Archaeologists have unearthed the oldest, largest, most complete wheel ever found in Britain, revealing intriguing Bronze Age technology, Cambridge University announced on Friday.
Dating from 1100-800 BC, the wooden wheel is the latest find from a settlement in the UK county of Cambridgeshire described as Britain's Pompeii.
The site was home to several families who lived in a number of circular wooden houses built on stilts above a river. The settlement was abandoned in haste 3,000 years ago as a dramatic fire caught on the houses. The dwelings fell into the river, where silt and clay preserved the contents.
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The wheel, around three feet in diameter, was no exception. Found near the remains of the largest roundhouse, it is exceptionally well-preserved. Made of five panels of solid timber stitched together, it still has its reinforced hub in the center.
Archaeologists are puzzled as the wheel was found in a marshy area by a river where boats were the most common method of transport. Eight canoes of various sizes were unearthed nearby in 2011.
"The discovery of the wheel demonstrates that the inhabitants of this watery landscape had links to the dry land beyond the river," David Gibson, Archaeological Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, Division of Archaeology, University of Cambridge, said in a statement.
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The archaeologists hope to find new insights into domestic life 3,000 years ago as the excavation, which is now half way through the four-year project, continues over the coming months.
"Among the wealth of other fabulous artifacts and the new structural remains of round houses built over this river channel, this site continues to amaze and astonish us," Kasia Gdaniec, senior archaeologist for Cambridgeshire County Council, said.
Previous objects unearthed at the site, such as exotic glass beads that were part of an elaborate necklace, suggested "a sophistication not usually associated with the British Bronze Age," according to Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
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"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," Gdaniec said.