Time and Tide
What lies beneath...
Welcome to the second of my weekly newsletters, Not in the Script. That’s NITS for short – no offence, dear reader, but you are now among a community of ‘nits’. Not the hair lice variety, heaven forfend, but the UK slang for ‘nitwit’, or fool. In the nicest, smiley way of course.
As you know, time and tide wait for no man but this beach, where I stand with my two assistants, waited effortlessly for me. You see, beneath the sand and seaweed lie rich treasures for a historical fiction author, where Bronze age settlers, Iron Age traders and Roman adventurers dug sandcastles and sunbathed. It’s actually an ancient harbour.
Behind me is a 4th Century Roman Fort, one of the best-preserved in Europe save for the section that tumbled onto the beach below, who knows when?
Stretching across the very top of the picture you can see part of a huge concrete wall built by the Nazis, who occupied my island during World War II, to keep out the tanks that never came. Between the Germans and the Romans, there were Franks, Tudors and Victorian Brits.
Now there’s me, my wife, a Spanish cat, Lucca and Kiki ‘the polar bears’, and 2000 happy souls on a 3x1-mile island just off the Normandy coast who wouldn’t want to live any where else. Well, there are always exceptions but I can’t find them.
Before we take a peek into the most amazing experience of joining the archaeological digs on the Island of Alderney, let me introduce my two assistants. Lucca and Kiki are Maremmas, a breed of enormous ‘guardian dogs’ designed to protect the flocks from bears and wolves. Probably why there are no bears and wolves on Alderney.
They sleep day and night around chez moi except when nudging my elbow just as I’m taking a sip of coffee while mid-sentence in my latest historical fiction work. They love their walks on the beach. Given there are no bears and wolves, not even foxes to see off, they spend their time outdoors looking for people and other pets to love. Especially children who scream with delight when they see ‘the polar bears’.
They hail from the Italian Alps and I like to think they roamed the region back in the days of the Roman Republic, a favoured period for my writing with the late Republic featuring in five of my novels thus far. Kiki and Lucca, as it happens, couldn’t care less about history but they will open one suspicious eye when I ask them how I should conclude a chapter on this or that event in 1st Century BC Rome. They are honorary NITS, a position open to all any readers with charming pets who might or might not provide such inspiration.
Back to the beach.
Here, I often find my friend Nich Hogben, bucket in hand collecting Roman tiles uncovered by receding tides. The local museum is populated with his finds along with the most astonishing discoveries from Dig Alderney’s excavations at the fort and on the adjacent Longis Common.
We’re both ‘diggers’, part of the team that works under the direction of Dr Jason Monaghan, Dr Phil de Jersey and Dr Isabel Picornell. In 2021, we found the foundations of an enormous 4thC Roman tower, probably similar to the ancient look-out towers on the UK’s east coast (see artist’s impression of the Alderney fort by Doug Hamon). I promise you that I will weave this fort into a forthcoming novel
But there’s more, much more. Obviously, I’ll be returning to this incredible island story in future newsletters. Suffice to say, for now, a team from Reading University brought a ground-penetrating radar to search the area adjacent to the fort where we know there was an iron age settlement over which the Roman’s built what we hope will turn out to be a significant community.
There’s probably an early cemetery, 1st and 2nd Century, indicated by the skeletons uncovered complete with bronze torcs (see photo below by David Nash), ankle and arm bracelets now on display in local museums. The latest ground survey has probably shown where the people lived and worked – and buried their dead. Theories will begin to turn into discoveries when Dig Alderney returns with an enlarged team of experts in 2023.
If all this intrigues you and you can get here, there’ll be a lecture at the Island Hall in Alderney on September 1st at 6pm entitled ‘Dig Alderney: The Nunnery and Beyond’. (The Nunnery being the local name of the Fort, not that it ever was such!). Dr Jason Monaghan will describe the key findings of the 2021 and 2022 excavations, and then will be joined by Dr Phil de Jersey to discuss the potential for a project on Longis Common in 2023.
Be sure that more will follow about all this, so please sign up for more editions of this newsletter and please do have a looksee at my novels so far.