Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Must Farm - England's Pompeii

Log Boat - Must Farm
In this post I cross the Irish Sea for a unique glimpse into the Late Bronze Age.

The Must Farm settlement in Cambridgeshire is one of the most complete Late Bronze Age examples known in Britain. The settlement consists of five circular wooden houses, built on a series of piles sunk into a river channel below and seems to have been built around 1300 – 1000BC.) Slightly later, between 1000 – 800BC, a wooden palisade was erected around the main platform.

At some point after the palisade was created a fire tore through the settlement, causing the platform to drop into the river below where the flames were immediately quenched. As the material lay on the riverbed it was covered with layers of non-porous silt which helped to preserve everything from wooden utensils to clothing. It is believed that when the platform burned down all activity at the settlement ceased and it was abandoned.
Pottery - Must Farm

Since the excavation began in August 2015, the Must Farm site has revealed everything from pottery to textiles and log boats to a wooden wheel. The settlement has one of the most complete Bronze Age collections of artefacts ever discovered in Britain, giving us an unparalleled insight into the lives of the people who lived there 3,000 years ago.

The roof of each round houses appears to have been made of rafters that joined in an apex over the centre of the building. It seems that turf was used to roof the homes owing to the large quantities of burnt turf deposited at the base of the channel. The presence of charred cereal roots in some of the turf suggests that the turf being used was cut from areas where crops had been cultivated.

The sediment also contained traces of clumps of burnt thatch which suggests the roof was made from reeds. This level of detail is something that most archaeologists would never expect to find when excavating a house of this period.

 Archaeologists believe that the floors of the roundhouses were made of large panels of woven, bundled willow-like wood supported by round wood. Several large well-preserved wattle panels were recovered from the site and archaeologists believe that these formed the walls of the structure.
3000 Year Old  Textile
           Must Farm

Among of the most delicate and striking items to survive are pieces of textile, which have remained intact for 3000 years. Bronze Age textiles from Britain are extremely rare and those that do survive are often in very poor condition and usually only tiny fragments survive. Incredibly, examples of textile from every stage of the manufacturing process have been recovered ranging from hanks of plant fibres, spools and balls of thread to woven textiles and twining.

The people who lived at Must Farm produced material of excellent quality. Some of the threads used in the creation of woven textiles are the diameter of a thick human hair. Each household seems to have been creating fabric and the preservation of these materials will provide a new level of understanding about textile production during the Bronze Age.

Very few of the artefacts found at Must Farm show any traces of decoration. All these artefacts have a very distinct style and appearance. This style appears to be a direct representation of the “fashion” of the day and were what people wanted in everything from pots to wooden objects.

The quantity and range of wooden artefacts found at Must Farm is undeniably astonishing. Large numbers of wooden objects have been recovered and many of these are unique and their purpose unclear. Very little of the wood seems to have been decorated or embellished in any way. For example, the dozens of wooden platters, buckets and vessels found are all undecorated and very simple in design but well-made and skillfully crafted.

Eight beautifully preserved prehistoric log boats were recovered during the excavation of Must Farm. Radiocarbon dating has indicated that the ages of these boats spanned a period of about 1000 years, with the earliest examples dating to around 1,750–1650 BC.
Wooden Wheel - Must Farm
In 2016 a large wooden wheel, measuring about 1 m in diameter, was uncovered at the site. The specimen, dating from 1,100–800 years BC, represents the most complete and earliest of its type found in Britain and reveals a high degree of craftsmanship.

Archaeologist found several buckets, also known as two-part vessels. These containers are made from hollowing out a section of log before inserting a base into the bottom of the log: creating a container. Alongside these finds archaeologists discovered a number of wooden “platters”, large and broadly flat objects carved from a single piece of wood.
Spear Head - Must Farm
Other finds from this site have included swords and spears which still had their handles intact. Bronze artefacts such as swords, spears and axes are often found in watery locations, such as lakes and rivers. There are many theories as to why metal is found in these locations, the most prevalent regarding it as a form of ritual, or votive, deposition. At Must Farm archaeologists have been fortunate enough to find metal artefacts still within their original use contexts inside the settlement.

Surprisingly, archaeologists have not found much refuse material at the site indicating that the settlement was fairly young when it was destroyed. Preliminary examinations of some of the timbers from both the palisade and the houses seems to show that the wood was still fresh when it was charred in the fire.

The Must Farm settlement in Cambridgeshire is one of the most complete Late Bronze Age examples known in Britain. The scale, quality and condition of the objects found at Must Farm have astonished archaeologists giving us an unparalleled insight into the lives of the people who lived there 3,000 years ago.

All photographs courtesy

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