Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Murder on the Hunt Cliff (c.NZ695217)

The arc of coast betwixt Saltburn and Filey was once dotted with Roman signal stations, built in the second half of the 4th century to warn of the threat of foreign invasion from the continent. Perhaps the best known of these was the site atop the heights of Hunt Cliff a little to the east of Saltburn.

Identified for what it was in 1862 and first excavated in 1911-12, it has since tumbled into the North Sea – leaving only a few artefacts to tell the story of its all-too-brief existence. Enough of it remained in 1911-12 to estimate its size at around 105ft x 105ft square, it being of rough sandstone construction with, likely, a wooden look-out tower at its centre. Coinage indicated that it was probably in use around 360-400 AD, before being abandoned by the Romans as they deserted our shores.

What is most remarkable about the site, however, was the discovery (in 1923) in the site’s well of fourteen human skeletons of varying age and size, many of which bore weapon marks. The individuals were certainly not soldiers, and this has led to the conclusion that the final occupants of the old signal station – most likely a group of Romanised British refugees who took over the site after the Romans left – were butchered in a rival attack of some sort.

There is every reason to suspect that it was the Anglo-Saxon invaders themselves who destroyed the site and slaughtered the occupants as they made their tentative in-roads into their new land at some point in the mid 400s AD.

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