Must Farm Bronze Age site - Update, July 2016
Today the Must Farm site is a busy brick quarry near the River Nene in Cambridgeshire. But thousands of years ago in the Bronze Age, everything looked very different. A river would have flowed through the site and the areas around would have been marshy and boggy.
Selina Davenport, from the Cambridge University Archaeological Unit (CUAU), has been keeping YAC up to date about the site since October 2015, along with the amazing archaeology that the team have been uncovering. She updated us with more exciting news about how the site was destroyed by fire in her second blog post. In her third blog post she explained how archaeologists were piecing together clues about life inside the roundhouse.
Now, that CUAU are near the end of their dig, Selina explains why the finds from Must Farm are so important and why they give us so much new information about life in the Bronze Age...
Near the End
Must Farm has given us an unusually complete picture of life from 3,000 years ago in the Bronze Age.
Some of the most interesting artefacts we have found were the textiles and the things associated with them. We had found textile before on this site but now we have the complete process from plant to cloth. We have found bundles of raw fibres, spindles, spools or bobbins of thread next to pieces of wood which may form a loom with loom weights. But also the finished cloth folded or wound neatly. This is the finest collection of Bronze Age textiles ever found in the UK. You might expect these fabrics to be made of wool but the items we have found are made of plant fibres like flax (linen) and nettle.
Compared to most Bronze Age sites
Usually archaeologists only find broken pottery, at Must Farm we have found lots of complete pots. Some, amazingly, still have food inside them. Analysing this food we have found barley and wheat, we are also finding the bones of sheep, cows, deer and wild boar. We know these crops wouldn’t grow in the land around the settlement and that these animals weren’t living on the site so they must have had farms nearby.
What do the finds tell us about the people there?
We also have a very large collection of metalwork, including axes, spears, sickles and chisels. Some of these items still had parts of their handles, this is really exciting for archaeologists because wood and metal normally don’t survive in the same environment. As well as tools we are also finding more personal items like tweezers and razors also brooches and pins. We don’t know for sure yet where all the metal was coming from but it is likely that it was being traded.
Other items traded with our settlement include some very exotic beads. We have found more than 18 blue glass beads which we think have come all the way from the Mediterranean and Middle East. We also have amber and jet beads which are also not local materials.
Why is the site so well preserved?
Nearly everything we have found on the site is beautifully preserved. For the organic material this has happened thanks to the fire. They have chared or carbonised then sank through the water into the soft silts at the base of the river. We are still not completely sure how or why the fire started on our site but we don’t think it was an accident. From the beginning of the excavation we have been wondering how long the houses were lived in before they burnt down. We now think this might have been less than a year! We find the wood chips from the construction of the houses mixed up with the burnt material we also haven’t found very much middening. This is what archaeologists call throwing out the rubbish. We also don’t see any repairs or changes to our houses.
What happens now?
So, although our excavation is finishing we have still a lot of work to do. Only a small amount of the material we found on site has been properly looked at. A lot of our finds need special treatment now they are out of the ground to stop them decomposing. In many ways we are only at the beginning of what Must Farm has to tell us.
Blog by Selina Davenport, Cambridge University Archaeological Unit (CUAU)
CUAU will be continuing to add to their website so look out for more information at www.mustfarm.com
And keep visiting the YAC website for more updates too!