Hundreds of intact Bronze Age artifacts found in fens

Archaeologists excavating the Cambridgeshire fens near Petersborough, southeast England, have discovered the largest single collection of Bronze Age artifacts ever found in Britain. The 3,000-year-old artifacts were kept in an extraordinary state of preservation by the layers of silt and peat in the Flag Fen Basin.

The discovery, still only in the early phases of excavation, provides a snapshot of Bronze Age life. Among the artifacts is a wooden bowl with a spoon sticking into the contents. Laboratory analysis of the substance in the bowl identifies it as delicious and nutritious nettle stew.

The most glamorous of the hundreds of artifacts discovered are six canoes carved out of oak trunks. Finding even one intact Bronze Age boat would be the discovery of a lifetime; six is an embarrassment of archaeological riches. Two of them are decorated and all six of them are in such great condition that you can see the wood grain. You can even see where their Bronze Age owners made repairs to the vessels.

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.

They were found buried over 13 feet (4 meters) below ground level, and were only discovered because the firm that hired the archaeologists to survey the area is a brick and concrete company that needs to dig deeply to access the Jurassic clay they use to make their bricks. No aerial photography or even ground-penetrating radar would have been able to detect artifacts so deep underground.

Only a fraction of the site has been excavated so far. Since the find is so rich, archaeologists expect the dig will continue for years. The artifacts will be removed from the site, studied and conserved with an eye to future museum display.

Edit: Yay pictures!


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Comment by snoozerpoo
2011-12-07 09:30:38

Bronze age boats, in such amazing condition! I love reading your articles, stuff I don’t hear about anywhere else shows up here. I hope they keep posting pictures of the finds on-line so I can keep track of them. The Staffordshire Hoard is so much fun to study on-line and the artifacts after they are cleaned are even more beautiful. Wish my health was up to helping at a dig somewhere…

Comment by livius drusus
2011-12-08 00:07:54

I actually held back from posting this because there were so few pictures of the find. I hate to be a tease. The find is so extraordinary, however, in the end I caved and posted the meager offerings that were available.

Comment by Cynthia
2011-12-08 05:23:22

Wow! A find like this is as close to time travel to this period as we are going to get!Thanks for posting.

Comment by livius drusus
2011-12-09 23:15:54

It really is. I get a special thrill when ancient textiles and organic materials survive thousands of years.

Comment by David Carthage
2011-12-08 18:55:22

Thanks for posting! I wouldn’t have known about this. Fascinating, but I agree: highly frustrating that there are so few photos. :blankstare:

Comment by livius drusus
2011-12-09 23:14:54

Look again! Thanks to Dave Webb, there’s a link to lots of lovely pictures now. :)

Comment by Dave Webb
2011-12-09 16:16:01​cambridgeuniversity/sets/​72157628344498469/show/
There are a few images at the above link, I recognise one of my photos the one on the left but the one on the right is not from the site, as its a quarry there is a strict policy on wearing PPE.

Comment by Dave Webb
2011-12-09 16:46:37

Sorry the above flickr link is not working too well try the following

Comment by livius drusus
2011-12-09 23:12:16

Those are phenomenal. Thank you for the link. I’ve added it to the entry. :thanks:

Comment by Davistele
2013-05-17 20:47:22

Great batch of additional photos here!

Comment by Victoria
2013-09-24 08:54:35

pretty good article but not enough facts in my opinion :hattip: :skull: :notworthy: :p :evil: :cry: :confused: :cool: :boogie: :angry: :shifty:

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