Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Neolithic Briton Vacation Spots: Finds at Stonehenge

The Times Online is reporting a recent discovery around the Stonehenge monument. They have found at least 25 clay floors from the Neolithic period, which are 14 ft. by 14 ft, have a central hearth, fencing posts, and indents from box beds and a dresser. They also found extremely large amounts of trash within the site, such as charred animal bones and broken pots, which show that either it was a temporary dwelling, or the inhabitants lived in very poor health conditions. Due to the lack of bread-making evidence (mill stones, grain kernels, etc.) it would suggest that these structures were temporary dwellings, and not permanent homes.

The really interesting thing is the evidence of half-eaten food, namely from the remains of the animal bones. This suggests that the location was used during a feast, as such waste wouldn't be seen when food is less available. The commonly held belief is that these feasts were held during the winter and summer solstice, relating to the orientation of the stones and posts found around Stonehenge. But it's also believed that there were funeral feasts that were common, or basically really big wakes. That argument is better left to the experts, as my focus on ancient history came about a thousand years later, during the Iron Age.

So why am I bringing up this find? Because of the construction of the house. They had clay floors, with wattle and daub houses. For those that are not familiar with wattle and daub construction, it is using cob (see my post yesterday), and a wooden frame to build the houses. Cob walls tend to be very thick, while wattle and daub walls can be 5 inches thick, because of the wooden support system in the framework. Most likely they were thicker, around 10 inches thick or so to allow for better insulation. But, because the house was so small, it makes sense that even that requirement wouldn't be necessary with a roaring fire.

The fun is thinking of the construction, and how long it has lasted. Sure, the walls have been gone for centuries, but the clay floor has remained. Clay floors are not as durty as they might sound. Think of them as ceramic tiled flooring, but with more give. If you dropped a dish on a clay floor, it's more likely that it would survive than if you drop it on a ceramic tiled floor. They can also be well sealed by applying boiled linseed oil, or other oils. This reduces absorption within the clay, and allows for easy cleanup. That being said, it sounds like the floors may not have been that well treated, as the dwellings were not meant for permanent residence.

So, in my view, these dwellings were locations for the feasting part only (as people in that period were nomadic), and as such, it was a sort of vacation spot. They were probably motel rooms, or cabins, that were built just for coming to the spot. As such, it brings us a little closer to understanding how similar we still are to our Neolithic ancestors.

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