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Peterborough's Bronze Age past has been revealed in dig
Dig at Must Farm, Whittlesey
Archaeologists were astonished by the quality of the finds at the Bronze Age dig

Hoards of Bronze Age weapons, pots still full of food and elaborate textiles have all been uncovered at an archaeological dig near Peterborough.

The unusually well-preserved finds are due to a fierce fire in 500BC, which caused 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," he continued. "We've never found anything from this date before."

The archaeologists also quite literally walked in the steps of our Bronze Age ancestors - uncovering human and animal footprints in the mud.

Wooden piles

Bronze Age find, Must Farm
One of the Bronze Age finds. "They're in lovely condition," said Tim Malim

The dig took place at Must Farm, a quarry owned by Hanson at Whittlesey.

For around 15 years, the company has arranged for archaeologists to excavate sites ahead of its clay extractions.

But this dig almost did not take place.

A local archaeologist swam in the quarry pits as a child. He remembered seeing wooden piles in the water, so suggested Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) should explore the site, which was not in the path of the next Hanson clay extraction.

Mr Malim is the head of archaeology for the environmental firm SLR Consulting. The company works closely with Hanson and CAU.

He 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.

This helped preserve the finds when a fire broke out sometime between 700BC and 500BC.

'Really intense heat'

Archaeologist at dig
Archaeologists are not sure of the purpose of the Bronze Age structure

"Imagine a fire like the one at the pier in Weston-super-Mare," Mr Malim said. "The wind acts under the supports to build up a really intense heat and incinerated the pier, and it was like that with this platform.

"As a consequence of that the buildings above, and all that was in them, burnt very quickly and dropped into the water where the fire was rapidly quenched and the contents preserved."

As well as the textiles, rare pottery, wicker fishing traps, wooden walkways and bronze tools have been revealed.

The archaeologists also discovered glass beads previously unknown to this late Bronze Age, so 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 Hanson has ensured its preservation by building a bund around it to prevent it drying out.

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 them above the bogs.

Large-scale clay extraction in this area, known as the Flag Fen basin, has given archaeologists the chance to discover how the landscape developed and uncover the way people lived.

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.

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