Best pre­served Bronze Age finds in Bri­tain re­veal vivid de­tails of lives

Timeless Travels Magazine - - ARCHAEOLOG­ICAL NEWS -

Ex­ca­va­tion of a site in the Cam­bridgeshir­e fens re­veals a Bronze Age set­tle­ment with con­nec­tions far be­yond its wa­tery lo­ca­tion. Over the past ten months, Must Farm has yielded Bri­tain’s largest col­lec­tions of Bronze Age tex­tiles, beads and do­mes­tic arte­facts. To­gether with tim­bers of sev­eral round­houses, the finds pro­vide a stun­ning snapshot of a com­mu­nity thriv­ing 3,000 years ago.

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists have made re­mark­able dis­cov­er­ies about ev­ery­day life in the Bronze Age dur­ing their ten-month ex­ca­va­tion of 3,000-year-old cir­cu­lar wooden houses at Must Farm in Cam­bridgeshir­e, a site that has been de­scribed as the ‘Pom­peii of the fens’.

Be­lieved to be the best-pre­served Bronze Age dwellings ever found in Bri­tain, the houses were de­stroyed by a fire that caused the set­tle­ment, which was built on stilts, to col­lapse into the shal­low river be­neath. The soft river silt en­cap­su­lated the re­mains of the charred dwellings and their con­tents, which sur­vive in ex­tra­or­di­nary de­tail.

The range and qual­ity of the many finds have as­ton­ished mem­bers of Cam­bridge Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Unit and col­leagues at the McDon­ald In­sti­tute for Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­search, Di­vi­sion of Archaeolog­y. The fire is thought to have hap­pened soon af­ter the con­struc­tion of the round­houses.

“The ex­cel­lent preser­va­tion of the site is due to de­po­si­tion in a wa­ter-logged en­vi­ron­ment, the ex­clu­sion of air and the lack of dis­tur­bance to the site. The tim­ber and arte­facts fell into a partly in­filled river chan­nel where they were later buried by more than two me­tres of peat and silt,” said Pro­fes­sor Charles French from the Di­vi­sion of Archaeolog­y. “Sur­face char­ring of the wood and other ma­te­ri­als also helped to pre­serve them.”

Now the ex­ca­va­tion is com­ing to an end, ar­chae­ol­o­gists are able to build a near com­plete pic­ture of do­mes­tic life in a Bronze Age house: where ac­tiv­i­ties hap­pened, what the roof was made of, what peo­ple were wear­ing, and how their clothes were pro­duced. The ma­te­ri­als found pro­vide ev­i­dence of farm­ing, crafts and build­ing tech­nolo­gies.

The site has re­vealed the largest col­lec­tions in Bri­tain of Bronze Age tex­tiles, beads, do­mes­tic wooden arte­facts (in­clud­ing buck­ets, plat­ters, troughs, shafts and han­dles) and do­mes­tic met­al­work (axes, sick­les, ham­mers, spears, gouges, ra­zors, knives and awls). It has also yielded a wide range of house­hold items; among them are sev­eral com­plete ‘sets’ of stor­age jars, cups and bowls, some with grain and food residues still in­side. Most of the pots are un­bro­ken and are made in the same style; this too is un­prece­dented. The com­mu­nity liv­ing in th­ese round­houses made their own high-qual­ity tex­tiles, like linen. Some of the wo­ven linen fab­rics are made with threads as thin as the di­am­e­ter of a coarse hu­man hair and are among the finest Bronze Age ex­am­ples found in Europe.

“Per­haps uniquely, we are see­ing the whole reper­toire of liv­ing at Must Farm – from food pro­cure­ment to cook­ing, eat­ing and waste and the con­struc­tion and shap­ing of build­ing ma­te­ri­als,”

said Pro­fes­sor French. “We see the full tool and weapons kits – not just items that had been lost, thrown away or de­posited in an act of ven­er­a­tion – all in one place.”

The ex­ca­va­tion has been funded by His­toric Eng­land and Forterra. The work on the site has been car­ried out by the Cam­bridge Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Unit. Fur­ther work on the finds is tak­ing place at the McDon­ald In­sti­tute and other cen­tres.

Top: Pots stacked to­gether Mid­dle: Ex­ca­va­tion of a Bronze Age tri­par­tite wheel shows life went on be­yond the fens Bot­tom: The in­hab­i­tants of Must Farm had the finest wo­ven gar­ments ever seen

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