Log boats from "edge of a lost world" discovered in prehistoric Peterborough

By Culture24 Reporter | 04 June 2013

Excavating a lost course of the River Nene in Cambridgeshire, experts have discovered eight prehistoric boats bearing elaborate features from 3,500 years ago, including lifting handles, grooves for boards and decorations.

A photo of an ancient black wood boat in a quarry
© Cambridge Archaeological Unit
Eel traps, weapons, pottery and tools were also found. The boats have been moved from their quarry, at Must Farm, to a refrigeration unit two miles away at Flag Fen, where a two-year conservation process will deploy the same techniques used on the Mary Rose, stabilising their fragile timbers with wax and keeping them all in one piece.

They are said to be in “an incredible state of preservation” thanks to their wetland habitat.

“Both Flag Fen and Must Farm sit at the edge of a lost world,” says Cambridge Archaeological Unit's Mark Knight, a member of the excavation team who is a leading authority on prehistoric and wetland fields in Britain.

“The boats’ arrival at Flag Fen represents a kind of coming home, because both the boats and the causeway discovered at Flag Fen in the 1980s represent novel kinds of conveyances in a landscape fast disappearing beneath rising waters.

“Around 4,000 years ago there was a period when water levels started to rise, effectively creating the fens.

“At first this drove people living in the area back onto drier land, but by the middle Bronze Age people seemed to be adapting to the new environment and trying to use it to its best advantage. 

“It is tremendously important that the Must Farm boats were brought to Flag Fen, because they are part of the same story."

Guests will be able to glimpse the boats through glass during their stay at Flag Fen, embarking on regular guided tours and special open days.

The cold storage facility, constructed to house the vessels with a £100,000 grant from English Heritage, will prevent the timbers drying out rapidly.

Carbon-14 tests will date when the boats were made, with the potential to resolve further mysteries, such as why the boats were abandoned and the revelations they may hold about early climate change, during the process.


More pictures:


A photo of an ancient boat under tarpaulin being hoisted onto a truck
© Vivacity Peterborough
A photo of an ancient black wood boat in a quarry
© Cambridge Archaeological Unit
A photo of an ancient black wood boat in a quarry
© Cambridge Archaeological Unit
A photo of diggers in high visibility jackets looking at a log boat inside a tunnel
© Vivacity Peterborough
A photo of people in high visibility jackets looking at tarpaulin inside a darkened tunnel
© Vivacity Peterborough
A photo of tarpaulin on sand inside a darkened tunnel
© Vivacity Peterborough
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