28th January 2013: Experimental Archaeology: Neolithic House Construction (Stage 1)

I joined a team of around 20 volunteers at the Ancient Technology Centre to gather materials that will eventually be used in the construction of three Neolithic Houses, based on excavations of house plans at Durrington Walls. This was the first part of a project awarded English Heritage, to build a prototype at Old Sarum (March) and the final reconstructions will be built outside the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre (October).

  • Stage 1 - Preparing hazel for wattling, making rope withies for securing roof and stakes, gathering materials
  • Stage 2 - Setting out stakes, hazel wattling, preparing chalk cob, cob wall construction
  • Stage 3 - Thatching, laying chalk floor, helping to make furniture and dressing house

I was commissioned by Ancient Technology Centre to create a number of axe's, sickles and other ancient flint tools to use during the coppicing (a traditional method of woodland management) stage, as part of an experiment to see how it may have been accomplished during Neolithic times.

This was a great opportunity, not only to work on such an exciting and high profile English Heritage project, but also to see how my flint tools would work in action. I was hoping to learn, through experimentation, ways to improve the manufacture of each flint tool and also to practice different techniques with their use.

The plan was to harvest hazel rods from the stools (the base of a coppiced) in the coup (the area of Garston Woods near Sixpenny Handley, Dorset that is being felled). Hazel (Corylus) is a small tree and if managed (through coppicing) it has multiple stems. A single, maiden tree that has not been coppiced (a standard) can live for about 60 years, but coppiced can live up to 500 years. The rods that we cut with both ancient flint and modern steel tools were then sorted into larger and smaller diameters, before being tied into bundles ready for transportation to Old Sarum.  

The first clip (left video) is of me using an authentic neolithic axe, hafted in wooden handle. It took about 1 hour overall (with about 40 mins of actually chopping) to fell this tree. The second clip (right video) is of me using one of my flint (billhook) tools to coppice some of the hazel rods. The image below is of me using one of my flint axes to chop hazel rods.

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