Ancient Britain: Flag Fen


Where I live in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire is the nearby Neolithic archaeological site Flag Fen. This site has seen continued habitation from about 3000 BC through until approximately 900 AD. At which time a lot of the inhabitants may have moved on to the bigger settlement at Peterborough. Experts estimate that there maybe over 500,000 timbers buried under the site. The timber's were arranged in five long rows which connected Whittlesey Island with the site of modern day Peterborough. The current site covers a large part of what we estimate the original boundaries of the settlement where. Parts of the original site include the area where Peterborough's power station was built, this gave archaeologists a rare opportunity to explore the site in depth.


A roundhouse at Flag Fen
A roundhouse at Flag Fen


On what used to be the island known as Northey Island, many round barrows were found. These seemed to be constructed over the dwellings of 'clan chiefs'. Although there is evidence of farming on Northey Island and the bones of domesticated animals such as dogs and sheep have been discovered. The current theory over the use of this island is as a place of honoured burial. Modern phosphate analysis reveals high instances of cremations in the barrows. Experts have speculated this may have been the sacred land to the ancestors. Primary burial of clan chiefs is possible and maybe relatives or his followers buried after their chieftain passed on.

The actual Flag Fen site was first discovered in 1982 when a team carried out a survey of the local dyke's in the are of the site.The original survey was funded by English Heritage and the site falls under their control at present. Archaeologists are still studying the layers of habitation at the Flag Fen site. The site is open to visitors and they have had thousands of visitors pass through the site each year. The site has a modern and organised visitor centre with good informative displays. The site also boosts a museum, exhibits and the site hosts occasional events. The management have made good use of the sites history and in recent times it has hosted Viking reenactment's and other living through the ages events.



Part of the way across the structure, a small island was formed. It is at this point that religious offerings and ceremonies where presumed to have taken place. In the Flag Fen museum there are many offerings which have been recovered from the site. Many ritual offerings have been found in the murky and muddy waters. A current theory, is that these were given as offerings to the Gods, to ask them to stop the environmental changes which were occurring around the time. The Area around Flag Fen has always been prone to flooding. And the early settlers would have relied on the crops they grew in the area for their survival.

Amongst the offerings found on site are swords, daggers, sacred stones and jewellery. It is believed that people travelled from afar to give offerings to the Gods as Flag Fen would have been a major religious site. Other artefact's that were found were mainly animal bones. The animals identified included sheep and horse bones. Horses were very valuable to the prehistoric people, as they provided not only a means of transport, but also a display of wealth and power. It is possible that the Horses could have been used in the construction of the walkways.



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