Galleries

Prehistory - Domestic & Agricultural

Click to a larger version of Thor’s Cave, Staffordshire (National Trust): photo © Mick Sharp

Thor’s Cave, Staffordshire (National Trust): photo © Mick Sharp

The main chamber and side passage of Thor’s Cave inside a jagged tooth of rock overlooking the River Manifold. Used by hunters towards the end of the Old Stone Age (Later Upper Palaeolithic), it was occupied again in the Late Iron Age and Roman periods.

Click to a larger version of Prestatyn, Denbighshire: photo © Jean Williamson

Prestatyn, Denbighshire: photo © Jean Williamson

This wide, fertile plain was home and hunting ground to Mesolithic people around 10,000 years ago. They occupied seasonal camping sites and lived by strand-looping and hunter-gathering. As the post-Glacial climate improved the sea rose to cover much of the flats.

Click to a larger version of Skara Brae Neolithic Village, Orkney Mainland (Historic Scotland): photo © Jean Williamson

Skara Brae Neolithic Village, Orkney Mainland (Historic Scotland): photo © Jean Williamson

These squarish houses, linked by narrow passages and embedded in an insulating midden, were home to a community of around 50 people. In use for 600 years from 3100BC, occupation came to an end when a violent storm in the Bay of Skaill overwhelmed the snug dwellings and filled them with sand.

Click to a larger version of Skara Brae Neolithic Village, Orkney Mainland (Historic Scotland): photo © Mick Sharp

Skara Brae Neolithic Village, Orkney Mainland (Historic Scotland): photo © Mick Sharp

The neat, drystone-walled houses were furnished with flagstone dressers and box beds, keeping places, tanks for water and fish, covered drains and a central hearth.

Click to a larger version of Liddle Burnt Mound, South Ronaldsay, Orkney: photo © Mick Sharp

Liddle Burnt Mound, South Ronaldsay, Orkney: photo © Mick Sharp

A mound of burnt stones 2m (6.5ft) high accumulated around this Bronze Age (c 1000BC) structure with flagged floor, slab-formed compartments, hearth, watertight trough and drain. Stones were heated using peat and placed in the trough as bake stones or to heat water for cooking. Water could also have been sprinkled on to the hot stones to create steam as in a sauna or Native American sweat lodge.

Click to a larger version of East Moor Field System, Cornwall: photo © Mick Sharp

East Moor Field System, Cornwall: photo © Mick Sharp

The remains of Bronze Age field walls and round huts cover the moors of Devon and Cornwall. On East Moor remnant stones map out the rectangular fields, and two gateposts remain standing: the gap of 3ft 6” (1.07m) was probably closed with a simple hurdle gate.

Click to a larger version of North End Hut Circle, Lundy Island (National Trust/Landmark Trust): photo © Mick Sharp

North End Hut Circle, Lundy Island (National Trust/Landmark Trust): photo © Mick Sharp

The hut circle, with its rubble walls and stone entrance jambs, stands out boldly from the surrounding turf and heather. Inhabited seasonally, it is part of an extensive Later Bronze Age settlement spread out across the North End of the island. Its occupants used the walled fields to control summer grazing, and they caught fish and exploited seabirds for their meat, eggs and feathers.

Click to a larger version of Milton Loch Crannog, Dumfries and Galloway: photo © Mick Sharp

Milton Loch Crannog, Dumfries and Galloway: photo © Mick Sharp

From the Bronze Age through to post-Medieval times people were using islets - natural, improved and artificial - for secure living, and to enable farming of both land and lakes. Constructed using timber piles, beams and planks, brushwood, stones and earth, and refurbished several times over 700 years, this Iron Age example supported a round house with canoe-dock and causeway to the shore.

Click to a larger version of Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire: photo © Mick Sharp

Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire: photo © Mick Sharp

The Great Roundhouse reconstruction is based on the ground plans of excavated Iron Age houses with post holes at the entrance suggesting a porch. A framework of poles, held up by the wall and a ring beam on posts, supports the thatch roof which has a steep pitch to throw off the rain and snow. The walls are made of wattle and daub, or cob, and the interior is remarkably roomy and comfortable. A central fire provides light and heat, and not so comfortable smoke which percolates through the thatch and helps to preserve it.

Click to a larger version of Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire: photo © Jean Williamson

Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire: photo © Jean Williamson

Architectural, technological and agricultural reconstructions and experiments are undertaken at Butser, including the growing of ancient forms of wheat and other Iron Age dye plants and crops: Celtic beans and Emmer wheat (Triticum diococcum) are seen here planted in alternating rows.

Click to a larger version of Threlkeld Knotts Iron Age Settlement, Cumbria: photo © Jean Williamso

Threlkeld Knotts Iron Age Settlement, Cumbria: photo © Jean Williamso

This sloping moorland above St John’s in the Vale still bears the field walls, enclosures, hut circles and animal pens of a late Iron Age pastoral settlement. On excavation, the central round house was found to have a diameter of 6m with a stone wall-base 1.5m thick. Amongst the traces of ‘Celtic’ fields nearby are at least 30 cairns 6-7.5m across. These could be the bases of funeral pyres, or clearance piles containing traces of charcoal from vegetation burning. The view NW includes Skiddaw centre, rear.

Click to a larger version of Laid Souterrain, Sutherland: photo © Mick Sharp

Laid Souterrain, Sutherland: photo © Mick Sharp

Found in Scotland in association with Iron Age sites such as brochs, duns, hillforts and hut circles, earth-houses or souterrains are underground passages and chambers with drystone walls and stone-slab roofs. Known as fogous in Cornwall, they were built below and into the thick walls of courtyard-house settlements. Domestic, defensive, ritual: root cellars, cool rooms, dairies, temporary refuges, initiation chambers or temples to chthonic deities? Many feature sudden twists, turns and drops, steep steps and projecting stones to trip and stun. Some could serve as escape tunnels, others are dead end death traps.

Follow me on: Facebook Jean Williamson.