Big digs: The year 2016 in archaeology

2016 had its fair share of exciting discoveries in the world of archaeology. Together, they reveal the human characteristics that unite us all and expose the impacts that past peoples continue to have on life today. Here’s a selection of the most inspiring findings of the year.

Britain’s Pompeii

Reconstruction of Must FarmImage copyrightCAMBRIDGE ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNIT
Image captionA reconstruction of the elite settlement by illustrator Vicki Herring

Some of the most dramatic British archaeology this year was recovered from the unassuming landscape of Must Farm Quarry near Peterborough. Nine Bronze Age logboats had been discovered in a prehistoric river channel in 2011, alongside fishtraps and weapons. This year, the excavation of an adjacent settlement preserved in the river silts threw open another window on to life in Bronze Age Britain.

Three thousand years ago, a cluster of roundhouses built on stilts over the river were destroyed by fire. A discarded bowl – containing the remains of a meal and a wooden spurtle (stirring stick) – shows the haste with which the settlement was abandoned.

AxeImage copyrightCAMBRIDGE ARCHAEOLOGICAL UNIT
Image captionAn exceptional example of an intact two-piece axe haft complete with socketed bronze axe

Like Pompeii, the sudden misfortune of the occupants gave archaeologists a staggering opportunity to see Bronze Age life frozen in time. The earliest complete cartwheel in the UK, hafted bronze tools, balls of thread, sets of storage jars, cups and bowls, wooden boxes and buckets, foot and hoof prints, and delicate fragments of cloth are just some of the enigmatic artefacts that were found across the site.

It’s possible that the settlement’s position on the river allowed this group to control trade along the waterways. The inhabitants certainly appear to be relatively wealthy. Imported beads of glass and amber suggest that these people were prosperous and well-connected to the continent. But a burning question remains: was the fire an accident, or did this privileged group fall victim to an arson attack?

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