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Bronze Age Wheel Found in Cambridgeshire

Bronze Age Wheel Found in Cambridgeshire

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The largest and most perfectly preserved bronze age wheel ever discovered in the UK, made of oak planks almost 3,000 years ago, has emerged from a site in Cambridgeshire dubbed a Fenland Pompeii.

“This site is one continuing surprise, but if you had asked me, a perfectly preserved wheel is the last thing I would have expected to find,” said the site director, Mark Knight, from the Cambridge university archaeology unit. “On this site objects never seen anywhere else tend to turn up in multiples, so it’s certainly not impossible we’ll go on to find another even better wheel.”

Archaeologists are carefully excavating the wheel, which was found still attached to its hub and scorched by fire that destroyed the settlement built on stilts over a tributary of the river Nene.

A neat round hole punched through the wheel was left by a 20th century geologist who inadvertently bored straight through it but could have had no idea of the significance of the timber fragments in his soil sample.

In the fire, possibly started by a cooking blaze that got disastrously out of control some 3,000 years ago, the roundhouses collapsed into the river with all their contents.

The site was abandoned and gradually buried deep below the present ground level, sealed in wet silty clay with all the roof and floor timbers, the woven willow wall panels and sedge thatch eerily well preserved, along with the the bones of the animals they were eating, remains of the last meals carbonised in their cooking pots, textiles, jewellery, benches, boxes and wooden platters, knives, spears and other tools and weapons.

Until now Pryor had the best bronze age wheel in the UK, found at Flag Fen, the site to which he and Taylor devoted decades. His wheel, although older, is smaller and incomplete

"The existence of this wheel expands our understanding of Late Bronze Age technology, and the level of sophistication of the lives of people living on the edge of the Fens 3,000 years ago."

"We're here in the middle of the Fens, a very wet environment, so the biggest question we've got to answer at the moment is 'Why on earth is there a wheel in the middle of this really wet river channel?" says archaeologist Chris Wakefield.

"The houses are built over a river and within those deposits is sitting a wheel - which is pretty much the archetype of what you'd expect to have on dry land - so it's very, very unusual."

An articulated animal spine found nearby - at first thought to be from a cow - is now believed to be that of a horse.

"[This] has pretty strong ties if they were using something like a cart.

"In the Bronze Age horses are quite uncommon. It's not until the later period of the Middle Iron Age that they become more widespread, so aside from this very exciting discovery of the wheel, we've also got potentially other related aspects that are giving us even more questions.

"This site is giving us lots of answers but at the same time it's throwing up questions we never thought we'd have to consider."

Analysing the data from samples found at Must Farm could take the team several years, he added.

By Big Tyres Team 31 October 2017
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