The last of the replica Neolithic buildings began to be built last week. This is a significant milestone in the project to reconstruct five dwellings or structures from the archaeological evidence found at Durrington walls.
One of the aims of the project was to replicate and thereby try to understand some of the techniques, processes and requirements of the original Neolithic house builders. It is safe to say however that the whole project has, as well as helping to develop our understanding, raised a lot of new questions!
We are not calling this fifth structure a house as we are not sure that that is was it was. In fact, it is this building that raises the most questions.
As with the other structures, Building no.5/848 is based on the excavated evidence from Durrington but whereas the majority of the living floors investigated showed evidence of surrounding stake holes, this hut did not.
It simply showed a floor and a simple, small hearth which appear to have been used less frequently than those within the large obviously domestic dwellings. So the two first questions raised by this structure are:
1. What sort of building would show no evidence of uprights?
2. What sort of use would such a building have had, if as the hearth suggests it was used less frequently, and perhaps in a different way to the other buildings in the settlement?
There is a third question raised by extremely close proximity of this hut to one of the other houses
3. Did this structure date to before or after the other houses?
We has run with one of the possible interpretations of the building which is that it could have been ‘wigwam’ or ‘teepee’ shaped – and this is what they are building at Stonehenge. If this were the case, then no evidence would have survived of the walls as they would effectively have sat on the ground rather than in it. Based on the remaining evidence, or lack of it, the original structure could also potential have been built as a ‘bender hut’ – again the uprights would not have needed to go far enough in to the ground to leave a lasting impression.
The next question is what material would the walls of this structure have been made of. At Stonehenge we have decided to use straw as this resource is relatively easy to come by – particularly as we have already thatched other houses with it. If the original builders also had straw to hand from their other buildings, it is possible they will have made the same decision. The people who lived at Durrington Walls may equally have chosen to use animal skins or even good quality tree bark – as evidenced in similar structures in Norway. Coming by each resource would have had its own logistic challenges.
This is what we do know about this building:
• Its floor space was smaller than that of the other buildings.
• It did not use upright stakes to form the main structure
• The hearth was smaller and less frequently used those in the other houses.
It has been suggested that this ‘ancillary’ structure may have functioned as a workshop or storage building. However, no evidence of flint or stone working was found within the building, so we continue to look for another explanation.
Could it have been a temporary building which left less trace than its neighbours? We think that the other buildings could have stood for about 20-25 years.
If you are interested in finding out more about the houses and the people who lived in them while also helping others to understand them too, you could volunteer as a Neolithic House interpreter.
You can find out more on the English Heritage website. As a Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer you will be responsible for maintaining the Neolithic houses once they are built, by lighting fires and assisting with the building maintenance. You will bring the stories of the Neolithic people to life in our external galleries and provide a warm and friendly welcome for all visitors, helping us to deliver a world class visitor experience.