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English Holy Land: The Fens. This is an area of ​​1500 square miles in wetlands of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk that is filled with medieval monasteries, churches and cathedrals

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The Fens: England & # 39; s Discovering Ancient Depths

By Frances Pryor (head of Zeus £ 25, 576pp)

If every time I had someone who told me that the Fens were "very flat and boring," says Frances Pryor, I would be a very rich man.

But both an archaeologist and a sheep farmer, the 74-year-old Pryor has spent a lifetime exposing the watery wonders of Britain's "most distinctive, fragile and ultimately man-made landscape".

The Fens occupy approximately 1500 square miles of the wetlands of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk and have long been regarded as & # 39; the Holy Land of the English & # 39; because of the extraordinary medieval monasteries, churches and cathedrals that can be found there.

English Holy Land: The Fens. This is an area of ​​1500 square miles in wetlands of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk that is filled with medieval monasteries, churches and cathedrals

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English Holy Land: The Fens. This is an area of ​​1500 square miles in wetlands of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk that is filled with medieval monasteries, churches and cathedrals

But Pryor believes that the locations of these Christian structures had spiritual significance for prehistoric people.

The view from hills on which many are built would have elevated the old soul, just as they are helping us today to find peace and perspective.

The water of the Fagnes would have seemed even more magical if & # 39; the mirror and the prism of life & # 39 ;. In a world full of plate glass, mirrors and camera phones, we forget the power of water as a reflective surface. But old people would only have seen their own faces in swimming pools.

The element that allowed vanity or self-reflection was also a real danger. Lean too close and you will drown.

To worship water as the gateway between life and death, the first inhabitants of the Fagnes made sacrifices to the dead in the water.

The view from the hills on which many are built would have elevated the old soul, argues the book author Francis Pryor, who could explain the positioning. (Pictured: Stone Henge in Amesbury during the summer solstice. It is built in a flat area with views all around)

The view from the hills on which many are built would have elevated the old soul, argues the book author Francis Pryor, who could explain the positioning. (Pictured: Stone Henge in Amesbury during the summer solstice. It is built in a flat area with views all around)

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The view from the hills on which many are built would have elevated the old soul, argues the book author Francis Pryor, who could explain the positioning. (Pictured: Stone Henge in Amesbury during the summer solstice. It is built in a flat area with views all around)

Pryor has dug up many fragments of the Iron Age sword in Flag Fen (east of Peterborough). Because the hips were carefully separated from the knives and discovered within a few square meters, he believes they were left as ancestral tribute and not thrown away in battle.

Pryor believes that the Arthurian legend of Excalibur dates from the period: & # 39; when swords were not defeated by ironsmiths, but were cast in stone forms – hence Arthur & # 39; s removal of the sword from the stone. & # 39 ;

Sometimes these molds were made in the form of pregnant women, which means that it is not a big leap to imagine that the weapons are "born", respectfully named and thrown away.

But weapons were not a big part of Fenland life. Pryor is more focused on the daily, household routine of the early Fenlanders.

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Laughing at the idea that the pre-Roman population of Britain was simplistic, he describes the Saxon version of pipes (a kind of buried brushwork) that helped to drain soggy land for agriculture.

Pryor, 74, an archaeologist and a farmer, also said that he believes that King Arthur's legend dates back to the time when swords were made by casting molten metal into stone shapes. (Pictured: the stone circles in Avesbury, Wiltshire)

Pryor, 74, an archaeologist and a farmer, also said that he believes that King Arthur's legend dates back to the time when swords were made by casting molten metal into stone shapes. (Pictured: the stone circles in Avesbury, Wiltshire)

Pryor, 74, an archaeologist and a farmer, also said that he believes that King Arthur's legend dates back to the time when swords were made by casting molten metal into stone shapes. (Pictured: the stone circles in Avesbury, Wiltshire)

He explains how birch bark was used for soft mats in huts and advanced basket traps were set to catch fish and eels.

You can't write about prehistoric life in the old wetlands without taking boats into account and Pryor reveals that early British ships are built much more gracefully than & # 39; the kind of thick-walled, trunk-shaped things that you might see enthusiastically paddling in The Flintstones & # 39; .

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Interestingly, he believes that old people have stored their log boats under water to prevent the oak from splitting in the sun.

In 2011, eight log boats were found at Must Farm (in Whittlesea, Cambridgeshire) dating from around 1750 BC. Some were clearly deliberately submerged.

1,000: Number of Egrets eaten at the throne celebration of George Neville Archbishop of York in 1466

Old Fenlanders also had fun with the water. Some archaeologists believe that wooden tanks were heated with large stones to create swimming pools and saunas, while Pryor suspects that they were used for brewing beer.

It is amazing how much has been preserved by the unique environment. Experts have been able to prove that border posts are buried in Lincolnshire between 457 BC. And 200 BC. All were made from trees felled in years when the moon was on the lunar eclipse. Because these eclipses would not all have been visible from Lincolnshire, paleo astronomers conclude that these people had a more advanced knowledge of astronomical cycles than ever thought.

The Fens: Discovering & # 39; s Ancient Depths by Francis Pryor (Head of Zeus £ 25,335pp)
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The Fens: Discovering & # 39; s Ancient Depths by Francis Pryor (Head of Zeus £ 25,335pp)

The Fens: Discovering & # 39; s Ancient Depths by Francis Pryor (Head of Zeus £ 25,335pp)

He lets you feel the elemental romance of the moon on the water. And it hurts you for a landscape that we will lose if the sea level rises. "We are beginning to appreciate the degree of irreversible change caused by the large-scale drainage of the 1850s and 1970s," concludes Pryor, whose workplace is only about two meters above sea level. An average flood would make our bed, upstairs, wet, & he says. And yet people still regularly receive building permits from local authorities to build bungalows.

"In many ways, the story of the Fens – an area I have come to love and cherish – could be the story of Britain, past, present, and future.

"We take the future for granted. But now I think it's time to grow up: we need to learn from the people in the Netherlands and other low-lying regions & # 39; s; we cannot afford to turn their back on them.

"In a world that is increasingly threatened by global warming and rising sea levels, we must have the humility to work together and bundle our experiences and knowledge.

"If we are British in one direction, motivated by a misunderstanding of our own history, largely based on naively optimistic, rosy nostalgia, it is unlikely that we will find our way back, alive."

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