A tiny wooden box with its contents still inside, an intact pot and animal bones are some of the first items unearthed inside a roundhouse at what has been dubbed “Britain’s Pompeii”.
The UK’s “best preserved Bronze Age dwellings”, found at a Cambridgeshire quarry, date from about 1,000-800 BC. They were preserved in silt after falling into a river during a fire. The “delicate task” to uncover the contents has just begun but the finds have been called “amazing artifacts”.
The two or three circular wooden houses uncovered by archaeologists were built on stilts, and formed part of a settlement partially destroyed by fire 3,000 years ago.
A cluster of animal and fish bones could have been kitchen waste, archaeologists said
Using a specially-built wet sieving station the team can examine sediment from inside one of the houses and ensure that “even the tiniest vertebrate remains and glass beads” can be recovered
The site, at Must Farm quarry near Whittlesey, has been described as “unique” by David Gibson, from Cambridge Archaeological Unit, which is leading the excavation.
Most Bronze Age sites have no timber remaining, just post-holes – but here, the stilts, roof structure and walls have been unearthed.
The diagram shows a roundhouse before and after the fire
It is thought the roof fell in during the fire, covering the contents of the houses. Much would have been preserved as it sank into the Fenland silt. Only a small section of one of the house interiors is being examined as yet.
One of the first items found was “a very small, delicate wooden box that is mostly complete”. Archaeologists said they were “thrilled” to discover such a well-preserved artifact. The contents appear to be inside still, but work to examine what those might be will not take place until later.
A wooden bowl or bucket base together with pottery have been found in the occupation deposit beneath the roof
An intact “fineware” pot and animal bones have also been found, all of which must be “meticulously” cleaned and documented. The “cluster” of fish and animal bones uncovered inside “could have been the kitchen waste of the time,” they said.
Archaeologists began looking beneath the roof for the house’s contents (left) after documenting more than 1,000 timber pieces (right)
Although they are in the very early stages of examining the house interior, the quality and quantity of what has been uncovered so far has left archaeologists “very excited”. The site has the “potential for more uncommon household objects including tools, cutlery and even furniture,” they said.
The excavation is being jointly funded by Historic England and quarry owner Forterra. Pompeii, in ancient Rome, was hit by a volcanic eruption in AD 79. Tonnes of ash fell, preserving much of the city for thousands of years.
Bronze Age Europe and Britain
Gold cape discovered in Mold, north Wales – a supreme example of Bronze Age art
- The Bronze Age in Britain lasted from between 2500 and 2000BC until the use of iron became common, between 800-650BC
- It came after metalworkers discovered that adding tin to copper produced bronze, used for tools and weaponry which were much more hard-wearing
- The Greek poems of Homer – though composed later – look back to a time when bronze weapons were used
- Classic Bronze Age remains include sophisticated axes, precious gold objects, and round burial mounds or “barrows” of which many can still be seen in Britain*
Credit: BBC News (02-16)