Please rotate your device

The First Farmers of the Neolithic (New Stone Age)

4000 - 2500 BC

Information

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.





Resources

Stone Age Burial – Was it Murder?

4000-2500 BC

Information

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?





Resources

Cross-Country Trade in Full Swing

4000-2000BC

Information

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.





Resources

Construction of Etton Causewayed Enclosure

3600BC

Information

As farming lifestyles developed and the population became more settled so local families constructed monuments as a focus for their spiritual beliefs and their remembrance of previous generations. The Etton Causewayed Enclosure was the starting point for a series of ritual features over the next 1,500 years.





Resources

The First Neolithic Lowland Hut Built

3000BC

Information

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

Information

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)





Settlement in the Early Bronze Age

2500-1500 BC

Information

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.





Resources

Metal Work in the Early Bronze Age

2500-1500 BC

Information

With the arrival in Britain of skilled metal-workers from mainland Europe around 2500 BC, metal technology began. These people are called the Beaker People, the name arising from their particular style of pottery. The first metal used was copper, but this was soon replaced by the harder bronze (an alloy of 90% copper with 10% tin), for which the time period, the Bronze Age, is named. Smiths working in the Peterborough area, mostly in the east, produced hundreds of swords, daggers, spearheads, axes, pins, ornaments and jewellery, such as rings. The production of metal led to greater control of fire and with it, improved, harder pottery.    





Resources

Borough Fen Burials

2400-1500 BC

Information

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.





Later Bronze Age Population

1500-800 BC

Information

By 1500 BC the lower Nene Valley and Fen-edge regions of Peterborough had become one of the most prosperous landscapes in prehistoric Britain, fertile and rich in resources. The local population was well into the thousands and there were tens of thousands of cattle and sheep grazing the elaborately arranged field systems around the Fen margins. Most of the farms and settlements were on the drier, flood-free margins of the wetlands, but a few were constructed over the water on wooden piles, such as the one at Must Farm.  





Resources

Flag Fen

1300-900 BC

Information

Flag Fen is a superbly preserved Bronze Age structure. It consisted of a causeway whose posts were arranged in five rows running in a straight line from Fengate to Northey a distance of a kilometre. In the middle of this causeway was a huge wooden platform. The construction of this causeway started in 1300 BC (at a time when Tutankhamen ruled Egypt) and continued for 400 years. The structure was probably a boundary as well as a causeway and may also have formed a defensive palisade to protect the richly resourced Flag Fen Basin. It is, however, likely that it was also used as a shrine or temple, as hundreds of offerings of high status and valuable items, bronze tools, weapons and jewellery, were offered to the waters between the great posts. This continued long after the causeway itself had gone out of use.





Resources

Must Farm

800 BC

Information

During the later Bronze age most of the farms and settlements in this area were on the drier, flood-free margins of the wetlands, though a few were constructed over the water on wooden piles. One of these small settlements (of some ten houses) has been found at Must Farm on the western edge of Whittlesey. Around 800 BC the houses caught fire very soon after they were built (whether the fires were accidental or deliberate is still under debate) and the entire platform collapsed into the waters below. Because of the fire and the waterlogged conditions the houses collapsed into, Must Farm is a beautifully preserved  archaeological site; it has been described as the Bronze Age Pompeii as the fantastic amount of finds ( including wood, pots, food, jewellery and even fabric)  have revealed a great deal about Bronze Age life and trade. Near to Must Farm, along the channel the River Nene took in antiquity, archaeologists discovered nine intact Bronze Age log  boats, all fashioned from hollowed-out tree trunks, which were sunk over a period of 600 years. These boats are currently undergoing conservation at Flag Fen, where they are on display.





Resources

The Iron Age

800 BC- 43AC

Information

The Iron Age is the last of the Three Ages of British later prehistory. It begins with the arrival of the new metal, iron, around 800 BC and ends with Roman troops landing on the shores of Kent, in AD 43. The Romans gave the British writing and with writing came recorded history – which is why prehistory is said to cease with their arrival. People in Iron Age Britain are sometimes described as Celts and they spoke Celtic languages, which survive today in Breton, Welsh, Gallic (Scotland) and Gaelic (Ireland). The working of iron requires greater control of very high temperatures which led to improvements in pottery firing and less regionalised pottery styles.  The Iron Age saw the  appearance of ditched enclosed farmstead-type settlements as at Itter Crescent, open settlements characterised by roundhouses and pits as at Fengate, and the building of the hillforts like the earthworks at Newborough. Societies were hierarchically organised in this period, having moved from the extended clan to the chiefdoms and the earliest named rulers. These are the tribes the Romans encountered when they came to Britain in the first century. The best known of these rulers was Queen Boudicca of the Iceni tribe/kingdom. She led a popular rebellion against Roman rule, in AD 60-1. Environmentally, the Iron Age sees increased flooding and higher groundwater levels in the fens.





Resources

Borough Fen Iron Age Fort

300BC

Information

In the Middle Iron Age a local tribe established a fortified enclosure on the Fen edge between the Welland and the Nene. With an internal area of 3.8 hectares it was a significant feature of the local landscape. Today the fort can be clearly seen in aerial photographs. The site is bisected by Decoy Road; to the west the site is on protected land, under pasture. To the east it has been more affected by plough damage.





Resources

Expanding Settlements in the Nene Park Area

800BC-43AD

Information

During the Iron Age, tribal culture began to take hold and people needed to defend their territory against their rivals. The tribe which held the Nene Valley, the Corieltauvi, may have had allegiances to the large and powerful tribe to the south, the Catuvellauni, but we don’t know about their other neighbouring tribes. The settlement within Nene Park (mainly on what is now Coney Meadow at Ferry Meadows) became more defensive, as we can see on geophysical survey results. Ditches almost a kilometre in length were built across a meander in the River Nene, so that the settlement would be protected on all sides. The Iron Age is also when we can first start to see similarities between how people lived then and now: the Celts wore linen and dyed wool, used coins as currency and enjoyed continental luxuries, including Roman wine.





Resources