East Anglia from late prehistory to the Anglo-Saxon period: continuities & changes
with Dr Daphne Nash Briggs & Dr Stephen Oppenheimer (University of Oxford)
at Sutton Hoo, Saturday, 5th July 2014.
Dr Oppenheimer will introduce the day with a look at population history and genetics. Dr Nash Briggs will continue with the long-term, distinctive, trends in social and material culture from late prehistory to the 5th century AD. Focal discussion of coins and monuments, language, iconography, Roman treasures, and 5th-century bracteates.
09.50 – 10.15: Coffee on arrival
10.15 – 11.15: The People (Dr Oppenheimer). The received 19th & 20th century reconstruction of Late Holocene British history has been of one-language, ‘one-race’ of Celts arriving from Central Europe in the late Iron Age before the Romans. These homogeneous ‘Celtic aboriginals’ were then largely replaced in England from the 5th–9th centuries, genetically, linguistically and culturally, by ‘Anglo-Saxons’ from northwest Germany, introducing Germanic languages de novo. Genetic evidence does not support these two recent replacements, rather indicating that 70% of English ancestors are pre-Neolithic, mostly derived from northern Iberia, with most of the rest arriving from NW Europe before the Iron Age and relatively few in the Dark Ages. The genetic source of the ‘Celts’ is obscure, but more likely SW European.
11.15 – 11.45: Coffee break
11.45 – 12.45: 2. Picturing themselves (Dr Nash Briggs). How did the peoples of late pre-Roman East Anglia? see themselves? What are we to make of pre-Roman coin images and inscriptions that resonate with the Germanic world? To what extent were the Iceni ever united, and how did they earn their enormous wealth? We shall see how sacred places and ceremonial life, e.g. at Snettisham, Ashill, and Thetford, could be used to structure public affairs.
12.45 – 14.00: Lunch break
14.00 – 15.00: Doing as the Romans do (Dr Nash Briggs). Who was Tacitus’ Prasutagus, last “king” of the Iceni? Was he a sacral ruler? Claudius trusted him: might they have grown up together? Indigenous British Iron-Age cults were easily matched with Roman counterparts, whilst keeping their identity. How might pre-Roman traditions have been preserved, to take on fresh life in the later 4th century? Temple deposits, images on silver plate from Mildenhall, Icenian militia buckles, and the Thetford treasure all evoke the people’s own ancestral gods and their emblematic wolf, boar, and water birds.
15.00 – 15.20: Tea break
15.20 – 16.20: Facing the future, and the bracteates’ tale (Dr Nash Briggs). Some of East Anglia’s 4th- and 5th-century archaeology hints at settlers from across the North Sea, but mostly it indicates change from within. Might this reflect governance by pagan, educated, Romano-Icenian grandees from the same old families, with the same old cults, founding a new order that strongly resembles their own pre-Roman Iron Age? In charge of their own affairs, did they exploit and intensify two-way traffic that had always existed with friends, relations, religious centres, and trading partners across the North Sea? Gold bracteates made c. AD 475 near Lakenheath (Suffolk) and near Binham (Norfolk) tell a fascinating tale, as the people’s old gods, their boar, bird, and monsters, together with their recent Roman identity, morph into something new, and English, with Scandinavian resonance and Runic inscriptions. Do they document foundation of distinctive East Anglian centres within a network of ascendant, Germanic-speaking, royal elites on both shores of the North Sea?
c.16.20: Thanks and Close
Some Suggestions for Optional Background Reading
Davies, J., The Land of Boudica: Prehistoric and Roman Norfolk (Oxbow 2009)
Davies, J. (ed.),The Iron Age in Northern East Anglia: New Work in the Land of the Iceni, BAR British Series 549 (Oxford 2011); esp. pp. 83–102: Daphne Nash Briggs, “The language of inscriptions on Icenian coinage”
de la Bédoyère, G., Defying Rome. The Rebels of Roman Britain (Tempus 2003)
de la Bédoyère, G., Gods with Thunderbolts: Religion in Roman Britain (Tempus 2007)
Henig, M., The Heirs of King Verica. Culture and Politics in Roman Britain (2nd ed., Amberley 2010)
Heslop, T.A., E.Mellings, & M.Thøfner (eds), Art, Faith and Place in East Anglia – from Prehistory to the Present (The Boydell Press 2012): Chapters 3 (Daphne Nash Briggs, “Sacred image and regional identity in late-prehistoric Norfolk” – pdf available; Ch 4, Adrian Marsden, “Piety from the ploughsoil: religion in Roman Norfolk through recent metal-detector finds”; & ch 4, Tim Pestell, “Paganism in early Anglo-Saxon East Anglia”.
Laycock, S., Britannia the Failed State. Tribal Conflicts and the End of Roman Britain (Tempus 2008)
Laycock, S., Warlords: the Struggle for Power in Post-Roman Britain (The History Press 2009)
Moorhead, S., & D.Stuttard, AD 410: The year that shook Rome (British Museum Press 2010)
Oppenheimer, S., The Origins of the British: The new prehistory of Britain and Ireland from Ice-Age hunter gatherers to the Vikings as revealed by DNA analysis (new ed., Constable 2007)
Oppenheimer, S., “Myths of British Ancestry” Prospect Magazine (October 2006), pp.50-53 – pdf available
Oppenheimer, S., “A Re-analysis of Multiple Prehistoric Immigrations to Britain and Ireland Aimed at Identifying the Celtic Contributions”, in B.Cunliffe & J.Koch (eds)., Celtic from the West: Alternative Perspectives from Archaeology, Genetics, Language and Literature (Oxbow 2010), pp.121-151 – pdf available
Oppenheimer, S., “The post-glacial peopling of the British Isles: can ‘Celtic’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ physical intrusions be defined and measured?” in D. Le Bris, M.Otte, & F.Benozzo (eds), Aires linguistiques / Aires culturelles, Etudes de correspondances en Europe occidentale: zones Manche et Atlantique, Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique (Brest 2012) – Proceedings of an international colloquium, held at the Centre de Recherche Bretonne et Celtique Brest, 9-10 June 2011 – pdf available
About Dr Daphne Nash Briggs & Dr Stephen Oppenheimer
Daphne Nash Briggs studied ancient history at Oxford University and wrote her doctoral thesis on economy and society in late Iron-Age Gaul. She was an Assistant Keeper in the Heberden Coin Room, Ashmolean Museum from 1976–1986, in charge of Roman, then Greek, coins. She has many publications on coinage and history in pre-Roman Gaul and Britain. As an Honorary Research Associate since 2000 at Oxford University’s School of Archaeology, she has written on Etruscan activity in Iron-Age Europe, the long-range transmission of culture and myth, and is currently working on related themes in early East Anglia.
Stephen Oppenheimer studied medicine at Oxford University working for 25 years, as a tropical paediatrician, mainly in SE Asia, publishing 116 research papers on nutrition, infections and genetics and a doctoral thesis on iron nutrition and infections. From 1995, he started writing a series of books (Eden in the East: the drowned continent of SE Asia; Out of Eden: the Peopling of the World and The Origins of the British: a genetic detective story) and 60 research papers on prehistoric migrations, genetics and culture – mainly arising from the books. Two TV-series: Out of Eden, C4 (The Real Eve, DCI) and The Incredible Human Journey BBC were based on his second book.