Must Farm boats

Must Farm boats

"Must Farm and Flag Fen sit at the very edge of a lost world…now is the time to uncover their secrets!"

The Must Farm boats have now been brought to Flag Fen, where they are undergoing conservation by a team of world-class experts to preserve them for future generations.

Have you been to the Must Farm Exhibition at Peterborough Museum yet?

"It’s really the most incredible find,” explains Ian Panter, Principal Conservator at York Archaeological Trust. “During my 30-year career I have only been asked to work on three individual Bronze Age boats, but now I have eight to conserve all in one go!”

Ian Panter is talking about the Must Farm boats, which have just been brought to Flag Fen for conservation. These internationally important archaeological discoveries were recently found two miles to the east of Flag Fen, at a site near Whittlesey that was once part of the same prehistoric landscape as Flag Fen 3,500 years ago.

Today this site is owned by Hanson UK, and is quarried to extract the deep Oxford clay layers that are used in the manufacture of bricks. This deep excavation has shed new light and revealed amazing finds from prehistory.

Archaeologists from Cambridge Archaeological Unit worked in this brick quarry to excavate a section of the lost course of the River Nene and came across remarkably preserved items, including preserved eel traps, weapons, pottery and tools. These give an incredible window into what life was like during the Bronze Age some 3,500 years ago.

Most astonishing of all was the discovery of eight prehistoric log boats, most of which were in an incredible state of preservation due to the wetland nature of the area. Many were virtually intact and some have elaborate features including lifting handles, grooves for transom boards and evidence of decoration.


Flag Fen and Must Farm

“It is tremendously important that the Must Farm boats were brought to Flag Fen, because they are part of the same story,” explains Mark Knight from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, who worked on the excavation and is one of Britain’s leading prehistoric and wetland field archaeologists.

Around 4,000 years ago there was a period when water levels started to rise, effectively creating the fens. At first this drove people living in the area back onto drier land, but by the middle Bronze Age people seemed to be adapting to the new environment and trying to use it to its best advantage.

“The boats going to Flag Fen represents a kind of ‘coming home’ because both the boats and the causeway represent novel kinds of conveyances in a landscape fast disappearing beneath rising waters”, explains Mark. “Both Flag Fen and Must Farm sit at the very edge of a lost world.”

To discover more about the amazing discoveries at Must Farm to date why not visit the must farm website

Conserving the boats

Photo courtesy of Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

The boats are an incredibly unique find and conserving them is vitally important.

For this purpose a large specialist cold storage facility was constructed to house the vessels at Flag Fen. The waterlogged boats will now be refrigerated to prevent them drying out too quickly. They will be treated over a two-year period with a specialist wax, polyethylene glycol, which will stabilise the timbers. The same technique was used on the ancient Seahenge timbers discovered in Norfolk, and on the Mary Rose.

During the conservation process, we hope to be able to answer many more questions about the Must Farm boats.

Further analysis may tell us more about how the boats were used. Carbon-14 tests will give us precise dating as to when they were made. Plus, why were the boats abandoned in the river? Were they just washed up at that point in the river, or were they sunk deliberately as part of some form of ritual or funeral ceremony?

Seeing the boats

By undertaking the treatment at Flag Fen, the boats will remain on view at set times and via special events.

Please be aware that the conservation process is currently taking place and you will be viewing the boats while they are being treated in a working environment.

The Bronze Age boats are available to view daily during Flag Fen’s normal opening hours.

Find out more about the boats and the Must Farm excavations in a new display alongside the conservation chiller unit.

Take a seat in a reconstructed log boat and listen to exclusive interviews with the Must Farm excavation specialists.

Project Partners

Vivacity is delighted to be working with a team of experts on this project, including Hanson UK, English Heritage, Peterborough City Council, Cambridge Archaeological Unit and York Archaeological Trust.

For further information about the discovery of the boats by Cambridge Archaeological Unit, please visit the website