A stretch of Bronze Age river

1 minute read

In the course of studying recent human evolution, I’ve done a lot of work on the skeletal remains of Bronze Age Europeans. This is a series of cultures we know vastly more about than Paleolithic people, but the occasional unique discovery can still bring striking information to light. The Guardian reports on a significant excavation going on near Cambridge, U.K.: “Bronze age man’s lunch: a spoonful of nettle stew”.

The excavation, which is likely to continue for years, has been made possible thanks to Hanson, a bricks and cement supplier. Under planning regulations, the company is obliged to fund archaeological digs, but it has been especially helpful, say the archaeologists. Crucially, and unusually, they were able to excavate down to unprecedented depths since Hanson's need for clay for bricks requires extraction at Jurassic age levels. Knight said: "So we get to see entire buried landscapes. Some of our colleagues try to find ways of getting to the bottom of the North Sea [while] we get an early view of the same submerged space, but via the humble brick."
Along the 150-metre stretch of a bronze age river channel, they have found the best preserved example of prehistoric river life. There are weirs and fish traps in the form of big woven willow baskets, plus fragments of garments with ornamental hems made from fibrous bark and jewellery, including green and blue beads.

The photo accompanying the story is remarkable, showing how a Bronze Age-era boat is excavated in stages. I find the weirs and fish traps among the most interesting parts, because we usually depend so strongly for our knowledge of food production practices on what will preserve for long periods of time. These aren’t surprising, but finding a stretch of Bronze Age river channel with them in place gives us a much stronger perspective on their use, both then and possibly during earlier time periods.