Middle Bronze Age skulls and arrowheads discovered in Cambridge

Thursday 7th November 2013
Submitted by Emma McFarnon

Archaeologists have uncovered the largest and most diverse range of Middle Bronze Age domestic artefacts ever found in East Anglia.

In a year-long dig at Countryside Properties’ Great Kneighton development on the southern fringe of Cambridge, an Oxford Archaeology East team found a landscape of field systems, enclosures and settlements dated to around 1500 BC.

Archaeologists worked on a site that covered 20 hectares, within which two settlements were found.

On the northern settlement they discovered pottery, a loomweight (a weight hung on thread ends when weaving), and metalwork, including a bronze spearhead.

The team also found cooking-related items such as charred grain, quernstones (stone tools for hand-grinding) and ‘potboilers’.

Radiocarbon dating suggests the site was established c1520–1400 BC.                        

Meanwhile on the southern settlement, archaeologists found the only confidently dated Middle Bronze Age arrowheads in the region.

The team also uncovered waterlogged beetles and plants, as well a variety of body parts, including human skulls. This, archeologists told historyextra, is an unusual feature of the Middle Bronze Age, as interring of skulls has been viewed previously as an Iron Age phenomenon.

In addition to the Middle Bronze Age artefacts, the team found a Roman period memorial garden. Archaeologists believe two pre-conquest Iron Age people were buried in a pit just outside their settlement, and a century later a formal garden was laid around it.

Richard Mortimer from Oxford Archaeology East told historyextra: “To find one settlement in East Anglia from the Middle Bronze Age period is rare, but to find two in the same place is magnificent. It allows us to compare and contrast.

“This was a time when the world changed, and it changed quickly. It’s the first time we see field boundaries and ditches, and land ownership.

“It was the beginning of the sort of land ownership patterns we see today.

“The waterlogged beetles we found tell us more about the environment than anything else, because they can only live in certain conditions. They give us a fantastic picture of what these settlements were like.

“They were good pieces of farming land, and the people there seemed to be reasonably well-off and connected. They were the first to apportion the land.

“This has undoubtedly proved to be one of the best sites in the south of England, and is fundamental to our level of understanding of prehistoric activity in the Cambridgeshire area.

“It has revealed a complex, ever evolving landscape populated by inhabitants who had access to some of the finest material benefits of the periods they lived in.”

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