Well-preserved wood found at Iron Age farm

Rare well-preserved wood artifacts from an Iron Age (800 B.C.- 43 A.D.) settlement have been discovered at the site of highway expansion in Bedfordshire, England. Archaeologists unearthed an intact wooden ladder and a panel of wattle while excavating the route of the planned A428 highway. The wooden objects date to the Late Iron Age, approximately 2,000 years ago.

Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) experts have been excavating a field near Tempsford where an ancient farm was in use from the Middle Iron Age (ca. 300-100 B.C.) through the late Roman period (200-400 A.D.). The pre-Roman occupation farm featured two large roundhouses. They are 15-20 meters (50-65 feet) in diameter, much larger than the typical roundhouse. Multiple loom weights were found inside the roundhouses, indicating fabric production took place at the site. Because so many weights were found, it’s possible fabric was being produced for trade to neighboring settlements.

Usually all that remains of roundhouses are postholes — the lacunae left in the soil after the wood rotted away. The postholes from this settlement are how archaeologists were able to estimate the size of the roundhouses. The posts themselves did not survive, but the anaerobic waterlogged soil of this boggy valley has kept some other wood elements from decomposing for two millennia.

The wooden ladder was found leaning against the side of a shallow well near one of the roundhouses. Archaeologists believe people descended the ladder to fetch water from the bottom of the well. It was left in the well, propped up in place, and was preserved thanks to being submerged in water and mud.

The well is also the source of the wattle panel. The panel is circular made of interwoven twigs and branches. It was used to line the wall of the shallow well to keep it from collapse. Wattle is the same material used to construct roundhouse walls. The woven panels would then be covered with daub, a coating material made of mud, clay and/or animal dung mixed crushed stone, straw and/or animal hair. Once applied to the wattle, the daub dried to form a firm wall.

The preserved wood artifacts have been recovered from the site and are now undergoing conservation. They are being kept wet to keep them from shrinking and will be dried out carefully in a laboratory in a way that prevents the cells of the wood from collapsing and shrinking and ensures the wood won’t rapidly decompose from exposure to air and microorganisms.

We can learn a lot from these wooden objects. As well as being able to see how people made and used them during their daily lives, finding out what type of wood they used will tell us about the trees which grew in the area. This can help us reconstruct how the landscape would have looked at the time, and how that landscape changed throughout history.

It isn’t just wood which can be preserved in these wet environments! We also find insects, seeds and pollen. These all help our environmental archaeologists build up a picture of how the landscape of Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire looked 2000 years ago. Looking at pollen and plants preserved in the water, they have already identified some of the plants which were growing nearby, including buttercups and rushes!

23 thoughts on “Well-preserved wood found at Iron Age farm

  1. Yahoo! This is a great format for the website that I visit almost every day 🙂 Fantastic job!!! And yes, it is so much better to read comments without those spam messages. One thing that I would add if it is possible is some kind of a visual globe with an arrow or a red dot that shows where the news or finds are taking a place on our planet. This is just an idea 🙂

  2. Oh No! Creeping blandness has claimed another victim!
    Tiny grey writing on magnolia really isn’t a good look :~)

    1. I don’t know if it will be exactly the same, but my goal is to restore its more distinctive elements. Thank you for appreciating the blog in all its old-fashionedness. 🙂

  3. I must admit it was a bit of a shock coming to your site the other day ! I did prefer the old format, but I completely understand why you’re tinkering. I hate spam.

    Oh, and I think Roma’s idea above is brilliant.

    1. Spam is the worst. I’ve gotten to know the local bots very well over the past few days of manual comment approval, and it’s so gross you kind of want to wear rubber gloves to handle it even when you’re just clicking on a mouse.

      Thank you for your patience!

  4. My second visit to the new format, it’s different but it works!

    I do have a question…
    The farm was in use from the middle Iron age through the late Roman period. Any idea what happened to it after the late Roman period?
    It would seem to me that cleared land that been in use as a farm for 300-700 years would have to have a good reason to change. I’m curious

    1. There is no information I could find that directly addresses the issue of post-Roman use of the site. Many small settlements were abandoned when Roman forces withdrew seeking more defensible, safety-in-numbers communities, but I don’t know if that’s the sort of contraction that occurred here.

      Thank you for giving the format a second chance, and getting used to it so quickly!

  5. Thank you for writing this wonderful blog. Many of your articles have brought to life so many of my kids’ history lessons and my book club readings. Our family discuss your blog postings quite often. We are so grateful for your continued hard work. Keep up it up and thank you again!

    1. I was talking about Greek mythology with a rather brilliant young lady (I think she was 12 or so) a couple of years ago when the subject arose of how Cleopatra named her twins with Mark Anthony after the sun (Helios) and moon (Selene). I looked up the post I wrote about them so I could show her a sculpture that some speculate may have been referring to the twins. She was so interested to see a possible visual representation of the son and daughter of historical personages of such enormous, almost mythical, fame.

      Thank you and your kids for reading and using the blog as a pivot for even more learning!

  6. I like the new look! It is clean and uncluttered. The font could be a bit larger and darker, but that request is just due to my old eyes.
    Thank you for continuing the fight against the spammers all the while keeping us up-to-date on the most varied and interesting discoveries. I visit your site every day.
    I used to only read about what I was interested in, then I started reading everything, and it was ALL interesting.
    I do like the idea posted above about a map.

    1. Your evolution in reading the blog maps very well to my evolution in writing it. My interests started out relatively narrow, then the more I investigated times and places I knew little about, the more interested in them I became.

      Thank you for visiting daily!

  7. Another daily reader here. I’ve loved this blog since I discovered it thirteen years ago. Literally the first thing I read every morning. Just wanted to say thank you for years of joy and new knowledge. I’ve even gone to find some of the exhibits around the world you’ve guided us to. I miss the old format, but I don’t care if you wrote on parchment and sent it out by carrier pigeon, I’m here for it. DS.

    1. Okay now I wish I could send out a daily newsletter by pigeon because carrier pigeons are inherently cool, even when they’re not war heroes. We’ll just have to make do with WordPress, I suppose. FOR NOW.

      Thank you so much for reading every day for 13 years, holy smokes!

  8. New format is clear and your articles are interesting, as usual. Please — just one thing — no more grey type. Those of us with dimming eyesight would appreciate plain old-fashioned black. (Your line spacing is excellent, though.)

    1. The text was already black in the posts. Only the sidebar text was grey. I’ve changed that to black now, but I’m thinking maybe the weight of the font is making it look lighter to you. My eyesight is old and creaky too, so I’ll definitely prioritize readability as I make changes.

      Thank you!

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