What do potato chips, kitchen fires and extraordinary Bronze Age artifacts have in common? For British archaeologists, plenty. In the shadow of a potato chip factory, scientists recently unearthed an almost perfectly preserved 3,000-year-old wheel—the victim of a long-past fire—at a site that’s lauded as another Pompeii.
It may sound like archaeological Mad Libs, but it’s a thrilling find. The Guardian’s Maev Kennedy calls it “the largest and most perfectly preserved bronze age wheel ever discovered in the UK.” Made of oak and so complete that it still includes its hub, it’s being hailed as an unprecedented peek into Bronze Age technology.
The wheel was uncovered at Must Farm in the outskirts of Peterborough in the east of England. The farm is home to a staggering collection of Bronze Age artifacts that used to sit in houses perched over a river with stilts. Thousands of years later, the site is now a clay quarry that's of endless interest to archaeologists. Must Farm has already yielded houses that were once packed with everything from clothing to meals and bodies. The wheel is just the latest exciting find.
The wheel is thought to have hung on the wall of a house on stilts that fell into a river during a disastrous fire between 1000 and 800 B.C. Archaeologists think that the wheel may have been inside a house to be repaired, but that it belonged to a cart that the river-bound villagers used on shore. Though researchers already knew that the village's residents built their houses over water, the wheel gives new links to life onshore and suggests that the village was connected to a larger community nearby.
“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,” says a Kasia Gdaniec, Senior Archaeologist for Cambridgeshire County Council in a release.
Nobody’s crediting Bronze Age villagers with inventing the wheel—whoever did that accomplished their feat at least 2,000 years earlier than their English counterparts. But the very sight of a well-preserved wheel is enough to get the archaeological imagination spinning…and even more research rolling.