A House from the Stone Age for Albersdorf

Model of a residential house from the Neolithic Age (Funnel Beaker Culture, around 2500 BC) at a scale of 1:10.

Wood, reed, raffia and clay

Realised by: Markus Ruge, Hemmingstedt, Holm Stuhlmacher, Albersdorf, and Bernd Tichter, Nordhastedt

Since the dawn of the Neolithic, man has altered his environment much more drastically all over the world than during the preceding 2 million years of his existence. Only for us people of the Modern Age have the severity of manís influence on his surrounds become apparent. With man settling in communities and the steady rise in population, a transfomarion of his social organisation arose several thousand years ago.

The Stone Age house in Albersdorf gives us a vivid picture of domestic life in the Neolithic Age. It was modelled after the best-preserved finding of a house from the Funnel Beaker Culture in Northern Germany, which was excavated in the 1970s in Flögeln in the Elbe-Weser Area by the Institute for Historical Coastline Research in Lower Saxony (Niedersächsisches Landesinstitut für historische Küstenforschung). It was about 13 m long and 4,8 m wide. The house had 4 rooms, but no stable. The Funnel Beaker Culture was the first cultural group of farmers in Northern Germany.

The basic structure of the model consists of small spruce rods, which were cut at the project site of the Archaeological-Ecological Centre Albersdorf. An in the original way manufactured raffia of twigs and wall clay - a mixture of clay, straw and sand - forms the outer walls of the building. The roof is covered with reed. Little clay and wooden containers, a hand mill and rubbish ditches give some idea of the life led by its Stone Age inhabitants. As the fire is still burning, they seem to have just left the house.

Beside its authentic construction, the building also hosts a further specialty. At one side one can look into the inside of the model house. There one can see a fireplace, a ladder made of rough wooden posts and a variety of storage containers. Furthermore the scientific basis for the model becomes apparent here. Since prehistoric houses are mostly discovered and studied from the marks they leave in the ground, post holes and small "wall ditches" are shown as discolourings in a soil profile. Just like in an excavated ground plan typical structures can be seen in front of the house: the small ditch made by the dripping water from the roof and the rubbish ditch at its end. This rubbish ditch is filled with charcoal, flint and soil.

This model house will soon have a "bigger brother". A Stone Age house in original size is going to be built at the Albersdorf project site at the moment.

Around 5000 years ago, a drastic transformation took place in Northern Germany: after hundreds of thousands of years of being at the mercy of natures forces as a hunter and gatherer, man began to alter his surrounds. The influence from Southern Europe helped establish crop farming and livestock tending. Thus began mans everlasting and continuously increasing impact on his environment. This newly acquired economy was both replenishing and encapturing. It allowed man to foster a creative and productive relationship toward his environment through the caring tending of livestock and plants, but also gave him destructive power through the new intensity of his agricultural doings. The new agrarian way of life led to extensive impacts on nature and landscapes.

The development of the peasant life did not take place over night, but evolved over several thousands of years, unnoticed in its extent and impact by the people of those times. Only for us modern day people, is the meaning of this cultural shift becoming clear. With the constantly rising population and people increasingly settling in villages and towns, there was also a shift in social organisation. The economic change also led to technological innovation. A number of inventions led to the basic set of tools needed for the new peasant working culture: tools for cropping fields like harvesting knives, hoe and plough; milling and threshing devices, mortar and pestle for preparing harvested crops; ceramics for storage and cooking; ovens for baking breads, stone axes for chopping and hewing wood; wheel and carriage for transport. Thus the actual basis for the economy was established.

The houses of Flögeln date back to around 3200 BC. Archaeological discoveries and pollen analysis suggest that this period in time was a time of intense settlement in the area. At the excavation site, three clearly visible ground plans were discernible - two longhouses and one building which was scoured deeper into the ground. The longhouses measured nearly 13 m in length, were about 5 m wide and were divided into four to six rooms.

In the slightly trapezoidal house, there was a stove area in the corner of the largest room. This room most likely served as the living area. Analysing the soil phosphorous content in a tight grid of samples showed higher and lower phosphorous concentrations in different rooms, suggesting that these were used differently. This means that the house was probably used by only one and not by several families. A grave was found in the most northern room and near-by in the northeast corner of the room, there were marks from a big boulder that once stood there. This room probably served ceremonial purposes, like the worshipping of ancestors. Surely the longhouses were economic units, which were restricted to a single building. A little annex, with four posts erected in a square and a middle post, which served as a store over the ground, a so called "Rutenberg", was only found next to a house in Wittenwater in eastern Lower Saxony.

The Middle to Late Funnel Beaker Culture is the earliest neolithic culture, in the Central European periodical time measurement. A lot of findings - graves and traces of settlements from this culture - were found in Elbe-Weser triangle. Very prominent discoveries are the megalithic graves. They are numerous in the Elbe-Weser triangle and quite a few were well preserved sites were found on the by bogland sorrounded sandy "Geest-island" of Flögeln and the neighbouring "Ahlenmoor" to the North. Here, prior settlements have been covered in time by a layer of peat, several meters thick. Only due to the recent draining of the bogs, are the stone graves "growing" out of the meadows again.

Finding ground plans of these early houses is nearly impossible, as the peaty soils are naturally brown and the discolouring marks from the foundations of Stone or Bronze Age buildings often remain undiscovered. That is why the ground plans of houses from the Funnel Beaker Culture are very seldom across their whole range, which extends over Southern Scandinavia, along the whole North and Baltic Sea coasts from the eastern Netherlands to Poland.

The ground plans which were discovered in recent years in Flögeln and Osterholz-Pennigbüttel in Lower-Saxony and in Heek in Westphalia, are so comparable, that they are categorised as the "Flögeln-Type". Typical are the two naves, separated by the roof bearing wooden pillars along the longitudinal axis and the division into different rooms by transverse walls. The buildings are rectangular or have a slightly trapezoidal shape.

Rectangular and slightly trapezoidal buildings can be dated all the way through the Neolithic and back to the Mesolithic Age. Trapezoidal buildings are typical for the earlier "Rössener" culture in Southern Germany, but also houses and stone graves of the Funnel Beaker Culture and other cultures from the same time are partly rectangular, partly trapezoidal.

Only through the extensive archaeological search conducted at Flögeln-Eekhöljten in an area of ca. 11 ha, was it possible to identify a number of settlement sites from the Funnel Beaker Culture. These were spread out fairly wide. Both sites where houses stood were identified based on traces of their foundations as were sites, where only concentrations of archaeological findings suggest the locality of a former house. Since all sites could not have been in use simultaneously, we are faced with the picture of a settlement of isolated houses, which were moved regularly, probably with every generation. The main reason for this lies in the nutrient poor soils of the sandy coastal boglands. Without fertilisation, farming was only possible for a few decades in one place, so that new areas were cleared of the woods and a new house was erected in a new "farmable" area.

The described form of settlement of single "roaming" houses is not only typical for the Funnel Beaker Culture. Based on studies on the by bogland sorrounded sandy "Geest-island" of Flögeln, this form of settlement remained typical right up to the 1st Century A. D.

The basic form of the house is an 8 m x 30 m rectangular building, which can vary somewhat in size, but is relatively consistent in its proportions. The roof construction is supported by three rows of wooden pillars. The walls were built of moderately spaced, non-supporting posts. Only at the narrow end, which always faced northwest, and about one quarter of the walls leading away from it, were built of more densely spaced posts or rough boards: Thus, the "weather side", which was more exposed to wind and rain, was better protected. This construction can be determined by the excavated ground plan. Pieces of burnt clay from the house walls show marks of round posts and boards, raffia of interlacing branches and rods. This raffia probably filled the spaces between the posts. Both the lattice and wooden walls of mere posts or boards were filled in and sealed with clay. The inner and outer surface of the clay walls were smoothed and covered with chalk. Thus the first peasants lived in houses, which can hardly be classified as first, architecturally primitive efforts at house building. Even if these Stone Age "Longhouses" only had trodden clay flooring, they were large, magnificent buildings, which stood fast in any weather and offered enough comfort.

The space between the houses was covered by ditches of various shapes, sizes and depths. Some of these were surely created simply from removing the clay in the direct vicinity of the building to seal the house walling. These ditches were then further eroded and shaped by the water dripping from the roofs. With time they were filled in with rubbish or soil material, which sagged and eroded at their sides, until eventually they were level with their surroundings. These ditches hold most of the findings, which found their way there while the ditches were still in the process of gradually being filled.

Most of the large excavated settlements show a seemingly chaotic array of post footings and ditches, from which only few clear ground plans of houses can be read. Very clearly however, single ground plans of houses overlap one another. This discovery is very important, because marks of older posts can only remain if the bases of these older posts rotted away within the ground. Also the new post can only be placed if the older one was completely deteriorated. Thus, if the older one was still solid wood, the outlines of the younger and older post could not overlap. This fact is very important for clearly determining the temporal setting of both buildings. The newer house, the post of which was set later, could only be built after the posts from the older house were completely rotted. A settlement shows numerous different houses and installations, which were certainly not all built at the same time. In order to understand the temporal development of such a settlement - When was which part built? and: How long did each building last? - it is thus vitally important to unravel the jumble of posts, assign each post to a certain larger building and then determine the order in which these buildings stood in each place.


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W. Haio Zimmermann, Haus, Hof und Siedlungsstruktur auf der Geest vom Neolithikum bis in das Mittelalter. In: H.-E. Dannenberg u. H.-J. Schulze (Hgg.), Geschichte des Landes zwischen Elbe und Weser. Bd. I: Vor- und Frühgeschichte. Stade 1995, 251 ff;

W. Haio Zimmermann, Die trichtenbecherzeitlichen Häuser von Flögeln-Eekhöltjen im nördlichen Elbe-Weser-Gebiet. In: Rüdiger Kelm (Hg.), Vom Pfostenloch zum Steinzeithaus. Archäologische Forschung und Rekonstruktion jungsteinzeitlicher Haus- und Siedlungsbefunde im nordwestlichen Mitteleuropa. Heide 2000, 111-115.


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