| 1 November 2003
Discovery of prehistoric bridge recreated online
The thrill of archaeologists’ discovery of the oldest bridge ever found in England can now be relived through a series of web pages. Wessex Archaeology has put up information on its website about how its staff found the timbers from a 3,500-year-old Middle Bronze Age bridge near Testwood, Hampshire. The pages can be seen at: www.wessexarch.co.uk/projects/hampshire/testwood/index.html
The site gives full details of how 143 wooden stakes that formed part of the bridge were discovered during the construction of a reservoir. Also found were a bronze rapier and part of a boat dating to the same time, 1,500 BCE. The stakes were up to 3 metres (ten feet) tall and 25 cm (10") wide and formed a bridge 26 metres (85 feet long) across a river which has since changed its course, possibly what is now the River Blackwater.
The stakes, which supported the bridge’s walkway, were preserved upright in mud and were so delicate that once exposed to the air they had to be sprayed with water three times a day. This kept them from crumbling into dust long enough for archaeologists to record them and remove them before the reservoir was built. Some planks that formed the bridge’s walkway were also preserved.
Carbon dating of the stakes, made from oak, alder and ash, date them to around 1,500 BCE, the oldest bridge ever found in England. A cleat, a curved piece of wood used to fasten crossbeams to the hull of a sea-going boat, was also found at Testwood.
The rapier was 32 cm (13") long without its wooden handle, which was not found. It was probably thrown into the water as part of a religious ritual. "We can image people in 1,500BC trading with other parts ofBritain or the continent using sea-going boats similar to large canoes – the cleat we found was part of one of these." said Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, who managed the project for Wessex Archaeology. "They would have brought their cargoes – including metalwork similar to the rapier we found, pots and people – to the Testwood bridge where they either went on by land or went further upstream in smaller boats." he added.
Some of the timbers found at Testwood have been chemically conserved and have been given to Hampshire Museum Service for display. Others will be on display at the new Southern Water education centre at Testwood Lakes. The rapier is usually on display at Totton and Eling Heritage Centre, and a replica of the rapier will shortly be on display at the Testwood Lakes Centre.
Source: Wessex Archaeology (30 October 2003)
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