Your guide to Mersea Island

Oysterman digs up a Bronze Age timber track

Oysterman digs up a Bronze Age timber track

An oyster fisherman is thought to have stumbled across a 4,000-year-old track once used by the Bronze Age elite of Essex to expand their settlements.

Daniel French discovered the wooden planks almost half a mile offshore from Mersea Island as he was harvesting the shellfish.

His discovery last month prompted a retrieval effort by an archaeological group that feared the growing number of storm surges on the east coast would hide the route for ever.

Radiocarbon and dendrochronology testing will be used on the timbers, thought to be oak, to establish when during the Bronze Age the path was constructed.

Archaeologists with the coastal and intertidal zone archaeological network (Citizan), an organisation that records finds exposed at low tide, said early indications were that the walkway was the oldest yet discovered in the southeast of England.

Five planks, each roughly 2.2m long, 20cm wide and 10cm deep and with sockets in them for stakes, were retrieved by a team from Citizan during a three-hour tidal window. Axemarks have been identified as being made by Bronze Age tools.

Gustav Milne, one of the archaeologists, said that the trackway — which could have stretched for miles — would have been built at a time when sea levels were lower and the ground was marshy. Its purpose may have been to help create larger settlements for a band of prehistoric Britons, he said.

“This would be a time of wholesale manipulation of the landscape by the elite,” he said. “They were carving up the landscape as they moved away from small hunter-gatherer tribes.”

Oliver Hutchinson, Mr Milne’s colleague, added: “This discovery could be a very important key to understanding what the area was looking like at the time we think they were produced.”

He said that the Citizan team had retrieved the timbers just in time because storm surges were increasingly stirring up silt. “We were very fortunate,” he said. “There was a huge difference with what was exposed between our first and second visits.”

During the increasingly frequent storms, millions of tonnes of mud and sand can be picked up and held in the water, before being dumped and obscuring the seabed.

Mr French, 41, whose family have been fishing for oysters since the 18th century, said he had been working during the first week of January when he “stumbled across the end of a piece of wood poking out”.

Having heard about Citizan, which works with Museum of London Archaeology, he contacted the group. “I spend 300 days a year on the mud walking around with my head down,” Mr French said. “Now I know what I am looking for.”

There are older trackways in southwest England while trackways dating from the late Bronze Age have been found in eastern England, where it is believed a network of them were used to traverse the marshy landscape.

Historic England is analysing the retrieved timbers. Zoe Outram, its science adviser, said they hoped to obtain valuable insights into woodland management and trackway construction techniques at that time.

Article from The Times Online by David Sanderson, to visit the original article click here.

This post has been categorised under: History, Nature.

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