Explore the charred remains of a 3,000-year old English settlement that’s shedding new light on the ancient history of the western world. Working in secret inside a quarry, experts have less than a year to save the site before the quarry drains.
JAY O. SANDERS
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An ancient lump of timber spotted in a quarry in southern England leads to a massive archaeological excavation that reveals a prehistoric village, perfectly preserved in mud and silt.
The site is so extraordinary, it's been called the 'British Pompeii.'
Mark Knight This is the crown jewels in terms of what it will tell us about past humanities and about the way people lived in this landscape 3,000 years ago.
The village was built at least 1,000 years after Stonehenge was erected.
During this same era in Egypt, the pyramids were completed and the golden era of Akhenaten and Tutankhamun came to an end.
Yet, little is known about what life in Europe was like at this time.
Were villages like this isolated places, with inhabitants living difficult and primitive lives?
This dig may answer these questions. So experts from around the country will join the team to unlock its secrets.
For me it's just so amazing to be part of this. And it's so exciting! It is a moment in time that's been captured.
For the first time ever on a dig of this scale and complexity, the team is mapping the entire site to ensure no evidence is lost.
There's a bowl here, there's a bowl there, there's a bowl there, there's a collapsed storage vessel just there
They're using experimental archaeology to investigate what life was really like.
The results have been incredible. Far from being primitive, it seems the European Bronze Age saw the beginnings of industry… wealth… urban living… international trade… and war.
Woman So yesterday we found a bronze sword.
But at the heart of this discovery lies a mystery: this village was wiped out by a sudden, catastrophic event.
The fact that they're containing their food suggests that the fire event took them by surprise, it wasn't planned.
Over the next 10 months, these archaeologists hope to find out what really happened to this village.
The evidence they find will shed light on the roots of European civilization and the world we live in today.
TITLE CARD AFTER STONEHENGE
In a rural, waterlogged landscape, a small village, buried for millennia, is slowly being revealed.
It sits on the edge of Must Farm Quarry, in an area of southeast Britain known as the Fens.
The village buildings were made out of wood, which normally rots away.
But the site is a boon to archaeologists because these wooden remains fell into the marshy Fens, where they remained, protected, until now.
Wood Specialist, University of York Wood survives in any environment where microbes and bacteria can't go to work on it. So, in frozen environments, in very arid environments, and in wet environments where eventually all the oxygen has been taken out of the system.
Artifacts of this quantity and quality are extremely rare — the complete, surviving structures of roundhouses, perfectly preserved…a British Pompeii.
Site Director, Cambridge Archaeological Unit The Pompeii analogy. It's as if we've got a pristine settlement. A pristine image of exactly what was going on within a settlement 3,000 years ago. Of a series of households, all of their worldly goods… in 3D.
It's one of the best examples in Northern Europe of Bronze Age people living in small villages — the beginnings of civilization as we know it.
The fact that we're talking about circular buildings, that's a good start isn't it?
The excavation has uncovered a row of roundhouses, once part of a bigger settlement.
Incredibly, millennia after these buildings collapsed, the fallen timbers remain in the same spot, their circular rooves still visible from above.
Mark Knight In front of me is an internal circle or hexagon of posts and then a much broader circle of about, nearly 8 meters. What defines that structure and gives it the most clarity is the spokes of the wheel, the roof rafters fanning out from the center, giving that sense of a roof collapsing down inside a circular structure.
The contents inside the building were frozen in time when the roof collapsed. Must Farm promises to be one of the richest discoveries from the period after Stonehenge.
Mark Knight is leading the excavation.
If we go up this ramp…
He hopes the site will answer some questions about Britain in the Bronze Age, and provide a glimpse into the lives of the people who lived during this mysterious period.
It's unbelievable isn't it, it's a dream of what you could do within archaeology. The sense that there is height, you feel that we have to sort of dip our heads slightly and we'll be walking into those buildings and things.
Wood expert Mike Bamforth has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to investigate the structure of a complete village.
For a wood specialist this is about the best site you could ever imagine to find…
Dr. Karl Harrison has joined the team to find out how and why the village was destroyed.
Karl Harrison The flaming energy that's going to come of this when it's lit is going to be sufficient to carry the fire up to the roof…
But there is no time to lose. Now that the wood is exposed to oxygen, it will begin to decompose. The team must race to excavate every scrap of evidence.
Understanding what happened to the village hinges on the fire investigation.
The fire was extensive and all the material culture is burnt. Or at least has some sense of that burning.
Was the fire a terrible accident — or a deliberate act of violence?
If it's an accident, we would expect it to be an accident in one place and for it to spread across the site. If it's intentional then maybe, we'll have multiple fire points.
As a forensic archaeologist, Harrison also works with police on modern crimes. He'll be using 21st-century science to try and solve this ancient mystery.
Dr. Karl Harrison
Forensic Archaeologist, Cranfield University One of the interesting things about the fire that it already points to the fact that it wasn't all consuming. You know, we have unburnt material surviving. We have areas of protection on some burnt timbers, which are otherwise quite well charred.
Early evidence suggests the villagers were taken by surprise — the team has discovered bowls of half-eaten meals.
There's a real sense here that things were all in situ, that the settlement was going about its daily routine, hence there's food inside the pots and things and spoons and stuff like that so it's caught that.
One of the big questions the team wants to answer is whether European Bronze Age villages like this were isolated — or if they had contact with the wider world.
The site sits in a landscape crisscrossed by a network of waterways.
In an earlier dig, Mark Knight and his team made an extraordinary discovery: Eight pristine log boats — the biggest single collection ever found in Europe — suggesting these villagers were travelers.
Mark Knight Wherever you go along this channel there are boats and that — if ever there was a testament to the richness but also the scale of human activity along this channel then that's it for me I think.
What would happen to us in this modern world if we didn't have the internet? How connected would we be? And you feel, in a way, that the log boats and the rivers was that sort of network, really, that sort of connection.
These people used rivers as highways, and boats were their means of transportation.
But what tools did they use to build these boats? Ryan Watts wants to find out.
Log Boat Builder We're working on building a dug-out boat or a log boat, which is something that we find in the archaeology all the way from the Stone Age through to the Bronze Age, all the way to the Medieval Period. It's a very simple type of boat and as the name suggests it's created from a log, but it obviously needs lots of shaping and hollowing out
Watts is testing a variety of different tools that would have been available at this time.
Ryan Watts Over the last couple of years, I've been working on different ways of how these boats might have been built. Testing out different methods, different tools, at the moment we're using wooden wedges to remove the vast bulk, rather than bronze tools, because wooden wedges can split off bigger sections and bigger chunks as they go. It's a lot less labor intensive.
When the boats were discovered, it appeared they'd been deliberately sunk into the river bed. Watts has a theory as to how — and why.
Ryan Watts What you can actually do is remove the transom out from the back and allow your boat to flood and it will sink and all the examples from Must Farm, where we have the groove, we don't actually have the transom and you rarely find the transom and what that does is it sinks the boat and the water can rush in and that will allow it to preserve, so the same way that we've found it thousands of years later, they could've done that just for a year or two so you don't have to make them every year or every season that you want to, you get to preserve your boat for much longer.
Like many car owners today, it seems the villagers took great pride in their boats.
Ryan Watts The evidence from Must Farm is the first evidence we have for decoration on the outside of log boats, and before that they've just been plain logs, whereas this time we have carvings on the outside. They're very linear and geometrical but they are there. As to why — there's no real practical reason for them, so the only real reason would be to make your boat look pretty or at least stand out so that you'd know it was your if it was in a collection of others.
The discovery of the boats was just the beginning, and a full excavation is underway.
The team has found evidence suggesting buildings across Europe were elevated using similar methods.
So we're just sitting here on the edge of Round House 1, and as we're peeling the roof away we're starting to feel we've got hints of a raised floor structure. We know the raised floor structure was here because we've got these long lengths of support posts that haven't been burnt at all.
Built on stilts driven into the ground, these structures were raised above a slow-running channel of water.
It's the raised floor that protected the posts below from the fire at Must Farm.
Mark Knight We can imagine the floor might be up here and that Dan would actually be under water — OK, so what Dan's excavating is the collapsed, charred remnants of a building that was above water and is now below water.
While nothing like this Bronze Age village has been discovered in Britain before, villages with similar buildings have been found in Central Europe, some 800 miles away.
One of these has been reconstructed in Germany, on the shores of Lake Constance.
This similarity in construction could be exciting evidence of migration from mainland Europe to Britain.
Mark Knight So we can imagine the pile dwellers of the Switzerland or the Alpine Region or the people that lived on the rivers of Holland being the very people that came and occupied this space because it was a space that they were already very adept at adapting to or inhabiting. So they already had the technology they don't invent it because they change the environment. This was their texture.
But the questions is — was this connection a two-way street?
The excavation has uncovered some tiny but important clues — glass beads.
Professor Julian Henderson from the University of Nottingham has been invited here to examine them.
Prof. Julian Henderson
Author, Ancient Glass Glass is actually quite a rare find from the Bronze Age in England. They date to the 9th and 8th centuries BC, therefore they are extremely important and valuable. This collection of beads represents the only collection of this date and they were found at Must Farm.
The villagers were sophisticated enough to have decorative goods.
Julian Henderson They're beautifully colored with either copper or iron, producing a beautiful turquoise color or pale green color. They had clearly a social value. They are purely decorative, but they also can be used as tracers for links between different parts of the world.
In the Bronze Age, glass was made from sand and the ashes of burnt plants. Analysis can show where its ingredients came from.
Julian Henderson The glass from Must Farm was made using shrubby plants. Now these plants only really grow in semi-desert environments, and there weren't any semi-desert environments in Northwestern or Northern Europe in the 9th and 8th centuries. It could well be that they came from a distance of up to 2,000/2,500 miles away. It's very likely that they were made and imported from as far afield as the Middle East.
Were the Must Farm villagers importing goods from the rest of Europe? It's possible the glass beads came from as far as the banks of the Po River, a thousand miles away in Italy.
Here sat one of the greatest manufacturing hubs in the prehistoric world — Frattesina.
University of Nottingham Frattesina is an industrial trading settlement. It's in the Mediterranean world. It's importing raw materials and these raw materials are transformed into manufactured goods at Frattesina, and then they're re-exported.
The connections go from the Levant, from Lebanon, Palestine, right to Southern Germany and Northern France.
To meet the demand for decorative items, a vast range of raw materials were shipped to Frattesina.
These very unassuming little beads are ostrich egg shell, brought from Africa, we've got unworked pieces as well so we know it's brought here as a raw material and turned into beads.
In addition to this ostrich egg shell, other raw materials included amber from the Baltic and ivory from as far as Africa or Asia — all crafted into exquisite things.
Mark Pearce We have at Frattesina not just the biggest number of glass finds from the later Bronze Age, but we also have lots of really interesting evidence of glass making…
…And here you can see some ingots of glass in various colors — this one's really interesting because you can see the shape of the ingot and you can see where the pincers sank into the semi-molten glass as the glassworker picked it up. That's absolutely amazing, you've got the actual operations of the glassmaker preserved in this ingot.
These beads could be evidence of one of the earliest commercial networks.
But in a time before money, what did the people at Must Farm have to offer in exchange?
The answer might lie in these bones and bowls of grain. The team has discovered evidence suggesting the fertile landscape allowed villagers to produce more food than they needed. Were they trading crops and livestock for items like the glass beads?
During this era, life was transformed by the discovery of a tough, metal alloy — bronze. Copper and tin could be combined to create new farming tools that increased production.
Woman We found this bladed object, which we think is a sickle. It's interesting because you can sort of see its shiny still which is really the unique thing about this site that stuff's so well preserved that it comes out of the ground shiny still — which is pretty amazing.
Bronze tools helped create crop surpluses. But, in an age before clocks and calendars, how did farmers know when to plant?
Answers to this question can be found in Halle, Germany — home of the state museum, which houses an archaeological discovery so extraordinary, it is recognized by UNESCO as one of the most important finds of the 20th century.
Harald Meller This is the first picture of the real heaven we've had in the world history.
This is the Nebra Sky Disc. Made out of bronze, it shows a simple depiction of the celestial sky.
Prof. Dr. Harald Meller
State Museum of Prehistory, Halle All the pictures of heaven here in the history of man are mythologized. This is the pure, scientific picture of a nightly heaven.
The Sky Disc is the earliest evidence that prehistoric man understood the movements of the sun, moon and stars, including a cluster of stars known today as the Pleiades, which were extremely important for the Bronze Age farmer.
Harald Meller The picture's really simple: We have here the seven stars of the Pleiades and we have here the moon. And the conjunction of moon and Pleiades showed us one special time in the year — the early March.
The Pleiades are visible in the Northern Hemisphere throughout the winter and disappear in the Spring, when crops should be sown.
The special thing is not the metalworking the special thing is the knowledge fixed into a really, really simple, convincing picture. To look at the disc is like to look at a modern brain.
But could the Must Farm villagers have shared this knowledge? Recent analysis revealed the disc was made from imported metals.
We analyzed the copper — the copper comes from the Alps, from the Middelburg region near Salzburg. Then we analysed the tin — the tin is coming definitely from Cornwall. And also the analysis of the gold shows us that it is also coming from Cornwall. So there's a mixture of Germany and of England.
Modern science is proving that, far from being insular communities, Germany and England had trading connections that ran deep.
The desire for metal and material goods forged a system of exchange that is one of the earliest examples of modern trade in Europe.
It seems that — just like the people living at Frattesina and around Lake Constance — the villagers recognized that water was the gateway to Europe, and they chose to live right on top of it.
Site Director, Cambridge Archaeological Unit They recognized that by basically moving out onto this space and by sitting themselves on top of the rivers they could take over a landscape that's basically sitting between the trade and movement of materials and things… It puts you at the center of things. It puts you in the way of that movement so you get some sense of control.
Clues from the site, together with evidence from across Europe, have demonstrated that life in Britain was not as primitive as scholars might have believed.
But disturbing finds suggest that success had dark consequences for the people of Must Farm.
To mark their territory, they built a fence of wooden posts called a palisade around their village.
Wood Specialist, University of York There's a lovely ash palisade running right around the edge of the settlement — these ash posts standing shoulder-to-shoulder with occasional oak posts — and we don't know how high they stood but probably above head height.
And a closer look around the posts reveals something surprising.
I'm certain that these are the footprints of the people who were living here, I'm certain that they are the footprints of the people who were building the palisade. So I think this is the trace of the inhabitants of our settlement.
But Knight doesn't think their palisade was just for display — it was also a vital line of defense.
There is something about the fact that they're in a landscape where they've detached themselves from the dry land, where they've put a barricade around themselves, so there is a sense of an enclosure. It has that sense of a potential defensive nature about it.
If these villagers felt threatened, evidence is emerging that they were prepared to defend themselves.
Unidentified archaeologist So yesterday we found a bronze sword. Normally when we find bronze, it's green and crusted over, but because of the excellent preservation of the site this is sort of like the actual bronze color that you see here.
Interviewer And how did you feel when you found it?
Unidentified archaeologist Amazing. Ecstatic. Really excited and really nervous all at the same time.
Swords first appeared during the Bronze Age. But scholars aren't sure whether they were a prestige item — made for show — or designed primarily to kill.
So everything is a careful, thought out process. It just heats up slowly and then the bellows just takes it up to the last bit of around 1,200 degrees.
Neil Burridge is one of the few people replicating Bronze Age swords using authentic techniques. For him, this is a sacred ritual.
It's almost a superstition, you're almost kind of doing something that belonged to the ancient gods. There's more to it than just an industrial process. That's probably why I find it so interesting — you're trying to follow a route to something that happened 3,000 years ago. So that's coming up quite nicely isn't it? And it's not easy, it is very difficult and people say, 'Oh, you make it look easy,' but it's not. It is very challenging. I will be very relieved if I get a casting. Hopefully it's the last step that will take us to a sword.
Burridge uses an authentic bronze alloy composed of 12 percent tin and 88 percent copper. Around two pounds of the molten metal is poured into a cast.
This is the nervous point for me. The mold's parted at the top — that's not too bad — so I'm just gonna top it up a little bit.
It's clear that Bronze Age swords took a huge amount of effort to make — but were they exclusive to elite warriors, or was this a violent age when everyone had to own one?
It's quite grim really. Remember, swords are developed on human beings over hundreds of years, so the shape that you see in the later Bronze Age swords has taken a grisly route to get there, you must always remember that. In the Iliad, it just talks about the 'pitiless bronze' and it's basically a long list of people — who they are and how they died. And it's pretty — quite horrific. Warfare was horrific.
Does the discovery of a sword and defensive boundary suggest that the villagers lived under threat of attack?
Harrison has returned to the site to see if his forensic investigation can yield more clues about the burning of the village.
Dr. Karl Harrison
Forensic Archaeologist, Cranfield University I think as we investigate further and we understand how the fire developed, we'll know a little bit more then about whether what we're looking at is a fire that ignites and begins and develops in this structure and then spreads across to the other — or whether then we've got two separate fires that both start within the structures, in which case that suggests much more that there's an intentional desire to burn — whether that's hostile or whether that's planned, we wouldn't be able to say necessarily.
To map the spread of the fire, he needs to consider how the buildings were constructed.
Karl Harrison I think that this particular piece of wood is a really good example of the way in which the behavior of fire can help to understand how this building might have been put together. So there are only three main ways in which fire spreads in a building: It can spread by conduction, so you can have metal things that will spread fire; there's convection, so fire very early on will put a lot of energy upwards like a buoyant gas into a structure; and then there's radiation, which is like standing next to a bonfire or getting rays from the sun, where heat will be transmitted over a medium.
The top of this timber has been charred, except that there are a number of circular areas that are protected, so it looks as if a structure has sat on top of it and protected it from that radiant heat coming down. On this side closer to me there's then a margin where the burning stops, so then we have unburnt timber underneath. It's protected from the fire because it's on the outside of the structure, so most of the fuel and most of the fire is on the inside. Radiation comes in straight lines and it's fairly well protected so, just like a tan line where you put your suntan cream on, it's not burnt in that area.
Drawing all of this evidence together, Harrison has come to a definitive conclusion about where the fire started.
So I believe that the fire starts inside this structure — so it doesn't start against it, nobody comes along and lights the roof from the outside, because that would result in quite a different pattern of burning.
He must determine the extent of the damage, and whether the fire was a tragic accident or a violent attack.
To help with the investigations, an experimental roundhouse is being built nearby.
Butser Ancient Farm You have to concentrate so you don't fall off the roof!
This is daub — the main ingredients are well rotted manure and soil and water.
Although smaller and not on water, the house retains the fundamental features of the ancient huts.
All the key structural elements are here: There's a ring of supporting posts, and the principal rafters are coming down from the roof apex, and they're balancing on those principle posts. It's tied together in sort of circular hoops with the purlins and these are in place to hold the thatch up.
The team will start a fire inside the roundhouse and record the pattern, heat, and speed of the flames.
Back at the site, there is compelling new evidence that these villagers were prepared for battle.
Mark Knight I'm sat in Round House 1 and within a meter of me we found a socketed axe, this one came from about a meter and a half in that direction. We have one in that quarter and we have one in that quarter, so far each quadrant of the roundhouse has produced another axe. You can see their form. They've got the hole for where the handle went in, they've got a little loop on the side for tethering it on. You might also just be able to pick out a little ridge — so normally they come in threes on the side there — and you can also see the casting seam, so where the bronze has gone into the clay mold.
Axes like this could have had a dual role — practical tool or dangerous weapon. But other objects found here primarily served a more deadly purpose.
Mark Knight So this is the blade of a leaf-shaped sword. It's lost its hilt and handle, but again fits in with the right sort of time for this settlement — and it was found as the same level as the ash deposit, so it's part of the context of our settlement. But also you can see that it's got these deep notches running along one side of its blade and that might be indicative that the object itself was actually used in conflict or at the very least it's hit another metal object and it could well be a sword or something like that.
It seems that in this settlement, swords were not just expressions of status — the villagers used them to fight.
But what did Bronze Age combat look like?
To answer this question, a study using professional fighters is taking place.
Hotspur School of Defence This starts far apart and immediately moves close. There's not really much in between, you're either unable to reach him or you're both literally face-to-face. And it's a very exciting way to fight, certainly.
Dr. Andrea Dolfini is examining hundreds of British Bronze Age weapons.
Dr. Andrea Dolfini
Newcastle University We've seen very similar on the Bronze Age swords in that the dent is opened up and probably the two blades met and then swing in that direction and open the dent.
Robert Brooks The weapon itself — because it's so short, effectively you're using what could be considered a long knife. Because of that you have to get in so much closer, so much more personal.
Andrea Dolfini The problem I'm trying to address is, we know these weapons would have been used for fighting, for combat, for raiding in the Bronze Age — but we don't know exactly how.
Robert Brooks It's a very brutal, very visceral pursuit but it requires a degree of intelligence, and so it's all about learning to read your opponent, and ultimately impose your will upon your opponent.
The plan is to record and analyze the marks we have generated today with the sword fight, and compare them with the marks we see on the Bronze Age swords. And in this way we can learn a great deal about Bronze Age fighting.
As the work of modern metalworker Neil Burridge shows, enormous resources and skill were needed to make this deadly weapon.
Bronze Swordsmith So you can see the mold fragments have broken off and you can see the sword casting. It's not bad for a first attempt.
I think the mold parted a little bit more than I expected and it's increased the width of the sword so it's, in Bronze Age terms, it's a bit heavy – they would've gone, 'Nah, I don't fancy that one'. It's a case of working the surface down on the blade to bring it up to…
Something like this. So they would work on it, polishing, using something that's locally available. The next, most important stage is forging the edges down to a thin wafer. This is very skilled and it's done with anvils and hammers.
When we find them in excavations they're usually green and corroded and not very attractive, but probably in the Bronze Age when the sword was finished it looked like this — beautifully polished, handle, decorated blade, and very sharp edges — and what better way of showing off your prestige as being the most the most important person by having the most fantastic sword?
Back at the dig, the team has made a new discovery: A substantial and curious object left behind by the inhabitants of the village.
Unidentified archaeologist So you can see it's got this ridge running through the top of it. As you can see it's quite substantial, the actual piece of wood itself it goes… it's running all the way underneath — who knows how far it goes that way or that way? And then it seems to be going that way as well. This bit's quite weird as well, I mean it's probably a post… Like this one… but the fact that it looks like it's connected to this big piece makes it seem as if it's something different? I don't know.
As the archaeologists brush the dirt away, the excitement grows. A find of national importance, it demonstrates these people used the most sophisticated technology of their time:
This is the only complete Bronze Age wheel ever found in Britain.
The main problems are, it's unbelievably compressed. So it would have been quite a lot thicker than this originally.
Prehistoric wood expert Maisie Taylor is called on to lend her expertise.
Prehistoric Wood Expert I mean this is the best preserved, most complete one from this area. That's all I need to say, really. It's just bigger and better than anything else — and complete. It's the fact that it's complete is wonderful.
Evidence that people used wheels in Britain at this time has been scarce, but this find suggests wheels were an integral part of daily life.
And a new find of a harness fitting suggests this wheel might have been part of a horse-drawn cart.
Mark Knight It's an odd object isn't it? But there is these sort of holes going through it and things, this idea that maybe straps and things like that are running through, and it's maybe sitting as a sort of cheek piece or something like that on the side of a horse.
The wheel and harness fitting indicate this village was using more advanced farming techniques than previously thought.
Here is the beginning of modern farming in Britain. But these discoveries pale in comparison to what the team finds next.
Something so delicate and fragile, it's hard to believe it has survived in the ground for 3,000 years.
Archaeologist In here we have the really fine fabric that I found down there. 'Cause it was encased in clay so as I was excavating and then that's when I saw the textile folded up there. But this is just the top of it. And you can see on these pieces how finely woven it is.
Fabrics like this have never been found at a British Bronze Age site before.
Eager to find out just how special they are, Knight has called in textile expert Dr. Susanna Harris.
It is important to have portable equipment. You can't always take the finds to your laboratory, so you want to have equipment that you can move around.
Under the microscope, the sophisticated details of the fabric become clear.
What we have are what we call these passive elements and the active elements. This is one of those active elements, and here you see it tucks behind this one and it comes out again here, you can see it nicely coming out.
Harris has discovered that the threads used to make these fabrics were woven out of natural plant fibers and were unbelievably delicate.
Using the microscope, she measures the threads at just two tenths of a millimeter — clear evidence of incredible care and expert workmanship.
Dr. Susanna Harris
Textile Specialist, University of Glasgow So I've just drawn a line that's 5mm long, so what I want to do is count those threads. 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 — so over 5mm we've got 13 threads, so over a cm we'd have 26 threads, and so the Must Farm textiles, they are up there with the other fine textiles in Europe at this time.
These fabrics are further proof that the people living here were more than just surviving — they had advanced, intricate material goods.
Just because they look black and brown now doesn't mean that was what they were like in the past and, indeed, that's part of our research, is to try and understand them as they were made and in all their glorious textures and colors.
The question is, where did this cloth come from? Similar fabrics have been found in Germany, in and around Lake Constance, where other discoveries can help us paint a picture of domestic European life at the time.
Prof. Dr. Gunter Schöbel
Pfahlbaumuseum Unteruhldingen This is a collection from the lake dwellings here on the Lake Constance. Findings from the last 150 years.
Some of the objects that have survived, across thousands of years, are impossibly delicate and fragile.
Gunter Schöbel We have nets, thin fibers… it's a wonderful world of textiles.
Other discoveries suggest a vibrant and prosperous community.
Gunter Schöbel We have such hooks like this. We found it along the palisade. And you can imagine that the young boys are sitting on the palisade in the afternoon, in the evening, and work with them.
We have sometimes these little ceramics and also the big one. And you can imagine what is the story behind. This is for little people, and the big one for the adults.
Back at Must Farm, the team has again found something without precedent at a British Bronze Age settlement.
They are now uncovering the tools that made these exquisite textiles.
Site Director, Cambridge Archaeological Unit
This enormous club or cricket bat-shaped object turns out to be a very fine example of what's known as a cloth beater — and it's one of three that have come from the site, so we're finding them across the settlement. Their weight and their shape is about trying to smash stems of flax so that you're trying to get the plant fibers out of so you can prepare that then for spinning.
The idea is that it sits in a sort of groove with the plant fibers going across it and you're just doing this on a sort of regular basis and smashing it down and things
From this hefty cloth beater to a more fragile item, archaeologists have found a remnant of the ancient spinning process.
Mark Knight We've got thread wound round a sort of thin piece of wood which could well be the spindle so you can imagine them sort of spinning that fiber. So, again, we're just seeing those sorts of stages being played out in the different materials
And finally, evidence of weaving tools — Bronze Age loom weights.
Mark Knight We've got three of these all occurring within Roundhouse 1 and they're just very crudely formed sort of pyramid shaped bits of clay that have been fired with a hole piercing through them. And that's what adds weight to your threads that you're then going to weave through. So it's just another element really, so it's just that sense of completing the picture I think.
The Must Farm villagers were expert cloth makers and their simple spinning and weaving tools were the predecessors of modern textile-making machinery.
This is the first substantial evidence of the complete textile-making process in Britain — an incredible glimpse into the villagers' daily lives.
Mark Knight It is so rare — exceptional — to find the whole range of equipment in terms of their production, right from the plant stems themselves right through to garments and things. Our textile specialists are going to be in a situation where I think they're going to be overwhelmed with that detail.
But why was all of this abandoned?
The half-finished meals suggest that these people were forced to flee without any of their things.
Dating some of the timber on site indicates this catastrophe took place not long after they moved in.
Mark Knight Everything points to the fact that this settlement was brand new when it got burnt down. And that's now being confirmed by some of the detail coming out of the analysis of the dendrochronology, that suggests that the wood of Roundhouse 1 might have been green when the building burnt down, and by any normal standards oak will become seasoned within a year of it being felled, so there's a possibility that this settlement only stood for a year and then was all burnt down.
Was this a case of unwelcome newcomers being driven out by rivals before they even had a chance to settle in?
Dr. Karl Harrison is now ready to set fire to the reconstructed roundhouse. He will be able to determine how the fire spread and much time the inhabitants had to escape.
I've come with some temperature monitors and a monitor that will give us an indication of the amount of radiant heat that's going to escape from the building sideways, so that should help us understand how the fire might have spread at Must Farm.
Mike Bamforth Are the roof timbers going to burn through completely or are they going to char? Is it going to be stood up at the end of the burn? Is it going to be a smoldering heap? I really don't understand what's going to happen next. I'm really excited to see it.
Harrison starts the burn where he believes it would have begun inside the roundhouse.
The flaming energy that's going to come off this when it's lit is going to be sufficient to carry the fire up to the roof
He lights a bundle of straw — not unlike something that could have been found in one of the original roundhouses.
Dr. Karl Harrison
Forensic Archaeologist, Cranfield University I think it will develop quite quickly, I think within 6 to 7 minutes we'll start to see some involvement in the roof space. 30 minutes and I'd expect to see the roof totally involved and starting to collapse.
Now there's the speed of ignition of the roof. And you can already see the yellowy smoke that's starting to come out on this side in particular.
The fire takes hold much faster than Karl expected.
Karl Harrison That's a lot hotter/
That's quite warm! [laughter]
Oh, well over a thousand.
As the flames grew, panic must have spread throughout the settlement as the villagers ran for their lives.
The heat that we can feel here is all radiant heat, spreading laterally, so this is what's going to be striking the other buildings in our Bronze Age settlement.
Mike Bamforth I really hope that some of it doesn't burn so that when it falls down there's something left to look at… if it all burns away then we won't have any evidence of archaeology, so I really hope some of this roof structure comes down intact.
So that has been quick, how long — do you know what time we started the fire?
Karl Harrison I think that that can only be 10 minutes. Really. Not much more than that at all.
At Must Farm we know we can see four or five roundhouses in the ground and we know about half the settlement's missing, so perhaps about 8 to 10 roundhouses. They could have gone up really quickly… I don't know, 20 minutes, half an hour?
Karl Harrison Yes, if you'd coordinated their lighting, absolutely.
The roundhouses at the Must Farm site were built very close to each other. With the wind blowing in the right direction, fire could have spread from one house to another.
And that wide flat landscape with big skies, the spectacle of the pall of smoke and the flames — yeah, absolutely, it would have been really visible in the landscape.
If it was torched by an enemy, the sight of this burning village would have been a stark warning.
The weight of evidence seems to point toward a sudden and violent attack.
For Knight, the most compelling fact is that these people never returned to their village.
Mark Knight There is also that sense that once the thing had burnt down there is no real indication that they ever came back, so there is also that sort of feeling that the force that drove them away might have been more than the fire, it might have actually been someone else who set that fire that didn't want these people in this landscape.
And further evidence is emerging that these people must have been warriors as well as farmers — a number of well-preserved bronze spearheads have been unearthed.
Mark Knight And it's interesting that they're all occurring along the inside of the palisade so, in your mind's eye what you start doing is, you've got people stood there with their spears, keeping guard and things like that — so who knows? It reminds us that this world wasn't necessarily one of just baskets and pots and roundhouses, but also was a world where you felt it necessary to have a sword and a spear.
The smoldering remains have been left overnight, and they are looking for more clues that can tell them, not only how the settlement burned, but how it was built.
You think it's still going to be warm?
It might be warm in places, there's quite a depth of thatch left there.
The walls have really held up very well, haven't they?
You could put the roof back on, couldn't you? It might smell a bit smoky. There's char that's settled on them, but they've not taken a lot of damage at all
It certainly means that the roof has fallen in, which is very different to what we've seen at Must Farm where the roof has come down. It's making me think a lot about the walls. So, I presume the daub is protecting the wood inside isn't it? So the wood can't burn.
Karl Harrison No we could chip that off and it would be as it was yesterday morning.
Over the next few months, Karl will continue to investigate the fire that destroyed Must Farm, but one thing is indisputable: Once the village burned down, it was the end of this ancient community.
The excavation has shed new light on life in Europe after Stonehenge.
People began to live closer together in settlements — an early precursor to the development of modern cities.
And their world extended far beyond their village.
Their need for raw materials and the desire for material goods drove people across rivers and seas to forge a new system of international trade that would link an entire continent.
Their world was far from primitive — ideas and technology were shared and spread.
But it was also far from peaceful. As Europe became wealthy, it seems to have become more violent.
In fact, by shedding light on the mysterious Bronze Age, this village has revealed the roots of the global community we live in today.
Soon, the team must finish their work here, but there is still so much more to discover.
Mark Knight The more you dig the more questions that come up. The more detail comes out. Every moment another object comes up with a new story. So we're in the throes of completion, but in the knowledge that a lot of the materials here will go onto another stage, so they'll be under a microscopes, they will be in laboratories, they will be sliced and examined and measured and, if anything, the story you've been given so far to date will be enriched. There will be color, there will be texture, that will come out that will transform elements of our story as well.
What's left of this Bronze Age village will be buried beneath the earth once more when the land is returned to its owners.
END CREDITS BEGIN
It will take years of study and analysis before Must Farm reveals all of its secrets — but it's already changing our ideas about the beginnings of civilization as we know it.
This is the crown jewels in terms of what it will tell us about past humanities and the way that people lived in this landscape 3,000 years ago.