From digging to education – a volunteers story

Stonehenge_Sonia Heywood_DP149841

Sonia is one of the Interpretation Volunteers in the Neolithic Houses and here she tells us about her experience. 

I’ve been volunteering since 2006 both for the National Trust and for English Heritage, for English Heritage I mainly do education visits.

I am retired, but as busy as I ever was when working. I am a keen botanist and do plant surveys as a volunteer. I am improving my French via local classes. I enjoy walking which includes taking people for walks in the Stonehenge landscape. I am also a voluntary henge guide at Avebury.

I recently attended a training session which was all about the evidence basis for the Neolithic houses and how to show visitors the houses.

One of the most interesting things I learnt at the training session was the fact that there is so little evidence about daily life in the Neolithic – so that evidence has to be drawn from a wide range of places. It also shows how important the discoveries at Durrington Walls are. As well as being interesting, the training sessions in the Neolithic houses were great fun.

I was part of the Durrington Walls excavation so have known about the discoveries from the beginning. I have taken people to see the site, but it is only at the reconstructions that they come alive 

Thanks Sonia, what would you say to others who are thinking about volunteering? 

Go ahead, it is a great team to be part of, there’s lots of training and support. You can fit the volunteering round other commitments. It’s really fun and you learn a lot.

If you would like to find out about becoming a volunteer at Stonehenge, please visit the English Heritage website. There are lots of different opportunities avaialable – from running school visits, interpreting the houses and working in the exhibitions.


Neolithic knee prints?

neolithic dresser

It is very exciting when archaeological evidence allows us to reconstruct or imagine small intimate details of the lives of people who lived thousands of years ago. The hard chalk floors of the Neolithic Houses excavated at Durrington Walls shed light on some of the domestic activities of the people who lived there – the people who may have built or used Stonehenge.

neo fire

In one of the houses, just by the central hearth, two indentations were found and it has been suggested that these could be knee prints – from somebody spending long hours, day after day kneeling by the fireplace, tending the fire and cooking.

It is unlikely we will ever be able to prove or disprove this theory but reconstructing these houses has allowed us to see how the building materials work and how they settle. When the houses open in June, we will begin to observe the impact that general use and traffic will have on the chalk floors. The fires will be lit, the floors will be swept, people will be walking through, and generally interacting with the houses on a daily basis.

What do you think? Are these knee prints or just naturally occurring indentations in the hard chalk floor?

knee prints 1knee prints 2

Thanks very much to Kate Welham of Bournemouth University and the Riverside Project for letting us use these two images of the floor of House 851 – which show the ‘knee-shaped’ indentations to the left of the circular hearth. Also visible are the beam-slot indentations where wooden furniture once stood around the edge of the floor.

nick jones twitter image finished

photo by volunteer house builder Nick Jones

There are still opportunities to get involved with the Neolithic Houses – we are recruiting for interpretation and education volunteers! Click here to find out more 

Kitting out the Neolithic Houses: Making cordage from Deer Sinew

We are in the process of commissioning lots of replica objects to go into the Neolithic Houses.  These objects include pottery, clothing, wooden artefacts and also flint tools.

We have enlisted the help of a number of specialists, each making their own particular types of replica objects.

Sally Pointer is making a number of items, specifically cordage and clothing and has managed to find a bit of time, when not scouring the countryside for quern stones and antlers for picks, to share some of her expertise here in a guest blog post. 

The new Neolithic houses and their contents at Stonehenge make use of a wide range of cords, fibres and bindings. One type of cordage that was widely used in prehistory is animal sinew, and today I’ve been making thin cord from deer sinew.

The sinew is the tendon that is found in the lower leg of the deer, and when dried, it looks rather like a stick, very tough and solid.


Before it can be used, it needs to be gently pounded with a rounded rock against a piece of wood until the tough surface begins to break down. Here you can see the end of starting to turn pale and get larger as the fibres soften.


After a few minutes steady pounding, the fibres split into a fluffy mass of strands. At this point they can be peeled off and separated into thin sections.


Now it’s just a case of twisting them into a cord. Here I’m making a simple two ply cord that is very strong and useful for binding tool heads, sewing heavy garments or shoes, or making nets and snares.


I’ll also be making cordage from nettles, flax, hemp and tree bast including the inner bark from willow. Each fibre source has different strengths and our Neolithic ancestors were very skilled at using the materials available to them.


If you’re interested in historic and prehistoric materials and artefacts, we recommend having a look at Sally’s website

Image@neolithichouses is on twitter and we’d love to answer any questions you have about the build or the replica objects going into the houses.