"Best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in Britain" discovered in Cambridgeshire

By Sophie Beckwith | 12 January 2016

A 3,000-year-old roundhouse offers an unprecedented appreciation of life in Bronze Age Britain

A photo of a man digging into an archaeological pit
Wood specialist Mike Bamforth examines the base of a Bronze Age wooden bucket at Must Farm© Cambridge Archaeology Unit. Photo: Dave Webb
Archaeologists have unearthed the "best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in Britain" while excavating a site in the East Anglian Fens.

Cambridge University archaeologists digging at Must Farm quarry, in Whittlesey, have uncovered the charred oak roof timbers of a roundhouse, conserved in astonishing detail. The wooden house is part of a 3,000-year-old settlement of family homes which would have been built on stilts above the water.

Overhead photo of archaeology site
Archaeologists have uncovered the charred wooden roof structure of a 3,000-year-old roundhouse© Cambridge Archaeological Unit
Historic England and building products manufacturer Forterra, which owns the quarry, are funding the project, which has revealed a Bronze Age settlement destroyed by fire, lying uniquely preserved in Fenland silt since at least 800 BC.

"A dramatic fire combined with subsequent waterlogged preservation has left to us a frozen moment in time," says Duncan Wilson, Historic England's chief executive.

Image of Bronze Age textile remains
Bronze Age textiles made from plant fibres© Cambridge Archaeology Unit. Photo: Dave Webb
“This site is of international significance and its excavation really will transform our understanding of the period."

Portions of the roof of the home retained their original position as fire collapsed the building. Other discoveries included intact walls and textile items, providing a rare opportunity to discover how the home was used.

Excavating at the depth of the original riverbed, two metres below the current ground level, archaeologists now expect to gain a comprehensive understanding of later Bronze Age life at Must Farm - a key aim of the project.

Overhead photo of archaeology site
The roundhouse showing the inner and outer post rings and collapsed roof timbers 'like spokes in a wheel'© Cambridge Archaeology Unit. Photo: Dave Webb
"Usually at a Later Bronze Age period site you get pits, post-holes and maybe one or two really exciting metal finds," says David Gibson, the archaeological manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

"Convincing people that such places were once thriving settlements takes some imagination. It’s prehistoric archaeology in 3D with an unsurpassed finds assemblage both in terms of range and quantity.”

The project’s previous excavations have revealed cooking pots complete with food remnants, decorative glass beads and nine log boats. The finds will be displayed at Peterborough Museum and other local venues once the excavations are completed in April 2016.

More from Must Farm in Culture24's Archaeology section

Log boats from "edge of a lost world" discovered in prehistoric Peterborough

Archaeologists find Bronze Age food at prehistoric settlement "comparable to the Mary Rose"
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