Six boats hollowed out of oak tree trunks are among hundreds of intact artefacts from 3,000 years ago that have been discovered in the Cambridgeshire fens, the Observer can reveal.
The scale, quality and condition of the objects, the largest bronze age collection ever found in one place in Britain, have astonished archaeologists – and barely a fraction of the site has been excavated.
Unique textile fragments, wicker baskets and wooden sword handles have survived. There are even containers of food, including a bowl with a wooden spoon still wedged into the contents, now analysed as nettle stew, which may have been a favourite dish in 1000BC. [More likely survival food for the poor!] The boats – two of which bear unusual decoration – are in such good condition that the wood grain and colour can be seen clearly, as can signs of repairs by their owners. . . .
Along the 150-metre stretch of a bronze age river channel, they have found the best preserved example of prehistoric river life. There are weirs and fish traps in the form of big woven willow baskets, plus fragments of garments with ornamental hems made from fibrous bark and jewellery, including green and blue beads. Extensive finds of metalwork include bronze swords and spears, some apparently tossed into the river in perfect condition, possibly as votive offerings. One of the boats is 8.3 metres long. "It feels as if you could get the whole family – granny, grandad, a couple of goats and everything – in there," said Knight. The smallest boat is just over four metres long.
The finds reveal how, with the rise in water levels in the bronze age, people adapted to a wetland environment, using rivers for transport, living off pike, perch, carp and eel. How far they could travel in the log boats is unclear. Although the boats were unlikely to have been used at sea, one of the bronze age swords is of a type normally found in northern Spain.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
The Bronze Age in the British Fens
The Fens are a large district of tidal marshes along the North Sea coast of England. In the Neolithic, though, this was still high and dry land, occupied by farmers. As sea levels rose over the course of the Bronze and Iron Ages, the area slowly grew wetter, until it was entirely submerged. Then in the later Middle Ages people began to drain the marshes, and today some of it is back above ground. Archaeology done in advance of a large clay mining project has uncovered a river channel from the Bronze Age, buried under several feet of peat: