To understand Flag Fen, it is necessary beforehand to return to prehistoric times and look into the local geography of the area. South and east of the modern city of Peterborough, is a low-lying, flat basin with an area of higher ground surrounding it, known locally as Fengate. Around 2000BC this flat basin began to flood creating an ideal environment for farming communities: the well-drained land around Fengate provided ideal arable land and paddocks, whilst the flooded basin provided lush meadow grazing during the dry summer months.
Some 600 years later, the local farming communities recognised that the grazing in their basin was coming under threat from neighbouring communities, whose own lands were now water-logged due to rising water levels. In order to protect this area, the Bronze Age people decided to construct an elaborate wooden defensive fortification - now referred to as the 'post alignment' - that extended for approximately 1km across the basin. This post alignment was a considerable feat of engineering and required a vast quantity of timber posts to complete the structure. To maintain the post alignment, it was necessary to traverse an area of water, so a wooden platform was constructed to provide support and it is this area that the visitor sees today from within the purpose built visitor centre floating above.
As with many structures of this nature, it became a revered religious site and numerous artefacts of value have been recovered. Interestingly, the artefacts have only been found on one side of the alignment, suggesting that the people would only come to what they considered their boundary to offer up these objects. With the rising water levels obscuring the water meadows, the site appears to have been finally abandoned c950BC.
Discovered in 1982, Flag Fen has become the most important Bronze Age site in England and, unlike the majority of sites found, it has the advantage of being 'wet' rather than dry which has preserved timbers that would normally have rotted away. The visitor centre allows good public viewing of the post alignment and wooden platform, whilst ensuring the timbers stay wet, and also exhibits many of the artefacts recovered.
Outside, the park has been laid out to depict how the environment may have looked during the Bronze Age period. Among the features to be seen are a turf-roofed, reconstructed round house, flora that would have been commonplace at that time, and livestock breeds that originated from those early days and still exist in our modern civilisation.
We have recently returned to Flag Fen after our initial visit some four years ago, and found some major development had taken place. There is a very good purpose-built visitor centre and many new exhibitions located around the site to bring the whole thing together in a much more understandable way. New excavations are under way, and the woodhenge found on the Norfolk coast is now being preserved at Flag Fen. It is a unique site and well worth taking the time to explore in depth.