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Vectis: An exploration of Wight’s ancient and modern identity

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Sunday 8th October 11:40 - 12:40 | LitFest Marquee

We ‘Islanders of Wight’ relish our separation from the ‘North Island’.

But how far back does this distinction go?

Professor David Tomalin’s talk explores the long history of territorial thinking that pre-dates Roman Wight and continues in Island life today. The origin of the Roman name Vectis has long been debated. Tomalin has now traced its likely source to the ancient ‘Celtic’ language, when ‘Vectis’ was bandied around in the first century BC and canny Islanders were already making their mark with audacious voyaging, trading and politicking. Scattered across the fields of Wight or entombed in the seabed, the archaeological evidence has always been there.

Now archaeology reveals that pre-Roman Vectensians were quaffing, trading and minting their own coins. Re-examining the villa at Brading, Tomalin will present his astonishing re-appraisal of a fourth-century Romano-British household in which radical eye-surgery and astronomical observations were integral with family life. The master of the household devised a remarkably intricate astronomical calendar in which yearly agricultural tasks were set by the timings of annual meteor showers.

Tomalin’s identification of this hidden theme within Brading’s pictorial mosaics has already been hailed a revelation. Elsewhere we glimpse just a little of early Vectensian literacy where Alatucca scrawls his or her name on the lid of a favourite cooking pot, while somewhere in the grass lies a brooch that simply declares ‘I love Rome’.

Tomalin’s talk will also dismantle old tales about an Isle of Wight’s tin trade and a Roman road, exposing the antics and scandals of local antiquaries. Helpful Royals, intrepid archaeologists, foul-mouthed builders and the Luftwaffe have all played their part!

Some remarkable Vectensian oddities and factions persist: in carnivals, football clubs, flags, personal tattoos and, written in blood, even instructions on choosing an Island spouse.

Be you an Islander or an ‘overner’, Tomalin’s talk is a rare opportunity to explore the unique characteristics of us Island folk, who surprisingly, still conceal much of our treasures and intriguing past.

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