ID: TBR_001 / Tony Millatt

TitleThe Bronze Age Board Walk - a trackway across the wetlands
AbstractThe Oldest Road on Mersea

In recent years, there has been steady erosion of the mud along the Mersea foreshore, and a steady revelation of interesting artefacts. Several of the discoveries are by local oystermen, who are out on the mud looking for oysters ('ebbing') and have inquisitive minds.

Early one February Morning in 2016, Daniel French senior was on the mud flats off East Mersea looking for oysters, and stumbled across some big timbers of wood, which he first thought were the bottom of an old wreck. But then he noticed that in the end of the timbers were square holes - almost non-existent in shipbuilding. It interested him enough to clear some more mud away, and he realised there were several timbers and they were quite substantial. His boat was nearby so he recorded it with his GPS plotter, and later told local lad Jim Pullen about it. Jim was doing a lot of work with CITiZAN - Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network, photos were sent to them and they became very interested.


Daniel French on Anglia News

And so 19 January 2017, early in the day, a group of CITiZAN members and local volunteers were out on the mud to recover the timbers. The location was about 700 metres off Coopers Beach, East Mersea - an area only uncovered by fairly low tides and not for long.


Gently lifting timber 2


Oliver Hutchinson centre, Jess Tipper right


The boards safe in Mark Dixon's boat

The timbers were then taken to the Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) for cleaning and analysis.


Jane Dixon cleaning timber 4 at MOLA


Wrapping timber 3 at MOLA for sending to Portsmouth for preservation

Boardwalk timber ready for preservation tank
July 2018 the first timber ready to go into the preservation tank at Mary Rose Archaeological Services at Portsmouth

First timber in the preservation tank
July 2018 the first timber ready in the preservation tank. It will be there for a few months.

The timbers and the trackway they formed are very interesting historically. It was felt they should be preserved. Historic England kindly offered to pay for the preservation of the boards if they would be on display. The Museum wanted to do this. It was decided that a large hole in the floor was the way, with lighting, and glass over the top. A significant amount of money was needed, not helped by Coronavirus which pushed up some of the prices, but the Museum was very generously supported by local organisations, members, supporters, and a kind builder who decided he would not bill us for the work.

Excavation of hole in Museum floor to display board walk timbers.
December 2017 the hole was excavated in the Museum floor to display the board walk timbers.

Once the hole had dried out and ventilation fitted, it was boarded over while the timbers were away being preserved. With carpet tiles over the top, all the Museum visitors knew was that the floor creaked a little there. Coronavirus came and stopped most things, including the transport back to Mersea, so it was not until May 2021 that the very carefully packed boards came back to the Island.

The Boards return to Mersea

Above Ready for unpacking.
Below the boards before the glass was. They are oak, just around 8 feet 2 inches or 2.5 metres long.

May 2021 before the glass was fitted

The glass is special and took some time, and it was March 2022 when five men and a fleet of vans arrived to put it in place.

30 March 2022 glass fitted

30 March 2022 strong men and a big piece of glass.

The Boards unveiled
28 April 2022 the Boards unveiled by David Cooper and Oliver Hutchinson.

The boards are now on display in the Museum.


Analysis

Measurements

The boards are about 2.5 metres (about 8ft 2inches). They were laid side by side to form the trackway, and so if the trackway extended to 100 metres, as is thought, there would have been at least 300 such boards.

Section for analysis
Taking a section from a board for analysis.

When the square holes in the ends of the boards were examined, they gave a clue as to the age of the boards. The holes appeared to have been made by a Late Bronze Age socketed axe and this suggested a date of about 1,000 BC. This date was then refined using dendrochonology - tree ring dating. A section was removed from two of the boards, and compared with data from other timber. The conclusion was that the boards are 'not before 952 BC'.

Section of board
A section from one of the boards



Construction

Construction

In addition to the boards themselves, hazel brushwood and alder pegs were found. The painting by Paul Thrales above shows the construction of the board walk. It was laid on a bed of hazel brushwood. Each end of a board has a hole, about 50mm square, which would take a peg. Cutting all these holes in oak planks was a big job. The pictures below shows how known examples of a Bronze Age axe fit the holes.

Bronze Age axe

Clockwise: A Bronze age axe head perfectly fits the toolmarks on the timbers; a close up of the tool marks on timber 2 with the curved stop mark of the axe clearly visible; some replicas of the different types of Bronze Age axes.



The Scene
The river bank in the Bronze Age was well offshore from the present beach, over 1km. Tree stumps can be found along the former shoreline and creeks or rivers traced out from the present shore, lined with the stumps of old trees and bushes. As shown in the painting above, the area which is now mud, would have been a wetland with trees, bushes, grasses etc. The board walk was built across this area, perhaps to the river bank to get to boats for transport, or to access resources in the area. By medieval times, there were fish weirs in the low tide area, and fish must have been an attractive source of food and trade. The area would have been a source of timber for construction, salt for preserving, and marsh for livestock to graze.

The initial boards found by Daniel French were all together, but three other boards were then found within 100 metres on the same alignment, giving some idea of the scale. In April 2022, CITiZAN members and volunteers were once more out on the mud, and found other boards 400 metres away. We do not yet know the scale of the trackway.

Building the board walk was a considerable undertaking, and there would have been good reasons to do it. It suggests a large community on Mersea to support this.

Possible new boards
The story continues: 20 April 2022 possible new boards found off East Mersea


This article and its photographs owes a great deal to Oliver Hutchinson and other CITiZAN members and volunteers. Without them, we would not now have these timbers back on display on Mersea, looking very much as they did almost 3,000 years ago.

Read More
Bronze Age Mersea by Oliver Hutchinson
Woodworking aspects of the Board Walk by Damian Goodburn MOLA
Finds in the Mud - other discoveries on Mersea with CITiZAN;

AuthorTony Millatt
SourceMersea Museum
IDTBR_001
Related Images:
 A structure that has appeared from the mud to the east of the Blockhouse Fort near East Mersea Stone. The stakes are substantial - some are a metre high. They have since been dated by CITiZAN as between 1461 and 1636 AD and probably in use at the same time as the fort.
Was it a wharf, or perhaps part of a fish weir ?
 View looking north to northwest with the Blockhouse Fort earthworks just visible upper left.  CZN_021
ImageID:   CZN_021
Title: A structure that has appeared from the mud to the east of the Blockhouse Fort near East Mersea Stone. The stakes are substantial - some are a metre high. They have since been dated by CITiZAN as between 1461 and 1636 AD and probably in use at the same time as the fort. Was it a wharf, or perhaps part of a fish weir ?
View looking north to northwest with the Blockhouse Fort earthworks just visible upper left.
Date:15 August 2016
Source:Mersea Museum / CITiZAN
 Board walk timbers found off Coopers Beach.  CZN_TBR_011
ImageID:   CZN_TBR_011
Title: Board walk timbers found off Coopers Beach.
Date:19 January 2017
Source:Mersea Museum / CITiZAN
 Recovering the board walk found in the mud off Coopers Beach.  CZN_TBR_017
ImageID:   CZN_TBR_017
Title: Recovering the board walk found in the mud off Coopers Beach.
Date:19 January 2017
Source:Mersea Museum / Jane Dixon
 Board walk timbers found off Coopers Beach. Team gently lifting timber 2.  CZN_TBR_021
ImageID:   CZN_TBR_021
Title: Board walk timbers found off Coopers Beach. Team gently lifting timber 2.
Date:c19 January 2017
Source:Mersea Museum / CITiZAN
 Recovering the board walk found in the mud off Coopers Beach.
 Oliver Hutchinson centre, Jess Tipper right.  CZN_TBR_023
ImageID:   CZN_TBR_023
Title: Recovering the board walk found in the mud off Coopers Beach.
Oliver Hutchinson centre, Jess Tipper right.
Date:19 January 2017
Source:Mersea Museum / Jane Dixon
 Recovering the board walk found in the mud off Coopers Beach.
 L-R 1. Mark Dixon, 2. Elliot Wragg from MOLA, 3. Jess Tipper, 4. Oliver Hutchinson  CZN_TBR_025
ImageID:   CZN_TBR_025
Title: Recovering the board walk found in the mud off Coopers Beach.
L-R 1. Mark Dixon, 2. Elliot Wragg from MOLA, 3. Jess Tipper, 4. Oliver Hutchinson
Date:19 January 2017
Source:Mersea Museum / Jane Dixon
 Recovering the board walk found in the mud off Coopers Beach. Safe in Mark Dixon's boat.  CZN_TBR_027
ImageID:   CZN_TBR_027
Title: Recovering the board walk found in the mud off Coopers Beach. Safe in Mark Dixon's boat.
Date:19 January 2017
Source:Mersea Museum / CITiZAN
 Board walk timbers found off Coopers Beach. Jane cleaning timber 4 at Museum of London Archaeology.  CZN_TBR_031
ImageID:   CZN_TBR_031
Title: Board walk timbers found off Coopers Beach. Jane cleaning timber 4 at Museum of London Archaeology.
Date:31 March 2017
Source:Mersea Museum / CITiZAN
 Board walk timbers found off Coopers Beach. Wrapping timber 3 at Museum of London Archaeology. Scale drawings were done and then they were sent to Portsmouth for preservation. They eventually returned to Mersea for display in the Museum.
</p><p>
L-R Molly Dixon, Mark Dixon, Jane Dixon, Lawrence Northall, Oliver Hutchinson.  CZN_TBR_041
ImageID:   CZN_TBR_041
Title: Board walk timbers found off Coopers Beach. Wrapping timber 3 at Museum of London Archaeology. Scale drawings were done and then they were sent to Portsmouth for preservation. They eventually returned to Mersea for display in the Museum.

L-R Molly Dixon, Mark Dixon, Jane Dixon, Lawrence Northall, Oliver Hutchinson.

Date:31 March 2017
Source:Mersea Museum / CITiZAN
 Board walk construction - from Mersea Museum Exhibition.
 Clockwise: A Bronze age axe head perfectly fits the toolmarks on the timbers; a close up of the tool marks on timber 2 with the curved stop mark of the axe clearly visible; some replicas of the different types of Bronze Age axes.  CZN_TBR_201
ImageID:   CZN_TBR_201
Title: Board walk construction - from Mersea Museum Exhibition.
Clockwise: A Bronze age axe head perfectly fits the toolmarks on the timbers; a close up of the tool marks on timber 2 with the curved stop mark of the axe clearly visible; some replicas of the different types of Bronze Age axes.
Date:10 July 2021
Source:Mersea Museum / CITiZAN
 Excavation in Museum main hall to display board walk timbers. Ark Homes are working in their polythene tent within the Museum - Rod on the left and Andrew Knott on the right.  DC10_MUS_005
ImageID:   DC10_MUS_005
Title: Excavation in Museum main hall to display board walk timbers. Ark Homes are working in their polythene tent within the Museum - Rod on the left and Andrew Knott on the right.
Date:11 December 2017
Source:Mersea Museum
 Excavation in Museum main hall to display board walk timbers.  DC10_MUS_017
ImageID:   DC10_MUS_017
Title: Excavation in Museum main hall to display board walk timbers.
Date:15 December 2017
Source:Mersea Museum
 Excavation of the pit in the Museum main hall to display board walk timbers.  DC10_MUS_019
ImageID:   DC10_MUS_019
Title: Excavation of the pit in the Museum main hall to display board walk timbers.
Date:19 December 2017
Source:Mersea Museum
 The timbers found in the mud off Mersea waiting to go into the preservation tank.  DC10_MUS_031
ImageID:   DC10_MUS_031
Title: The timbers found in the mud off Mersea waiting to go into the preservation tank.
Date:July 2018
Source:Mersea Museum / Dorothy Brown Collection
 Timbers found in the mud off Mersea in 2017, now in the preservation tank.  DC10_MUS_033
ImageID:   DC10_MUS_033
Title: Timbers found in the mud off Mersea in 2017, now in the preservation tank.
Date:July 2018
Source:Mersea Museum
 Unveilling the Bronze Age boardwalk in Mersea Museum. David Cooper and Oliver Hutchinson.  DIS2022_TBR_011
ImageID:   DIS2022_TBR_011
Title: Unveilling the Bronze Age boardwalk in Mersea Museum. David Cooper and Oliver Hutchinson.
Date:28 April 2022
Source:Mersea Museum
 A screenshot from Anglia News 15 Feb 2017 showing planks discovered by local oysterman Daniel French in the mud off Coopers Beach, East Mersea.  VV010612_001
ImageID:   VV010612_001
Title: A screenshot from Anglia News 15 Feb 2017 showing planks discovered by local oysterman Daniel French in the mud off Coopers Beach, East Mersea.
Date:15 February 2017
Source:Mersea Museum