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Cross-Country Trade in Full Swing

4000-2000BC

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Although evidence of Neolithic people is light in Nene Park in comparison to other areas in the country, there are some tantalising clues to the lives of people who lived here several thousand years ago. During archaeological digs, knapped flints have been found, including some near to Longthorpe Roman fortress, suggesting that Longthorpe was considered an important place for people throughout a long period of time.   One particularly interesting insight into Neolithic people in the Nene Park area has been opened up by the discovery of an axe made out of greenstone, along with its polishing stone. In keeping with around a quarter of all Neolithic polished stone axes found in the UK, this one began its life at Langdale in the Lake District. This suggests that Neolithic Britain was more well-connected than we might first imagine.





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The First Farmers of the Neolithic (New Stone Age)

4000 - 2500 BC

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Farming arrived in the Peterborough area around 4000 BC. The first farmers were a mix of in-comers from Europe and local people who had acquired the new skills of agriculture and animal husbandry. They grew wheat, barley and oats and kept cattle, sheep and pigs. Their farms – and several are known - were mostly confined to the east of Peterborough, around Fengate, Whittlesey and Eye. They consisted of small oval houses, within garden-like plots where crops were grown. Animals were kept in larger open areas away from the crops. Pigs would have roamed the woodlands around the farms. They buried their dead beneath mounds, known as barrows, or in open graves. The first farmers introduced pottery-making to Britain and also produced fine flint tools with long, knife-like blades. By 3000 BC they had felled most of the trees that grew in the area and the landscape was dominated by large, open pastures.





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Settlement in the Early Bronze Age

2500-1500 BC

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During the Neolithic the local population had grown from hundreds to perhaps a few thousand people. This process gathered pace in the Bronze Age, which is named after the arrival of metal-workers in Britain, around 2500 BC. As the population grew it became necessary to divide-up the landscape into field systems; some of the earliest fields in England are found in Peterborough. Meanwhile North Sea levels were steadily rising and the nearby floodplain of the River Nene became permanent Fen. Animals were grazed on its lush summer pastures. Major sites of this time have been found at Fengate, Must Farm and Bradley Fen.





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Stone Age Burial – Was it Murder?

4000-2500 BC

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A Neolithic grave  found in Fengate contained a man who had been killed by being shot with a flint arrow, the head of which was found lodged between his ribs. He was accompanied by a woman, a baby and a child, with unknown cause of death.  The skeletons are on display in Peterborough Museum. Why did all four individuals die at the same time and be buried in the same grave? Were they a family? Was this a very early multiple murder?





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Borough Fen Burials

2400-1500 BC

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The landscape in the area north-east of Peterborough, incorporating Borough Fen, Milking Nook and Newborough would have looked very different in the late-Neolithic and Bronze Age to the present agricultural scene. Archaeological investigations have discovered that the landscape contained several bowl barrows and ring ditches, now buried below the surface. Bowl barrows were part of funeral rituals and contained single or multiple burials. They are common in lowland areas, although Borough Fen is remarkable for the number clustered along the prehistoric fen edge. The majority are approximately 5m in diameter, but the scheduling area around them is much more extensive.





The First Neolithic Lowland Hut Built

3000BC

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The first people to discover the benefits of Fengate were Neolithic farmers in around 3,000BC or 5,000 years ago. Fengate is to the east of modern Peterborough, now mainly industrial land, but perfect farmland in the past. The neolithic people farmed the area and built a small rectangular lowland hut. The hut was wooden and around seven metres square, so large enough to be a home, although there is no evidence to prove this. However, a few years after the hut was discovered, archaeologists found a family of Neolithic skeletons in a grave nearby. It is likely that they were the people who lived in the hut, or at least used it. The adult male in the group of skeletons appears to have been murdered: was he killed defending his wooden hut? The hut is the only Neolithic example found in the Fens, but similar huts have been discovered in other parts of England, primarily in the south and east.  





The Remains of a 4,000-year-old House

2000BC

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During excavations in Fengate, to the east of Peterborough, archaeologists found the remains of a Neolithic house dated to 2,000BC. Although the structure had long vanished, evidence of people living there was found. A large circular ditch was discovered and in the area inside the ditch was domestic waste. There were several small pits into which the people had swept their household rubbish. The rubbish included charcoal, flint flakes, animal bones and pottery. Other evidence revealed that the home was set within a farm. There were animals and probably crops too. Possibly the best finds were a well and small pit. They remained wet, so the items inside them were wonderfully preserved. The well contained a woven-twig lining, possibly to keep the water clear. The pit contained a ladder made from the trunk of an alder tree with deep notches for footholds. For many years a replica was on display at Flag Fen and is featured in the roundhouse image on the Flag Fen website. This house was in use 1,000 years after the first evidence of a Neolithic house in Fengate and at a time when Fengate was getting very busy indeed.
Reference
A. Taylor, Prehistoric Cambridgeshire, (1977, Oleander Press)