Tracing a Neolithic trackway in Suffolk

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An incredibly well-preserved Neolithic trackway was recently excavated near Woodbridge in Suffolk. (IMAGE: Wardell Armstrong)

Archaeological work near Woodbridge in Suffolk has revealed the rare remains of a Neolithic wooden trackway and platform.

The waterlogged timbers were found towards the end of an 18-month project carried out in advance of the installation of underground cables to connect ScottishPower Renewables’ East Anglia ONE offshore wind farm to the National Grid. During the initiative – overseen by Wardell Armstrong, with help from Suffolk County Council, Archaeology Solutions (Bury St Edmunds), Archaeology Wales, and Cotswold Archaeology – more than 50 sites along the 37km route were unearthed, but the trackway is one of the rarest and best-preserved finds.

Since February a team of over 70 archaeologists has been working to unearth the 30m-long wooden trackway and platform, which date to 2,300 BC. As the site lies next to natural springs, the perfect anaerobic conditions were created to allow for the preservation of the organic material.

To continue to maintain such delicate finds requires careful conservation. As Kate Batt at Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service explained, ‘Because organic finds of this age are so rare and vulnerable when exposed, they needed to be kept wet during excavation. The features containing the organic material have been flooded every night, and the archaeologists continually sprayed the wood to keep the trackway preserved as they worked.’

The track had survived so well that some of the wooden stakes that were unearthed look like they are only 100 years old, instead of the 4,000 that they really are. (IMAGE: Wardell Armstrong)

Other finds alongside the remains speak of the wooden surface’s importance to the prehistoric people who built it. These include an aurochs skull, found next to the platform, which appears to have been cut in such a way as to suggest it was affixed to a pole or possibly used as a form of headdress. As it was radiocarbon dated to c.4,300 BC, the aurochs had died 2,000 years before its repurposed skull was placed next to the track, possibly indicating that it had some cultural significance.

Richard Newman, Associate Director at Wardell Armstrong, said, ‘Undoubtedly this is a site of international archaeological significance. It is exceptionally rare to find preserved organic materials from the Neolithic period, and we will learn a great deal from this discovery. Some of the wood is so well preserved we can clearly see markings made by an apprentice, before a more experienced tradesman has taken over to complete the job. Initially some of the wooden posts looked like they were maybe 100 years old, and it is incredible to think that they are over 4,000 years old.’

Now that the project is nearing an end, the new discoveries will be recorded and stored for further analysis.

As Kate added, ‘Together with some of the other finds over the last two years, we hope that important artefacts can be displayed by local museums following completion of the analysis. The entire archaeological archive will be deposited with Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, to ensure that the material remains available for future study.’

This article appeared in CA 342.

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