Letter: Archaeological investigation of development sites is a priority

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I write in the strongest possible terms of concern from both archaeological and environmental perspectives regarding the proposed solar and wind farm developments by Peterborough City Council at America Farm, Newborough and Morris Fens.

As someone who has been initimately involved with the archaeological investigations of this part of northern Cambridgeshire for the past 35+ years, and indeed deciphered the buried past landscape sequences in this part of the country, any proposed development must take into account a number of significant archaeological, hydrological and environmental concerns.

The areas of land earmarked for development all contain buried prehistoric and Roman landscapes that are indicative of various phases of past landscape development. At America Farm, it is located at the narrow neck of fen embayment which joins the Flag Fen basin to the southwest and the wider Prior’ Fen basin to the northeast, and contains both Neolithic and Bronze Age buried shorelines. In Newborough Fen, the development area contains the late Neolithic roddons or former tidal river channels, as well as the Bronze Age and Roman fen-edges. In Morris Fen, there are a number of buried fen islands which were dry land in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods. Thus, each area contains both known archaeology and associated past environmental records, and has significant potential for more discoveries of the type seen in the Flag Fen basin through Dr Francis Pryor’s investigations and indeed my own Division’s archaeological unit (Cambridge Archaeological Unit) Late Bronze Age discoveries at Must Farm in the south of the same basin.

The significant point here is that the archaeology is buried under later marine and freshwater fen deposits and therefore is exceptionally well preserved, whether it is waterlogged or not! This makes the archaeology of this fenland region of Cambridgeshie certainly of national importance and in some cases (such as the discoveries at Flag Fen and Must Farm) of European and international significance). The absence of an on/near-surface archaeological record is not a guide to what is actually there; this can only be discovered by systematic, planned and well-funded, below-ground archaeological investigations.

It is imperative that proper and thorough hydrological, palaeo-environmental and archaeological investigations are conducted as part of the planning process and before any development decisions are made.

Prof. Charles A.I. French,