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HOUSE HUNTERS in Bronze Age Britain had some interesting options. As reported in Science, the weekly magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, archaeologists have discovered residences that once perched on stilts above a river near what’s now Peterborough, England, 100 miles north of London.


“A Time Capsule from Bronze Age Britain” by Erik Stokstad, in Science, July 15, 2016, gives details. I share some 3000-year-old tidbits gleaned there.


Workers at Must Farm. Image from the Cambridge Archaeological Unit/Science, July 15, 2016.

The discovery at Must Farm occurred at a brick quarry, where oak posts poked through beds of clay. Tree ring analyses dated the posts to 1290 to 1250 B.C. What’s more, other artifacts were found, pottery and metal tools as well as wooden objects, fibers and fabrics.

These last artifacts are rare finds in Northern Europe, unlike in the hot and dry Middle East. In fact, this glimpse of life in Bronze Age Britain is traceable primarily to misfortune occurring around 900 B.C.

Five structures had the security of a defensive palisade, also on stilts in the river. But archaeologists conjecture this didn’t deter a raiding party from torching the community. The structures burned quickly and collapsed into the river bed, where the silt helped preserve the structures’ contents.


The houses were on a wide river that ran from inland farms to the North Sea. Below, their destruction and preservation. These and other images from Science, July 15, 2016.


These roundhouses, each about 26 ft. in diameter, were built for ready transportation as well as the security provided by the river. Nine log boats unearthed nearby were likely part of commercial activities. The structures rested on oak pillars driven into the riverbed. Their walls were wattle, woven branches, though sans daub, the mud or clay typically used to seal such constructions. Floors would have been of tightly woven branches, suspended across supports and giving a springy feel. The roofs were predominately thatch, with turf or clay near the apex as part of chimneys.


Graphics by A. Arranz and C. Bickel/Science. Photos by Dave Webb/Cambridge Archaeological Unit.

Each structure contained a similar set of ceramics, ranging from tiny cups to large storage vessels. Today, many pots contain charred grains of barley, wheat and residues of cooked food. Science author Stokstad reports that “One bowl even sank with a spoon still lodged in a burnt crust of a stew.” It’s conjectured that chemical analyses might yield Bronze Age recipes.

Each house had bronze tools for daily activities, farm tools as well as axes, chisels and gouges for woodworking. Other archaeological detective work identified a wooden bucket, its bottom covered with knife marks suggesting that people flipped it over to use as a cutting board. Artifacts such as decorative glass beads, likely from the Balkans or Middle East, are evidence of long-distance commerce.


Stephen Trow, research director of Historical England at Fort Cumberland, said, “I’ve been an archaeologist for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything this spectacular or exciting.” Said another archaeologist, “You’ve got the closest thing to a Bronze Age Pompeii.” (Encased in Mount Vesuvius’s volcanic debris, Pompeii’s disaster occurred in 79 A.D.)

Stokstad writes, “Must Farm’s textiles are an especially precious find…. Artifacts include balls of thread, hanks of yarn and fine linen. Thread counts are as high as 30 per centimeter [more than 75 per inch], comparable to the best cloth known in Europe at the time.”

Stokstad concludes, “The inhabitants apparently escaped, as no human skeletons have been found in the debris. They never returned to rebuild, which converted their misfortune into a stroke of luck for archaeologists today.”

Complete with a beautiful Bronze Age river view. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

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