3,000-year-old fleet discovered in a Cambridgeshire quarry on the outskirts of Peterborough
A fleet of eight prehistoric boats, including one almost nine metres long, has been discovered in a Cambridgeshire quarry on the outskirts of Peterborough.
The vessels, all deliberately sunk more than 3,000 years ago, are the largest group of bronze age boats ever found in the same UK site and most are startlingly well preserved. One is covered inside and out with decorative carving described by conservator Ian Panter as looking “as if they’d been playing noughts and crosses all over it”. Another has handles carved from the oak tree trunk for lifting it out of the water. One still floated after 3,000 years and one has traces of fires lit on the wide flat deck on which the catch was evidently cooked.
Several had ancient repairs, including clay patches and an extra section shaped and pinned in where a branch was cut away. They were preserved by the waterlogged silt in the bed of a long-dried-up creek, a tributary of the river Nene, which buried them deep below the ground.
“There was huge excitement over the first boat, and then they were phoning the office saying they’d found another, and another, and another, until finally we were thinking, ‘Come on now, you’re just being greedy,'” Panter said.
The boats were deliberately sunk into the creek, as several still had slots for transoms – boards closing the stern of the boat – which had been removed.
Archaeologists are struggling to understand the significance of the find. Whatever the custom meant to the bronze age fishermen and hunters who lived in the nearby settlement, it continued for centuries. The team from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit is still waiting for the results of carbon 14 dating tests, but believes the oldest boats date from around 1,600 BC and the most recent 600 years later.