Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Must Farm boats preview

I was absolutely delighted to be invited to the preview of a very special archaeological discovery this afternoon - the amazingly preserved Bronze Age material from Must Farm in Cambridgeshire.  Now, as a Romanist I confess that some elements of prehistory leave me a little cold, but some discoveries are simply astounding - and this one is right up there with the best of them.

The Must Farm site sits on the edge of the fens, within a modern brick pit, and on a stretch of the prehistoric River Nene.  The waterlogged deposits have preserved a wonderful and complex landscape, complete with fish weirs, dwellings, timber post alignments, tools, weapons and burials - the majority of which are preserved in incredible condition.  The excavations have been carried out by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, but it seems that the support and assistance of the landowner, Hanson, and English Heritage has been crucial.

The preview event was held at Flag Fen, part of the same prehistoric fenland landscape as Must Farm and itself one of the most important Bronze Age sites in Europe.  Flag Fen is the new home to the most iconic of the finds, 8 complete or near complete log boats, the largest of which being an immense 9m in length.  The boats, made from oak, alder and (uniquely I think) lime, are about to embark on a lengthy conservation process within a newly constructed, and publicly visible, cold store.  The conservation process for the boats and the other amazing finds (such as the Iron Age sword with surviving wooden handle and willow scabbard) is being carried out by the York Archaeological Trust.

The boats will undergo 2 or 3 years worth of assessment and treatment at Flag Fen, before hopefully then being moved to a more permanent display at Flag fen or elsewhere.  One thing I rather liked was the name that has been given to each boat, though I have to confess that whereas I understand names like 'Dorothy' or 'Belinda', 'Toppled McClary' and 'French Albert - the Fifth Musketeer' left me wondering quite what the excavators were smoking at the time!

The site is far too detailed to go into here, and I wouldn't want to use images that I don't have permission for, so I'd urge you to head over to the official website for the project and have a good look at the wonderful objects and very well written descriptions over there.  In the meantime, here are some of my photos from the afternoon, both of the boats and around Flag Fen, including the newly redesigned museum displays.