Beasties in the Bronze Age

The boys are stepping back in time again this week – and a little further than usual, too! Today finds them exploring Flag Fen in Cambridgeshire, which had its heyday 3,300 years ago!

What was this place, a harbour?
Plunkett at Flag Fen - H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesWell, not exactly. A fen is an area of marshy ground, and they’re pretty prone to flooding. While many of the fens in this super-flat part of eastern England were drained to create extra farmland in the 17th century, in the Bronze Age these places would have been tricky enough to navigate. Too wet to walk, too shallow for a boat… GAAAAAAAH! What to do?

Answer – you build a raised walkway over it, and strut across in style without getting your paws wet! And that’s what these timbers are – the remains of a trackway that led to a huge platform out in the fen. It’s kept nice and damp to help to preserve the ancient wood…
The Timber Remains at Flag Fen - H Crawford/CrawCrafts Beasties… And what Plunkett is looking at in the first photo is only a fraction of what is actually there. The whole causeway is more than a kilometre long, and the platform is the size of Wembley Stadium!

Building something on this scale, in this location, at that time would have been a huge undertaking – so why is it here? Unfortunately, our Bronze Age friends weren’t much for writing things down, so we can really only speculate (wildly, in Paddy’s case) about what this place was used for. However, the archaeologists who excavated the site back in the 1980s found way more of this kind of thing than they expected…
Finds! H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesThese bronze finds – mostly weapons – intriguingly show signs of having been deliberately damaged, and their positioning in the silty ground suggests that they were intentionally dropped there, rather than carelessly chucked away because they were broken. This implies that the causeway was a place of ritual significance, as well as (possibly) being a handy way of getting across Flag Fen!

There’s plenty of opportunity for you to get in touch with your Bronze Age roots around here too… Plunkett took a stroll into this reconstructed roundhouse, built on the site where a real one was excavated!
Plunkett at the Roundhouse - H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesMeanwhile, Paddy was trying on some wooden beakers for size… Because, well, that’s what Paddy does.
Paddy tries out the Tableware - H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesThe lads also rested their weary paws on this rather spectacular chair – we think it might be made of bog oak, preserved timber that has been coloured and hardened by years of sitting in the acidic water of the marshes!
Paddy, Plunkett and the Bog Oak Chair - H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesUnfortunately, Paddy had less success with this replica dugout canoe…
Paddy in the Dugout Canoe - H Crawford/CrawCrafts Beasties“Row faster, Plunkett! It feels like we’re not moving at all!

This is a copy of one of the boats that was unearthed at Must Farm, just down the road. The real ones are still undergoing preservation work and some of them are really enormous!

Now, what’s been missing from this trip so far? That’s right – SHEEP! This visitor centre is home to a herd of lively Soay sheep, the closest living thing to the kind of sheep that you would have seen trotting around here in the Bronze Age.
Soay Sheep! H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesWhile Paddy attempted to make friends with some of those lambs, Plunkett took a moment to enjoy a last look out over the site.
Plunkett takes a last look at Flag Fen - H Crawford/CrawCrafts BeastiesIt’s really been quite a trip!

Paddy and Plunkett will have their paws back on comparatively dry land when they rejoin us in a couple of weeks. And next Tuesday, I hope to have some exciting new BeastieBlog developments to share with you all! See you then!

26 thoughts on “Beasties in the Bronze Age

  1. Oooooooh verrrrrrrrrrry interesting. I especially like the Soay sheep (and dat lil black lamby lamb)! And excited for upcoming BeastieBlog developments! x

        1. Oh, amazing! Your whole family really are into your history! By the way, all the episodes are available on Channel 4’s website, which I think you should be able to access from where you are since they’re not live… Just sayin’!

        2. Ah, yes. Sorry about that! I thought that because I could access it from the ROI that you would be able to as well, but their licensing agreement isn’t worldwide. Booooo!

  2. Oooh, this taps into both my nerdy love of history and my imagination of what creepy things could be living in those fens waiting to snatch someone strolling across the walkways. Not to mention my hope that that beaker was once full of beer (either in ancient times or just before P&P got to it). Thanks for the tour…and for the photos of the wooly critters (the sheep, that is).

    1. Heehee! Yes, I bet if the boys had done some digging (literal or literary), they would have discovered they weren’t the only little monsters on the fen that day. As for whether that beaker had any beer in it, I’d say it’s more than likely… But the photography team got there too late to witness it! Cheers for stopping by, Tammie! 😀

    1. I just had to look at the photo again, but you’re actually right! It’s amazing how those pieces of bog oak so readily lend themselves to sculpture… You can identify all kinds of shapes in them, if you look carefully. Well spotted!

      1. Thanks! Yeah, they have such wonderfully interesting shapes, don’t they? I have a strange habit of seeing things in inanimate objects, clouds, tiles, wood grain, those kinds of things. I think my brain just wants to make sense of all things clumpy and squiggly. I blame a childhood of serious magic eye art appreciation and cloud study. 🙂

        1. Yeah, hooray for cloud study… The perfect antidote to being told to play outside instead of watching TV! I especially love finding funny faces in everyday objects – once you spot one, you start noticing them everywhere!

  3. Super interesting stuff! It’s incredible that the wood from the Bronze Age walkway, though waterlogged, is still hanging around in the fen. Oh, and look at that roundhouse. Is that grass growing off of the roof? I also like the quite unique chair and dugout canoe; I can only imagine what a big undertaking it would have been to make those pieces by hand (with bronze wood-cutting tools, presumably?). Thanks for sharing the deets and pics on some very cool artefacts, Helen. Fascinating!

    1. Hey Shirley, thanks for stopping by! And yes, isn’t it cool that the traces of this huge structure have survived since prehistory, ready to be rediscovered in our (well certainly in my) lifetime? To answer your questions – it does look like there’s grass growing on the roof! And when I looked more closely at it, it seems to be more than just simple thatch. It’s like there’s a layer of earth or animal dung (let’s hope for the former, eh? 😆) on top, maybe to further protect the inside from the interesting British weather? As for the canoe, the amount of work involved in making something like that with hand tools is mind boggling, isn’t it? Imagine cutting down a massive tree with a hand axe, and then chipping away about two thirds of the wood to hollow it out! And that’s after making the tools by hand as well. Handcrafts really are a lot less intense these days! 😀

      1. How cool is that roof – I have never seen anything like it. 🙂 Yes, the canoe is very cool., as is imagining all the steps to make it. As a Canadian, I appreciate canoes. I’m wondering, now, where the Bronze Age folk went on all of their travels. Thanks again for a very fun prehistoric post!

        1. No problemo! 😀 It’s so long since I was last in a canoe, but now you’ve got me thinking about them again… It’s such a pleasant way to travel! As for our Bronze Age friends, I reckon they were on the lookout for new places to settle where food was plentiful and the livin’ was easy. Some things never change!

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