial.

The Sutton Courtenay gravel doesn’t even contain 115 million year old sponge fossils.

The Sutton Courtenay gravel does contain Early Anglo-Saxon pit-huts.

In 1921 E.T. Leeds discovered an early Anglo-Saxon settlement site at Sutton Courtenay.

This site was important because it was the first early Anglo-Saxon settlement to be recognised and excavated in a systematic way.

Leeds continued to excavate at this site during the 1920s and 1930s uncovering 33 dwellings, which are now known as sunken featured buildings or grubenhauser.

These are buildings with a floor sunk into the ground and wooden posts to support the roof.

The Anglo-Saxon Settlement At Sutton Courtenay
Ashmolean Museum – University of Oxford

http://www.ashmolean.org/ash/amps/leeds/AS_Oxfordshire/Sutton_courtenay/sutton_courtenay_index.html

The Saxon settlement at Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire,” lies on a gravel terrace on the south side of the Thames.

The site had been previously occupied during the Bronze Age and there was a plentiful scatter of Romano-British pottery, implying that the area had been cultivated during that period.

The occupation was noted by chance in the face of a gravel-pit and reported to the Ashmolean Museum.

The remains discovered in the course of commercial gravel-digging were intermittently explored by the late E. T. Leeds between 1921 and 1937.

The Saxon House: A Review and Some Parallels – C. A. Ralegh Radford
Journal of The Society for Medieval Archaeology – Volume 1 – 1957

http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-769-1/dissemination/pdf/vol01/1_027_038.pdf

Excavations have revealed rough Saxon huts of the early stages of Anglo-Saxon colonization, but their most important enduring monument in Sutton was the massive causeway and weirs that separate the millstream from Sutton Pools.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutton_Courtenay

In 1947 Edward Thurlow Leeds published his third [and final] paper on Sutton Courtenay and he suggested a text-book dating of “the close of the fifth century” for the first occupation of this Anglo-Saxon settlement i.e. he assigned the quoted Early Anglo-Saxon period 450-600 AD.

In regard to the date of the village the evidence, slight enough, but supported by the Abingdon cemetery, suggests one around the close of the fifth century for its first occupation.

Further that, as indicated by the masses of sherds recovered, the occupation continued for some indefinite period, and finally that at some date the settlement was either temporarily or permanently evacuated.

A Saxon Village at Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire – Third Report
E. Thurlow Leeds
Archaeologia – Volume 92 – January 1947, pp. 79-93

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/archaeologia/article/div-classtitleiiispan-classitalica-saxon-village-at-sutton-courtenay-berkshire-third-reportspandiv/3A707C7463CEC94DCC44D921E0F2976E

Edward Thurlow Leeds (1877-1955) was an English archaeologist and museum curator. He was Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum from 1928 to 1945.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Thurlow_Leeds

Written records of Sutton’s history began in 688 when King Ine of Wessex endowed the new monastery at Abingdon with the manor of Sutton.

In 801, Sutton became a royal vill, with the monastery at Abingdon retaining the church and priest’s house.

It is believed that this was on the site of the ‘Abbey’ in Sutton Courtenay.

The Domesday Book of 1086 shows that the manor of ‘Sudtone’ was owned half by the King and farmed mainly by tenants who owed him tribute.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutton_Courtenay

It’s curious that Edward Thurlow Leeds found the site evidence “slight enough” and even stranger that he refered to “Abingdon cemetery” for the dating of Sutton Courtenay.

This is especially true because he found 3 “brass Constantinus I” coins at the site.

House XXI
Until the discovery of this house the course of exploration on this site had revealed houses of more or less oblong form and of fairly uniform depth of 2 to 3 ft., except in one case, where the builders had to find their gravel floor at the bottom of a Bronze Age trench at a depth of 4ft.

In the present instance there was no such reason for their action, but nevertheless the bottom was not reached until 7½ ft. from the surface.

The excavation of the main part of the pit itself necessitated the removal of many tons of filling and the lengthy process of reaching the boottom of the pit caused the house to be aptly dubbed ‘barathrum’.

Throughout the filling broken bones and sherds came to light.

Outside the north-east corner, about 2 ft. deep in the gravel, at a level corresponding to the foot of the slope on the southern side, was a circular recess cut into the gravel containing remains of a hearth built of rough blocks of stone.

In this was found a third brass Constantinus I (Cohen. 246 TRSU) of the Trèves mint.

A Saxon Village at Sutton Courtenay, Berkshire – Third Report
E. Thurlow Leeds
Archaeologia – Volume 92 – January 1947, pp. 79-93

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/archaeologia/article/div-classtitleiiispan-classitalica-saxon-village-at-sutton-courtenay-berkshire-third-reportspandiv/3A707C7463CEC94DCC44D921E0F2976E

Constantius I was Roman Emperor from 293 to 306, commonly known as Constantius Chlorus.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantius_I

I guess finding three Roman coins dated between 293 and 306 AD didn’t quite fit the official narrative.

Perhaps Edward Thurlow Leeds would have found dating Sutton Courtenay a lot easier if he had remembered to find the regulation “coin of the house of Valentinian” amongst the sand and gravel.

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”.

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/dating-the-dark-earth-the-cheapside-valentinian/

While later reports about the Billingsgate Bath House only mention 4th and 5th century dated coins that were either “dropped” on the floor or “thrown” into a urinal “by the handful”.

See: https://malagabay.wordpress.com/2017/03/06/dark-earth-billingsgate-bath-house/

http://www.ashmolean.org/ash/amps/leeds/AS_Oxfordshire/Sutton_courtenay/1926-85.html

Valentinian II (Latin: Flavius Valentinianus Augustus; 371 – 15 May 392), was Roman Emperor from AD 375 to 392.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentinian_II

Alternatively, Edward Thurlow Leeds could have concluded [based upon the Roman coins he had actually unearthed] the Anglo-Saxons were contemporaries of the Romans.

Now where I have heard that before?

Saxons and Romans had been competing for Britain since the days of Julius Caesar (50s BCE). They have settled Britain at the same time, and were living side by side there up to the 230s [=930s] catastrophe.

Charlemagne’s Correct Place In History – Gunnar Heinsohn – March 2014
http://www.q-mag.org/_media/gunnar-charlemagne-correct-place-in-history-032914.pdf

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4 Responses to Sutton Courtney and the Saxon Swamp

  1. Strange methodology these ardent academics use – urbanised dwellings overwhelmed by gravel and sand, and they instead think that the inhabitants dug into the gravels and sand. It helps to remember that the discipline of archeology was initially embarked on to verify biblical narrative. I’ve always thought the word should be arkaeology to reflect the flawed thinking processes of the Empire’s underemployed.

  2. Pingback: Saxon Special Deposits | MalagaBay

  3. Pingback: The London Levels | MalagaBay

  4. Pingback: The Pit Huts of London | MalagaBay

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