Skip to main content Accessibility help

Prehistoric Salt-Boiling

  • Karl Riehm

Just over sfty years ago the puzzling Red Hills on the coast of Essex were arousing considerable interest among English prehistorians (PLATE XXII (a) and (b)). Already in the spring of 1906, under the chairmanship of J. Chalkley Gould and supported by the Essex Field Club, the Society of Antiquaries of London had formed a ‘Red Hills Exploration Committee’, which counted among its members not only archaeologists but also geologists, botanists and chemists, and had ample means at its disposal. Eminent specialists and scholars examined suitable hills with the utmost care and published their findings and conclusions in comprehensive papers.

But in what consists the peculiarity and the riddle of these Red Hills, which obviously date back to prehistoric times and have since time immemorial lain in close proximity to the coast of England? The striking way in which they are built of loose red burnt clay unmistakably points to a human-made origin. As a rule these mounds rise by only as much as 18 in. to 6 ft. above their surroundings, and their extent varies between a few square yards to several hundred. How did these numerous and extensive heaps of burnt clay come about in prehistoric times?

Hide All

1 F. W. Reader (1907-9, 1909-11), Excavation Reports of 29 March, 1908, and 17 February, 1910, to the Red Hills Exploration Committee, Proc. Soc. Antiqu. London, 11 Ser., 22, 164-207 and 23, 69-96.

2 I. B. Keune (1901), ‘Das Briquetage im oberen Seilletal’, Jahrb. Ges. lothr. Gesch. Altertumsk. 13, 360-394.

3 K. Riehm (1954), ‘Vorgeschichtliche Salzgewinnung an Saale und Seille’, Jahresschr. mitteldt. Vorgetch. 38, 112-156.

4 F. W. Reader (1907-9), op. cit. 188.

5 R. A. Smith (1918), ‘The Essex Red Hills as Saltworks’, Proc. Soc. Antiqu. London, 11 Ser., 30, 53.

6 Ibid., 36-37.

7 Ibid., 50-51.

8 8 Ibid., 46-47.

9 K. Riehm (1958), ‘Neue Einblicke in die Tecfanik der vorgeschichtlichen Salzsiedekunst’, Forschungen und Fortschritte, 32, 47-49.

10 K. Riehm (1959), ‘Genormte Tonbehälter zuir Formsalzfertigung in der Vorzeit’, Ausgrabungen und Funde, 4, pl. 1.

11 K. Riehm (1960), ‘Die Formsalzproduktion der vorgeschichtlichen Salzsiedestätten Europas’, Jahresschr. mitteldt. Vorgesch. 44, 199.

12 Archaeol. Journal, VII (1850), 69-70.

13 Ibid., 175-176.

14 J. B. Calkin (1948), ‘The Isle of Purbeck in the Iron Age’, Proc. Dorset Nat. Hist, and Archaeol. Soc, 68, 56-57.

15 H. H. Swinnerton (1932), ‘The Prehistoric Pottery Sites of the Lincolnshire Coast’, Antiqu. J., 12, 239-253.

16 K. Riehm (1959), Die Red Hills der englischen Küste und ihre Problematik’, Jahresschr. mitteldt.’ Vorgesch., 43, 235-238.

17 R. A. Smith (1918), op. cit., 50-51.

18 H. H. Swinnerton (1932), op. cit., 346

19 Ibid., 246.

20 Ibid., 248, fig. 9, nr. 7.

21 Ibid., 250, fig. 9, nr. 9(a).

22 Ibid., 244, fig. 6.

23 F. T. Baker (1959-60), ‘The Iron Age Salt Industry in Lincolnshire’, Lincolnsh. Architectural and Archaeological Society, vol. 8, New Series, 26-34.

24 F. W. Reader (1907-9), op. cit., 75; H. Wilmer (1907-9), ‘Late Celtic Remains on the Coast of Brittany comparable with the Red Hills’, Proc. Soc. Antiqu. London, 11 Ser., 32, 207-214; R. A. Smith (1918), op. cit., 49 footnote; C. F. C. Hawkes (1933), ‘Early Settlement at Runcton Holme’, Proc. Prehist. Soc. East Anglia, VII, 258-262.

25 E, Rahir (1927), ‘L’âge du fer à La Panne, une fabrique de poteries’, Bull. Soc. Antkropol. Bruxelles, 42, 21-35; A. de Loe (1906), ‘Fouilles à La Panne’, Bull Mus. Roy, Arts décoratifs et industriels, 6, 3-4; (1908) 11 Ser., 1, 36.

26 J. A. E. Nenquin (1955), ‘Zoutontginning in de Praehistorie’, Handelingen des Maatsckappij vor Geschiedenis en Oudheilkunde, Nieuwe Recks 9, 4-16; J. A. E. Nenquin (i960), ‘The relations between Southern Britain and Continental Europe during prehistoric times with special reference to salt-production’, Ph.D. Dissertation, Cambridge.

27 M. Tessier (1960), ‘Découverte de gisements préhistoriques aux environs de la Pointe-Saint-Gildas’, Bull, de la Soc. prèhist, franc. 57, 428-434.

28 L. de Fleury (1888), ‘Dépôts de Cendres de Nalliers (Vendée)’, fico. Archéol., 3 Ser., 349-357.

29 L. N. Solovjev (1950), ‘Selisce s tekstil’noj keramikoj na probereze zapadnoj Gruzii’, Sovjetskaja Archaeologija, 14, 276-282.

30 J. B. Keune (1913), Lothringen und seine Haupstadt Metz, 45 ff.

31 I. Harter (1938), Étude monographique sur le Briquetage de la Seule, MS of a paper read at the Congrès Lorrain des Sociétés Savantes de l’Est de la France at Nancy, 6-8 June, 1938.

32 A. Springer (1918), Die Salzversorgung der Eingeborenen Afrikas vor der neuzeitlichen europäischen Kolonisation, Inaugural-Dissertation Jena.

Dr Karl Riehm is a doctor of medicine at Halle-Giebkhenstein, who has for the last ten years been working in cooperation with the Landesmusuem fur Vorgeschichte on problems of prehistoric salt-mining and production. He recently received the Leibnix medal of the Deutschen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Berlin, for this work. He here discusses the technique of the salt-boilers of prehistory, with speciaI reference to our knowledge of briquetage, and to our understanding of the Red Hills of the Essex coast.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
  • URL: /core/journals/antiquity
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed