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An Incredible Look at the Past

Researchers are studying objects from an ancient village to find out how people lived thousands of years ago.
Map of England showing the location of Must Farm with insets showing surrounding cities and the location within Europe.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
Researchers are studying what’s left of a village now known as Must Farm. This map shows its location in England.

Imagine going back in time to the year 850 BCE. Researchers can’t time travel, but they’re doing the next best thing by studying the remains of an ancient village in England that’s remarkably well preserved.

Archaeologists, scientists who study human history, say that the village was abandoned more than 2,800 years ago when a huge fire broke out. Residents quickly escaped, leaving all their belongings behind. The village, now known as Must Farm, wasn’t discovered until 1999. Although its contents are burned, they’re still in remarkably good condition. That’s because the village sits on wetlands, where the level of oxygen—which breaks down materials like wood and cloth—is low.

Researchers unearthed what is left of four roundhouses that had been built with wood, straw, earth, and clay. At one time there were probably twice that many houses, and all were surrounded by a 6.5-foot (2-meter) fence. Researchers also found ceramic pots, neatly sewn linen items (possibly clothing), tools, and wooden bowls and buckets. There were clues about the villagers’ daily habits, too.

“On the bottom of [one of those buckets] were loads and loads of cut marks, so we know that people living in that…kitchen…were just flipping that bucket upside down and using that as a chopping surface,” archaeologist Chris Wakefield told CNN.

Some of the items held clues about what the people ate. One bowl had the remains of a wheat porridge with animal fat. Others, which were studied in a lab, had traces of deer meat and honey.

Researchers say it’s rare to find an ancient site that’s so well preserved.

“In a typical…site, if you’ve got a house, you’ve probably got maybe a dozen post holes in the ground and they’re just dark shadows of where it once stood,” Wakefield said. “This was the complete opposite of that process. It was just incredible.”

Click through the slideshow, which features some of the items found at Must Farm.

Dr. Colleen Morgan (CC BY 2.0),  Cmglee (fish, shears, swords, pottery, boat) (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Did You Know?

In 1998, researchers in Miami, Florida, found a group of holes in the ground that formed a perfect circle. The holes contained ceramics and other objects. Tests showed that at least some materials from the area were up to 2,000 years old. Researchers think the “Miami Circle” may have been made by the Tequesta American Indians.
People stand around a circular indentation in the ground, and a photo of a circular monument with water, a boat, and buildings in the background.
© Eric Smith—Hulton Archives, Juan Castro Olivera—AFP/Getty Images; Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
The image on the left shows what the Miami Circle looked like after researchers found it. The image on the right shows what it looks like now.

The Ruins of Pompeii

Combination of preserved ancient bread, ancient buildings in front of Mount Vesuvius, and a room decorated with frescoes.

Jamie Heath (CC BY-SA 2.0), © dbvirago/, © javarman/, © Atlantide Phototravel—Corbis Documentary/Getty Images; Photo composite Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Much of Pompeii is still standing. The photo on the top left shows a loaf of bread that was baked in the year 79 CE!

In the year 79 CE, people in the city of Pompeii (in what’s now Italy) were going about their day when a nearby volcano called Mount Vesuvius erupted. The eruption lasted for several days. Thousands of people died, and Pompeii and everything in it was buried in up to 23 feet (7 meters) of ash. The ash eventually hardened, preserving all of Pompeii in a sort of cast, protecting it from the weather and everything else that would have caused much of it to rot away.

The ruins of Pompeii were discovered in the 1500s, and archaeologists began digging out the city more than 100 years later. The ancient city’s buildings, including many homes, are still standing. They contain many items that the people left behind—just as they were in 79 CE. There’s jewelry, artwork, and even food, such as loaves of bread that had probably just come out of the oven!

Digging Up the Past

Five archaeologists wear yellow hard hats as they work among ancient ruins.
Adrian Pingstone

Do you like to solve mysteries by uncovering clues? Then you might be interested in archaeology, the study of human history. Archaeologists learn about people of the past by studying what they left behind. 

You can learn more about archaeology at Britannica!

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