Archaeologists said on Tuesday they had discovered what were believed to be the best-preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found in Britain, describing them as a "time capsule" of prehistoric life from 3,000 years ago.
The settlement of large circular wooden houses, built on stilts, collapsed in a fire and plunged into a river where it was preserved in silts leaving them in pristine condition, according to public body Historic England.
"The result is an extraordinary time capsule containing exceptional textiles made from plant fibers such as lime tree bark, rare small cups, bowls and jars complete with past meals still inside," the body said in a statement.
The ancient community in Whittlesey, in central England, was first discovered in 1999 when an archaeologist noticed a series of wooden posts sticking out of a quarry's edge. The working quarry was a wetland during the Bronze Age.
Archaeologists said the site, known as Must Farm, dated from between 1000-800 BC. The textiles were so well preserved because the fibers were charred by the fire and quickly extinguished in the water, archaeologists said.
"We are learning more about the food our ancestors ate, and the pottery they used to cook and serve it," said Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England.
"This site is of international significance and its excavation will transform our understanding of the period."
Among the finds at the site, about two yards below the modern ground surface, are exotic glass beads forming part of a necklace, rare small cups, bowls and jars. Even the footprints of those who lived at the site were discovered.
Heritage England said it believed the site was not a one-off, and that it was part of a much larger settlement in Britain's ancient wetlands.
Further discoveries at the site could allow archaeologists to make a breakthrough in understanding life during the Bronze Age — as previous sites discovered from the same era were not nearly as well preserved.
"Usually at a Later Bronze Age period site you get pits, post-holes and maybe one or two really exciting metal finds. Convincing people that such places were once thriving settlements takes some imagination," said David Gibson, Archaeological Manager at the Cambridge Archaeological Unit.
"But this time so much more has been preserved — we can actually see everyday life during the Bronze Age in the round. It's prehistoric archaeology in 3D," Gibson said.
Al Jazeera and Reuters