When writing the Cades road background for the Pountey’s Bridge post, I noticed in the image provided for me by Rolfe and Bob, standing in the middle of the river was the person that the archaeological community at the time considered the devil incarnate, to be ridiculed, insulted and generally brushed aside.
That man is the late Raymond (Ray) Selkirk, author of the Piercebridge Formula and On The Trail of the Legions. I never met Ray myself, and although we were both looking for missing Rome in the north east in the late 1990’s, Ray was coming to the end of his amateur archaeological career, whilst I was just beginning mine. However if I share anything with Ray Selkirk, it is the same comittment to always challenge the status quo, especially the cosy world of concensus archaeology.
So why was this man so reviled by the archaeological establishment?
What was his archaeological crime, was he a north eastern equivalent of Erich von Daniken, touting the theory in his book Chariot of the Gods, that God was a spaceman, or was he perhaps the equivalent of those who for religious reasons are committed to the idea that a fossilised Noah’s Ark is sitting on a hillside in modern Turkey.
Nope!! The archaeological community thought Ray was apparently far barmier than that, what Ray actually wrote about in the Piercebridge Formula was the idea that the Romans might have canalised rivers such as the Tees to transport goods upstream to places such as the fort at Piercebridge.
Romans building canals? Surely not you might say, what a ridiculous idea, who would use rivers and canals for transport purposes?.
Well just about everybody actually!
Of course the Romans did build canals, and the Greeks before them, why wouldn’t they, they built huge numbers of them. To suggest that they would not engineer rivers to serve them in Britain if necessary is chutzpah of the highest order, especially from a community that collectively are not exactly known for their engineering prowess. Yet with one or two big names sticking the knife in, most just hunkered down to progress their careers by not making waves, whilst Ray was subject to intellectual evisceration.
Of course when it comes to airy fairy waffling on archaeology, the establishment, including the great and the good who today fill our TV screens, take some beating themselves. With their ‘sites of ritual significance’, ‘ processional ways’ , ‘high status buildings’, high status, this, high status that, ritual this, ritual that. Anybody listening to popular archaeology as defined by the establishment would think the whole population through unrecorded and recorded history was composed of middle to upper middle class types, only living in the equivalent of 5 bedroom detached homes with on-suite facilities, spending all their time when they weren’t doing high status things. building churches, walking from one church to another in their best clothes, in between praying, sacrificing, and votively offering all sorts of things.
What really was the archaeological crime committed by Ray Selkirk, I would suggest he was on a hiding to nothing by postulating a theory in advance of finding definitive supporting archaeology. The archaeological community in academia can get away with all sorts of theoretical gobbledegook, but an amateur archaeologist does not have that luxury of independent thought, if they expect to be taken seriously. Ray should have known that, and should have tempered his book accordingly, the confidence Ray had in his idea, which is a perfectly logical area of research in my opinion, became in the Piercebridge Formula a statement of fact rather than a theory.
What now for the idea of canalising rivers such as the Tees.?
For the archaeological establishment any attempt to revisit the idea will be forever linked with Ray Selkirk and avoided like the plague, probably leaving any future research that might take place to amateur groups.
Well I was told there were no villas in the Tees Valley, until we found one, I was told that all the military activity took place through the Dere St corridor, until we found Roman camps and settlements on Cades Road where they weren’t supposed to be. There are apparently no small Roman towns in this area, well watch this space!
When Ray Selkirk wrote the Piercebridge Formula there was only Piercebridge to support his reasoning, now we have a Roman military and civilian landscape along the Tees, from the villas at Dalton on Tees and Ingleby Barwick, Cades Road at the tidal limit, and adjacent to the tidal limit we now have Roman camps and civilian settlement.
Perhaps it is time for the Mid Tees Research Project to revisit Ray Selkirk’s ideas, to bring him in from the cold.