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Objects from the Bronze Age will be showcased in an exhibition from the archaeological site known as the "Pompeii of the Fens".
Science

Objects from the Bronze Age will be showcased in an exhibition from the archaeological site known as the “Pompeii of the Fens”.

The archaeologist in charge of the investigation at the Cambridgeshire site stated that a settlement from the bronze age, which was constructed on stilts and collapsed into a river resembling a coffee plunger, has offered insights into our previous way of life following a catastrophic fire.

Mark Knight from the archaeological unit at Cambridge University stated that Must Farm, also known as the Pompeii of the Fens, provides a unique level of clarity due to a combination of charring and waterlogging.

On Wednesday, two open-access publications are being launched that comprehensively detail the finds from the excavation at a working brick clay quarry. Next month, some of the preserved objects will go on display at Peterborough Museum in an exhibition that tells the story of bronze age life in the short-lived settlement and its discovery almost 3,000 years later.

Must Farm, which dates to about 850BC, was inhabited for only about nine months before it was destroyed by fire. Its roundhouses were built on stilts over a tributary of the River Nene. The cause of the fire is unknown. The speed at which it took hold gave residents no opportunity to grab their most precious possessions. “It was get out or die,” said Knight.

Archaeologists at the excavation site.Displaying the image in full screen.

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The roundhouses crumbled as their roofs caved in, causing items such as jewelry, pottery, clothing, tools, and food to drop into the murky river. The vegetation in the river acted as a cushion, protecting the objects from harm. The roundhouses and their contents sank into the soft silt below.

“The inhabitants constructed the [community], decorated it, resided in it, and became established. However, a devastating fire broke out. They fled for safety, abandoning all of their belongings,” Knight reported.

The large roofs fell into the river below, similar to plunging coffee. The remaining debris was covered by soft silts over time before being excavated. The settlement remained mostly untouched, except for its former inhabitants.

Archaeologists examines a bronze age bowl

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In 2015-16, researchers discovered approximately 200 wooden items, over 150 items made of fibres and textiles, 128 pottery receptacles, and more than 90 metal items during the excavation. They also recorded over 18,000 pieces of structural wood.

A study of food remnants found that the people living in the settlement consumed dishes like stewed meat, dumplings, bread, pork and lamb chops, and potentially honey-glazed venison. Recovered personal belongings included ornately designed fabrics and rare glass beads.

Knight stated that every structure contained an abundance of various tools such as axes, gouges, chisels, and razors. The houses also held necklaces made of glass, jet, and amber. It was evident that the households were fully stocked and the inhabitants were well-equipped.

A spearhead discovered at the Must Farm quarry excavation site

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During the late Bronze Age, a settlement was established when agriculture was thriving. The people cultivated wheat and barley and raised sheep, cattle, and pigs.

“We don’t have much to compare it with because this level of preservation is so exceptional,” said Knight. “Our understanding is that this is truly representative of what the world looked like in 850BC, as opposed to being an anomaly.”

Over 50 experts, approximately the same number as the population of the settlement, dedicated one year to the excavation. The expenses totalling £1.1m were covered by Historic England and Forterra, the owners of the quarry.

Duncan Wilson, Historic England’s chief executive, said: “The discoveries made at Must Farm are truly astonishing. They have helped to broaden our understanding of life in the bronze age, connecting us directly with communities from the past and helping us to understand a way of life that was more sophisticated than we could have imagined.”

  • Volumes 1 and 2 of the Must Farm pile-dwelling settlement can be found at McDonald Institute Monographs and Conversations at cam.ac.uk. An exhibition introducing Must Farm, a settlement from the Bronze Age, will be on display at Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery from April 27th to September 28th, 2024.

Source: theguardian.com