Friday, December 15, 2006

New Evidence for Portus Setantiorum

No pictures this week, just a rant! (Well, it is Christmas after all and we're expected to serve up our annual healthy dollop of 'Bah Humbug'.)
Our days of being pleasant towards the great and the good of the British Archaeological World have reached an end. It’s time to roll up our cuffs and aim squarely for the snotty noses of Academia.
Because no matter how many e-mails we’ve sent to university websites concerning our discoveries at Bourne Hall in relation to the missing Portus Setantiorum, nobody, as yet, has bothered to reply. Not a single site has been updated to accommodate the new information we’ve provided. Not a solitary lecturer, archaeologist or head of department has responded to our clarion call, whether in ‘favour of’ or ‘against’ our argument. It’s almost as if we’re too insignificant to matter to such superior intellects; an idea backed up by the numerous discussion boards scattered across the web, turgid with badly reasoned arguments put forward by lackadaisical researchers to which people like us aren’t even invited. (To obtain a password to these discussion boards you must first have a Master’s Degree in Elitism, prove you can wield a thesaurus at thirty paces and be ready and able to use seventeen words when one would normally suffice).
Before the steam starts emerging from our ears, we’d better explain what our problem is for the uninitiated. In the second century A.D. Claudius Ptolemaeus of Alexandria (or Ptolemy as he’s more familiarly known) created an Atlas of Britain in which, between the Belisima Aestuarium (the mouth of the River Ribble) and Moricambi Aestuarium (Morecambe Bay) he recorded a port known as Portus Setantiorum.
Over the centuries arguments have raged between historians as to where this portus might have been, most attempting to place it as close to their own front doorsteps as possible with only circumstantial evidence (and a great deal of rewriting of the original co-ordinates) to back up their claims.
As a result Setantiorum (similar to sightings of Elvis) has been reported in locations as far flung as Wales and Cumbria.
The general consensus, however, believes the port to lie in the middle of Morecambe Bay, once again paying scant regard to Ptolemy’s coordinates which place it slightly inland and to the south of this location, and regardless of any concrete evidence.
We figured differently, reasoning that, for a start, the port (as its name suggested) wasn’t Roman at all, but belonged to the Brigantes.
Secondly it figured that, as Ptolemy only recorded three ports on the west coast of Britain, it must have been of substantial size.
Less than 200 years ago the area of land between Fleetwood harbour (as it stands today) and Burn Naze in Thornton was underwater. It was bordered to the east by a huge bank of shingle known as Kirk Scar. The area was drained when Peter Hesketh (Fleetwood’s founder) built his railway from Bourne to Fleetwood. Before that time it was a huge natural harbour, its southern most boundary being the long, straight embankment at Burglar’s Lane.
Archaeologists probably don’t this.
Nowadays research is generally conducted by the ‘Paid Experts’ on their laptops and involves little more than a visit to Google. The idea of investigating the landscape through old maps, documents and the power of reasoning was apparently abandoned during Archaeology’s transition from Victorian Antiquarians to University Graduates.
We also figured that what we were looking for weren’t Roman ruins at all (again something that the experts have overlooked) but rather a large, late Iron Age settlement.
Putting of all of this together, in 2005 we obtained permission to excavate Bourne Hill (the highest point on the Fleetwood peninsula) where we believed Setantiorum to be. And guess what we found there? Yep…a large, late Iron Age settlement complete with roundhouses, defensive earthworks, a triangular entrance, and a cobbled track running from the area that we’d predicted as being the quayside (unfortunately, nowadays, lost beneath the caravan park). The track encircled the settlement before heading towards Stanah where it met with the known Roman road crossing Stanah Hill from Nateby.
Not only that, but we could also date the Bourne Hill site. A fragment of mortarium discovered on one of the roundhouse floors placed it firmly in the second century; the same period that Ptolemy drew up his Atlas.
To be on the safe side we called in Peter Iles, the Lancashire County Archaeologist, who basically confirmed everything that we’d said, declared that, in his opinion, the site was of ‘National Significance’ and even agreed with us that it might be the missing portus.
For anybody interested, our excavation report ran to several hundred pages. We’ve summarised here for the sake of convenience.
All right…so we can’t claim that Bourne Hill is Portus Setantiorum with absolute certainty…at least, not at the moment. Who knows, at some future date we might discover an obelisk with the word SETANTIORVM carved across it. Nonetheless, Bourne Hill is beyond doubt the best argument for the missing portus yet and, as such, deserves a bit of recognition.
That’s why several months ago we wrote to numerous websites specialising in Roman towns that discussed the whereabouts of Portus Setantiorum.
As mentioned earlier, to date we haven’t had a single reply. It seems that everyone is sticking by their original theories, however ill-conceived and misinformed they might be. It’s either that or they have no friends and never bother to check their e-mails.
Whatever the case, here’s to academia, the people that time forgot, in the hopes that, at some future date, their ‘desktop surveys’ might stumble across this posting and the great and the good might remove their heads from their thesauruses and realise there’s a world out there featuring real people, conducting real research, with real archaeology just waiting to be discovered.
And for everyone else, have a very Happy Christmas and, if you're that way inclined, see you at the next Wyre Archaeology meeting in the New Year.


John said...

I'm sorry, but inclined or not, I simply cannot make it to any Wyre Archaeology meetings, as I live too far away.

Ranting though you may be I still found your posting to be of some interest, first for it's revelations about your discovery, but also sadly for the state of Archaeology today.

I'm sure I've told you in the past of my run ins with an American Archeologist. Like yourself I have a potentially great discovery, and like yourselves, I met a brick wall when I went to the 'proper authorities' for help.

Sadly, if you don't have a degree in their discipline, Archeologists tend to treat you like a grave robber. They don't believe that anyone but themselves should be touching anything, yet they themselves can't be bothered to investigate anything. ( Unless it gets them in the newspapers, therefore securing their tenureship).

My rants aside, it sounds like you have something of historical importance there, whether it be the Portus you are looking for or not. Your argument is sound, though, so I suggest you document everything, and publish somewhere. The moment you get some recogition, you will be surprised by how many supporters you suddenly have.

Seriously, good luck, and don't let this one out of your hands.

Happy Christmas, JOHN :0)

PS If this is the port, and the Romans took over an earlier settlement, what are the odds that they would have left some writing behind, such as your "obelisk with the word SETANTIORVM carved across it"?

To date, I don't recall you ever mentioning anything with Roman writing on it.

Brian Hughes said...


Our excavations at Bourne are ongoing so we might find proof for Setantiorum yet. (We probably won't, but there's proof enough for a large Iron Age settlement already...and that's a first for the Fleetwood Peninsula.)

Next year we're getting the mechanical digger involved. I'm sure the Archaeological Establishment wouldn't be too amused to see the JCB rumbling up the hillside, but seeing as they're not interested anyway, that's they're problem.

Here in Britain professional archaeology has reached a sad state of affairs. The professionals are unwilling to investigate new sites unless they're about to be developed when, by law, the property developer has to pay for an excavation. This only affords the narrowest of windows before the site is destroyed. Anywhere not under threat (at least, anywhere not under threat that will eventually be able to pay their wages) is put on the back boiler. The idea of tracking down new sites doesn't involve the exchange of money and, therefore, seems to have died a death.

All I'm interested in, personally, is saving our heritage...plain and simple...or, in some instances such as this, working it out and proving it in the first place.

Still...there's no point in complaining. It's Christmas and I can hear the mince pies and sherry calling me from downstairs.

Have a good one,

Brian (& Michelle)

Riversider said...

This link suggests a location for Portus Setantiorum near Fleetwood too: - Roman roads do not tend to have inexplicable kinks! (It occurs to me that it may actually be you who wrote this piece in the first place!)

There is a huge heritage of early British, Roman, Viking and Civil war sites all over this part of Lancashire - but our local Councils seem to see little value in this heritage.

York on the other hand has been far more visionary and successful in it's use of local history to promote their City.

The work you are doing could be of huge value for our region, if our local politicians wake up and learn there is far more to life than their current narrow big business agenda.

Brian Hughes said...


I agree with you entirely about the local councils not paying enough attention to our heritage.

Regards your link, I actually wrote to Roman Britain org with information concerning our discoveries at Bourne in the hopes that they'd add something to their Setantiorum page. As yet they haven't replied. Perhaps I should try again...

Anonymous Archaeologist said...

I think it more likely that the Sentantiorum Portus is situated on the banks at the mouth of the Lune estuary, not far from today's Glasson Docks.

Anonymous Archaeologist said...

The shoreline around Cockerham might also be a strong contender.

Brian Hughes said...

Anonymous Archaeologist,

You could well be right. I have a suspicion that we'll never know for certain...which, I suppose, is what makes it fun.

Lorna Smithers said...

Awesome that you found this. I've just been reading a history called 'The Men of the North' by Barry Cunliffe-Shawe that says -

'Near this the Bryn or little hill overlooking Wyremouth (D.B. Brune, now Bourne). In this vicinity was Ptolemy's Portus Setantiorum, later used by the Romans, as shown by coin finds on both sides of the river at Hackensall and Rossall as well as along the route of the "Dane's Pad" at Poulton, Weeton, Kirkham, Salwick and Preston."'

Where is Bourne Hill? I can't find it on the OS map on Bing.

Tony Lee said...

Hi I notice your post date back to 2006 can I ask for an update on your findings at Bourne Hill from 06, I live in Fleetwood and find this history of the area compelling.

Tony Lee said...

Hi I notice your post date back to 2006 can I ask for an update on your findings at Bourne Hill from 06, I live in Fleetwood and find this history of the area compelling.