Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Beach Party A.D. 503 Volume 54 Number 6, November/December 2001
by Peter Weddell

[image] A late-fifth-century Palestinian amphora fragment from Bantham Ham (Courtesy Peter Weddell) [LARGER IMAGE]

Contract archaeologists working at the site of a new lifeguard clubhouse on the southwest coast of England have discovered evidence of "Dark Age" trading activities and feasting buried beneath sand dunes for 1,500 years. Over 530 fragments of late-fifth- and early-sixth-century pottery found at Bantham Ham, at the estuary mouth of the River Avon, include a variety of eastern Mediterranean amphorae and North African tableware. The amphorae could have contained wine, oil or spices, and demonstrate the existence of a long-distance, high-value trade between the heartland of the Late Roman Empire and the ruling aristocracy or wealthy elite of western Britain. Scholars have generally assumed that trade with Britain rapidly decreased after the Romans left the island in A.D. 410.

Hearths made from beach pebbles and 2,400 fragments of bone were also found in the sandy occupation surface, including cattle, pig, sheep, goat, red deer, and mallard, as well as shellfish. The quantity of wine amphorae and food remains recovered by Exeter Archaeology suggests intensive feasting may have been accompanying beach-trading activities in the dunes.

Huge archaeological potential is the presence of native pottery, Cornish gabbroic coarseware. This has never before been found with certainty in the same context as imported wares, and the consequences for the dating of other southwestern sites could be significant.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America