Sunday, July 01, 2007

House Beautiful

In the 1970s, Dr. Roger Agache, an archaeologist and pilot, realized that he could see the outlines of ancient buildings from his plane. He took hundreds of pictures of the Picardie region in France, plotting out where Iron Age farms and later Roman estates stood.

In this picture, which was on Wikipedia’s French site, the circular forms are Bronze Age ditches (possibly temple sites?) and the large rectangular enclosures indicate Iron Age farms.

But what did the farmhouses look like? The materials that might have decorated them are gone. We tend to imagine big, rustic places with a central firepit, a couple of benches, and lots of pots.

Our images of ancient houses are probably wrong.

It’s likely that wattle and daub or plastered walls were decorated with paint. Drapes of bright fabrics, in checks and stripes, might have been hung—either on the walls or subdividing the living spaces into private areas.

In fact, it’s possible that screens or wood walls gave residents privacy. Wood, fabric, thatch—all those things DON’T survive for thousands of years. That doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

When remains of ancient houses are found, they usually include the holes where wooden posts once stood, and the stones around the hearth. Not much else is left, especially after centuries or even millennia.

The post holes give archaeologists the dimensions of the building. Ditches and trenches give impressions of outbuildings. But nothing tells us what the place really looked like.

Here’s a BBC story about a 2,000-year-old roundhouse found in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the largest Iron Age dwelling found in that country. The place was 20 meters wide, which is about 65 feet, or 22 yards. That’s huge. Most city shops aren’t that deep, but this measurement is for the width and depth of a round house. HUGE!

Not too hard to imagine that such a large house—which must have had several hearths (the article doesn’t say) would’ve had partitions of some sort. The archaeologists assume that it was a house for the aristocrats because it was big. It might have housed whole families in different sections.

In North America, many Indian tribes lived in large longhouses, at least during the winter months. Iroquois longhouses could be up to 150 feet long (over 50 meters) and hold up to 20 families. Like the longhouses or farmhouses found in France, very little remains beyond the post holes and hearth stones. We do know that the Iroquois moved their villages, abandoning the old houses, every ten years or so because ten years in the same place drained all the local resources. Is it possible that Celtic clans moved for the same reasons?

BTW, some American tribes used wattle and daub structures too. Here’s an article about excavations in Mississippi on such houses that are 400-500 years old.

1 comment:

Rodrigo said...

Oi, achei teu blog pelo google tá bem interessante gostei desse post. Quando der dá uma passada pelo meu blog, é sobre camisetas personalizadas, mostra passo a passo como criar uma camiseta personalizada bem maneira. Até mais.