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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Over the last two weeks there has been some amazing progress on the houses.
The progress so far.
We have completed the knotted straw thatch on House 1 complete with a rush capping on the ridge. This effectively holds down all of the knots preventing them from being lifted by the wind.
House 1 with it’s completed thatched roof.
We have also finished daubing the walls on House 3. This has had the effect of making it feel like a finished building – even though the thatch hasn’t yet reached the top!
The completed daub walls on House 3.
Both House 2 and House 4 have started to be thatched. These will be thatched in the same way as method 3 in our post about thatching here.
The thatch has been started on Houses 2 and 4.
The focus of the next few weeks will be on getting the roofs thatched on the buildings. We will be staggering the start of the thatching on each roof by one week.
Two buildings at different stages of thatching.
The latest roof to be started is House 3 which will have it’s thatch applied in a more traditional method. The bundles of thatch are sandwiched between a sway on the outside and the main roof structure on the inside. The sways are kept in place by being tied on with willow, finished with a ‘rose knot’. We have managed to complete two layers in the first week.
A second layer of thatch being added, held on by hazel sways.
A rose knot tied inside of House 3.
We have also continued with the thatching on House 1, with it progressing nicely towards the top. The inside of this roof is looking very interesting with ears of the wheat visible.
The progress on House 1.
The ears of the wheat visible on the inside of House 1.
A nice surprise this week was a stunning rainbow that appeared over the site!
A rainbow over the Houses.
We have had a very productive two weeks since our last post. We have finished weaving the roofs on three of our buildings, with all of the eaves put in and the binding weave attached. We have also made good progress with the weaving of the roof on the fourth building.
All of the main buildings are taking shape.
The thatch in the sunshine.
Thatching has begun on building 1 using the wheat straw thatch that the volunteers have spent so long knotting. We are expecting this to take a few weeks to complete.
Carefully placing the knotted thatch into the roof weave.
Houses 1 and 2 are really taking shape. We have started weaving hundreds of hazel rods through the rafters to form strong curving roof profiles. Each rafter has to be carefully controlled to ensure they curve correctly and provide the strength required to take the weight of thatch. The buildings begin to look like huge loaves of bread!
The junction between walls and roof.
Meanwhile, the epic task of knotting thousands of wheat straw bundles has begun. These knots will be squeezed between the woven fabric of the roof to provide a lightweight but weatherproof covering. The weather this week has enabled good progress by the volunteers and we seem to have missed the worst of the heavy rain!
The roof being woven.
The roof is taking shape.
This week we have made much better progress, now that some reasonable weather is here.
By the end of Monday we had completed weaving the walls on three of our buildings
The completed walls on two of the buildings.
The next task was to insert the central four pairs of rafters into the walls, these are inverted so that the tip of the rod goes into the wall weave. This allows the rafters to be bent over, creating a curve.
The rafters are inserted into the woven hazel wall.
After tying the rafters to the ridge pole we fitted more rafters to the ends of the building, bending them over to meet a cross brace that was tied to the central rafters.
The rafters are temporarily tied.
These rafters are temporarily fixed to the cross brace supporting the roof structure over the weekend. We will return on Monday to adjust and fix them permanently.
One set of end rafters in.
The progress at the end of week 3.
The start of the build is finally here and the volunteers have arrived on site raring to go. Our first job was to remove the top soil from where each building will be. The top soil is holding on to a lot of water making the site very muddy and so removing the soil will enable us to move around the buildings easier.
The topsoil removed from around where the buildings will sit.
After setting out the buildings in the same alignment as they were from the archaeological evidence we began to drive stakes in. These will form the woven hazel walls that will eventually be daubed.
The first building’s stakes go in.
The preparations for the build have begun with the transportation of all the harvested materials collected by our volunteers. Over the past week all of the hazel rods, stakes and rafters have been collected from Garston Woods and delivered to site.
Hazel waiting to be used.
The site itself is situated behind the new Stonehenge Visitors Centre and with all of the rain that has fallen in the last few months, we were concerned that it would be too wet to start. Fortunately the underlying geology is chalk and so there is a firm base into which we can drive our stakes. The site may become a bit muddy but we are hoping that it shouldn’t slow down the build. The last bits of infrastructure (portacabin, toilets, fencing etc.) are being set up and then we will be ready to go.
The area ready to be built on.
St. Edmund’s Church of England Girls’ School and Whiteparish All Saints Church of England Primary School had a lovely day taking part in the Neolithic Activities. Here are some pictures with pupils in action.
The children enjoying jumping on the hazel.
The children watching Paul blow on the embers.
Carol, an English Heritage volunteer helping to collect flour.
Bread being cook next to the fire.
Whiteparish All Saints Church of England Primary School having a great afternoon.
We would like to thank all the schools taking part this week in the different activities.
Thank you to:
• St Thomas a Becket Church of England Primary School
• Leehurst Swan
• Old Sarum Primary School
• Stonehenge School
• Osmund’s Catholic Primary School
• Wilton Primary Campus
• Downton Primary School
• St. Edmund’s Church of England Girls’ School
• Whiteparish All Saints Church of England Primary School
Also thank you to all the Ancient Technology Centre staff and volunteers in leading the sessions over the past 3 months.