Mudlands

Archaeologists have uncovered a mini Pompeii just north of Cambridge. A very mini Pompeii. So far, just a couple of houses. But still. A mini Pompeii.

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The site was uncovered at Must Farm near Peterborough. Several early Bronze-Age dwellings dating from the beginning of the second millennium BC at some point burnt down, and were preserved in the mud and their own ash. Like Pompeii, then. In addition to the timbers of the structures and the pallisade which surrounded them, archaeologists have retrieved numerous artefacts of daily life: pottery, swords, knives, combs, and so on. Some of the pots still have someone’s dinner in them.

The houses were raised up on stilts. The land north of Cambridge lies below sea-level and has always been fenny and boggy. Attempts were made to drain it for agriculture from the seventeenth century, but these were largely unsuccessful until the nineteenth century. It is, and always has been, a slightly desolate biome, an unenlivened flatness where the only breaks in the flatness are downward, into ditches and gulches and sluggish rivers and canals, subject to undramatic flooding, to seepage and mud.

Yesterday, as it happens, the River Cam flooded in Cambridge, not so much bursting its banks as spilling a bit over them. Life in bronze age fenland Cambridgeshire, we must suppose, would have been a drear and muddy business. When your house wasn’t burning down, that is.

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