Archaeologists hail significant Bronze Age find in UK

Site Assistants Emma Rees (right) and Iona Robinson work on a Bronze Age long boat at the site.

Wooden boats, spears, swords and clothing have been unearthed at one of the most significant Bronze Age sites ever found in Britain.

Researchers say the rare find in the East Anglian fens provides possibly the most detailed view yet of what life was like 3,000 years ago.

Preserved in silt and peat along the old course of the River Nene, at Must Farm quarry, Whittlesey, items which would normally have long since decomposed have been pulled out of the earth by archaeologists in pristine condition.

David Gibson, from Cambridge University’s archaeological unit, which is carrying out the dig, said: “It is giving us a 3-D vision of this community that we only see very rarely anywhere in the world, let alone in this country.

“Usually at a Later Bronze Age period site you get pits, post-holes and maybe one or two really exciting metal finds.

“Convincing people that such places were once thriving settlements takes some imagination.

“But this time so much more has been preserved – we can actually see everyday life during the Bronze Age in the round.”

The site is being excavated ahead of the extension of a local brick quarry and its importance means that it is now likely to be further investigated for some years.

Hundreds of objects have been found. The most spectacular find is that of six boats, all from the Bronze Age but appearing at different levels in the silted up river.

These range from just over two metres to a little more than eight metres in length.

Each was hollowed out of the trunk of an oak tree and in some cases decorated with extensive carvings.

Elsewhere, the site has revealed weaponry such as swords and spears still with their handles intact, and everyday items such as wooden spoons, part of a cape, green and blue beads, ropes, buckets and wicker baskets.

Some of the weapons bear similarities to those found in northern Spain.

There were no significant coastal ports during the Bronze Age but the finds suggest East Anglian waterways may have been an important channel of communication with the frontiers of Britain and the continent. It also indicates people were more mobile than previously thought.

Researchers have identified the site of the settlement itself to the east of the current excavations. It is believed to have burned down at some point around 800BC.

All that is missing from the picture of the society are the bodies of the people who lived there.

Human remains may be lying in an as yet unexcavated area of land nearby, or they may have been buried in the river making them harder to find.

The community would have lived on the river, fishing for perch, pike and eels. According to the remains of a meal found in one wooden bowl on the site, they also enjoyed the occasional nettle stew.

One locally significant discovery is that of eel traps. Remarkably, the 3,000-year-old versions are very similar to those still used in East Anglia today.

“A modern-day trapper was able to come in and tell us exactly how these traps were used and why,” Mr Gibson said.

“It’s amazing that such an ancient technology has continued right up to the present virtually unchanged.”

Archaeologists have been working closely with Hanson, the brick and cement supplier which owns the quarry.

The company’s need for clay which lies at Jurassic age levels in the earth means that the dig team have been able to excavate far deeper than on normal archaeological sites.

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