Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Data Loss in Flag Fen Conflagration Volume 53 Number 2, March/April 2000
by Angela M.H. Schuster

A fire struck at the 3,000-year-old British Bronze and Iron age settlement of Flag Fen in January, destroying artifacts and human remains and more than two decades' worth of archives--drawings, photographs, research materials, and excavation records.

The East Anglian site is a jigsaw puzzle of waterlogged timbers spread over nearly one square mile. In antiquity, however, it was a thriving farming community located on the bank of a shallow marsh (see "New Finds at Flag Fen," March/April 1995). Out on the water, inhabitants constructed an artificial island on which they erected several small buildings. Walkways and an enigmatic alignment of upright timbers connected the island to higher ground on the banks of the marsh. Excavations indicate the marsh was venerated with offerings of deliberately broken metal weapons and tools, and human bones, which were cast into the water, perhaps to ensure fertility or appease ancestors.

While early reports of the fire mentioned the possibility of arson, the blaze appears to have been accidental. "As far as we can tell," said site superintendent Freddie Karmer, "the fire was ignited by a spark from a hand grinder being used just outside the post-excavation building, which was constructed on stilts. The spark may have landed under the structure, igniting dry materials. It destroyed the building and an adjacent education center." Archaeologists are scrambling to reconstruct the data that were lost. If anyone is in possession of site photographs, copies of reports, or any other relevant material, contact Flag Fen excavators at tel: 44-1773-313-414.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America