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Fiskerton Causeway

Reference Name MLI52904

Fiskerton Causeway

Iron Age causeway crossing the River Witham at Fiskerton.


Part of an Iron Age causeway was excavated in 1981, running between land to the south of Fiskerton and the north bank of the River Witham. The causeway was thought to date from 600BC at its earliest, and was constructed of wooden posts, set vertically into the soft ground in clusters forming two roughly parallel lines, 4m apart, and perpendicular to the river. Lying between the posts were horizontal timbers which had been pegged into the ground forming a firm walkway over the boggy ground. There were two major phases of repair where vertical timbers had been replaced and when the horizontals rotted they had been consolidated with a layer of limestone chips. Finds include bone needles, pottery, and domestic and military metalwork, four axes and a hammer, a file with a decorated bone handle and a pruning hook. Four iron swords, two in scabbards, three socketed iron spear heads, and various items of horse furniture were also recovered. This leads to speculation about the importance of the causeway. It may have been a main route across the river which needed defending. {1}{2}{3}{4}{5}{6}{7}{8}{9}

The site was first identified in June 1980, when a local resident located various metal artefacts with the aid of a metal detector on the banks of the North Delph, just to the south of Fiskerton church. These artefacts included the remains of an iron scabbard and sword, two bone weaving pins, a fragment of a ribbed bronze bracelet, what appears to be a linch-pin of iron, and a number of bronze studs, found a short distance to the north of the post alignments (TF 0500 7159). A further Iron Age artefact of uncertain function, consisting of a decayed wooden core with projecting bronze studs with coral terminals, was also found in the area of the post alignments (TF 0500 7157). The findspots (which were at that time in Washingborough parish - the parish/district boundary has since changed) were c.45m to the east of a small footbridge on the north and south banks of the Delph, which was dredged and recut in 1978. Weathering of the banks since 1978 had revealed two lines of staggered oak posts about 1-2m apart, crossing the Delph at a north-north-east to south-south-west angle. These posts are set in clay below the peat and are some 15cm in diameter. {10}{11}{12}

Traditional excavation techniques indicated that the posts represented at most two phases of construction. Dendrochronology results, however, showed that the causeway had a long history of construction and repair. The exact date of construction cannot be determined, but the first felling event in the tree-ring record is 456BC. Timbers were then felled every 16-18 years, and used in pairs to repair or consolidate the causeway at regular intervals along its length. Timbers were still being felled after 339BC. {13}

It is thought that this causeway formed part of a ritual and symbolic landscape in the Witham Valley dating possibly as far back as the Bronze Age, and extending into the sixteenth century. The rituals probably focussed on water features, including the River Witham itself. The finds from the causeway and its vicinity (more than 58 of them) are thought to be votive finds, and were mostly deposited upstream of the causeway. As with the other conjectured causeways in the Witham Valley there is a sequence of monuments which suggest the ritual importance of the area. There is a barrow cemetery on the south side of the river, which probably dates to the early to mid Bronze Age. It seems that the rituals changed from those associated with burial and inhumation to those related to watery deposition from the late Bronze Age. The Fiskerton causeway is unique amongst those along the river, however, in not having a monastic site at one end of it. The locations of monastic establishments in relation to the causeways, and in many cases the fact that the causeways were controlled by these establishments, are thought to represent the 'conversion' and guardianship of the important spiritual and ritual significance of the area to the Christian tradition. {14}

The felling dates of many of the timbers of the causeway seem to coincide with total lunar eclipses in the winter, and the periods between felling match the periods between eclipses. It has therefore been suggested that this activity was linked to prediction of the eclipses. Some of the metalwork items, including swords and a saw, have La Tene style decoration, and seem to be high status items deliberately deposited as votive offerings. This deposition appears to have occurred after the phases of construction or repair of the causeway itself had ceased. After a break of up to 250 years, it appears that the causeway site was again used for votive offerings by the Romans. Evidence was also uncovered of two earlier timber structures on a different alignment to the causeway and cut by causeway features. {15}

A series of environmental samples were taken during the 1981 excavations at Fiskerton Causeway. Analysis of these samples confirmed a local environment that was overwhelmingly dominated by wetland plant and animal species, indicating an alder carr landscape was present in this area during the construction of the causeway. Some scrubland species were also present within the samples, indicating some slight changes to the local environment occurred, likely as a result of the growth of probable droveways and trackways in this area after the construction of the causeway. {16}

An area to the south of the 1981 excavations was investigated in 2001. These excavations revealed that the causeway continued south. More metal finds, including an almost complete spear with haft, were recovered. Again, these objects were probably deposited as votive offerings. Two wooden logboats were also recovered, one in very good condition and deliberately pegged into place. {17}

The field containing the north section of the causeway was surveyed by English Heritage in 2003. A shallow linear earthwork was noted running close to the line of the causeway. {18}

Fieldwalking and metal detecting were carried out around the area of the causeway. No material contemporary with the construction and use of the causeway was recovered. {19}

Further investigation of the Fiskerton causeway to the north of the River Witham was conducted in 2007. Four trial trenches were excavated to assess the preservation of the monument, and the impact of land management changes over the previous 25 years on the remains. The study concluded that although previous ploughing regimes have caused an appreciable loss of stratigraphy and destruction to the monument, the lower deposits survived in good condition. It was recommended that timbers recovered in the investigation should be subjected to high precision radiocarbon dating, to help clarify the construction sequence and relationships of the various causeway elements. {20}{21}

1 Article in Serial: A.J. White (ed.). 1982. 'Archaeology in Lincolnshire, 1981' in Lincolnshire History and Archaeology. vol.17, p.72
2 Unpublished Document: NLAU. Fiskerton in the Iron Age. -
3 Article in Serial: FIELD, F.N.. FISKERTON CAUSEWAY. no.58
4 Article in Serial: Jennifer Hillam. 1985. 'Recent Tree-Ring Work in Sheffield' in Current Archaeology. vol.96, pp.21-3
5 Article in Serial: 1983. PROCEEDINGS OF THE PREHISTORIC SOCIETY. vol.49, p.392
7 Article in Serial: FIELD, F.N.. 1986. FENLAND RESEARCH. vol.3, pp.49-53
8 Bibliographic Reference: Naomi Field and Mike Parker Pearson. 2003. Fiskerton: An Iron Age Timber Causeway with Iron Age and Roman Votive Offerings. -
9 Report: Lindsey Archaeological Services. 2001. Fiskerton: An Iron Age Timber Causeway with Iron Age and Roman Votive Offerings. -
10 Index: SMR. Sites and Monuments Record Card Index. TF 07 SE: AI, 14/07/1980, AJW
11 Index: SMR. Sites and Monuments Record Card Index. TF 07 SE: AH, 14/07/1980, AJW
12 Unpublished Document: City and County Museum. 1980. Folder with text/photos/plans of Fiskerton causeway. See Fiskerton parish file
14 Article in Monograph: Paul Everson and David Stocker. 2003. ‘The straight and narrow way: fenland causeways and the conversion of the landscape in the Witham valley, Lincolnshire’, in The Cross Goes North, Processes of Conversion in Northern Europe, AD300-1300, edited by Martin Carver. pp.271-88
15 Bibliographic Reference: Naomi Field and Mike Parker Pearson. 2003. Fiskerton: An Iron Age Timber Causeway with Iron Age and Roman Votive Offerings. pp.136-48
16 Report: English Heritage Ancient Monuments Laboratory. 1986. Fiskerton: The Environment Connected with Iron Age Structures in the Peat of the Witham Valley. -
17 Article in Monograph: Naomi Field, Mike Parker Pearson and Jim Rylatt. 2003. Time and Tide: the Archaeology of the Witham Valley. pp.16-32
18 Report: English Heritage. 2003. Fiskerton, Lincolnshire: Survey Report. -
19 Report: Heritage Lincolnshire. 2004. Fieldwalking and Metal Detecting Survey at Fiskerton. p.1
20 Report: Environmental Archaeology Consultancy. 2011. The Iron Age Causeway, Fiskerton: Investigation of Preservation. EH site code: 3950 ANL
21 Archive: Environmental Archaeology Consultancy. 2011. The Iron Age Causeway, Fiskerton: Investigation of Preservation. LCNCC 2007.42

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