Current PhD research: Dark Age dykes.


Editors Note: This is an archived blog post from 21/1/2010.

Current Research: Erik Grigg, PhD student

I am a part-time PhD researcher currently looking at Dark Age dykes. These, according to Dr Ryan, sounds like a Swedish Goth death metal band, but they are in fact early medieval linear earthworks (Offa’s Dyke, Wansdyke, etc) that date from 400 to 850 AD. While there have been studies on individual dykes or the odd brief article talking about dykes in general, no-one has systematically studied these huge archaeological features that snake enigmatically across the British countryside (probably as they are a nightmare to date with few clues to sort the prehistoric ones from the post-Roman examples). I have found that there are far more than anyone imagined which increases the importance of my research, but unfortunately also the amount of work. I am at present trying to catalogue them all and I think that in Britain there could be as many as 100 examples. Once I have produced a gazetteer with the size, location, dating evidence, charter evidence and so forth for each one I will start to analyse them. I hope then to produce a thesis that explains their function/roles in this most decisive, but ill-documented, period of British history.

As well as the Anglo-Saxon period I am also interested in the history of the Cornish language (having presented a couple of papers and had a few articles published on the subject). I recently also produced for the Cornish Language Board a study guide booklet for Bewnans Meriasek, probably the only complete British miracle play (there are a couple of miracle plays in English, but as they take Biblical subjects and are very short I don’t count them). I hope that by understanding how English replaced Cornish (and more importantly why it took so long to do so) and what similarities there are between the two languages will help my understanding of how lowland Britain became England. I have also recently published a in WHR a long study of the Welsh Annals, the ones that notoriously mention the bete noir of early medieval studies: King Arthur. It was probably Arthur that first got me interested in the period, or more specifically Michael Wood’s In Search of the Dark Ages TV programme about him. At 14 I dragged my Dad across Dorset looking at dykes and possible Celtic religious sites in a hope to understand this wonderfully mysterious period of British history.

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