Must Farm

Must Farm – ‘The Pompeii of the Fens’

Overview-webIn mid-February of 2016  half-a-dozen GamArch members were fortunate enough to be able to visit the ongoing excavations at Must Farm, Whittlesey.

Fortunate because the waiting list to see the site is now full, doubly fortunate because what we saw was something very special indeed – the exceptionally well-preserved remains of a huddle of prehistoric Bronze Age roundhouses including the houses’ contents and what was around them.

Timbers, thatch from the roofs, wattle from the walls, Wattle-webtools, needles and thread, pottery containing food, the textiles people made, cereals, animal bones, boats, fish-traps, human and animal footprints nearby and a whole lot more besides provide a window into daily life as it was lived 3000 years ago in our area and we saw examples of some of such finds during the tour.

When the houses were in use (around 1150 BC) rainfall had been increasing, the waters rising year-on-year to nibble away at the ridges and small dryland islands of the fens. At Must Farm the locals adapted to this by building their houses on stilts. This did not, though, save the houses from a sudden catastrophic fire which sent them all crashing down into the water where their remains became preserved in the silts beneath. So good is the preservation that some have dubbed the site the ‘Pompeii of the fens’

It’s a dimly understood time. Those replicas of Bronze Age roundhouses you may have seen on Time Team or elsewhere, remember them? Well, until pieces of thatch still attached to roofing rafters were found at Must Farm we had no proof that those houses were actually thatched, we’d only presumed they were thatched – that’s how fuzzy is our understanding of this period of prehistory.

Britain’s oldest complete and intact wooden wheel has come from the site and was still visible in the excavation as we touredWheel-web

Nearby was the spine of a horse – was it consumed by the fire?Horse-spine-web

These finds and the boats and trackways found nearby – when combined with evidence such as pollen, insect and animal remains – will enable the landscape our ancestors lived in, worked on and moved through to be modelled.

Bowls-webIt should also be possible to focus in on social space and domestic life as it was lived. Enough remains of the Must Farm houses for their architecture to be worked out. Preliminary analysis by the archaeologists of the spatial patterning of finds has already been undertaken and indicates activity areas within and between the houses – food preparation and storage in one area, eating in another and so on – photo right shows bowls with food still in them..

A forensics fire expert is assisting the excavation by examining the charred wood remains. So at some future point we can expect a CSI style reconstruction of how and where the fire started and spread through the buildings.

This dig is only half way complete and it’s still regularly making news at home and across the world as new discoveries are made, transforming our understanding of Bronze Age life in the fenlands in the process. Our guide on the day was splendid and the two hour tour so absorbing it seemed to be over in a trice. We left feeling exhilarated if a little cold by the end but we would soon return to the comforts of hearth and home. As the dig goes on, spare a thought for the excavators – they don’t get paid a lot yet they’ve been patiently and diligently excavating a cold and sodden site throughout winter, not just for their benefit but for all of us.

The Must Farm website carries extensive coverage and many photos of the dig. A great place to start is their regular (near weekly) ‘Progress’ bulletin, the archive of which is at