Suffolk Timbers Could Be Iron Age Causeway Say Archaeologists

By Caroline Lewis | 20 July 2006
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photo of a timber post with a chiselled point lying on mud

The timbers are several thousand years old. © Archaeology Service, Suffolk County Council

Timbers unearthed during flood defence work on the Norfolk-Suffolk border have been dated to between 3,000 and 4,000 years ago, archaeologists have revealed.

The very well preserved finds are the first of their kind in the region – it is thought they may have belonged to a walkway across the marshland in the Iron Age.

“This is the first such structure to have been discovered within Suffolk and is one of only a few in Britain,” said Jane Sidell, English Heritage Archaeological Science Advisor, “and as such is a nationally important find.”

The timbers were found on the banks of the River Waveney, and have been remarkably well preserved with chiselled points intact. Clearly sculpted by hand, the vertical posts were uncovered during the excavation of a new dyke on Beccles Town marshes – part of a multi-million pound Environment Agency project.

photo of a landscape with a muddy ditch

A full-scale archaeological investigation will be carried out over the next few weeks. Courtesy BESL-Halcrow

On finding the posts, contractors for Broadland Environmental Services Limited (BESL) contacted Suffolk County Council Archaeological Field Services, who identified the timbers as relating to an ancient structure, possibly a causeway. Some pottery remains were also uncovered, mainly from the Roman period.

“I think the machine driver thought they were [modern] fenceposts, as there is a fence on that alignment further down the site,” said William Fletcher, Historic Environments Advisor at the county council.

“Since then we’ve had an estimation of a Bronze Age date from the distinctive tool marks, and two radiocarbon dates of other timbers that give a likely Iron Age and Roman date.”

Heeding advice from English Heritage and Suffolk County Council, BESL roped off the site and has commissioned a dig to see what else can be found at the potentially significant site. It was feared that where the ground had been disturbed, the remaining timbers would begin to rot. Where the ground has not been disturbed, the site will be left intact for future generations.

photo of a timber post with a chiselled point lying on mud

The wood is clearly hand-carved. © Archaeology Service, Suffolk County Council

“It gives us an excellent opportunity to examine ancient, possibly ritual, use of the marshland,” said Jane Sidell of the project, “and how the marshes have been developed over time.”

The excavation, which will last up to three weeks, is to be carried out by archaeologists from the county council and the University of Birmingham. The nature of the remains suggest that there was more than one phase of activity in the area, so finds are likely to be Bronze and Iron Age as well as Roman.

“It could be very interesting,” said William. “It’s a fascinating wetland site and a very rare find for the East of England.”

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