Flag Fen, east of Peterborough, is a Bronze Age site developed about 3500 years ago, comprising over 60,000 timbers, arranged in five very long rows, creating a wooden causeway (around 1 km long) across the wet fenland. A Neolithic trackway once ran across what archaeologists have termed as the "Flag Fen Basin", from a dryland area known as Fengate, to a natural clay island called Northey (now the site of Whittlesey). The basin is an embayment of low-lying land on the western margins of the Fens. The level of inundation by 1300 BC led to the occupants' constructing a timber causeway along the trackway route. The causeway, and center platform, were formed by driving 'thousands of posts with long pencil-like tips' through the 'accumulating peaty muds' and into the firmer ground below. The resulting structure covered three and a half acres. Dendrochronological analysis, or dating of the posts by studying tree rings, led to an estimated date for the various stages of construction as between 1365–967 BC.
Some of the timbers, such as oak, were not natural to the local environment. This means that the people who constructed this timber causeway wanted to use materials that perhaps had religious significance to their lives. They made a significant effort to transport the timbers to the site from distant sources. Similarly, scholars have traced the bluestone used at Stonehenge, Salisbury, as originating in the Preseli Mountains in Wales. Many items denoting 'rank and prestige' were deposited in the water surrounding Flag Fen, including swords, spearheads, 'gold earrings, tiny pins and brooches'. Archaeologist Francis Pryor, who discovered the site in 1982, suggests that 'settlers often vied for social status by showing they could afford to discard valuable possessions'. There is also evidence of intentional destruction before placement, e.g., daggers broken in half placed on top of each other. Other finds included small, polished, white stones of a type not known in the area, indicating that they had been intentionally collected, transported to, and placed at the site. Significance is also drawn from the discovery of the ritual deposits within thirty metres of the timber post line, and only on its southern boundary.
Other artefacts that were found comprised animal bones. Of these, horse mandibles were found. Horses were very valuable to the prehistoric people, as they provided a means of transport, and could supplement or replace man-power. They could be used to carry or pull timbers on sledges, for example, over long distances. On Northey Island, many round barrows, contemporary with Flag Fen, were found. These seemed to be constructed over the dwellings of 'chiefs'. Mike Parker Pearson refers to this as the "Land of the Dead." There is also evidence of farming, including sheep remains, contemporary with the site. Phosphate analysis reveals high concentrations of cremations in the barrows, in the form of satellite and secondary burials in the round barrows. This suggests that the primary burials may have been of chiefs, or socially powerful/respected people, and that some people may have paid to be buried close to the person they respected or followed.
Archaeologists believe that the community was destroyed by a fire at the end of the Bronze Age, which damaged the posts that held the homes above the waterlogged earth, causing the dwellings to collapse into the river and forcing the inhabitants to hastily flee. The effects of the fire then carbonized the remains of the collapsed buildings, helping to preserve them. From there, the anaerobic conditions generated by deposited silt from the fens protected the wood, posts, and rafters of the collapsed structures from rotting away under the influence of air and bacteria. In the 10th century BC, the ground level was much lower than today, increasing around 1 mm (0.039 inches) per year as autumnal debris is added to the surface of the fens. By the early Roman period, most of the structure was covered and preserved. Due to its waterlogged condition, the Flag Fen Basin was an area where peat deposits developed around 2000 BCE, which survive there today.
Archaeological work at Flag Fen is ongoing. A well-organised visitor centre has been constructed there with a museum and exhibitions. In the visitor centre's preservation hall, one section of the timbers is preserved in situ and prevented from drying out by misting with water. Also at the site are reconstructions of two Bronze Age roundhouses and one from the Iron Age. A section of the Roman road known as the Fen Causeway has been exposed; it crosses the site. In addition, there is a reconstruction of a Prehistoric droveway used for moving livestock from one location to another. Around 2 km south of Flag Fen is Must Farm Bronze Age settlement. Log boats recovered there are preserved and displayed at Flag Fen.
The site has toilets, including two wheelchair accessible toilets - one at the museum and one at the cafe, a shop selling a range of gifts and souvenirs, and a cafe with an inside eating area, outside veranda and picnic areas. Mobility scooters and wheelchairs are available for visitor use. Free car parking is available on site and reserved parking for coaches and people with disabilities. As there is livestock on site, they are not able to allow any dogs except care dogs. Please be aware that as this is an archaeological site, the ground is uneven and sensible footwear is recommended. Although a great deal of effort has been made to provide access for all visitors, due to the historic nature of this large site and the topography of its location, there are some uneven grassed areas and arched bridges. Special access to exhibits for the visually impaired (tactile tours can be arranged with sufficient prior notice). Group tours of the site can be booked throughout the year by prior arrangement.
Location : Flag Fen, The Droveway, Northey Road, Peterborough PE6 7QJ
Transport: Peterborough (National Rail) then taxi (£8.00). Bus Routes :No bus service.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00
Tickets : Adults £6.00; Seniors / Children £4.00
Tel: 01733 864468.