A 3,000-year-old wooden wheel—perfectly preserved by burial in clay—has been unearthed at a Bronze Age archaeological site in Cambridgeshire, England, the BBC has reported.
The wheel—the second oldest example so far discovered in Britain—was found as archaeologists were excavating a series of roundhouses built on stilts above an ancient water plain, in a site dubbed “Britain’s Pompeii.”
The BBC quoted experts as saying that the discoveries on the site reveal the ”complex and sophisticated life” of the Bronze Age and are “unprecedented.”
Still containing its hub, the 3ft-diameter (one meter) wooden wheel dates from about 1100 to 800 BC, and was discovered close to the largest of one of the roundhouses found at the settlement last month.
Its discovery “demonstrates the inhabitants of this watery landscape’s links to the dry land beyond the river,” David Gibson, from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which is leading the excavation, was quoted as saying.
“This remarkable but fragile wooden wheel is the earliest complete example ever found in Britain,” Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, which is jointly funding the excavation, said.
“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.”
The axle of the wheel is definitely made from oak, the archaeologists report, while its surrounding “crescent shaped holes are probably stylistic choices.”
Kasia Gdaniec, senior archaeologist at the county council, was quoted as saying that the “fabulous artefacts” found at the site continued to “amaze and astonish.”
“This wheel poses a challenge to our understanding of both Late Bronze Age technological skill and, together with the eight boats recovered from the same river in 2011, transportation,” she said.
The dig site, called Must Farm quarry, near Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, has proven to be a treasure trove for archaeologists who earlier this year uncovered at least two roundhouses dating from about 1,000–800 BC. The timbers had been preserved in silt after falling into a river during a fire.
Other artefacts found inside the roundhouses include a small wooden box, platter, an intact “fineware” pot, and clusters of animal and fish bones that could have been kitchen waste. In November 2015, they also found a piece of 3,000-year-old-textile.
The archaeologists “working theory” on how a Bronze Age roundhouse collapsed into the river, forming the Must Farm dig site.
While the Must Farm wheel is the most complete, it is not the oldest to be discovered in the area. An excavation at a Bronze Age site at Flag Fen near Peterborough uncovered a smaller, partial wheel dating to about 1300 BC.