Making Must Farm: A Bronze Axe


The Must Farm settlement, a Bronze Age community in the UK, was discovered to have been built on stilts over a stagnant watercourse. The settlement was made up of five round houses surrounded by a palisade. The remains of the settlement were well preserved in situ after it burnt down, leaving everything inside the buildings to collapse into the stagnant water. The settlement had lasted about one year, and evidence was found through the freshness of the wood and the absence of wood borers. Tools and artifacts were found along with the structures, including bronze axes that were used for felling trees and dressing timber. The wooden handles of the axes were found intact, preserved well enough to see tool marks made by shaping the wood with different types of tools. The axes also had loops on them, which may have been used to tie them to the handle to prevent them from flying off.

Full recap


Must Farm Settlement is a Bronze Age village comprising five round houses built on stilts. It is situated over a stagnant watercourse, which not only preserved the village but also the artifacts within it. The settlement lasted for about a year and was destroyed by fire, leaving behind a rich archaeological record. From the preserved material culture, we can learn about the lives of the people who lived there over 3,000 years ago.

The Preservation of Must Farm Settlement

The stagnant watercourse that flows beneath Must Farm Settlement played a crucial role in its preservation. The fire that destroyed the village caused the heavy roofs to collapse onto the floors, taking all the contents with them to the bottom of the watercourse. The lack of flowing water meant that the artifacts were not scattered or washed away, but rather they remained 'in situ' and were preserved in the silt.

Material Culture of Must Farm Settlement

Must Farm Settlement offers archaeologists a unique perspective into the daily lives of the Bronze Age people who lived there. The buildings were fully equipped when the settlement burnt down, and the contents of the structures fell to the bottom of the riverbed, where they lay undisturbed for over 3,000 years. The preserved artifacts include pots, metalwork, bobbins, loom weights, and bronze axes. These objects provide valuable insights into the technology and artistic expression of the time.

Bronze Axes at Must Farm Settlement

Bronze axes were crucial tools for the people of the Bronze Age. They were used to fell trees and dress timber to construct the pile dwellings of Must Farm Settlement. The presence of nine bronze axe heads found in the burned remains suggest that their owners left in a hurry. Rarely are they found in their wooden handle, but the discovery of nine wooden objects at Must Farm Settlement represents complete or parts of axe handles; three were found with a bronze blade.

Understanding the Object Biography of the Bronze Axe

As an almost complete artifact, the bronze axe provides valuable insight into how it was made, used and maintained. The wooden handles are preserved well enough to see the tooling marks created when the handles were shaped using different types of tools such as other axes and chisels. The axes have loops on them to help tie the head back to stop them flying off the handle. The two-piece axe found beneath structure one suggests that the handles were tied onto the head. The exceptional preservation of one complete axe made of field maple and oak, halved in two parts that fit together, is different from the other axes found. Two-part handles are even rarer than single-part handles and would have taken far more time to shape and fit than a natural elbow branch.

Access to Grinding Stone and Axe-Honing Techniques

All the structures had access to different types of grinding stones, and owners softened the abrasive grit to suit their needs. The axes must have been cast elsewhere, but it's possible the rough cast was finished at Must Farm Settlement. Their owners certainly maintained and sharpened them as grinding marks can still be seen on the blade edge. Such evidence shows that the owners of the axes were skilled at honing, sharpening, and maintaining their tools.


The Must Farm Settlement offers rare insights into the lives of people who lived over 3,000 years ago. The preserved artifacts - from pots, metalwork, and bobbins to loom weights and the bronze axe - provides archaeologists with vital information about the technology, artistic expression, and social organization of the time. The settlement was destroyed by fire, but the stagnant watercourse helped to preserve it all. Further analysis of the material culture will undoubtedly deepen our understanding of the Bronze Age, challenging us to think beyond the simple narratives of our past.


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