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Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets

New details of Bronze Age daily life could be revealed as archaeologists begin digging inside the remains of a roundhouse at what has been dubbed "Britain's Pompeii".

Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets
Archaeologists are beginning to look beneath the roof for the house's contents (left) and some 
of the documented timbers (right) [Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit]
The UK's "best preserved Bronze Age dwellings", found at a Cambridgeshire quarry, date from about 1000-800 BC.

The houses fell into a river during a fire and the collapsed timbers were preserved in the silt.

Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets
A wet sieving station will allow the team to examine sediment from inside one of the houses. "Even the tiniest vertebrate 
remains and glass beads will be recovered using this method" [Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit]
Archaeologists say they expect to find many of the house contents inside.

The circular wooden houses, built on stilts, formed part of a settlement partially destroyed by fire 3,000 years ago.

Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets
Charred timbers lying over a collapsed wall are likely to be covering the contents of the house 
[Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit]
The site, at Must Farm quarry near Whittlesey, was 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.

Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets
The stilts that held the houses can be seen, together with collapsed roof timbers
[Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit]
Mr Gibson said they had uncovered two houses, and possibly a third. However, as only about half the site remains he said the settlement could have consisted of up to six dwellings.

The team is about half-way through the eight-month dig to uncover the secrets of the site and the people who lived there.

Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets
The diagram shows a roundhouse before and after the fire. It is thought the floor collapsed and the roof fell in, 
covering the house's contents [Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit]
In the past week they reached what they described as "a milestone", documenting their 1,000th piece of wood.

"The information gathered from all this wood is critical in understanding the houses alongside the fire that destroyed them," the team wrote on Facebook.

Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets
A broken axe haft (handle) has been found recently (left) and a flint cutting tool, but most of the contents 
of the houses are believed to be still buried [Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit]
"The slightly daunting aspect is that we have at least a few thousand pieces of wood still to go."

Researchers have also now started work on the "occupation deposits" underneath one of the roundhouses.

Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets
After analysing pots found at the site, archaeologists found some contained food 
[Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit]
"This is going to be a particularly delicate task that will take some time," they said.

"We are starting at the edges of the structures and we can't wait to see what begins to appear as we move closer."

Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets
These preserved Bronze Age textiles were made from plant fibres [Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit]
Although a number of items including tools, bowls still containing food, and textiles have been found around the Must Farm site, the contents of the roundhouses themselves are most likely buried in silt beneath the wooden roof.

"This roof is sitting on top of, and currently sealing, all of the remains of the building's interior," the team said.

Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets
Artist's impression of what one of the roundhouses might have looked like 
"These remains are most likely a source of lots of new information about homes during this period of prehistory."

While these are likely to include "exciting finds associated with the dwelling - pots, querns, metalwork and textiles", archaeologists said the artefacts would also help them understand how the site was formed and how it was used.

Bronze Age 'Pompeii' dig set to reveal new secrets
Archaeologists work on a wooden platform as they uncover the houses 
[Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit]
Mr Gibson said it was possible some of the artefacts could still be situ, for example, if a number of pots and bowls were found in one place it might suggest this was where the family cooked and ate within their home.

The excavation is being jointly funded by Historic England and quarry owner Forterra.

See also: Bronze Age stilt houses unearthed in Cambridgeshire

Source: BBC News Website [January 31, 2016]

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