By David Hill et al.
Antiquity, Vol.64 (1990)
Abstract: Some of the major sea-ports of medieval Europe still continue and flourish as ports; medieval Hamwic became the container port of Southampton. Some have faded away, as their harbours have silted or the pattern of trade has moved away. Some have so completely failed that certain knowledge ofwhat and where they were has been forgotten. Chief of these lost ports of Europe is Quentovic, whose site has been sought in northern France and is here defined in the Canche valley, south of Boulogne.
Introduction: The principal early medieval port in northern France, and perhaps the most important seaport of the Franks, certainly of the Frankish homelands, was Quentovic. The place-name is variously rendered and means ‘the market on the Canche’, a minor river with a large estuary lying some 18 miles (29 km) south of Boulogne. The site was famous throughout the northern world and appears in chronicles, laws, coin inscriptions (both Merovingian and Carolingian), saints’ lives and charters. In recent decades there has been an upsurge in interest in sites of this type, categorized in recent works as ‘emporia’ and in contemporary sources as ‘vicus’ or ‘wik’. Yet the site of Quentovic had not been satisfactorily located.
Many places have been put forward as the site of Quentovic over the past 140 years. These are located mainly, though not exclusively, within the Canche Valley from Montreuil to the sea at Etaples or Le Touquet. Interest in the site is enhanced for British archaeologists by Quentovic being the recognized port of entry for the hosts of Anglo-Saxon pilgrims flooding down the roads to Rome. The site flourished from the 6th century until it disappeared from view in the mid 9th century AD. There is an as yet unexplained epilogue marked by a 10th century coinage issued in the name, and in the types, of the 9th-century Charles the Bald, and struck in the name of a possibly vanished Quentovic. All of the available evidence was admirably summarized by Dhondt but since then the matter has rested.
In 1973 Roman pottery kilns were discovered during road improvements near La Calotterie, south of the Canche and well inland from the present coast. These Roman finds lay in an area which, until then, had not been considered as occupied in antiquity; and therefore it now became another candidate for the site of Quentovic. Soon after this, further accidental finds were made some 350 m to the north of the Roman kiln sites. A farmer cutting ditches unearthed a considerable number of human bones, associated with a wide range of material, worked stone, flints, ironwork and some pottery. Some of these pottery types were clearly Carolingian and a little could have been of Merovingian date. A brief rescue excavation was carried out by Pierre Leman. Although the range of material was confusing, Leman was convinced that this site was associated with Quentovic.