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The Flag Fen centre and surrounding archaeological site
|Type||Archaeological open air museum|
Flag Fen near Peterborough, England is a Bronze Age site, probably religious. It comprises over 60,000 timbers arranged in five very long rows (around 1 km) connecting Whittlesey Island with Peterborough across the wet fenland. Part way across the structure, a small island was formed which is where it is presumed that the religious ceremonies occurred. Dendrochronological dating provides a date of 1365–967 BC. There was great environmental change during this period. The land began to get wetter due to floods becoming more common as a result of more rainy seasons. Due to this, people were losing the land on which they farmed, causing great alarm for the nearby populations.
In the 10th century BC the ground level was much lower than today, increasing around 1 mm (0.039 inches) per year as autumnal debris is added to the surface of the fens. This caused the structure to be covered up and preserved. The anaerobic conditions found in the waterlogged soil prevented the timbers and other wooden objects from rotting away. The site was first discovered in 1982 when a team led by Francis Pryor carried out a survey of dykes in the area funded by English Heritage.
Due to extensive drainage of the surrounding area, many of the timbers are drying out and are threatened with destruction. Archaeologists are studying it and there is a well-organised visitor centre there with museum and exhibitions. In the preservation hall one section of the timbers is preserved in-situ and prevented from drying out by misting with water. Also at the site are reconstructions of two Bronze Age roundhouses and one from the Iron Age. There is also an exposed section of the Roman road known as the Fen Causeway which crosses the site and a reconstruction of a Prehistoric droveway.
One section of the poles is being preserved by replacing the cellulose in the wood with water carried wax impregnating of the wood over the years. This technique is also being used to preserve Seahenge. Another preservation technique used for timbers found at the site is freeze drying.
In the surrounding water of Flag Fen votive offerings have been found, e.g., daggers broken in half placed on top of each other. This supports the theory that Flag Fen was a site involved in religious rites, as great wealth was being thrown into the water. One theory, is that these were being given as votive offerings to the Gods, to ask them to stop the environmental changes which were occurring around the time. Amongst the daggers and jewellery found, there were a number of small, white beach pebbles. These were not natural to the local area which suggests that people travelled from afar to give offerings to the Gods. Other artefacts that were found comprised animal bones. Of these, horse mandibles were found. Horses were very valuable to the prehistoric people, as they provided not only a means of transport, but also man power. They could be used to carry timbers, for example, over long distances.
Some of the timbers themselves were not natural to the local environment, as few were made of oak. This means that the people who constructed this timber causeway wanted to use materials that perhaps had religious significance to their lives, and felt that it was worth the effort to transport the timbers from far lying sources to the site itself. This isn't rare in the prehistoric world, as the bluestones from Stonehenge were brought to the site in Salisbury from the Preseli Mountains in Wales.
On the island known as Northey Island, many round barrows, contemporary with Flag Fen, were found. These seemed to be constructed over the dwellings of 'chiefs'. Mike Parker Pearson refers to this as the "Land of the Dead", although there is evidence of farming, including sheep remains, contemporary with the site. Phosphate analysis reveals high concentrations of cremations in the barrows, in the form of satellite and secondary burials in the round barrows. This suggests that the primary burials may have been of chiefs, or socially powerful/respected people, and that some people may have paid to be buried close to the person they respected or followed.
The area that archaeologists have termed the "Flag Fen Basin" is an embayment of low-lying land on the western margins of the Fens. The site itself is immediately south-east of the town of Peterborough. A low-lying area of wetland, on the east of the Flag Fen Basin, the land rises into a dryland area known as Fengate, while on the west it also raises into another dryland area, known as Northey. Due to its waterlogged condition, the Flag Fen Basin saw the development of peat deposits around 2000 BCE, which still exist there today.
The archaeological site of Flag Fen is located 800m (0.5 miles) east of Fengate.
In 1991 Pryor's first book about Flag Fen, entitled Flag Fen: Prehistoric Fenland Centre, was published as one of a series co-produced by English Heritage and B.T. Batsford. The final monograph on the site – entitled The Flag Fen Basin: Archaeology and environment of a Fenland Landscape – was published in 2001 as an English Heritage Archaeological Report. Pryor followed this with a third book on the site, published by Tempus in 2005; entitled Flag Fen: Life and Death of a Prehistoric Landscape, it represented what he considered to be a "major revision" of his 1991 work, for instance rejecting the earlier "lake village" concept that he had come to reject.
Fens Creek, two miles from Flag Fen, is also rich in archaeological finds. In 2013, eight Bronze Age boats were discovered there at Much Farm. Carbon-14 dating fixes their age about 1500BC. The boats had apparently been deliberately sunk, and the water and sediments preserved them.
- Pryor 2005. p. 9.
- Pryor 2005. p. 9.
- Pryor 2005. p. 9.
- Pryor 2005. p. 9.
- Pryor 2005. p. 13.
- Pryor 2005. p. 7.
- "BBC News Cambridgeshire Flag Fen Bronze Age boats older than was first thought". 8 September 2013. Retrieved 8 September 2013.
- Kennedy, Maev (4 June 2013). "News Science Archaeology Eight bronze age boats surface at Fens creek in record find". Retrieved 5 June 2013.
Media related to Flag Fen at Wikimedia Commons
- Flag Fen Bronze Age Centre and Archaeology Park
- Fenland Archaeological Trust registered charity no. 295116
- Peterborough Museum