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Video: Work starts to preserve Bronze Age boats

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The public will soon be able to view delicate conservation work as it is carried out to protect eight Bronze Age log boats found in a Peterborough quarry.

A two-year conservation project is under way to preserve the eight rare log boats discovered in a quarry at Must Farm two years ago.

The 4,000-year-old vessels have been placed in a large refrigerated unit where they will be sprayed with a special wax to stop their ancient timbers from being degraded.

It is the same technique pioneered for the Mary Rose Tudor warship.

The eight boats - the longest of which measures almost nine metres long - were discovered by archaeologists as they excavated a section of a quarry at Must Farm near Peterborough.

The boats were carefully moved to the city’s Flag Fen Bronze Age site, where a £100,000 grant from English Heritage helped fund a large specialist cold storage unit.

This will prevent the boats from drying out too quickly and enable them to be kept in one piece. Previously log boats have been cut into pieces for conservation.

It is hoped that the process will reveal more about the Must Farm log boats, including how the boats were used. Visitors to the Flag Fen site will be able to view the boats through glass.

Ian Panter, principal conservator at the York Archaeological Trust, designed the conservation strategy for the boats.

He said: “It’s the first time we’ve had this number of log boats on one site.

“To under take the conservation with the public able to view it and watch the process develop over the next few years is a great opportunity to see it in action.

“We’re keeping the boats wet and cold to help keep everything as it is - so there’s no biological activity to digest through the timber - to reduce decay of the wood.”

Mr Panter said he believes the boats were used for fishing and transporting cargo along the River Nene.

Carbon-14 tests will be carried out to give precise dates of when the boats were made and could also reveal why they were abandoned in the river.

Mr Panter said: “I think they had been intentionally sunk but we don’t know why.”

The boats are all different shapes and sizes. The longest is a punt measuring 8.5 metres.

The Must Farm quarry is owned by Hanson UK, and Bronze Age treasures, including the boats, were revealed during extraction of the deep Oxford clay layers that are used in the manufacture of bricks.

Archaeologists from Cambridge Archaeological Unit were appointed by Hanson UK to excavate a section of the lost course of the River Nene and came across remarkably preserved items, including preserved eel traps, weapons, pottery and tools. These give an incredible window into what life was like during the Bronze Age some 3,500 years ago.

Most astonishing of all was the discovery of the eight prehistoric log boats, most of which are in an incredible state of preservation due to the wetland nature of the area.

Many are virtually intact and some have elaborate features including lifting handles, grooves for transom boards and evidence of decoration.

Mark Knight from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, who worked on the excavation and is one of Britain’s leading prehistoric and wetland field archaeologists, said: “It is tremendously important that the Must Farm boats were brought to Flag Fen, because they are part of the same story,”

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.

Mr Knight added: “Both Flag Fen and Must Farm sit at the very edge of a lost world.”

During the treatment, the boats can be viewed through glass by visitors during regular guided tours and on special event days. For more information, visit www.vivacity-peterborough.com

 

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