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Meare in Prehistoric Times

The history of Meare and Westhay can be accurately dated back to the neolithic era (circa 3000 BC).

In ancient times of around 5000 BC, the areas around Meare and Westhay were very wet and the water was brackish and tidal. Effectively, Meare and Westhay were by the sea and were either islands or a cojoined island. By 1000 BC the water levels had changed and with sea level varying, it became freshwater. Both places have been in continual use from at least that time to the present.

The vegetation growing out of the wet areas have produced peat bogs. In recent times, people have been extracting peat for use as fuel, and in the process, prehistoric artifacts have been discovered. Half of a prehistoric flat bow was uncovered in 1961. Many flint arrow heads, axe heads and sword scabbards were also found in the peat and some of them are on display at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton.

 
Meare Heath Bow

Meare Heath Bow

 
Sword Scabbard

Sword Scabbard

 

Prehistoric Trackways

In 1873 the first of the prehistoric trackways were discovered. Running from Westhay to Burtle it was called the Abbots Way since it was thought that the Abbot of Glastonbury had ordered it made. Since then, better dating methods have shown it to be neolithic and of an age circa 2800 BC. It consists of alder branches meshed together to form a walkway.

There are over 40 of these tracks and the oldest of them are known as the Sweet Track and the Post Track which have been dated to 3806 BC using a method of counting tree rings called dendrochronology. The Post Track is one of the oldest trackways in the UK and runs from Westhay going South toward the Polden Hills.

There is a modern reconstruction of it along part of its original course on the Shapwick Heath nature reserve. Another significant trackway is the Meare Heath track which runs from Meare heading South which is bronze age dating circa 1800 BC.

Five dugout canoes have been uncovered from the peat of which four survive and it is possible to visit some of them in either the Museum of Somerset in Taunton or the Tribunal in Glastonbury.

 
Reconstruction

Reconstruction

 
Shapwick Canoe

Shapwick Canoe

 

Glastonbury and Meare Lake Villages

An amateur antiquarian called Arthur Bulleid spent an extended time looking for some prehistoric settlements and in 1892 discovered one near to Glastonbury. This became known as the Glastonbury Lake Village and lies approximately 1/2 mile West of Glastonbury and 2 miles East of Meare.

During the period of excavation he was given some more artifacts from a farmer just North of Meare and from 1909 to 1956 he excavated the area and found the two Meare Lake Villages. These are now only visible as lumps in the grass but occupy a field North of Meare towards Westhay.

The settlements are simple houses raised up using mud and sphagnum moss. They were probably used during the summer months when the water level was not as great as in winter months. Many interesting artifacts were uncovered from the villages including combs for weaving and decorative beads. They date to around 250 BC to 50 BC.

Reference books on the subject include:

  • The Lake Villages of Somerset" by Stephen Minnitt and John Coles.
  • Wet and Wonderful" by Richard Brunning.
  • The Lost Islands of Somerset" by Richard Brunning.
 
Lake Village

Lake Village

 
Beads

Beads