Construction Update

All of our houses are nearing completion, some are almost finished!

House 1 – we have laid the floor and made the hearth, also the furniture has been fitted and fires have been lit to test the smoke levels.

The freshly laid floor in House 1.

The freshly laid floor in House 1.

Houses 1 and 3 almost finished.

Houses 1 and 3 almost finished.

House 3 – we have finished thatching the roof, putting a straw cap compared to the rush on House 1. The floor has been laid and a hearth created along with all of the plank built furniture installed. Fires have also been lit to check smoke levels. This building has a completely different feel to House 1.

Interior of House 3.

Interior of House 3.

House 5 – this is the smallest building of the five, the evidence for which shows no stakeholes around the floor. Our rationale for building this structure is explained below. This House has been thatched in the same style as House 3 and we have also added a doorway made from woven hazel and which has then been daubed.

House 5 thatched with the wattle and daub doorway.

House 5 thatched with the wattle and daub doorway.

We are continuing with House 4, the daub has been completed and we are very close to finishing the thatching.

The thatch is nearly finished.

The thatch is nearly finished.

House 2 is currently being daubed and the roof is being thatched at the same time. The thatch is being ‘dressed’ back to look more like a you would expect a thatched building to look like.

A more traditional style of thatch on House 2.

A more traditional style of thatch on House 2.

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Your chance to get involved with the Neolithic Houses

'Dougal' : finished house no.1

‘Dougal’ : finished house no.1

You will have been reading for months about the amazing experiences that the wonderful team of volunteers have been having building the Neolithic Houses.

neolithic dresser

It is now your chance to get involved as we are looking for friendly, welcoming and enthusiastic volunteers to help visitors to Stonehenge understand and experience the Neolithic houses.

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As an Interpretation Volunteer you will be responsible for maintaining the houses, lighting fires, explaining the replica objects and assisting with the building maintenance. You will be bringing the stories of the Neolithic people to life and providing a warm and friendly welcome for all visitors.

James 4

There are a variety of tasks you can get involved with and the role is flexible, so whatever your skills, knowledge or experience there is something for everyone.

House 5 thatched with the wattle and daub doorway.

Ideally, we would like you to commit to a minimum of one four hour shift per week, in either the morning or afternoon. However, we are flexible and can accommodate other requests.

neo fire

The role would suit people who are friendly and welcoming, flexible and keen to learn, excellent communicators, keen to share their passion for Stonehenge and interested in new learning opportunities and gaining new skills and experiences.

Houses 1 and 3 almost finished.

Houses 1 and 3 almost finished.

What our Neolithic Houses builders say about volunteering: 

“DO IT!  You meet such a diverse group of interesting people, both other volunteers and visitors, and  learn more about the extensive history of the area.” Rob

Volunteering is great fun and gives you chances in life that you would otherwise never experience.” Rosemary and Nick

“Try it! If you …would like the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting people on this planet. I have spoken to people from all around the world and from all walks of life and they all have a different story to tell but they all have one thing in common – a need to visit  Stonehenge and experience  a unique part of British history. The houses  will bring Neolithic  history to life and give a more sensory experience to all and you will make life long friends to boot.” Wendy

“Volunteering at Stonehenge is very rewarding especially when working with groups of children who always respond with enthusiasm.Kathy

“I was very nervous before we started the prototype build at Old Sarum. I hadn’t done any building work before and I was worried that I would be slow and hopeless. I also worried that I wouldn’t be able to manage being outside in the cold all day. I didn’t need to worry – I have been taught the skills I need on the way and I found I loved being outside all day. It has been a fabulous experience.” Alyson

There is much more information on the English Heritage website about volunteering at Stonehenge. 

 

Meet the Neolithic House Builders: Rosemary and Nick Davis

What made you want to get involved with the Neolithic Houses project?

We first noticed the advert asking for volunteers in the English Heritage magazine. We so enjoyed our time building the prototypes at Old Sarum that we were very eager to be core members for the build at Stonehenge. Luckily our hopes were realised.

What are you enjoying about the project so far?

Everything! The outdoor physical work – even in the rain (if its not too heavy). The camaraderie. The problem solving. The satisfaction when phases are completed. Learning many and various new skills under the expert and kindly tutelage of Luke and Paul from the Ancient Technology Centre.

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Is there any part of the project that you’re particularly looking forward to or that you are particularly interested in?

Just at the moment –  the end!  It always seems to be slipping further away from us all. Though I know for certain, as soon as it does finish we shall all feel very bereft. Anyone want a small Neolithic House built in their garden?!

In what ways has being involved in this project made you think differently about the people of Stonehenge and their lives? 

We often have discussions about this whilst working away or sipping our coffee at break time. Mostly its an appreciation of the close team work that would have been essential. The realisation of the skills developed whilst using their available resources. Also wondering who and how they found the materials and their uses. Coppiced hazel, who found such a hazel which naturally grows as a small tree? The pliability of hazel and willow, both can be flexed to create a rope like material.

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What do you do when you’re not building Neolithic Houses?

We are travelling around the UK in our motorhome. We discovered we liked it so much and found it all so interesting that we’ve not been home for three and half years now! Nick is a superb photographer (it’s his photos that have been used on this blog) and I keep the diary.

What would you say to people who are tempted to volunteer at Stonehenge?

Volunteering is great fun and gives you chances in life that you would otherwise never experience. Image

 

Thank you so much Nick and Rosemary!

Additional Volunteering Opportunities

If you are interested in becoming a Stonehenge Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer, you can find out more on the English Heritage website. In this role, you will be responsible for maintaining the houses, lighting fires and bringing the stories of the Neolithic people who originally lived in them to life for all our visitors.

 

 

Reflections on Learning through the Neolithic Houses by volunteer builder Nick Jones

In this blog post, Nick Jones one of the volunteers involved in the Neolithic House build project tells us how being involved has stimulated his thinking about how Neolithic people may have lived from day to day, and how he thinks they may have managed their environment.

What do you think the lives of these original builders may have been like?

I think that they would have worked up healthy appetites dragging stones and digging henges, but they were apparently not subsistence farmers. The archaeological evidence suggests that they feasted well and travelled great distances. They built houses, but they were not simple builders.

They may have lived in fear of wild animals, but we know they were not naked, homeless, or hungry savages. They were modern humans who carried out one of the most extraordinary feats of engineering in the world. 

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What level of effort and organisation do you think was required? 

Our experiments suggest that each house takes about 1,000 hours to build, using about 1,000 rods of Hazel, an acre or two of wheat straw, and nearly two tons of chalk daub. Gathering and preparing these materials required planning. Supplies of daub are not a problem, but supplies of thatching straw are governed by annual harvests, and supplies of wattle are governed by seven-year cycles of woodland management.

As the proverb says, “If you are thinking one year ahead, plant a seed. If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree. If you are thinking one hundred years ahead, educate the people.”

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And from a social or cultural point of view?

I believe there must have been a highly educated elite that conceived Stonehenge, but house-building was more likely a ‘cultural institution’ – something everyone knew how to do, and everyone, young or old, took part in – an early form of ‘building society’. Such a common task would also have embodied social ‘bonding power’, although not on the scale of henge-building.

Some aspects of the house-building process may have been more important than others (eg thatching the roof) and some would have required more strength than others (eg driving stakes into the ground). It seems likely that these special craft skills may have been recognised and rewarded, and that this may have also applied to the processes of acquiring materials.

Specialists in woodland management would have been needed, perhaps living on the job, in the woods, protecting the coppice from deer etc and extending the area of productive woodland. Perhaps they prepared bundles of rods for nearby settlements, and traded them for food or clothing?

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So how much do you know about these Neolithic people and Stonehenge now?

In trying to make sense of all this, two things sprang to my mind. The first was an English Heritage jigsaw of Stonehenge we bought for Audrey Grundy, who was recovering from an operation. Having completed the 1,000 piece puzzle, she told me, “Putting the pieces of the stones together was much easier than the background.”

A useful metaphor, I thought, but then I realised that the prospect of ever completing the whole Stonehenge ‘jigsaw’ is just an illusion. I remembered Einstein: “The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.”  Thanks to the Neolithic houses project, I now realise how much I don’t know about far more than I did before, if you see what I mean!

Which part of the project has taught you the most? 

Learning springs from many directions: the practical house-building activities and skills, the insights these offer and the questions they raise; the knowledge, experiences, expertise and stories of other team members; and the countless questions asked over the fence by visitors.

English Heritage staff have also stimulated my thinking, notably Senior Properties Historian, Susan Greaney, and archaeo-astronomer, Simon Banton. I am now wrestling with Ancestral Geographies of the Neolithic, Landscapes, monuments and memory (1) and Chalkland, an archaeology of Stonehenge and its region (2). Thanks, guys!

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What has been the best learning element of the experience for you?

Perhaps the most poignant and pleasurable learning experience was coppicing, which lies at the very heart of Neolithic house-building.  Kneeling by a Hazel stool, cutting out rods, the sound of nearby conversation, bundles being dragged through the woodland, a whiff of wood-smoke from the fire, and Coco the Spaniel demanding another thrown stick – it all seemed timeless. It was as if I had stepped back 5,000 years.  

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Refs:

1 Ancestral Geographies of the Neolithic, Landscapes, monuments and memory, by Mark Edmonds, Routledge, 1999.

2 Chalkland, an archaeology of Stonehenge and its region, by Andrew J Lawson, Hobnob Press, 2007

 

Thanks so much Nick. If you are planning to visit Stonehenge in these the last few weeks of the Neolithic house build you may be lucky enough to catch Nick or one of the other volunteers who will be very happy to tell you more about the techniques they’ve been using to build the houses and what else they’ve learnt along the way.  

Additional Volunteering Opportunities

If you are interested in becoming a Stonehenge Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer, you can find out more on the English Heritage website. In this role, you will be responsible for maintaining the houses, lighting fires and bringing the stories of the Neolithic people who originally lived in them to life for all our visitors.

Kitting out the Neolithic Houses: knapping the axes

Here, one of our talented replica makers James Dilley, of Ancient Craft, explains how he has made the flint axes for the houses.

The replica axes for the Neolithic houses had to manufactured by a technique known as “flintknapping” which is made up of the name of the material (flint) and the Germanic word – “knopp” which means to strike, shape or work. The flint itself is around 100 million years old and is extracted in Suffolk in a sand and gravel quarry (hence the orange/yellow cortex or skin). This kind of flint is very glassy and dark in colour which means the finished axes generally have a pleasing appearance. You may have spotted the safety glasses I am wearing; these prevent the sharp flakes damaging my eyes. It is very rare they fly upwards but they are always worth wearing for flintknapping.

James 1

My knapping tools consist of beach pebbles, some very hard to take large, thick flakes off while others a slightly softer so that the flakes are thinner and more controlled. I also use a rough sandstone pebble to dull the razor sharp edges before striking them. This means the edge will not shatter when I hit it but will instead allow the energy from the strike to continue into the flint. I have to strike around the edges to take flakes off and constantly survey my options and angles around the flint as I work to try and make use of every opportunity to take off a good flake. Sometimes there are natural cracks or fossils in the flint that hinder my flaking as they cause a stop in energy or alter the energy’s path.

As I continue to work around the nodule, it starts to take shape as the cortex disappears. This stage is considered the “roughout” stage. Neolithic mining and extraction sites would have produced roughouts from raw nodules before transporting them around the UK for final flaking and polishing. As the roughout gets smaller with each flake I will consider down grading my hammer stone to a smaller size for greater precision and control, the main requirement for good knapping is strike accuracy.

James 2

At this stage before the final shaping I can decide the form and shape of the axe head so that I can create a strategy to follow. The roughout is also fairly thin at this stage so I need to be extra careful not to strike it too hard and break it. Archaeologists have found many broken axes which have been damaged during manufacture or use leaving distinctive break marks.

James 3

Here is the finished axe head. Next it could be polished but this one will remain flaked, the next thing it will need is a handle or haft.

James 4

 

 

 

Gallery part 5

 

 

The fifth Neolithic building

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.

5th house

 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.

house 848
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.

house 848 mpp

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.