Early Britain—Roman Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 242 pages of information about Early Britain—Roman Britain.

E. 1.—­The trustworthiness of Pytheas is further confirmed by the astronomical observations which he records.  He notices, for example, that the longest day in Britain contains “nineteen equinoctial hours.”  Amongst the ancients, it must be remembered, an “hour,” in common parlance, signified merely the twelfth part, on any given day, of the time between sunrise and sunset, and thus varied according to the season.  But the standard hour for astronomical purposes was the twelfth part of the equinoctial day, when the sun rises 6 a.m. and sets 6 p.m., and therefore corresponded with our own.  Now the longest day at Greenwich is actually not quite seventeen hours, but in the north of Britain it comes near enough to the assertion of Pytheas to bear out his tale.  We are therefore justified in giving credence to his account of what he saw in our country, the earliest that we possess.  He tells us that, in some parts at least, the inhabitants were far from being mere savages.  They were corn-growers (wheat, barley, and millet being amongst their crops), and also cultivated “roots,” fruit trees, and other vegetables.  What specially struck him was that, “for lack of clear sunshine[22],” they threshed out their corn, not in open threshing-floors, as in Mediterranean lands, but in barns.

E. 2.—­From other sources we know that these old British farmers were sufficiently scientific agriculturalists to have invented wheeled ploughs,[23] and to use a variety of manures; various kinds of mast, loam, and chalk in particular.  This treatment of the soil was, according to Pliny, a British invention[24] (though the Greeks of Megara had also tried it), and he thinks it worth his while to give a long description of the different clays in use and the methods of their application.  That most generally employed was chalk dug out from pits some hundred feet in depth, narrow at the mouth, but widening towards the bottom. [Petitur ex alto, in centenos pedes actis plerumque puteis, ore angustatis; intus spatiante vena.]

E. 3.—­Here we have an exact picture of those mysterious excavations some of which still survive to puzzle antiquaries under the name of Dene Holes.  They are found in various localities; Kent, Surrey, and Essex being the richest.  In Hangman’s Wood, near Grays, in Essex, a small copse some four acres in extent, there are no fewer than seventy-two Dene Holes, as close together as possible, their entrance shafts being not above twenty yards apart.  These shafts run vertically downwards, till the floor of the pit is from eighty to a hundred feet below the surface of the ground.  At the bottom the shaft widens out into a vaulted chamber some thirty feet across, from which radiate four, five, or even six lateral crypts, whose dimensions are usually about thirty feet in length, by twelve in width and height.  When the shafts are closely clustered, the lateral crypts of one will extend to within a few feet of those belonging to its neighbours, but in no case

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Early Britain—Roman Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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