Out and About with…Lisa!

News and views from the trowel’s edge. this week: It must be Must Farm!

This week, yours truly was the lucky DigVentures team member to have the most interesting archaeological life. Whilst Raksha was gallivanting around a field in Wales, and Brendon was at the Institute for Archaeologists conference in Oxford, I finally got to visit the Must Farm site.

CAU archaeologist Kerry Murrell with one of the two boats still on site – the packaging process has begun, in preparation for lifting. The boats are very delicate and must be kept shaped in order to prevent breakage. The styrofoam blocks will keep the sides from collapsing inward, and an outer membrane will prevent expansion as well as preserve wetness. A mini-scaffold will then be built under and around the boat before it is raised off the ground.

Much has been written about the amazing finds at Must Farm (also see the Current Archaeology article here), and I won’t even attempt to repeat the more in depth explanations already out there – but I do recommend that you take a minute to check through to the links and read all about the site. Needless to say, I have been dying to go and see it for ages. So this blog is more about my personal experience there, with some useful links thrown in so that you can all brush up. For anyone who cares about understanding Flag Fen, knowledge of Must Farm is essential reading!

I made it to Must Farm justin the nick of time on Wednesday 18th April – most of the wooden boats have already been lifted, and the two that are left are packaged and ready to go. So, although I couldn’t see them in all their glory, it was a fantastic opportunity to at least have a chance to be one of the last people to see them in their native environment. It was an important moment in understanding the context of the site, and in gaining a feeling for the truly impressive work that has been done by Cambridge Archaeological Unit. Hats off!

Must Farm is about a mile and a half from Flag Fen, just visible on the horizon. The dating of the two sites is basically congruent, with the logs that were used to make the Must Farm boats having been felled at the same time at those comprising the post alignment at Flag Fen. Similarly, the types of objects found (including swords and spears) are comparable to those found at Flag Fen. The people using the boast were travelling to and from somewhere – it’s tantalizing, and not unlikely, that one of their main destinations could have been Flaggers. The two sites are inorexably linked, which creates a unique opportunity in terms of future research for both the Must Farm team and DigVentures.

A section of baulk showing the stratigraphy at Must Farm.

That being said, Must Farm is incredibly unique in terms of the depth of the archaeology. There is a stratigraphic dream scenario at the site, with layer upon layer clearly identifiable and securely datable, and thus the team has been able to identify Neolithic land surfaces that would have been dry land before the encroaching wetness of the Bronze Age. This downward scoping is the Fenland’s equivalent to the imposing uprights of Stonehenge – the importance of a site should not be merely judged by what is obvious to the naked eye – which has traditionally been a challenge in engagement with the buried archaeology at Flag Fen as well.

The CAU archaeologists have dug this complicated site so superbly, with so much skill and tenacity that

Two boats already lifted, in miniscaffold and full packaging.

Francis Pryor devoted an entertaining and very informative blog post to the site, and waxed rhapsodical about the quality of the excavation: “Thank you Must Farm diggers: you have restored my faith in humanity”. In the great tradition of on-site innovation/needs must (think Wainwright and his machines at Durrington Walls) CAU has developed techniques especially for handling the unique conditions and finds from the site, including the innovative packing/wrapping system designed to keep the boats stable and wet, as well as the mini-scaffolding and lifting process that has kept them intact during moving.

L to R: Sarah Stannage (Head of Heritage, Vivacity), Sheelagh Smith (Chair, Board of Trustees, Vivacity), Marco Cereste (Leader, Peterborough City Council),Kerry Murrell (CAU), Mattew Lee (Trustee, vivacity and Deputy Leader, PCC) .

My visit was especially important in that I was joined by some of Peterborough’s influential politicians. It was a tremendous opportunity to discuss the importance of the archaeology at Must Farm and Flag Fen, the potential links for future research, and what this could mean for the international profile of the region in the future. In an area where there is so much development planned, having a council that supports the position of archaeology within the planning process is essential – having a council that proactively considers archaeology as part of the city’s future would be a dream scenario of our own. Fingers firmly crossed!



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Lisa Westcott Wilkins

Written by Lisa Westcott Wilkins

Co-founder and Managing Director of DigVentures, Lisa makes sure the boxes are ticked, the diggers run on time, and that everyone has a *really* good time along the way. She is responsible for the Americanisms, ridiculously strong site coffee and early morning DV dance parties.

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