Summer School, university of Westminster
International summer school at the University of Westminster
Has one of the central questions about the British Neolithic been answered?
Despite a century of research, archaeologists still disagree about how farming began in Britain, with some arguing that it was a result of indigenous groups adopting the practice via trade and exchange and others contending that it was the consequence of a migration of farmers from mainland Europe.
Our Fellow Stephen Shennan, along with co-authors Mark Collard, Kevan Edinborough and Mark G Thomas, now think they might have the answer. In a paper published in The Journal of Archaeological Science (Volume 37, Issue 4, pages 671—900, April 2010) they present evidence for a marked and rapid increase in population density in southern England and in central Scotland around 6000 cal BP, which is the time when cultivated grain first appears in Britain. They argue that this finding is best explained by the migrant farmer hypothesis, with two sets of farmers from the Continent independently colonizing England and Scotland at this time.
Based on ethnographic data, the authors argue that farming usually supports much higher population densities in temperate regions than hunting and gathering and that the timing and rate of change in population size should provide clues as to the date and nature of the change to domesticated husbandry. They also reasoned that the number of monuments and settlements at any given period in prehistory could be used as a proxy for population size.
Plotting carbon-dated sites by 100-year time slices revealed that between 8000 and 6100 cal BP all regions of Britain were sparsely populated. Then, between 6100 and 5400 cal BP there was a dramatic increase in population density. South-west England was the first region to experience an increase. It was followed in the succeeding century by central Scotland. Subsequently, nearly all the regions of Britain experienced an increase in population density. Post-5400 cal BP, there were complex and varied demographic patterns.
The maps indicate that the migration to south-west England occurred before the migration to Scotland and not the other way around (as argued by our Fellow Alison Sheridan) and that (based on close similarities in animal bones) the migrants in both cases probably came from the Pas de Calais region or the Paris Basin in northern France.
Because each map covers 100 years, the authors say that it is difficult to be precise about how much time elapsed between the two migrations, but that the gap was probably less than a century. They also argue for rapid adoption of farming practices by the indigenous population of Britain, rather than the model proposed by some archaeologists (such as our Fellow Julian Thomas) that sees domesticated animals and crops used initially for occasional rituals and not becoming economic staples for hundreds of years.
The authors conclude that ‘the case for believing that the Neolithic transition in Britain was mediated by a large influx of farmers from continental Europe is compelling. The migrants’ arrival resulted in sudden and dramatic economic, demographic and social change that seems to have led to a “boom-to-bust” cycle lasting 600 to 700 years, with the initial rapid rise in population followed by an equally rapid decline, heralding the very different cultural patterns of the later Neolithic.’'
Geoffrey Russell Steele Grogono.
Basil John Steele Grogono.
The casebook of our grandfather, Dr Russell Steele of Reigate, has a graphic account of rabies in a young boy.
"On July 4th 1876, shortly after 7 o'clock in the morning, the patient, a little boy called Alfred Cox (aged 91/2 years), the son of the stationmaster at Bletchworth, was playing with a strange dog which had bites about its muzzle, and was bitten several times by it on the right hand and leg. He was brought to me soon afterwards, when I cauterised the wounds freely with linear caustic. He came to see me twice afterwards to have the wounds dressed with water dressing, after which they healed up. Six weeks and three days from the date of the bite, on August 18th, it was said that he seemed to be tired.
"On August 21st he went with a number of children on an excursion to Dover. After eating a good breakfast and a good night's rest he was very anxious to go, but feared he would be too tired to do so. When on the pier at Dover about 11 o'clock, he complained that the sight of water made him feel unwell and of his feet `feeling so light.' He drank a little tea and ate some bread and butter, directly afterwards asking for some water, but unable to drink it. He `snapped at it' as his mother expressed it, but could not swallow a drop."
On 22 August Dr Steele was sent for by the boy's mother.
"On my arrival at half past 10 I found him lying in bed, face flushed, pulse irregular, complaining of pain in the epigastrium. He said he could not swallow. After a few attempts, swallowed a mouthful, immediately afterwards throwing back his head into the pillow exhausted. 10.30pm much the same. Unfolding a towel (for auscultation) the boy inspired deeply and spasmodically and gave a loud shriek with expiration."
Dr Steele visited the boy frequently both by day and night; he died at 6pm on 26 August.
An inquest was held at which Dr Steele said that the boy died from exhaustion caused by hydrophobia arising from the bite of a dog. Inspector Gray said that no one knew where the dog had come from. The coroner did not think it necessary to take further evidence, adding that no one could tell the cause of madness in dogs but the old idea about hot weather causing it was known to be false.
Exactly 10 years later a boy of 9 presented himself to the laboratories of Louis Pasteur in Paris. Pasteur had perfected a vaccine by inoculating rabbits with virus from the spinal cord of an infected dog. The boy was certain to die, but Pasteur inoculated him with a series of injections and he lived.Hydrophobia is one of the most terrible diseases known to man. We must make sure that it cannot return to Britain ever again.
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