Leaving Mons Graupius
Last month, a Scottish herald article reported on one Mike Haseler’s suggestion that he has useful evidence to pinpoint the location of the Battle of Mons Graupius. Check out the the full article for the whole pitch.
Mr.Haseler is only the latest in a long line of British archaeologists to put a pin in a map, gradually heading further and further North into Scotland.
According to Tacitus’s Agricola, mons graupius is the supposed ‘final battle’ in the Roman invasion of Britain; the decisive victory that crushed the barbarian hordes. For the uninitiated, the as yet unknown exact locality of this battle is something of a conspiracy-theory hotbed for those involved in the study of Roman frontiers. Let me be clear – I have absolutely no problem in people coming up with new and interesting theories that attempt to rid us of our historical ignorance. My problem with this comes from a quote of Mr.Haseler’s: “Historians have been gradually moving the assumed locations of tribes further north, so a lot of the potential sites are now located too far south, but we simply don’t know what is there until we start digging”.
What would we possibly have to gain from a mass-excavation of a battle site? Bearing in mind that, unless the dead were piled into mass graves, this is a research area of several hundred acres. The Varian disaster was pretty firmly located to Kalkreise in Germany so we already have a fairly contemporary mass-battle site in Europe. Other than a gruesome story what could be gained from a few thousand skeletons? And more, importantly what could be done with them??
What would become of the site if we actually found it? It wouldn’t be a tourist attraction on the scale of Pompeii or Troy, or even the Aquae Sulis Baths, in Bath itself. Exposed skeletal material would be, as they are when found by chance, studied, boxed and left on a shelf for the rest of time. The site would become a Scheduled Ancient Monument to protect it from development, but the true scale would be difficult to pinpoint because an open-field battle is a fluid beast, often moving around a landscape, leaving potential pockets of unprotected archaeological material within reach.
Mons Graupius battle site has succumbed to the mists of time. The remains of the dead are secure, safe from night-hawks, respectfully left for time to deal with in the traditional manner. Excavations of this kind of material, in the suggested quantities of individuals involved, is grossly cavalier to the point of ridiculousness. We have a solid archaeological record for the Roman military, especially in Britain. Ongoing projects continue to establish more Roman sites in not-well-understood Scottish highlands using non-evasive geophysical techniques, and small scale sampling, for the vast majority of the research.
I am not against research, nor am I against theoretical discussion. I am against any guns-blazing attitude promoting expensive, unnecessary and destructive research based on evidence that can only be described as ‘circumstantial’ at its best. Please folks, lets just be sensible and leave this one alone for now…