|Red Hills are low mounds, found near creeks and rivers, composed of soil burnt red in marked contrast to the clay on which they stand.
Over 300 red hill sites have been identified in Essex, but many have disappeared. However, they can still be found. There is one within a few yards of the West Mersea road onto the island.
Red Hills have been studied for many years, and a number of theories put forward to explain them. They have been thought to be salt pans, potters' kilns, glassworks fish curing sites... But, now it is generally accepted that they are salt panning sites.
Salt was and is valuable. In hot countries, salt water can be left to evaporate until all that is left is a residue of salt crystals. But in our climate, it needs a helping hand - a fire.
The Blackwater is a salty river. Saltwater would be put in a crude earthenware pot, often made from local clay, and the pot placed on top of a fire.
The pots could break and the earth underneath would be burnt by the fire
- leaving a red earthy area containing many fragments of pottery.
A characteristic red hill.
The pottery helps date the red hills and they are thought to range between
50 BC and 100 AD.
The Red Hill shown above is particularly interesting. It is large - and you can still see it, now registered on the Sites and Monuments Records. It is thought to be the Burnt Hill used in Baring Gould's novel Mehalah, though for the novel it is on Ray Island.
The hill is on the edge of the Pyefleet Channel close to a spot where the bottom of the creek is known to be hard. It was possibly a Roman crossing onto the island. Burnt Hill is in a large ditched enclosure, though this may be later than the hill itself.
The hill can be seen from the sea wall, just over half a mile East from the Strood.
The Red Hills of Essex published by Colchester Archaeologocial Group, ISBN 0 9503905 1 8
(There is a copy in the Museum Resource Centre and it is for sale in the Museum shop - see Publications )