Gigantic Prehistoric Dykes (Canals)

Archaeologists are happy to accept that our prehistoric ancestors spent many years dragging stones across the non-existent (as it was full of woods, rivers and forests) grassy plains of the past, on proposed ‘ox-cart routes’ as suggested by some creative ‘experts’, without a hint of evidence or logistical evidence. Yet, when faced with massive empirical evidence from the hundreds of Prehistoric Dykes (water-based ox-cart routes) in our landscape, they refuse to accept the obvious to continue with an academic narrative as it fits the Victorian ‘hunter-gatherer’ concept of our past that is complete nonsense, as these ‘engineers’ had more knowledge and skills than the Victorian builders who constructed similar canals in the 19th century – but needed ‘locks’ to allow the waters to flow, which slowed down traffic and finally lead to their eventual demise.

The word Dyke is commonly used to describe: A long wall or embankment built to prevent flooding from the sea or watercourse. The modern word ‘dike’ or ‘dyke’ most likely derives from the Dutch word “dijk”, with the construction of dikes in The Netherlands well attested as early as the 12th century. The 126 kilometres (78 mi) long Westfriese Omringdijk was completed by 1250 and was formed by connecting existing older dikes. The Roman chronicler Tacitus even mentions that the rebellious Batavi pierced dikes to flood their land and protect their retreat (AD 70). The word Dijk initially indicated both the trench and the bank.

If you study archaeology at university or even on an ordinance survey map at length, you will notice strange earthworks on the sides of hills of Britain, with no rational explanation as to why they are where they are. At university, these features are mostly ignored, or an excuse is made for their construction. The reality is that these features do not make any sense unless there is another factor in operation.

1990s, Near Knighton, Wales, UK --- Offa's Dyke near Knighton in Wales. The dyke was supposed to have been created by Offa the King of Mercia from 757 to 796 AD and roughly formed the boundary between England and Wales. --- Image by © Homer Sykes/CORBIS
1990s, Near Knighton, Wales, UK — Offa’s Dyke near Knighton in Wales. The dyke was supposed to have been created by Offa the King of Mercia from 757 to 796 AD and roughly formed the boundary between England and Wales. — Image by © Homer Sykes/CORBIS – Prehistoric Dykes

The first thing to notice is that the word ‘Dyke’ is associated with water. It does seem strange you would call an earthwork on top of a hill a Dyke, unless there was some history passed down through the years to its actual use. If we look at the most famous Dyke in Britain: Offa’s Dyke (that tracks the border between England and Wales), we notice that it is attributed to a Saxon King and could not be prehistoric.

“Offa’s Dyke (Welsh: Clawdd Offa) is a massive linear earthwork, roughly followed by some of the current border between England and Wales. In places, it is up to 65 feet (19.8 m) wide (including its flanking ditch) and 8 feet (2.4 m) high. In the 8th century, it formed some delineation between the Anglia kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh kingdom of Powys.”

At face value, this seems to answer all the questions about dykes – except the water connection.

However, if you delve further down to look at the actual evidence, such as archaeological findings from Offa’s Dyke and any recorded written history. You will get a pretty different view on how constructed the Dyke. The Roman historian Eutropius in his book, Historiae Romanae Breviarium, written around 369 (AD), mentions the Wall of Severus, a structure built by Septimius Severus, who was Roman Emperor between 193 and 211 (AD):

“He had his most-recent war in Britain, and to fortify the conquered provinces with all security; he built a wall for 133 miles from sea to sea. He died at York, a reasonably old man, in the sixteenth year and third month of his reign.”

So the Romans built Offa’s Dyke 700 years before Offa! However, archaeologists are now finding Neolithic flints inside the ditch of the dyke – so how did they get there?

Offa's Dyke Map
Offa’s Dyke Map – Prehistoric Dykes

Romans are famous for ‘adapting’ – taking existing features, such as ditches and adding a defensive bank for their own use, as did the Normans who followed them a thousand years later in history. So Offa’s Dyke has nothing to do with Offa, but is this archaeological reality or misinterpretation key to why our history is not as it’s perceived?

However, is there any other evidence that this association with water contributed to these strange earthworks in prehistory?

Wansdyke (a Dyke that runs across most of Wiltshire) consists of two sections of 14 and 19 kilometres (9 and 12 miles) in length with some gaps in between. East Wansdyke is an impressive linear earthwork, consisting of a ditch and bank running approximately east-west, between Savernake Forest and Morgan’s Hill. West Wansdyke is also a linear earthwork, running from Monkton Combe south of Bath to Maes Knoll south of Bristol, but less impressive than its eastern counterpart. The middle section, 22 kilometres (14 miles) long, is sometimes referred to as ‘Mid Wansdyke’, but is formed by the remains of the London to Bath Roman road.

It used to be thought that these sections were all part of one continuous undertaking, especially during the middle ages when the pagan name Wansdyke was applied to all three parts.

Wansdyke – connecting the Thames to the Bristol Channel – Prehistoric Dykes

East Wansdyke in Wiltshire, on the south of the Marlborough Downs, has been less disturbed by later agriculture and building and remains more clearly traceable on the ground than the western part. The bank is up to 4 m (13 ft) high with a ditch up to 2.5 m (8.2 ft) deep. Wansdyke’s origins are unclear, but archaeological data shows that the eastern part was probably built during the 5th or 6th century, after the withdrawal of the Romans and before the takeover by Anglo-Saxons. The ditch is on the north side, so presumably, it was used by the British as a defence against West Saxons encroaching from the upper Thames Valley westward into what is now the West Country.

Antiquarians like John Collinson considered West Wansdyke to stretch from the southeast of Bath to the west of Maes Knoll. However, a review in 1960 thought that there was no evidence of its existence to the west of Maes Knoll. Keith Gardner refuted this with newly discovered documentary evidence. In 2007, a series of sections were dug across the earthwork, which showed that it had existed where there are no longer visible surface remains.

It was shown that the earthwork had a consistent design, with stone or timber revetment (support structure). There was little dating evidence, but it was compatible with either a late Roman or post-Roman date. A paper in “The Last of the Britons” conference in 2007 suggests that the West Wansdyke continues from Maes Knoll to the hill forts above the Avon Gorge and controls the crossings of the river at Saltford and Bristol as well as at Bath.

According to our history books, there is little archaeological evidence to date the western terminal of Wansdyke; it may have marked a division between British Celtic kingdoms or have been a boundary with the Saxons. The proof of its western extension is earthworks along the north side of Dundry Hill, its mention in a charter and a road name. The west of Wansdyke became the border between the Romano-British Celts and the West Saxons following the Battle of Deorham in 577 AD.

However, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the ‘Saxon’ Cenwalh achieved a breakthrough against the British Celtic tribes, with victories at Bradford on Avon (in the Avon Gap in the Wansdyke) in 652 AD, and further south at the Battle of Peonnum (at Penselwood) in 658 AD, followed by an advance west through the Polden Hills to the River Parrett. It is, however, significant to note that the names of the early Wessex kings appear to have a Brythonic (British) rather than Germanic (Saxon) etymology.

I thought I would give you all the ‘considered’ opinions of this Dyke, just to show how confused and inaccurate our history books are today.

Recent archaeologists have found in the bottom of one of the Wandsdyke ditches evidence that can be carbon dated, and the results from the Radiocarbon laboratory of Queen’s University, Belfast on 7 July 1997 (sample number UB-4158), shows it is 1571 ± 69-year BP (379 AD).

Wansdyke Central Section
Wansdyke Central Section – Prehistoric Dykes

So, it predates the Saxon Kings by about four hundred years!

Moreover, Romans did not build pointless earthworks, if they wanted a defensive ditch (which they did have around their settlements), it would be rectangular in shape, or if it were going to be like Hadrian’s Wall, it would have centurion stations every mile or so for troops to gather, eat and sleep. To expect troops to stay on a line for an extended period doesn’t work for Roman military planning, and if so, it is a temporary measure; the Romans would build a stockade of wood instead.

Hadrian’s Wall is 80 miles long and took an entire army six years to build; this is a quarter of the size, but it would take the Romans at least two years (as the ditches are much bigger) to make and then there was Offa’s Dyke and another 1500 Dykes that are scattered throughout the land, including places Roman’s had no settlements. The design and method are not Roman, so it must have existed before then, which is supported by the Roman historian Eutropius who was writing about a Roman Emperor that I believe, was using an existing feature for the following reasons.

Wansdyke East Section - Ending in the middle of nowhere.
Wansdyke East Section – Ending in the middle of nowhere – Prehistoric Dykes

If we look at the map of Wandsdyke to the East, the ditch ends at the village of Cadley; it borders the forest of Savernlake. Now archaeologists would say ‘perfect cover’ for the end of your ‘defensive ditch’, except the forest was not there when the ditch was built as proven by the Roman road that goes through the centre, and Romans did not put roads through the middle of forests because of ambush, so the forest was planted/grew after the Roman invasion. Furthermore, would they not naturally end the ditch by the road as the road would have allowed easy access to the protected land beyond this ‘defensive ditch – so clearly, unless it was a temporary feature and the road was built at a later date, it does not make sense for the Romans to build it?

Furthermore, if you continued this ditch for another 6km, you would have reached water – another natural boundary, remembering you have already cut 34km, or if you were short of time, you could turn south, and water is reached in just 3km. To the west, it’s even worse; you could go south again and connect to the river, using that as a defensive boundary, but it just stops. If you were to attack the ditch, you’d be mad or deluded as you can walk around it as the German’s successfully did on the French Siegfried line at the outbreak of world war two.

So let’s take another look at this ditch and see what it was really for and how long it took to build?

The Kennet and Avon Canal is a waterway in southern England with an overall length of 87 miles (140 km), made up of two lengths of navigable river linked by a canal. The name is commonly used to refer to the entire length of the navigation rather than solely to the central canal section. From Bristol to Bath, the waterway follows the natural course of the River Avon before the canal links it to the River Kennet at Newbury, and from there to Reading on the River Thames.

Quite remarkably, Wansdyke was constructed just 3 km north of the Kennet and Avon canal, and if it were a prehistoric waterway, it would have achieved the exact purpose of joining the River Thames to the Bristol Channel but some 6-8K years before the Victorian’s great canal system.

Now let us consider the workforce it needed to create such a structure. At 34 km in length (34,000m), its volume can be calculated as about 0.7 million m3 of Chalk (if it is 2.5m deep and 8m wide as an average) at least, this is the approximate volume of material removed from the ditch. This is thirty times greater than what was excavated at Avebury, which is estimated to take 1.5 million working hours – so are we looking at 40 million working hours?

Stukeley's Drawing of Wansdyke - showing the Roman Road ON TOP and cutting through the ditch POSTDATING the earthwork
Stukeley’s Drawing of Wansdyke – showing the Roman Road ON TOP and cutting through the ditch POSTDATING the earthwork – Prehistoric Dykes

So in real terms, what does this mean?

It took the Victorians one hundred years to build the Avon & Kennet Canal using metal tools and steam engines. Moreover, the Victorian canal was only 1.3m deep and 6m wide – the ancient ditch is in places twice as big as the Victorian counterparts. So whoever built it must have spent many years completing this task, which suggested it was essential at the time of construction.

If you study a geological map of this area, you will be struck by the endless twisting rivers that once flowed on and around the Wansdyke earthwork. These are called ‘superficial deposits’ and consist of sand, silt and pebbles. This is evidence that ‘once upon a time’ rivers formerly flowed in these what we call today ‘dry valleys’, and the clue just like the name for these earthworks (Dykes) is in the title.

Wansdyke with the Post-Glacial waters (Paleochannels) which remained until the Neolithic Period
Wansdyke with the Post-Glacial waters (Paleochannels) which remained until the Neolithic Period – Prehistoric Dykes

‘Dry River Valleys’ are depressions that once were believed to be formed from the glacial ice of a previous ice age. This idea has now been dismissed as we find that the ice sheets of the last ice age never (in the past million years) reached this part of Wiltshire. In fact, the closest is about 100km away. So these ‘dry valleys were formed by water carving into the Chalk, leaving the valley (paleochannel) and ‘superficial’ deposits of sand and gravel in the base as you would expect of a river that once was.

At the end of the last glacial period, there were up to 3km of ice sitting on the land surface of Britain, and the consequence of this massive amount of ice melting would be the flooding of the landscape and the raising of ‘groundwater’ that remained in the ground for thousands of years after the ice had finally melted.

If we add the known prehistoric groundwater rivers to the map of this great ditch, we find that springs would feed the ditch naturally, flooding it – and there you have yourself a canal. This 21-mile canal links (just like the Avon & Kennet) the river Thames to the Bristol Channel. And there can be only one reason for this massive undertaking (boat travelled for the purpose of trade) just like the Victorian ancestors would achieve some six to eight thousand years later.

However, the most miraculous revelation about these Dykes is that the builders had a better knowledge of hydrology than even today’s engineers and geologists for the weakness and final demise of the canal system Britain was the fact they were very slow. The Victorians had to build at least one lock per mile of the canal to keep in the water – Wandsdyke has over 100 locks. The original canal had none as it relied on the natural groundwater table levels to fill the canal, and therefore, it was straighter and consequently shorter in length than the Avon & Kennet, which would have allowed them to travel from the Thames to the Bristol Channel much faster than the Victorian barges.

Moreover, if you find this difficult to believe, you should bear in mind that there are over 1,500 dykes in Britain; a majority 90%, are straight and less than 1km in length. To date, every single dyke we have investigated has underground links to these prehistoric rivers created from the ‘post-glacial flooding’ after the last ice age.

Furthermore, some of these Dykes are linked to ancient sites directly, as shown in this report confirming these earthworks’ age.

From English Heritage:

The Winterbourne Stoke Crossroads round barrow cemetery comprises a linear arrangement of 19 late Neolithic / Early Bronze Age circular earthwork monuments, commonly known as round barrows. Winterbourne Stoke 3 (Monument Number 870372) to 10 (870444) are aligned to the north-east of the Neolithic long barrow known as Winterbourne Stoke 1 (Monument Number 219696). They extend south-west/north-east for nearly 600m: this alignment continues after a gap of circa 100m (see Winterbourne Stoke 22: Monument Number 219720).

A roughly parallel secondary alignment immediately to the west comprises Winterbourne Stoke 2a (Monument Number 866648) to 12 (Monument Number 870446). A cluster of barrows sits slightly apart, circa 250m north-west of the primary alignment (Monument Number 215072). Most of the barrows were excavated by Sir Richard Colt Hoare in the early 19th century.

What is missed by this report is the fact that massive Dykes cross this entire area, but they are not even mentioned, let alone measured and excavated? This is because the most fundamental understanding of the environment at the time of these barrows construction is unknown or misunderstood. If they looked under the surface of the soil, they would see that not too far away from this large number of barrows are the remains of the prehistoric river shoreline.

The Dykes of Winterbourne Stoke Crossroads
The Dykes of Winterbourne Stoke Crossroads – Prehistoric Dykes

The closest earthworks (dyke) to the winterbourne crossroads run North West (NW) to South East (SE) for about 500m, where it then seems to meet another dyke running NNW to SSE for about the same distance making the entire dyke about one kilometre long. If the size is like our Wansdyke earthwork, we are looking at removing 20,000 cubic m3 of Chalk taking about 20,000 working hours using just ‘antler picks’ and ‘stone axes ‘, or 100 men taking almost 40 days or one man taking 15 years – so no tiny farming feature as archaeologists would have you believe, taking into account that you can move a cubic metre of Chalk with antler picks per hour which to date has never been demonstrated.

Sitting at the height of 110m above sea level, it is a curious feature. It can’t be defensive as you can walk around the edge, and it can’t be for animals as it stops nothing – fences are much cheaper and quicker to construct even in ancient times. However, if we place into the landscape the prehistoric groundwater rivers, something incredible happens. With the Mesolithic (10,000BCE to 4,500BCE) groundwater level, which would be at the height of around 95m – 100m, the closer of the earthworks cuts into the river’s shoreline, creating a canal. Even more surprising is the second earthwork that was in a different direction also joins with a separate waterway, joining the two rivers.

So why bother cutting a canal, where does it lead to?

Both canals have been cut to lead to one of the oldest monuments ever built, a ‘Long Barrow’. The Long Barrow is where our prehistoric ancestors buried their dead and therefore, the symbolic ritual of taking the body by boat to the Long Barrow as the bodies last resting place is significant.  In fact, we still act out this same ceremony today with the slow funeral hearse drive to our cemeteries; our ancestors would have the ‘final voyage’ to the afterlife via a boat ride to the Long Barrow.

If these canals are that old, are there other monuments that we know of comparable design, which we can date?

Avebury is known not only for the Stone circle that encompasses the site but for the considerable ditch that surrounds the town. This ditch is 21m wide and 11m deep with a single bank to one side from the ditch, which favourably compares in size to Wansdyke’s ditch which is 2.5m deep by 8m wide and Offa’s Dyke, which is also 20m wide. The exact sizes of these prehistoric ditches and banks have not been forthcoming as only limited scientific investigation have been undertaken from less than half a dozen small excavations.

Traditional archaeologists maintain that these ditches were built not for water but for some kind of ‘ceremonial’ purpose. But why would you spend 20,000 working hours making a ditch 20m wide for ceremonial reasons when surely a smaller trench of 2m would satisfy any ‘ceremonial’ agenda?

Remarkably, recent discoveries of ‘Post Glacial Flooding’ shown on the British Geological Maps indicate that these Dykes were constructed in a time when superficial deposits were formed by the flooding after the last ice age when man had returned to Britain less than 10,000 years ago. This discovery is based on the fact that all these ‘Dykes’ actually link high groundwater levels together, creating a ‘canal’ between two watercourses.

At last, we have the reason for the word ‘Dyke’ for these constructions, which now looks painfully obvious, especially when we consider another boat society – the Vikings and how they used their boats to navigate the known world, twelve hundred years ago.  If they required to move their boat from fjords, river or coastal area inland over high hills or even mountains, they would cut a ditch which they would pour water and pull the craft (like a sledge) over the obstruction – saving time, rather than sailing around the obstacle.

Consequently, if archaeologists are looking for evidence of transporting heavy goods (like stones weighing tonnes), we are happy to accept hoards of men dragging a rock on a sledge over hundreds of miles with little to no real assistance from the logs placed under the sledge – but they fail to understand that Dykes are the same roads they are prescribing but with much better lubrication to moving the boat shaped sledges – as the found in these ditches would either float the cargo or at the very least give a surface which is a slippery making it easy to drag across – particularly on the uphill slopes.

As for Wansdyke – unknown to Mike Parker-Pearson, we have found his ‘Ox-Cart’ route as the Stones for Stonehenge that came from Wales (via the rivers) would have taken this route from the Bristol Channel to the River Avon and finally reaching the Stonehenge at the landing site in the ‘old carpark’. The difference in the two hypotheses, is that my ‘route’ is still visible in the landscape!

A video showing the Dykes around Winterbourne Crossroads can be found here and Post-Glacial Flooding can be found here