A new phase of archaeological investigation has begun at Must Farm. The Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) has worked at the site since 2004 and uncovered fascinating prehistoric discoveries including the remains of a Late Bronze Age settlement and nine logboats. These elements came from one of Must Farm’s palaeochannels, an old river that has since silted up, but the site has many other areas of archaeological interest.
The CAU’s current excavation at Must Farm is moving away from the palaeochannel and exploring two side-by-side landscape zones in a different area. One of these zones can be broadly characterised as “shallow” while the other is “deep”.
The edge of the current excavation at Must Farm shows the sequence of peat and clay that we are aiming to date more precisely with our current work.
The shallow zone (Zone 2) is effectively the southern edge of the Flag Fen Basin before it became wet. This area is buried beneath a fairly thin layer of peat and another of post-Roman alluvium (a material deposited by rivers). The neighbouring deep zone (Zone 3) is the former flood plain of the Mesolithic/Early Neolithic River Nene and much of this area contains a thick layer of freshwater peat that dates to the Neolithic.
However, the upper parts of the deep zone contain hundreds of preserved trees consisting of stumps alongside fallen and felled trunks. These trees include large, slow-grown oak and ash which are a clear sign they date from before the landscape’s transition to waterlogged.
As the rising ground water created the conditions for peat growth and began drowning the landscape’s trees, woodchips and trimmed branches show that people were making use of the resources as the environment changed. In the same layers as this evidence of woodworking are caches of animal bone, including aurochs remains, suggesting connected activity.
Sealing the layer containing these trees is a thick deposit of silty clay, dating to the Early Bronze Age, which was formed when this area of the Lower Nene Valley was flooded by the sea and it effectively became an estuary.
These new investigations are exploring two side-by-side landscape zones from earlier periods, one of which contains these two barrows.
Beneath the shallow zone’s layer of peat are areas of preserved land surface, also know as a “buried soil”, alongside archaeological settlement features such as pits, mounds of burnt stone and lines of stakes. Also present and overlooking the adjacent deep zone are a series of early burial monuments that predate the waterlogging of the areas. These round and oval barrows sit above the floodplain up on the watershed of the river valley. At the time of the construction of these monuments the valleys would have a corridor of movement for Neolithic people and their animals to travel through the landscape and the barrows would have been visible markers of the location of their ancestors.
The key aims for this phase of archaeological investigation are to:
· Excavate the paired barrows
· Test pit the preserved land surface (buried soil)
· Expose and record the layers containing trees and caches of bone
· Date the sequence of peat and clay