Six boats found in silted-up river part of most significant Bronze Age site in UK

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Wooden boats, spears, swords and clothing have been found at one of the most significant Bronze Age sites in Britain.

Researchers say the discovery in the East Anglian fens provides possibly the most detailed view yet of what life was like 3,000 years ago.

Preserved in silt and peat along the old course of the River Nene, at Must Farm quarry, Whittlesey, the items discovered are in pristine condition.

David Gibson, from Cambridge University’s archaeological unit, which is carrying out the dig, said: “It is giving us a 3-D vision of this community that we only see very rarely anywhere in the world, let alone in this country.” He added: “This time so much more has been preserved – we can actually see everyday life during the Bronze Age in the round.”

The site was to be the extension of a brick quarry.

Hundreds of objects have been found. The most spectacular is six boats, all from the Bronze Age but appearing at different levels in the silted up river. These range from just over two metres to a little more than eight metres in length.

Each was hollowed out of the trunk of an oak tree and in some cases decorated with extensive carvings.

Elsewhere, the site has revealed weaponry such as swords and spears still with their handles intact, and everyday items such as wooden spoons, part of a cape, green and blue beads, ropes, buckets and wicker baskets.

Some of the weapons bear similarities to those found in northern Spain.

The finds suggest East Anglian waterways may have been an important channel of communication with the Continent. It also indicates people were more mobile than previously thought.

Researchers have identified the site of the settlement itself to the east of the excavations. It is believed to have burned down around 800BC.

All that is missing are the bodies of the inhabitants. These may be lying in an as yet unexcavated area nearby, or they may have been buried in the river.

The community would have lived on the river, fishing for perch, pike and eels. According to the remains of a meal found in one wooden bowl, they also enjoyed nettle stew.

One locally significant discovery is that of eel traps. Remarkably, the 3,000-year-old versions are very similar to those still used in East Anglia today.

“A modern-day trapper was able to come in and tell us exactly how these traps were used and why,” Mr Gibson said.