A crucial archaeological discovery near Peterborough could be the foundation for a university and tourist centre worth millions of pounds, it has been declared.
Bronze Age log boats were discovered at Must Farm, near Whittlesey, in 2011 following a dig by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
Now Peterborough City Council has agreed to set aside £140,000 to help protect and keep the 10 boats in the city.
The move has sparked protests from Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson who said the council should concentrate on front-line services.
The 3,000-year-old boats provided vital evidence of settlements in and around Peterborough during the Bronze Age, and it is thought the site, located near Flag Fen, could contain other important artefacts, with excavations planned at the site over the next 10 years.
Council leader Councillor Marco Cereste said: “The boats are one of the most significant archaeological finds ever,
“We are working with national and international agencies, such as the British Museum, to make sure they benefit the city.
“The plans are to create a learning centre, university faculty and museum. This could be worth tens of millions of pounds to the city, and create up to 50 jobs.”
Sarah Stannage, of Peterborough’s heritage trust, Vivacity, said: “A notice has been issued that says the council is prepared to pay a proportion of the cost of the boats. In fact, it’s more likely that third parties will pay for the boats and the council will not have to pay anything - its commitment is effectively underwriting the project and keeping it moving.”
Mr Jackson said: “This seems like a big decision to be made and should at least be discussed by the full council.
“It is important these finds are kept in Peterborough, but the council should be seeking funds from other organisations.
“The council has to remember it should spend money on front-line services, like cleaning the streets and keeping taxes low, not becoming a cultural ambassador for the country.”
As part of the deal to keep the relics in the city, British Heritage has agreed a grant of £101,000, and Hanson Brick, which owns the land where the boats were discovered, will also make a contribution.
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Boats part of largest Bronze Age discovery
The boats found at Must Farm have been described as having “international significance”.
The boats were discovered in a quarry, which has turned into the site of the largest Bronze Age archaeological collection ever discovered in Britain.
The boats are thought to be 3,500 years old, with the longest being 8.5 metres.
The boats were covered in extensive carvings – the first evidence of local people decorating wooden boats from that era.
At the time of the discovery David Gibson, of the University of Cambridge’s Archaeological Unit (CAU), where he is senior archaeological manager, said: “This is the pinnacle of what we have ever found – it is rare.
“Nothing has ever been found like this by design before – log boats are usually found by chance.”
In all, hundreds of objects have been found belonging to a community that lived on the River Nene, which flowed through the now dry site during the Bronze Age.
During this period the water table started to rise, and by Roman times had become a swampy marsh, creating many fenland islands.
Other items discovered at the site include glass beads from central Europe and pots from France.
There were also a range of swords, spears, fish weirs and eel traps discovered by archeologists.