Wild, local meat and fish; international accessories; the latest household goods and turf roofs: how we lived in Bronze Age Britain is revealed by finds at Must Farm Whittlesey

PUBLISHED: 12:30 15 July 2016 | UPDATED: 12:30 15 July 2016

Simplified schematic representation of a typical house at the Must farm settlement. The posts which support the building are very substantial, driven into the sediments at depths of up to 3 metres. The roof is made from a combination of thatch and turf with clay around the apex. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU)

Simplified schematic representation of a typical house at the Must farm settlement. The posts which support the building are very substantial, driven into the sediments at depths of up to 3 metres. The roof is made from a combination of thatch and turf with clay around the apex. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU)

Archant

Final finds at 3,000 year old roundhouses excavated at Whittlesey reveal a near complete picture of life in the Bronze Age settlement known as the “Pompeii of the Fens”.

Preliminary reconstruction sketch showing a bird's-eye view and side view of how the stilted settlement at Must Farm may have looked. Copyright: Cambridge Archaeological UnitPreliminary reconstruction sketch showing a bird's-eye view and side view of how the stilted settlement at Must Farm may have looked. Copyright: Cambridge Archaeological Unit

Archaeologists excavating the circular wooden houses on stilts have pieced together the daily lives of a Late Bronze Age (1000 - 800BC) community through a number of extraordinary finds.

The 10-month excavation, which is now coming to an end, has revealed how Bronze Age houses were constructed, what household goods they had, what they ate and how their clothes were made.

The specialist team working at the site, known as ‘Must Farm’ at Whittlesey have uncovered the finest collection of Bronze Age fabrics and one of the largest collections of Bronze Age glass ever found in Britain.

They have also found an unprecedented array of household goods, from complete sets of pots, some with food still inside, to wooden buckets and platters, decorative textiles, tweezers, loom weights and decorative beads made from glass, jet and amber showing they were trading with Europe and the Middle East.

A Bronze Age roundhouse in plan showing the inner and outer post rings and collapsed roof timbers 'like spokes in a wheel'. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU), photo Dave WebbA Bronze Age roundhouse in plan showing the inner and outer post rings and collapsed roof timbers 'like spokes in a wheel'. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU), photo Dave Webb

The houses are the best-preserved Bronze Age settlement ever excavated in Britain and were destroyed by a major fire that caused the dwellings to collapse into a river, preserving their contents in amazing detail.

Evidence, including tree-ring analysis of the oak structures suggests that at the time of the fire, the houses were still new and had only been lived in for a few months, despite being well-equipped with household goods.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said “Over the past 10 months Must Farm has given us an extraordinary window into how people lived 3,000 years ago.

“Now we know what this small but wealthy Bronze Age community ate, how they made their homes and where they traded. This has transformed our knowledge of Bronze Age Britain, and there is more to come as we enter a post-excavation phase of research.

An archaeologist handling an amber bead. Found in the roundhouses was the largest collection of Bronze Age glass ever found in Britain. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU), photo Dave WebbAn archaeologist handling an amber bead. Found in the roundhouses was the largest collection of Bronze Age glass ever found in Britain. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU), photo Dave Webb

“Archaeologists and scientists around the world are learning from Must Farm and it’s already challenged a number of longstanding perceptions.”

David Gibson, archaeological manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, said: “The exceptional site of Must Farm allows you to visit in exquisite detail everyday life in the Bronze Age. Domestic activity within structures is demonstrated from clothing to household objects, to furniture and diet. These dwellings have it all, the complete set, it’s a “full house”. “Stuffocation”, very much in vogue in today’s 21st Century may, given the sheer quantity of finds from the houses at Must Farm, have been a much earlier problem then we’d ever imagined.”

Brian Chapman, Head of Land and Mineral Resources at Forterra, said: “This remarkable project has uncovered artefacts which can be studied and enjoyed by generations to come. We made a commitment to reveal this unique site and would like to thank everyone involved in making these amazing discoveries.”

The £1.4 million excavation was joint funded by Historic England and Forterra, and carried out by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit, Division of Archaeology, University of Cambridge with the approval of Cambridgeshire County Council as planning authority.

Late Iron Age baldric ring with La Tène style decoration, probably part of a shoulder belt for carrying a sword, found in the peat which formed in the Must Farm palaeochannel when then the watercourse became entirely choked by sediment at the end of the first millennium BC. This item was found c. 250m upstream of the location of the current timber platform investigation. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU)Late Iron Age baldric ring with La Tène style decoration, probably part of a shoulder belt for carrying a sword, found in the peat which formed in the Must Farm palaeochannel when then the watercourse became entirely choked by sediment at the end of the first millennium BC. This item was found c. 250m upstream of the location of the current timber platform investigation. Copyright Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU)

• What did people wear 3,000 years ago?

The community living in these roundhouses were making 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.

Other fabrics and fibres found include balls of thread, twining, bundles of plant fibres and loom weights which were used to weave threads together. Textiles were common in the Bronze Age but it is very rare for them to survive today.

• What did they eat?

Wild animal remains found in rubbish dumps outside the houses show they were eating wild boar, red deer and freshwater fish such as pike. Inside the houses, the remains of young lambs and calves have been found, revealing a mixed diet. While it is common for Late Bronze Age settlements to include farm domestic animals, it is rare to find wild animals being an equally important part of their diet. Plants and cereals were also an important part of the Bronze Age diet and the charred remains of porridge type foods, emmer wheat and barley grains have been found preserved in amazing detail, sometimes still inside the bowls they were served in.

• What household goods did they have?

Each of the houses was fully equipped with pots of different sizes, wooden buckets and platters, metal tools, saddle querns (stone tools for grinding grains), weapons, textiles, loom weights and glass beads. These finds suggest a materialism and sophistication never before seen in a British Bronze Age settlement. Even 3,000 years ago people seemed to have a lot of stuff.

Many of these objects are relatively pristine suggesting that they had only been used for a very short time before the settlement was engulfed by fire.

• What did Bronze Age houses look like?

At least five houses have been found at the Must Farm settlement, each one built very closely together for a small community of people. Every house seems to have been planned in the same way, with an area for storing meat and another area for cooking or preparing food.

The roundhouses were built on stilts above a small river. The conical roofs were built of long wooden rafters covered in turf, clay and thatch. The floors and walls were made of wickerwork, held firmly in place by the wooden frame.

• What were they trading in?

Some 18 pale green and turquoise glass beads have been found alongside one of jet and one of amber. Analysis has shown the glass beads were probably made in the Mediterranean basin or the Middle East.

It was announced this week that Must Farm has been awarded Best Discovery at the 2016 British Archaeological Awards.

Judges from across the archaeology profession voted for the Bronze Age settlement, recognising that the perfectly preserved remains uncovered by archaeologists deep beneath a fen, have transformed our understanding of everyday life in prehistoric Britain, three thousand years ago.

The excavation has now come to a close and Historic England is working closely with Peterborough City Council and other interested organisations to determine the best strategy for using and displaying the archaeological finds.

Looking ahead, the post-excavation report will begin soon and will take several years to complete. A book will be published on the excavation and the finds explained and displayed online.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Wisbech Standard visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Wisbech Standard staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Wisbech Standard account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More news stories

Yesterday, 14:40

The A47 near Wisbech is closed in both directions on the Norfolk/Cambridgeshire border following a serious collision.

Yesterday, 15:51

Construction giant Kier Group has beaten off five competitors to secure the £17 million contract to design and build the Kings Dyke improvement scheme at Whittlesey.

Yesterday, 14:40

The Queen Mary Centre in Wisbech hosted a party with international flavour.

Fri, 16:03

A large sum of money has been found at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn but no one has yet come forward to claim it.

Most read stories

Most commented stories

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists

Digital Edition

Image
Read the Wisbech Standard e-edition E-edition

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter