12 July 2024
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Exploring the Lives of Prehistoric Stilt House Dwellers

The recent study on the remains of a stilt village that was destroyed by fire almost 3,000 years ago offers a fascinating glimpse into the daily lives of England’s prehistoric fenlanders. The settlement, known as Must Farm, was a late Bronze Age village dating back to around 850BC. The University of Cambridge archaeologists excavating the site uncovered four large wooden roundhouses and a square entranceway structure, all built on stilts above a slow-moving river. These structures were interconnected by walkways and surrounded by a fence of sharpened posts, standing about two meters above the riverbed.

The Must Farm site is often likened to “Britain’s Pompeii” due to the exceptional preservation caused by the combination of charring and waterlogging following the catastrophic fire that destroyed the village. The artifacts recovered from the site provide valuable insights into the daily lives and domesticity of the prehistoric stilt house dwellers, shedding light on their living conditions, diet, clothing, and social practices.

Domestic Comforts and Daily Life

Contrary to common assumptions about prehistoric living conditions, the research at Must Farm revealed that the early Fen folk enjoyed surprisingly comfortable lifestyles. The domestic layouts of the roundhouses were found to be similar to modern homes, with distinct activity zones and functional spaces. The inhabitants of Must Farm dined on meals like “honey-glazed venison” and wore clothes made of fine flax linen. The site even contained evidence of a recycling bin, showcasing the resourcefulness of the prehistoric residents.

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The excavation also unearthed a stack of spears, a necklace with beads from distant lands like Denmark and Iran, and a polished human skull, possibly a sentimental keepsake. These findings offer a unique glimpse into the material culture and social practices of the prehistoric stilt house dwellers, highlighting their craftsmanship, trade networks, and personal connections within and beyond their community.

Architectural Insights and Construction Techniques

The circular architecture of the roundhouses at Must Farm provides a blueprint for understanding the construction methods and design preferences of the prehistoric fenlanders. The structures were built with three-layered roofs for insulation and waterproofing, combining straw, turf, and clay to create warm and well-ventilated living spaces. The interiors of the roundhouses were carefully organized, with specific areas designated for activities such as cooking, textile work, tool storage, and sleeping.

The presence of metalwork tools, textile-making equipment, and household inventories in each roundhouse suggests a high level of craftsmanship and domestic organization among the stilt house dwellers. The consistency of household items across the structures indicates a shared cultural and technological knowledge within the community, reflecting a well-established way of life in the fenland settlement.

Culinary Practices and Trade Networks

Analysis of food remains and cooking utensils at Must Farm offers a glimpse into the culinary practices of the prehistoric inhabitants. Evidence suggests that the stilt house dwellers enjoyed a varied diet that included meats like venison, boar, pike, and bream, as well as grains and dairy products. Chemical analyses of pottery vessels indicated the presence of ingredients like honey and ruminant meats, providing insights into the flavors and recipes of Bronze Age meals prepared at the settlement.

Moreover, the discovery of decorative beads and artifacts from distant regions like Northern and Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East, points to extensive trade networks and cultural exchanges that connected the fenlanders to broader geographical regions. The presence of exotic materials and objects at Must Farm highlights the interconnectedness of prehistoric communities and the value they placed on imported goods and adornments.

The study of the prehistoric stilt village at Must Farm offers a window into the “cozy domesticity” and intricate daily lives of England’s ancient fenlanders. Through the excavation of artifacts, architectural remains, and food residues, researchers have pieced together a vivid picture of the material culture, social practices, and technological advancements of the prehistoric stilt house dwellers, shedding new light on the complexities and comforts of life in a Bronze Age settlement.

Links to additional Resources:

1. www.english-heritage.org.uk 2. www.nationaltrust.org.uk 3. www.historicengland.org.uk

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Must Farm (Bronze Age site), Prehistoric architecture, Bronze Age cuisine

Must Farm
Must Farm is a Bronze Age archeological site consisting of five houses raised on stilts above a river and built around 950 BC in Cambridgeshire, England. The settlement is exceptionally well preserved because of its sudden destruction by catastrophic fire and subsequent collapse onto oxygen-depleted river silts. The site is...
Read more: Must Farm

Architecture is the art and technique of designing and building, as distinguished from the skills associated with construction. It is both the process and the product of sketching, conceiving, planning, designing, and constructing buildings or other structures. The term comes from Latin architectura; from Ancient Greek ἀρχιτέκτων (arkhitéktōn) 'architect'; from...
Read more: Architecture

Aegean civilization
Aegean civilization is a general term for the Bronze Age civilizations of Greece around the Aegean Sea. There are three distinct but communicating and interacting geographic regions covered by this term: Crete, the Cyclades and the Greek mainland. Crete is associated with the Minoan civilization from the Early Bronze Age....
Read more: Aegean civilization

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