Tuesday, December 6th, 2011
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!