Glastonbury lake village

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Reconstruction of an Iron Age house at the Peat Moors Centre. The house is based on one found at Glastonbury Lake Village.


A reconstruction of the Glastonbury lake village. (Tracey Croft)


The nearby village of Glastonbury was very different, partly because of the waterlogged nature of the site; it was excavated by Arthur Bulleid and Harold St George Gray more than 80 years ago and many otherwise perishable items have been preserved. It was built on an artificial island or crannog composed of tree trunks and brushwood and was completely surrounded by water, making it accessible only by boat. Alder logs, together with some of oak, ash and birch, had been felled on the shores of the lake and brought to the island, where they were laid in layers at right angles. The surface had then been levelled with bracken and peat, rubble and clay. A close-set wooden palisade around the edge of the site enclosed 1.4 ha. (3.5 acres). The posts, sharply pointed with axes, had been driven down into the peaty bed of the lake.


Within the enclosure were about 80 buildings, which were certainly not all contemporary, and only a few were major dwelling houses. A number of attempts have been made to reinterpret the old excavation report, and the writer is inclined to accept some of the views of the late Professor E.K.Tratman (1970), who considered that the village had passed through two distinct periods of occupation. At first square or rectangular houses were built, supported above the ground on oak piles. The builders were fine carpenters and all the wood was carefully jointed and the houses were skillfully constructed with walls of daubed hurdle work. After a period of abandonment, the artificial island was constructed around the ruins of the old houses, which were replaced by new circular buildings between 5.5 and 8.5 m. (6–9.3 yd) in diameter. They had walls of wattle and daub, floors of clay, some with central hearths and ovens, and reed-thatched roofs. The excavators observed the huts as low mounds, created by the build-up of as many as ten successive clay floors. Eight houses had wooden floorboards.


The most recent study of Glastonbury, by Bryony and John Coles, speculates that the village may have been occupied for 300 to 400 years into the first century AD. They suggest that as well as a series of dwelling houses, the village contained specialized areas for working wood and bone, bronze and iron objects and pottery manufacture. Most weaving and basketry probably took place in individual houses. Because the site was waterlogged numerous wooden objects have survived, including bowls and tubs turned on a pole lathe, containers and baskets, a ladder and a stout door a metre high. Turned axle boxes and wheel spokes belonged to chariots or carts pulled by pony-sized horses which wore iron snaffle bits and bronze terret rings, as well as old-fashioned bone and antler cheek pieces in a late Bronze Age style. The wooden handles of many iron tools such as sickles and saws, knives and billhooks can still be seen in Taunton Museum, together with weaving equipment and loom weights, local glass beads and fine pottery with beautiful flowing linear patterns.


Glastonbury also produced two iron currency bars; these were long iron bars resembling swords with rounded tips. Caesar referred to them in the mid-first century BC as one of three types of currency in use in Britain at that time, the others being coins of bronze and gold. Rotary handmills or querns were replacing the earlier saddle querns and were used to grind mixtures of wheat, barley and oats, some of which were combined with honey to make bread and small cakes or buns. Wild berries, acorns, parsnips, peas and dwarf broad beans were gathered. Meat in the form of mutton and lamb was most common, followed by beef and pork and perhaps horse flesh. This was supplemented with wild birds, including the pelican, and freshwater and sea fish. Perhaps indicating the inhabitants’ relaxations were finds of bone and antler dice and dice-boxes.


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