Saturday, April 12, 2014

Offa's (?) Dyke

New evidence suggests that Offa's Dyke,  a man-made ditch along the border of Wales and England, might not belong to Offa after all. Created in the 8th century, the ditch was believed to have been the creation of King Offa, king of Mercia, in an attempt to show how badass he was against neighboring kingdoms. Offa might have been more modest than we all thought, as archaeologists are now saying that this 80-mile long ditch dates 100 years earlier, when Mercia was under the rule of King Penda or King Creoda.

Radiocarbon dating was used on a layer of the structure and studies conclude that there is a 95% probability that the Dyke was built between 430 and 652 A.D. Paul Belford, director of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, says "This is the first time we have accurate scientific dates for Offa's Dyke. It is a tremendously exciting discovery which means we must rethink some of our assumptions about this important monument. It is likely that parts of the dyke system was in place before Offa's time. But it is also likely that he would have consolidated the existing network into what we now call Offa's Dyke."

Image sources: BBC and The Artchive

For nearly 30 years in the eighth century, King Offa was the king of Mercia, a region extending throughout the midlands of England. Experts believed the Dyke was created by Offa as a defensive earthwork for a political statement or power of intent. It is evidence of a "physical manifestation" of the emergence of nation states throughout early Britain, a.k.a a 'pissing contest.' Once 25 feet deep, the Dyke roughly follows the modern border of Wales and England and is nearly 65 feet wide and eight feet high in some places. It is the country's longest linear earthwork and one of the longest in Europe. It's popular ancient history led to the construction of the 177 mile long Offa's Dyke Path, one of Britain's longest National Trails. 

What does the future hold for Offa's Dyke? Or is it now Penda's Dyke? Or Creoda's Dyke? Or best to play it safe and name it Ancient Dyke? Wales/England Dyke? Welshgland Dyke? Belford explains, "Certainly the dyke was built to make a statement about the power of the kingdom of Mercia. It's been known as Offa's Dyke for centuries but some sections may not have been built by Offa. It is now clear that it was not the work of a single ruler but a longer-tern project that begun at an earlier stage in the development of the kingdom. Further work is needed on other parts of this enigmatic monument before we can really say who built it and why. It may be a bit late to change the name now - although it raises some interesting questions."

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