ScottishPower Renewables commissioned the archaeological dig because its cables for the East Anglia ONE offshore windfarm would run near Sutton Hoo, a world-famous prehistoric monument in Woodbridge, Suffolk.
Over the last 18 months, more than 50 sites along the 37 km cable route have been subject to archaeol
ogical exploration, but the final dig proved to hold the most significant discovery.
Around 70 archaeologists have been carefully unearthing the 30-metre long wooden trackway and platform, along with numerous other features. Natural water springs, which are still evident in the area, have created conditions that led to the excellent preservation of organic materials like bone and wood. Initial theories suggest that the springs could also have been the reason that the area was chosen as a special place, over 4000 years ago.
Beside the platform the skull of an Auroch was also discovered, an extinct species of large wild cattle, which has been carbon dated to circa 4300 BC. The skull has been cut in a way that suggests it had potentially been used as a totem; either fixed to a pole or used as some form of headdress.
At the time the trackway was built, the skull was already 2000 years old, suggesting it was a significant item. Substantial numbers of white pebbles not common in the area were also found beside the track. The positions in which these items were found suggests that they were deliberately deposited in a way that had significance to the people at the time.
Charlie Jordan, East Anglia ONE project director for ScottishPower Renewables, said: “One of the unanticipated legacies of our windfarm will be a greater understanding of Suffolk’s history. In the last two years our project has been responsible for uncovering artefacts form the Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and Medieval periods, but is seems that best has been saved to last. We have worked closely with the archaeologists on a daily basis, and we have even made changes to our plans to ensure the site can be fully explored.”
Kate Batt at Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service said: “Because organic finds of this age are so rare and vulnerable when exposed, they needed to be kept wet during excavation. The features containing the organic material have been flooded every night and the archaeologists continually sprayed the wood to keep the trackway preserved as they worked.
“The wood and other artefacts have been sent for further analysis, and some of the leading experts on the Neolithic period have already visited to help us build the full picture of activities on the site. Together with some of the other finds over the least two years, we hope that important artefacts can be displayed by local museums following completion of the analysis. The entire archaeological archive will be deposited with Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, to ensure that the material remains available for future study.”
Once operational, the 102-turbine East Anglia ONE project will provide enough clean energy to power the equivalent of almost 600,000 homes, which is the majority of households in the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk.
Offshore construction started earlier this year, with turbine foundations currently being installed. Towers and blades will be installed in 2019, before the project is fully operational during 2020.