|20 November 2010
Amazing Bronze Age finds at Cambridgeshire quarry dig
Archaeologists digging at Must Farm quarry near Whittlesey (Cambridgeshire, England) have shown off amazing finds. Hoards of Bronze Age weapons, textiles and even pots full of food and footprints have been found; pottery, wicker fishing traps, wooden walkways and bronze tools have also been revealed. The site was a wooden pier on the banks of the River Nene, dating from 1,200 BCE. The Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) started digging at the site after an archaeologist told them he had been wooden piles in the water while swimming in the quarry as a child.
Hoards of Bronze Age weapons, pots still full of food and elaborate textiles have all been uncovered. The unusually well-preserved finds are due to a fierce fire that happened in 500 BCE, causing the artefacts to sink rapidly into the peaty fen waters. Archaeologist Tim Malim said, "It's more impressive than Flag Fen. The textile finds are unique within England. We've never found anything from this early a date before." The archaeologists quite literally walked in the steps of Bronze Age Britons - uncovering human and animal footprints in the mud at the site.
Mr Malim, head of archaeology for the environmental firm SLR Consulting, explained that the settlement was unusual: instead of being built on dry land, the buildings were attached to a large wooden platform balanced on thick, oak piles driven into the bed of the River Nene. Archaeologists are not sure of the purpose of the Bronze Age structure. Its arrangement helped preserve the finds when a fire broke out sometime between 700 and 500 BCE. Mr Malim said the wind acted under the supports to build up a really intense heat, incinerating the pier. "As a consequence of the fire, the buildings above and all that was in them burnt very quickly and dropped into the water where combustion was rapidly quenched and the contents preserved," he added. Rising sea levels gradually flooded this part of Cambridgeshire from the late Bronze Age, causing people to retreat to the higher, drier areas, with wooden walkways linking these areas built above the bogs.
As well as the textiles, rare pottery, wicker fishing traps, wooden walkways and bronze tools have been revealed at Must Farm. The archaeologists also discovered glass beads previously unknown to this area in the late Bronze Age - they could be imports from Europe. The contents of the 50 pots of food are awaiting analysis by experts. The site is so significant that the owner - construction firm Hanson - has ensured its preservation by building a bund around it to prevent drying out. Now the Cambridge Archaeological Unit has moved on to another part of the quarry where two burial mounds, or barrows, cobbled tracks and fishing traps have been uncovered.
Edited from BBC News (10 November 2010), The Evening Telegraph (11 November 2010)
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