Heritage & Culture

Introducing Must Farm: A Bronze Age Settlement

Must Farm

It’s been 3,000 years in the making and has already made headlines around the world – now, the Must Farm settlement is finally ‘coming home’ to Peterborough Museum in this brand new, first-look exhibition that will lift the curtain on one of archaeology’s most exciting modern discoveries: Britain’s Pompeii...

Introducing Must Farm, a Bronze Age Settlement opened at Peterborough Museum and
Art Gallery on the 27 April 2024. The exhibition opens following the eagerly anticipated release of a new publication (published 20 March this year) by the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, which tells the remarkable story of the Must Farm pile-dwelling settlement in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire.

The Must Farm settlement is a truly fascinating discovery, with the site occupied for less than a year before it was destroyed by a catastrophic fire. The everyday objects found there are even more remarkable, providing a time capsule of rarely-preserved personal items, including textiles – some of the finest produced in Europe at that time. Pots and jars complete with meals and utensils, and exotic glass beads – some of which were manufactured in the Middle East – revealing a sophistication not normally associated with the Bronze Age.

Must Farm“It’s the first time the public will see these finds, which were uncovered seven years ago now,” says Sarah Wilson, Heritage Manager at Peterborough Museum. “It’s that first transition from the world of academia and research into the public domain, so we’re making sure that we document and interpret it by working closely with communities and local people. We are not keeping it confined within that academic bubble – we’re enabling greater access to it.”

Behind the scenes at the Museum, excitement has been high – not only is this the first proper opportunity for the public to experience this significant discovery, it’s been a first for staff in terms of designing and building an exhibition for artefacts that have mostly never been displayed.

“My colleague, Glenys (Glenys Wass, Heritage Collections Manager) has really pulled it all together from a curatorial point of view,” explains Sarah. “We worked closely with CAU – the Cambridge Archaeological Unit – because they have the most up-to-date knowledge about many of the finds and have been working most closely with the objects. So, in putting the exhibition together, there was a lot of collaboration, fact checking with them to ensure that everything we did was as close to the truth as possible. It’s challenging because they approach things from a very academic standpoint, being affiliated with the University of Cambridge, but our task is to take that information and make it more accessible to a general audience.

“CAU have been very patient with us, I have to say!” continues Sarah, laughing. “We’ve continually been asking if we can frame things in a certain way, to bring the story to life and draw people in, and they’ve mostly said, ‘Yeah, actually, that’s fine – you could say it like that.’ Accuracy is important and often goes hand in hand with detail – but there is always a danger you might delve into so much detail you lose audiences along the way. The challenge is getting the balance right.

Must FarmCAU’s involvement with us has effectively finished – they’ve created a publication about the find – and they’re handing over the project to us. Now, we have to pick up that baton and make it our own.”

One of the most remarkable aspects of the Must Farm discovery is how much of a near-perfect ‘snapshot’ of a thriving community it is, with many aspects of life in the village overturning years of assumptions about how people lived during the Bronze Age. We now have evidence of a group who were outward- looking, extremely capable in terms of trade and commerce, and who loved fine things from both here and abroad.

“I think my favourite thing about the exhibition is… it’s kind of like, making the everyday extraordinary,” says Sarah. “And it’s extraordinary because you wouldn’t expect to see that level of detail from such a long time ago. We know from other various archaeological digs that this is really unusual, and that it provides a rare, precious window into the past, that people can relate to. You can see that these are their things, their personal possessions, they’ve got beautiful jewellery – like us, they want to look good and present their best selves. Another thing that feels very relevant is the story of the fire that destroyed the community – it’s very thought-provoking. We all have that human, emotional reaction that allows you to put yourself in that position, or imagine what it could have been like, how we would react if we had to vacate a space like that, and deal with the ensuing panic and destruction.

Must Farm“Then, there are those items that I think are going to really exceed people’s expectations of the past. For example, some of the beads that were found, and where they’ve come from, make you realise these people were moving huge distances – they weren’t living in a little, isolated space, there was movement here on a vast scale. We talk about the global community today, but that clearly existed in some way, even if it was people moving stuff from one person to another. For me, what I find really powerful about the exhibition is that you can go in with the perception that people in prehistory were living hand to mouth, but no: they weren’t. They wanted to look nice, just like any of us do today, and have nice things. They had the ability to trade over vast distances, and they had far-reaching and sophisticated connections. It’s like, the Bronze Age – in full colour!”

  • The exhibition is funded by Historic England and Peterborough Museum, in partnership with Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
  • Introducing Must Farm, a Bronze Age Settlement, open 27 April – 28 September, and enjoy free entry into this fascinating exhibition.
  • Peterborough Museum is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 4pm, plan your visit today: peterboroughmuseum.org.uk/plan-your-visit

Events Programme
April – June 2024.

Alongside the Introducing Must Farm, a Bronze Age settlement exhibition there will be a variety of exciting events to dig deeper and bring the site to life. Details of the programme April-June are below, with more events released for the second half of the exhibition run in July – September 2024.

Online talks
Following the publication of the final report on the Must Farm settlement, hear from the archaeologists and specialists involved in the excavations and post-excavation research to discover the most up-to-date research and theories about the site. The first time all these experts have been brought together in one series, these talks are not to be missed!

All talks will take place online, beginning at 7:30pm.

An Introduction to the Must Farm Pile-dwelling Settlement
Speaker: Dr Chris Wakefield, Cambridge Archaeological Unit
Date TBC

One of the best-preserved Bronze Age sites ever discovered in the UK, this talk provides an overview of the site’s 2015-16 excavations – detailing how archaeologists uncovered the fascinating story of a Late Bronze Age community and pieced- together the history of this incredible site.

Must FarmThe Foods of the Woods: the animals of Must Farm
Speaker: Vida Rajkovača, Cambridge Archaeological Unit
Thu 6 Jun

A remarkable collection of animal bone was found. This talk covers the methods and results of zooarchaeological analysis, exploring the food choices and the relationship with animals in the site’s broader setting.

Wooden artefacts from the Late Bronze Age settlement at Must Farm – specialism, craft and use
Speaker: Michael Bamforth
Thursday 20 Jun

Nearly 200 wood and bark artefacts were recovered from excavations. Artefacts provide valuable insights into how tools were made, what they were used for and perhaps even who made them.

Exhibition tours
First Saturday of the month, 3:45pm

Join one of our experienced guides for an exhibition tour. Discover the remarkably preserved and unique objects from the site, the story they tell of ‘cosy domesticity’ destroyed by fire 3,000 years ago, and their implications for our understanding of Bronze Age Britain. Plus, get hands-on with replica artefacts made based on evidence from the site.

These tours are also available for private group bookings at a time which suits you.

Must FarmHands-on workshops

Willow basket workshop
Sat 22 Jun, 10am – 4pm

Our expert weaver will guide you in this ancient craft to create a small round basket with a simple trac border.

Family events

Tiny Tots: archaeology
Sat 8 Jun, 10:15am

Dig for treasure, enjoy puzzles and water play with your under 5s. Inspired by the exhibition, this hour-long session includes sensory/messy play and storytime. Perfect for confident walkers to preschoolers.

Exciting events to come in July September 2024

More tour dates, more hands-on workshops (spinning & weaving, bronze axe casting, and Bronze Age jewellery), more expert talks (on Must Farm’s roundhouses, pottery, fabrics, and food) and more family events (summer holiday family fun!)

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