Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Flag Fen... They Dug It

My in-laws and I were in search of a "culture segment" during their recent visit, so we decided to descend upon a place called Flag Fen. The Fens are flat stretches of formerly boggy land that extend through multiple counties in the East, including Cambridgeshire. Flag refers to the flag iris, which is a wetland plant native to the area. The good news is that the fens have been drained and converted to extremely fertile farmland. Good thing, too, as I wasn't up for donning rental hip waders.

Flag Fen is an archeological site that's been dated to the Bronze Age, which makes it 3500 years old, give or take a few. Our tour guide was a pleasant older gentleman, who conveyed the underlying message that while there were Celtic people there that long ago, there are a lot of unknowns because no one was taking notes, unlike those wordy Egyptians. Flag Fen was stumbled upon after World War II, when the city began excavations for a power plant. Put simply, they literally unearthed a giant wooden platform the size of Wembley Stadium, supported by 60,000 upright timbers that had been sunk into the peaty, watery fen for thousands of years, and as a result, perfectly preserved from evil oxygen that causes rot. A part of what they found is exposed but sprinkled on the minute with water to keep it from turning to dust. At first, I thought this was Norm Abram's worst nightmare:

Not only did they find this giant promenade deck, they found all manner of crap tossed into the water surrounding it and preserved in the peat. Some, in fact, wasn't crap at all. Unlike Jorvik - readers may remember my olfactory assault - there was no picked poo. Instead, there were pieces of clothing, rare gold jewelry, pots, bones from joints of meat, dog skeletons, human skeletons, metal shears, glass beads, rare wooden handles from axes, and the oldest wheel in England. Funny, I thought I saw that already being bowled at some country skittles (see The Festival of Beer).

The best explanation they have for what went on was that the big deck was some sort of ceremonial platform that people would chuck stuff off of in sacrifice to their gods. Either that, or a giant cow causeway. As our tour guide liked to cluck, "There's no evidence!" when a member of our group came up with an alternate theory. Giant shuffleboard stadium, anyone?

Chumley happened to call me on my mobile to check parent status while they were in my sole custody. My jazzy Nokia tune disrupted the ambience of burlap clothing and hanging animal carcasses. These turfy homes would never work nowdays. All that growing on the roof leads to terrible mobile reception. And who wants to get up there and weed it?

"Where are you now?" he wanted to know.

"I've just stepped out of a model roundhouse," I said, choking from the smoke of the roasted jerky demonstration inside. "I'm staring at the turf roof."

"Good," he continued, unfazed. Perhaps many people he chatted with carried on conversations from Bronze Age roundhouses. He was on an information-seeking mission. "When's the last time they had tea?"

I checked my watch. "About three hours ago."

"Oh dear," he replied. "Best to find a tea shop straight away."
Sure enough, more tea was in order. We managed to avoid being headbutted by the rare-breed sheep on they way out. In a moment of deja vu, I realized that PG Tips tea, without milk, is just the color of the peaty water preserving the wooden spikes at Flag Fen. Spooky.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic, I love the idea of a nokia bursting into life in a roundhouse!!