Digging Up the Remnants of Europe; A Team of Archaeologists from Birmingham University Is Hoping to Unlock the Secrets of How Europeans Lived Thousands of Years Ago after Uncovering Perfectly Preserved Swords, Helmets and Jewellery from the Early Bronze Age on an Excavation in Croatia. Jessica Shepherd Reports on Their Remarkable Find

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Byline: Jessica Shepherd

Most archaeologists could spend their whole lives waiting to find an historical artefact such as an 8,000-year-old sword. But when Dr Vincent Gaffney visited a valley in Croatia he found 30 -and the remains of an entire ancient settlement.

The director of the University of Birmingham's Institute for Archaeology and Antiquity decided to investigate the site after reading that clues to a Bronze Age settlement had been found there 50 years ago. But even he was not prepared for the scale of what he found.

He said: 'This is certainly the most remarkable site that I have had, and will ever have, the privilege of being involved in. A once in a lifetime discovery for any archaeologist.

'It is one of the great remnants of Europe, it was hard to know where to start. The first thing that struck me was the sheer scale of the material. It is one thing to find a bronze sword -that is amazing enough -but to find 30 was something else.

'It is rare to find preserved wooden remains of a house, so I could hardly believe it when there was a whole settlement.

'The tour of the river valley was just remarkable. It was thousands of years old and 80 kilometres squared. I called out Dr David Smith, environmental archaeologist at Birmingham University, and some of our research students.'

Among the archaeologists' finds were bronze helmets, pendants, fishing nets and the remnants of timber houses.

The dig was all the more exceptional because the objects were discovered almost as they had been left thousands of years ago at the bottom of a riverbed in the Cetina Valley, central Croatia.

The Birmingham academics will now study the items to reveal how the people lived.

Dr Gaffney, the expedition leader, said: 'The site was a bit off the beaten track, but these items had gradually been poking out of the riverbed for some time so we were extremely surprised at how easy it was to find the objects.'

The archaeologists uncovered armoury and brooches that showed the considerable wealth of the people who lived on the site.

They also retrieved beetles, grains of wheat, axes and a Roman dagger with a sheath.

Dr Gaffney said: 'Beetles are great indicators of the level of filth people lived in so they will make interesting studies. The buildings were also more substantial and of higher quality than we expected.'

Dr Smith added: 'Through examining the pollen and peat samples we will be able to gain a real insight into the everyday life of the people -the food they ate, the crops and animals they kept, and the crafts they pursued.'

The academics believe the objects were probably thrown into the river as a ritual to placate gods. …