Press Release

Upright timbers or the bridge during excavationUpright timbers or the bridge during excavation 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 site gives full details of how 143 wooden stakes that formed part of the bridge were discovered during the construction of a reservoir by Southern Water. Also found were a bronze rapier and part of a boat dating to the same time, c1,500BC.
The stakes were up to three metres (ten feet) tall and 25 cms (10 inches) 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.
The Testwood Bronze Age rapierThe Testwood Bronze Age rapier Carbon dating of the stakes, made from oak, alder and ash, date them to around 1,500BC, the oldest bridge ever found in England – another discovery of slightly older stakes in the River Thames is thought to be a jetty.
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 cms (13 inches) long without its wooden handle, which was not found. It was probably thrown into the water as part of a religious ritual.
“The bridge near Testwood is fascinating evidence for people’s early use of rivers,” said Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, who managed the project for Wessex Archaeology.
Spraying the timbers to stop them from drying out and crackingSpraying the timbers to stop them from drying out and cracking “We can image people in 1,500BC trading with other parts of Britain or the continent using sea-going boats similar to large canoes – the cleat we found was part of one of these.
“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.
“Finding evidence for the bridge, the boat and the rapier at Testwood adds to our understanding of our ancestors’ use of seas and rivers. Southern Water’s co-operation in funding our work was important in throwing light on our past.”
The website pages, launched this week, give details of the finds, and have photographs of the work carried out by Wessex Archaeology during the project, in 1999. They also have a reconstruction of Dr Mike Allen with the Bronze Age cleatDr Mike Allen with the Bronze Age cleatthe bridge, the river and plants based on the remains of plants and insects found during the project.
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.
Wessex Archaeology was established in 1979 and is a non-profit making limited company and a registered charity. It employs more than 150 archaeologists on projects in the UK and abroad. It works mainly with councils and developers to ensure that archaeological remains are excavated, recorded and analysed in advance of housing development and transport schemes. As well as excavations, it carries out marine archaeology, human remains analysis, building surveys and 3D modelling.
These photographs are for use of newspapers and magazines only and not for websites or other media. They may be used only once. Please credit Elaine Wakefield, Wessex Archaeology, in the caption. If you are able to put a link to our website: we would be grateful.For use beyond that stated above, please contact Wessex Archaeology, on +44(0)1722 326867 for permission.
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