Nav: Home

The short life of Must Farm

June 12, 2019

Must Farm, an extraordinarily well-preserved Late Bronze Age settlement in Cambridgeshire, in the East of England, drew attention in national and international media in 2016 as 'Britain's Pompeii' or the 'Pompeii of the Fens'. The major excavation was funded by Historic England and Forterra Building Products Ltd, which owns the Must Farm quarry.

Now for the first time, published today in Antiquity, archaeologists from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit present a definitive timeframe to Must Farm's occupation and destruction.

Site Director Mark Knight says, "It is likely that the settlement existed for only one year prior to its destruction in a catastrophic fire. The short history of Must Farm, combined with the excellent preservation of the settlement, means that we have an unparalleled opportunity to explore the daily life of its inhabitants."

Living in the Fens

Must Farm is located within the silts of a slow-flowing freshwater river, with stilted structures built to elevate the living quarters above the water. This palaeochannel (dating from 1700-100 BC) was active for centuries prior to the construction of Must Farm (approx. 1100-800 cal BC), and a causeway was built across the river.

"Although excavation of the river sediments associated with the causeway was limited, stratigraphically we can demonstrate that the that the causeway and the settlement are chronologically unconnected. The people who built the settlement, however, would have been able to see the rotting tops of the causeway piles during the time of the settlement's construction," Knight continues.

Excavations between 2009 and 2012 revealed the remains of nine logboats in the palaeochannel, in addition to fish weirs and fish traps - further evidence of the long history of occupation in the landscape.

Prehistoric Houses

The Must Farm houses are the 'most completely preserved prehistoric domestic structures found in Britain', visible as 'hundreds of uprights or pile stumps, which together define the outline and internal settings of at least five stilted structures' enclosed by a palisade with an internal walkway.

The architecture reflects the conventions of the prehistoric British roundhouse, located in an unusual wetland setting. Uniquely, there is no evidence of repair to the structures, and strikingly, dendrochronological analysis has suggested that the timbers were still green when destroyed by fire.

The structures collapsed vertically, and the heavy roofs brought everything down with them into the sediment of the channel. A tragedy for the inhabitants, but serendipitous for archaeologists, as the fluvial silts have preserved 'wooden artefacts, pottery sets, bronze tools and weapons, fabrics and fibres, querns, loom weights, spindle whorls, animal remains, plants and seeds, coprolites...'

A Year in the Life

Must Farm represents a routine dwelling in a rarely excavated fenland setting, which is incredibly valuable. It shows the typical patterns of consumption and deposition for this kind of site.

The team of archaeologists found over 180 fibre/textile items, 160 wooden artefacts, 120 pottery vessels, 90 pieces of metal work, and at least 80 glass beads.

Some of the plant and animal remains found at Must Farm are rare for this period in British prehistory, including pike bones, sheep/goat dung, and currently unidentified entire charred tubers. Strikingly, most of the food sources, including wild boar and deer, are not from the wetlands.

Knight concludes, "We are only in the early stages of investigating the vast quantity of material from Must Farm, material which promises to reveal many more fascinating aspects of life in the fens 3,000 years ago."
-end-


University of Cambridge

Related Archaeologists Articles:

Tiny ear bones help archaeologists piece together the past
For the first time archaeologists have used the small bones found in the ear to look at the health of women and children from 160 years ago.
Neurosciences unlock the secret of the first abstract engravings
Long before Lascaux paintings, humans engraved abstract motifs on stones.
FEFU archaeologists have found the oldest burials in Ecuador
Archaeologists of the Far Eastern Federal University (FEFU) found three burials of the ancient inhabitants of South America aged from 6 to 10 thousand years.
Statistical method recreates the history of a long-abandoned village
Archaeologists now have new tools for studying the development of medieval villages and the transformation of the historical landscapes surrounding them.
Archaeologists found traces of submerged Stone Age settlement in Southeast Finland
The prehistoric settlement submerged under Lake Kuolimojarvi provides us with a clearer picture of the human occupation in South Karelia during the Mesolithic and Early Neolithic Stone Age (about 10,000 - 6,000 years ago) and it opens up a new research path in Finnish archaeology.
More Archaeologists News and Archaeologists Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Rethinking Anger
Anger is universal and complex: it can be quiet, festering, justified, vengeful, and destructive. This hour, TED speakers explore the many sides of anger, why we need it, and who's allowed to feel it. Guests include psychologists Ryan Martin and Russell Kolts, writer Soraya Chemaly, former talk radio host Lisa Fritsch, and business professor Dan Moshavi.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...