Historic Bronze Age Wheel Uncovered at 'Britain's Pompeii'

Cambridge Archaeological Unit
Cambridge Archaeological Unit / Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Archaeologists have uncovered another ancient artifact from the 3000-year-old settlement that's been nicknamed “Britain's Pompeii.” The discovery, a complete wooden wheel believed to date back to at least 800 BCE, has been described by experts as "unprecedented"—and the largest example of its kind ever found in the UK, the BBC reports.

The settlement originally sat above a river in Cambridgeshire, England, supported by a series of stilts, until a fire caused it to collapse into the muck below. There it sat, mostly undisturbed, until 1999, when an archaeologist noticed wooden poles sticking through the mud. Several excavations followed, and scientists have since uncovered a wealth of well-preserved Bronze Age items, including farming tools, cooking supplies, a bronze sickle, and glass beads.

The recently discovered wheel, however, may be the settlement's most impressive find yet.

"This remarkable but fragile wooden wheel is the earliest complete example ever found in Britain," Historic England's chief executive Duncan Wilson told the BBC. "The existence of this wheel expands our understanding of Late Bronze Age technology, and the level of sophistication of the lives of people living on the edge of the Fens 3,000 years ago."

While it's too soon to pinpoint the wheel's purpose, the discovery of the spine of what's thought to be a horse nearby leads some experts to believe the wheel may have belonged to a horse-drawn cart. If so, the cart was likely used to transport food and other goods to the settlement, which, according to evidence uncovered at the site, never utilized the fish, clams, and other foods available from the river.

As David Gibson from Cambridge Archaeological Unit—the group responsible for leading the dig—told the BBC, the wheel "demonstrates the inhabitants of this watery landscape's links to the dry land beyond the river."

The location of the discovery also demonstrates something else. Mark Knight, the Cambridge Archaeological Unit site director, told The Guardian the wheel was discovered lying on top of a wood floor and may have been hanging from a wall, where, Knight speculates, it might have been awaiting repair. “My hunch is that 3,000 years ago there was a cart parked up on the dry land, with a wheel missing,” he said.

And it's likely not the only intact wheel to be found, according to Knight. “On this site objects never seen anywhere else tend to turn up in multiples, so it’s certainly not impossible we’ll go on to find another even better wheel.”

[h/t BBC]