The Great Court of the British Museum, £9.99
Length: 3.000 m
Gift of Fisons plc and the Somerset Levels Project
P&EE 1986 12-1 1-27
Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Section of the Sweet Track
Neolithic, 3807/3806 BC
From Somerset, England
A prehistoric timber trackway
The Sweet Track (named after the man who discovered it) is the oldest prehistoric trackway found in Britain. It was constructed nearly 6000 years ago by early farmers in Somerset. The workmanship is remarkably sophisticated: woods of different qualities were chosen to make a sturdy footway over the marshy lands, known today as the 'Somerset Levels'.
The track is made of three basic components: planks made of oak, ash and lime, and rails and pegs made mainly of hazel and alder. The separate components were prepared on dry land and brought into the wet area. The rails (long poles) were laid end to end and secured by sharpened pegs driven slantwise into the ground on either side. The planks were then wedged into place between the peg-tops, parallel to the rails beneath, and held firmly in position by vertical pegs. The whole track, two kilometres in length, could have been assembled in a single day from the pre-shaped units.
Neolithic travellers dropped or hid a variety of objects along the track. Among these were flint and stone axeheads and the occasional pot.
Recent advances in the dating of wood by the study of tree-rings (dendrochronology) have enabled the construction to be placed in the years 3807/3806 BC.
M.J. Aitken, Science-based dating in archae (London, Longman, 1990)
J. Jespersen and J. Fitz-Randolph, Mummies, dinosaurs, moon rocks (New York, Athenium Books, 1996)
M.G.L. Baillie, A slice through time: dendroch (London, Batsford, 1995)
B. and J. Coles, Sweet Track to Glastonbury: th (London, Thames and Hudson, 1986)