Stonehenge - neolithic houses: 2014

Neolithic Houses in use .....

In early 2013 work began on harvesting hazel rods to build three experimental "neolithic dwellings" at Old Sarum Salisbury.

The success of that project led on to the construction of five permanent neolithic houses at the new English Heritage Stonehenge Visitor Centre in spring 2014.

December 2014: Welcoming fires: - stay warm during the winter!

The five houses have been open to the public since June 2014 and this page describes how we are using the houses and some of the reactions we get from visitors.


2015

The report continues on the Stonehenge - Neolithic Houses: 2015 page


2014


December 2014

Neolithic Houses - new soak away
December notes

On the 5th December we undertook a successful "maintenace day". This included clearing out the store hut, chalk daub repairs, drain channel repairs and a new soakaway.

All the burrows into the houses were filled in since good progress had been made with vermin control.

Unfortunately four new burrows into house 2 appeared within a week of the maintenace.

Several wet cold days and limited daylight meant that visitor numbers were down on recent weeks. However we now lighting fires regularly - the houses look better for it and it helps deter the vermin.

Within 15 minutes of lighting a fire in house 2 a small mouse could be seen scampering down the rafters and on his way out - so ot works!. The ridge on house 3 was replaced in December.


November 2014

This is how the smoke gets out!
November notes
As you can see from the above picture - is the answer to the ever popular question: "how does the smoke get out". This was a cold damp day and Alby had just put some new wood on the fire - it is not usually so visible.

We have had several issues to deal with this month: flooding and wildlife:
A wet period left a lot of standing water, the water runs off the thatch well but then runs across the compressed bare earth and pools up in depressions.
House 1 was badly affected with water covering part of the floor - so a few more drainage channels have been dug.

The widlife problem has now extended from swallows, mice and other rodents. The houses were closed in late November to allow the vermin control team to deal with the pests.


October 2014

Hearth fire : Neolithic Houses, Stonehenge
October notes
Lots of school parties this month - including a very lively bunch from London.

With the schoolchildren there are new questions: "where did they go to the toilet" - and then he answered his own question (quite well).

We also now have fires on a regular basis - as you can see from the photo above of Carin in House 2.

I also had another couple who I knew from working at Ordnance Survey: Marjorie Jones and her husband (who still works there).


September 2014

Stonehenge Visitor Centre - Neolithic Houses
September notes
A quiet start on a Monday [8th] allows time to tidy up. Includes shovelling the stones (ie chunks of rock) out of house 1 that have walked in during the previous week. It is now September and the type of visitor has changed again - the coach trips bring in the usual cross section of overseas visitors but with schools back learning - the age profile has increased significantly from home and overseas. This means that the visitors often stay longer, have prior knowledge and ask interesting questions.

Of course there had been an important visitor to the stones just a few days earlier with President Obama making a flying visit on his way back from the NATO conference in Wales. I have to confess that the first I knew about it was when a US visitor mentioned it late morning on the Monday [in mitigation I was away walking the coast 5-7 Sept!]

Just as importantly I had my first visitor who I knew - Danny Hyam from Ordnance Survey. A super guy and talented as well.

The groundsmen have cut the grass on the site and it is starting to look less like a building site now and more mature - though we are sill waiting for the land around the houses to be "improved".


August 2014

Neolithic House 1 - doorway
August notes
August was slightly cooler than usual and the bank holiday was a washout - but Stonehenge was busy on the two days I was there. This was strong interest from overseas visitors (worldwide) with some interest in the construction and others more interested in the use of the houses.

Being the school holidays there were more children than earlier in the summer. I continue to be amazed at just how knowledgeable and confident youngsters of junior school age are. We were showing and discussing flint tools and one big knew about the different kinds of flint and lived near some flint mines in Norfolk (Grimes Graves). He was also well aware of the use of nettle in making garments like the tunic that is on show on a couple of the houses.

I regret to report that there was a break-in to house 2 over the weekend early in the month with about 12 items stolen - including a bronze axe - sad.

There are some ongoing maintenance issues with the temporary stone paths still causing damage to the floor in house 1. The door frame of house 2 has had to be removed (which means the house is no longer dressed for the duration.) Hopefully this will be resolved soon [and was!]


July 2014

Neolithic House No 2 - Stonehenge
July notes
The house snow have locks - but we have lodgers in house 2! ..... and they seem to be doing well - there are three young swallows looking down on us from their lofty nest inside the house.

The two days [Mondays]14th & 28th involved tidying the stones out of the houses and sweeping them out before the mid morning when the constant stream of visitors start. The dressed houses ie those with replica artefacts in them will have someone in all them time. People tend to looks the items in these houses and spend more time looking at the building itself where the house is not dressed.


June 2014

Stonehenge Visitor Centre, Neolithic Houses
June notes
This month I swapped my overalls for a Stonehenge guide uniform. My first day on site since the building phase was 9th June and this was was the second week the houses had been open to the public. I selected two days which had no volunteer bookings so that we could ensure the houses are open.

The days goes by in peaks and troughs; some people come to the houses have a quick look and go while others stop and take it all in. The most common reaction is surprise at the size and airy nature of the house - even at 23+degrees outside it is quite cool in the house. People also have plenty of questions but by far the most common question is: "where does the smoke go?"

However the most surprising event of the day was a youngster, who came in with her parents and she just started grinding wheat like she had done it all her life. (Her parents assured me they don't grind their own at home.)

There is some interest in the building materials used and often from non-UK based visitors - we need a crib card with "hazel", "chalk", "wheat straw" etc in several languages.

The site was swamped in scarlet poppies all of June and well into July.


The Buildings

The five buidlings have been built adjacent to the new English Heritage Stonehenge Visitor Centre as part of the "outdoor gallery" an extension of the new (and very good) internal gallery and information area. The aim is that visitors will be able to inspect and enter these dwellings to better appreciate the accommodation of people who visited and worked in the Stonehenge area - around 4,500 years ago.

By the start of June 2014 two houses were fully accessible - while two more required extra time to dry out the chalk floors. All four are now open, the fifth is a storage hut. The western pair, ie nearest the visitor centre, are based on type "851" and the eastern pair are based on type "547" - with reference to the 2013 pilot houses at Old Sarum.

There are many volunteers at Stonehenge and some of us are dedicated to supporting the houses as "interpreters". The aim is to help people understand more about the houses and how people may have lived and built them.

Entry to the houses is essential to appreciate the living conditions 4,500 years ago - we intend to have lit fires and also undertake educational sessions eg cooking bread & hazel fence weaving. Visitors can still enter the houses if no interpreter is present but can only go so far to the barrier in each of the two houses.

The main English Heritage contacts for the houses are: Anneka Harris and Sue Greaney.


Location

Stonehenge
Nr Shrewton
Wiltshire
SP3 4DX


Period

Start: 02 June 2014
End: Ongoing


References & Links:

Date Title
20140215 English Heritage - Stonehenge
20140215 Stonehenge on twitter
20140228 Stonehenge Neolithic Houses - blog
20140215 Ancient Technology Centre
20140610 The Guardian

Updated KJM 15 May 2015
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