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Camelot and Famine.

13 January 2011

At www.archnews.co.uk/featured/4616-did-famine-destroy-camelot/ there is an interesting piece on South Cadbury Castle (hereafter assumed to be Camelot) where excavators have shown it was re-occupied in the Late or post-Roman period. However, by 600AD the site was abandoned – and the question addressed is why. There is no evidence of a destruction layer as such, anything that might be attributed to warfare or aggression, ostensibly by incoming Anglo-Saxons. Its abandonment is considered perplexing. It was clearly occupied in the 5th century as evidenced by pottery sherds – but was abandoned before 600AD (Alcock, 1995). This was arrived at by the absence of E-Ware, a native pottery assemblage mixed with imported grey wares from the Rhineland (Fox, 1964).

It seems the same situation is basically true of the archaeology at Tintagel – another site with an Arthurian connection. It also lacks E-Ware (Alcock). Tintagel at the time was a monastic site and imported goods from the Mediterranean but during the 6th century lost its economic supremacy in SW Britain and disappeared from view until the 12th century when it was reoccupied. Cadbury Castle, Tintagel, Congresbury, Glastonbury Tor and High Peak vanished at the same time (Alcock again) and he blamed a changing pattern in trade – and developing political fortunes in the Mediterranean (presumably the back end of the reign of Justinian).

The piece then asks if warfare was to blame – and came up with a negative. The expansion of Wessex took place in the 7th and 8th centuries, not the 6th. Searching for clues the author refers to the Catholic Encyclopedia (which is actually an online resource if I remember rightly) and a brief mention of an incident that seems to suggest there was famine in England at this time – a shortage of grain. He then looks at the soils around Cadbury Castle and makes a surprising point – some geological changes have taken place since Roman times (quoting Victorian County History 1906 page 1-36). Famine, the point is made, also creates a drop in population – and a shortage of males to plough the fields. Climate change is therefore a possibility but it would seem that we have a clear link to the 536-45BC low growth tree ring event – whatever might have caused it. In tradition this was followed by plague – and the Plague of Justinian was especially destructive in the Mediterranean region, including at Constantinople (Byzantium).  

Note … the link above appears to be damaged as it has a succession  of % within it. Go to www.archnews.co.uk and the Camelot story is on the front page – as of today. Later, it will be further down a list of titles as new stories come in.

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