Britain’s Pompeii: A Bronze Age Time Capsule, With Footprints, Clothes, And Uneaten Meals

About 3,000 years ago, in East Anglia, families in a Bronze Age town were tucking into a meal when their houses caught fire and sank into a nearby bog. They fled for their lives, leaving their homes and footprints behind, gifting modern-day archaeologists with a remarkable time capsule into their ancient lives.

They’re calling it Britain’s Pompeii. This comparison isn’t being made because the small site, at Must Farm Quarry near Whittlesey, England, features a grand swath of boulevards and colonnades. Rather, this site has been called Britain’s Pompeii because, like the famous Italian ruin, the inferno that destroyed it has perfectly preserved a slice of life.

Archaeological manager David Gibson said the time period rarely yields such perfectly preserved ruins.

“Usually… you get pits, post-holes and maybe one or two really exciting metal finds. But this time so much more has been preserved – we can actually see everyday life … in the round. It’s prehistoric archaeology in 3D with an unsurpassed finds assemblage both in terms of range and quantity.”

Among the remarkable well-preserved discoveries at Britain’s Pompeii: two prehistoric wooden roundhouses that are still intact, pots with the remnants of a last meal still inside, clothing, jewelry, and even footprints, the Telegraph reported.

According to archaeologists, the fire that ravaged this ancient town carbonized and preserved the structures, and then the silt and clay of the East Anglian Fens (a fen is a wetland) kept away the air and bacteria that otherwise would’ve corroded the roundhouses’ wood. Therefore, 3,000 years after it was built, archaeologists can still see its posts and rafters exactly where they fell.

“It’s a frozen moment in time,” Duncan Wilson, the chief executive of Historic England, told Discovery of Britain’s Pompeii. “We are learning more about the food our ancestors ate, and the pottery they used to cook and serve it … This site is of international significance and its excavation really will transform our understanding of the period.”

Britain’s Pompeii dates to 1,200-800 B.C. and was home to several families who lived out their days in circular wooden houses that were built on stilts above a river. The site was discovered in 2006 and is just now being excavated, halfway through a four-year project.

This time capsule of domestic life 3,00 years ago is now buried six feet deep, where researchers have found the ancient location of the river bed. Archaeologists believe the town was ravaged by the blaze due to the placement of several objects they’ve unearthed, which suggested people had to leave everything behind. A fire expert will be brought in to determine whether the blaze was set intentionally by enemies or was an accident.

Britain’s Pompeii has already yielded some incredible finds, and archaeologists on-site — like its site director Mark Knight — are beside themselves with excitement.

“We’re going to go inside a Bronze Age home, we’re going to see what’s in there, (the clothes) they were wearing, (the food) they were eating on the day of the fire.”

So far, Britain’s Pompeii has yielded small cups, bowls, and jars with food inside, and a range of different-sized pots that Knight said look like a complete set one would buy at a department store today. They found fabrics with “complicated woven patterns” and a spool of thread, which are almost impossible finds.

An exotic and elaborate glass bead necklace discovered at Britain’s Pompeii is also challenging archaeologists’ picture of what Bronze Age people were capable of. It suggests an as-yet seen sophistication and suggests the people in this doomed town were pretty high-class.

And then there are other remarkable signs of the life: footprints of the inhabitants, preserved in sediment, remnants of the town’s wooden palisade that enclosed the homes, and a human skull that could be a fire victim or the head of a prized ancestor displayed by the door. And they’ve found signs of fire in charred roof timbers, which still bear tool marks.

Thanks to Britain’s Pompeii, the Bronze Age has come to life, Knight said.

“We are, effectively, for the first time in British history about to go inside a Bronze Age roundhouse. We’re going to go inside a Bronze Age home, we’re going to see what’s in there, what they were wearing, what they were eating on the day of the fire. We’ll understand what the world they lived in looked like, what it smelt like. It’s a world we’ve dreamed about getting into. Here we have it in that space.”

[Photo via YouTube]