A fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio”.
And now, we can too.
The 1700 year old skeletal remains of an African male have been found near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, by gravediggers archaeologists excavating a Roman cemetery.

The wonderful find not only emulates the infamous Act 5, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but also “suggests that African immigrants were living and working outside major Romano British settlements as early as the third or fourth century AD”.
While this may strike some as being unusual, it is in fact a fine example of the widespread multicultural reality of life, death and taxes within the Roman Empire; as well as the varied networks of trade and communications it took to run such a monster entity. Whatever he was, citizen or merchant, soldier or slave, our African Yorick chose to end his life far from the region of his birth.
In Stratford. The Horror.
Seriously though, what surprises me sometimes, is the complete surprise of other people upon hearing such stories. This really would not have been unusual for the time. There are plenty of other examples of exotic foreigners living and dying in Britain.
An older and very intriguing example closer to home comes to mind, that of Emhain Macha, a mythological royal site near Armagh town. There, under the enigmatic mound, in a phase dated to the Late Bronze Age (c. 800 BC) archaeologists uncovered the skull and mandible of a Barbary Macaque monkey (commonly mistaken for and called an Barbary ape), a species native to North Africa.
Which goes to show the extent of travel networks and contacts between the so called ‘Atlantic fringes’ of the world and the ‘centre of action’ in the Mediterranean, during pehistory, let alone the bleedin’ Romans.
Can you just imagine what sort of unholy messin’ craic the indigenous Bronze Age inhabitants of Norn Iron most probably got up to with such a thing? No doubt if we could test monkey skeletal remains for alcohol content, we’d more then likely find large traces of Guinness Mead.
Or something.
Just saying, like.
Image by piglicker, used under a Creative Commons licence.