Archaeologists have uncovered a perfectly preserved Bronze Age wheel in Cambridgeshire that is believed to be the largest and most complete of its kind ever discovered in Britain. The find, which dates from 1100-800 BC, was unearthed at Must Farm quarry in Whittlesey, East Anglia – a site that has already drawn comparisons with the ancient Roman city of Pompeii for the near-perfect preservation of houses from the period.
The wooden wheel is 1m (3.3ft) in diameter and was found with its hub still intact.Archaeologists have hailed the discovery as unprecedented owing to its size and completeness.
"This remarkable but fragile wooden wheel is the earliest complete example ever found in Britain," said Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England. "The existence of this wheel expands our understanding of Late Bronze Age technology and the level of sophistication of the lives of people living on the edge of the Fens 3,000 years ago."
Archaeologists announced the discovery of large circular wooden houses built on stilts above water at the Must Farm dig site in January. The roof of one of the round houses was charred, suggesting a fire forced the inhabitants of the settlement to leave their belongings behind in haste.
The settlement is then thought to have collapsed into the water below before being buried in silt, thus preserving its contents in near-pristine condition.
Pots with meals inside and finely woven clothing were unearthed, as well as glass beads from a necklace, hinting at a sophistication not usually associated with the Bronze Age.
"Among the wealth of other fabulous artefacts and the new structural remains of round houses built over this river channel, this site continues to amaze and astonish us with its insight into prehistoric life, the latest being the discovery of this wooden wheel," said Kasia Gdaniec, senior archaeologist for Cambridgeshire County Council.
"Believed to be the most complete example yet found from this period, this wheel poses a challenge to our understanding of... Late Bronze Age technological skill."
David Gibson, archaeological manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, said: "The discovery of the wheel demonstrates the inhabitants of this watery landscapes links to the dry land beyond the river."
The oldest Bronze Age wheel ever discovered in Britain is the one unearthed at Flag Fen in the 1990s, which dates to circa 1300 BC but is incomplete and is smaller with a diameter of 0.8m.
In Europe, the earliest wheels date to at least 2500 BC, in the Copper Age.