Archaeologists are set to step inside a Bronze Age home for the first time in an extraordinary dig revealing details of how people lived thousands of years ago.

Archaeologists work on the site of a Bronze Age settlement destroyed in a fire 3,000 years ago, at Must Farm quarry in Cambridgeshire.

Archaeologists work on the site of a Bronze Age settlement destroyed in a fire 3,000 years ago, at Must Farm quarry in Cambridgeshire. Image by Press Association Photo

The site at the edge of a brick quarry near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, is drawing comparisons with Roman city Pompeii – buried by a volcanic eruption – because it provides a time capsule into Bronze Age life, just as the era was ending.

The dwellings discovered at Must Farm quarry, Whittlesey, in the East Anglian fens, were built on stilts on a river and destroyed in a fire 3,000 years ago. The remains plunged into the water and silt, preserving them so well that archaeologists suggested it felt almost “rude” to excavate a home that seemed as if its owners were still nearby.

But amid concern over the archaeology’s long-term preservation, a £1.1 million project to excavate the site, funded by government heritage agency Historic England, and quarry-owners Forterra, was launched. Already the site has turned up jars with food still inside, wooden bowls, animal bones, textiles and glass beads that suggest people “at the top of their society”.

Beginning in August with the removal of two metres (6ft) of earth, the dig run by Cambridge University’s Cambridge Archaeological Unit has also exposed a well-preserved palisade fence made of ash trees, wattle walls and the remains of the roof of one of the roundhouses destroyed in the fire that took place between 920BC and 800BC.

More finds are expected when the charred, collapsed roof beams are removed to expose the inside of the dwelling. Mark Knight, site director of the excavation, said: “We are, effectively, for the first time in British history about to go inside a Bronze Age roundhouse. We’re going to go inside a Bronze Age home, we’re going to see what’s in there, what they were wearing, what they were eating on the day of the fire. We’ll understand what the world they lived in looked like, what it smelt like. It’s a world we’ve dreamed about getting into. Here we have it in that space.”

A human skull has also been found, but Mr Knight said further excavation was needed to discover if there were more remains and whether the person had died in the fire, or was the skull of an enemy or an ancestor being displayed – “Granny’s head” hung up by the door. With the help of a fire expert, the team hope to discover if the blaze was set deliberately at the end of the dwelling’s life, was an accident or was done by hostile forces.

Mr Knight said the site was unprecedented in both the quantity and quality of the finds. “Normally when you dig dry land sites, you’re lucky if you find a few shards, here we’re finding complete pots, often with the food inside them.” Experts had found a range of different sized pots, “like someone has gone to Habitat and bought the whole set,” he said.

The Must Farm excavation is the first large-scale investigation of deeply buried sediments in the fens, and is at a site which has produced a number of prehistoric finds, including nine pristinely-preserved log boats in 2011.

When it is complete, the finds will be taken for further analysis, then displayed at Peterborough Museum and other venues.

Duncan Wilson, chief executive of Historic England, said: “This site is of international significance, and its excavation really will transform our understanding of the period.”

(Press Association)