Beccles timber alignment

Could Beccles have a ritual site?

FOR 2,000 years the Waveney Valley marshland has lain silent, locking within it the secrets of life in the Iron Age.

Now the veil of mystery could be lifted after workers stumbled across what could be part of a ritual site.

Workers excavating a new dyke as part of flood defence work unearthed three parallel rows of vertical oak posts, along with branches and bark chippings laid down. The timber alignment is similar to an ancient site   previously discovered directly across the river, which has been dated to between 8BC-8AD, and a third in Beccles [Waveney Valley trackways]. Further analysis will show whether the three sites are linked.

The operator of an excavator saw the wood during work on marshes at Geldeston, near Beccles, for  Broadland Environmental Services (BESL) as part of the Environment Agency’s Broadland Flood Alleviation Project. Now work has been halted while experts examine the site in a bid to piece together the jigsaw.

Heather Wallis, project archaeologist for BESL, said the three most likely options were that the wooden structure formed tracking over boggy land or low open water, that it was a jetty or a river crossing, or that it was part of a ritual site. She said: “The condition that allows the wood to survive is unusual and to come across this is absolutely amazing.” She added: “It will have an impact on how we understand the later Iron Age in this area.”

Ms Wallis said that, until the discovery of the triple row of posts on the other side of the river, there had been no known sites of its kind in Norfolk or Suffolk.

Richard Darrah, archaeological wood specialist, said there were few sites with wood surviving dating to as far back as the Iron Age, but that in this case the peat had preserved it effectively. One of the posts even shows a clear blade mark of an axe that was used to shape it.

He said the fact the structure was constructed in the widest part of the valley meant it was unlikely to have been a bridge for crossing the river and its 10m width suggested it was much wider than a simple causeway designed for carrying wheeled traffic. He said it could have led out over a shallow lake, possibly to a ritual site, adding: “We don’t know whether the whole lake was sacred or just a part of it.”

Samples of timber and soil are being removed for testing to determine the age and although a few timbers have been taken for samples, the remainder will be left in situ.

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