Gateway to Rome
From Ms Margaret Worthington
Sir: I am writing in response to the article by David Hill on Offa's Dyke ('Offa versus theWelsh', December). I have worked with David Hill on the Offa's Dyke Project for over 20 years, many of them as co-director. It is usual when either of us writes such an article to acknowledge the work of numerous extra-mural students and to mention the other director's input.
Perhaps more worrying are the factual errors, particularly in relation to Wat's Dyke, the subject of my MPhil dissertation. There is no hillfort at Maesbury, Wat's Dyke dies on the edge of marshland near the confluences of the Rivers Morda, Vyrnwy and Severn; Basingwerk is not a hillfort although its name would suggest some type of fortification; the C-14 date obtained by Shropshire County Council gave a latest date of about 600 and therefore, if it is to be believed, could place Wat's Dyke into the late or sub-Roman period. There is no evidence for a date as late as the 850s and indeed this does not fit well with the evidence of early hidation. The location of Snow Hill, south of Flint, is a complete mystery and there are definitely not nine hillforts but three incorporated into the line - at Llai, Erddig and Old Oswestry, the last a few miles from the southern terminus.
I must also correct the reference to the inscription on Offa's imitation dinar. The inscription is described by a British Museum catalogue as being 'blundered' and no attempt at translation is offered. Stenton (in Anglo-Saxon England ) points out that 'The man who cut the die for this coin knew no Arabic'. However, if its exemplar was invoking Allah, then the correct form would be 'There is no God but God and Muhammad [not Allah] is his Prophet'.
The archive of excavations and survey by the Offa's Dyke Project, on both Offa's and Wat's Dyke, is at present lodged with me at Porthywaen Study Centre and a Tempus book on the work should be available in 2002 under the joint names of the directors.
From Mr Phil Newman
Sir: I was interested to read Paul Budd's piece on early metallurgy ('Meet the metal makers', December). However, he has fallen into the trap of referring to modern administrative boundaries when discussing the past.
His statement that 'along with Afghanistan, Cornwall is one of only two possible major sources of tin used in bronze throughout Europe after 2000 BC' has excluded Dartmoor in neighbouring Devon. Not only did Dartmoor once have extremely rich tin deposits, whose production figures exceeded those of Cornwall for a short period in the Middle Ages, but it also has zones where tin and copper occur together.
Dartmoor was well populated in the period discussed by Dr Budd, having surviving evidence of 2nd millennium BC settlement which would be difficult to equal for sheer quantity anywhere else in Britain. It is difficult to believe that people settling on Dartmoor at a time when tin was a valued commodity were unaware of its presence or how to exploit it, or that 'tin traders' would ignore this resource while walking past it on the way to and from the deposits in what is present-day Cornwall.
There is, as yet, no convincing archaeological evidence for tin exploitation in the west of England in the prehistoric period. But as Dartmoor is actually geographically closer to western and central Cornwall (the main tin field area) than Land's End itself, surely we should consider Dartmoor as part of the same tin field and start referring to a 'South-West British' tin field, not an exclusively Cornish one. This would considerably broaden the scope of the debate, given the richness of Dartmoor's prehistoric landscape.
From Ms Kate Macdonald
Sir: I write to comment on your correspondent Alec Hamilton's query about the pub name 'Ring O Bells' (Letters, December), which he suggests may relate to discoveries of bells buried in a circle, as occurred recently in Essex. A 'ring of bells' is in fact the collective term for a group of bells hung in the bell tower of a church. Bells can be hung in a rough circle, but they are as often hung in two rows.
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