BUTSER ANCIENT FARM ARCHIVE 1973-2007 Archivist Christine Shaw
Home History of the Project Research Publications Image Archive
Back to top

Iron Age Structures: Domestic and Agricultural

This was a long term programme with international equivalents.

This project has involved the building of a variety of constructs based upon specific archaeological data from excavations. The majority of above ground features are however derived from constructional principles and the implementation phase has sometimes thrown up interpretations of previously unexplained elements of the archaeological record.

Roundhouses

One of the reasons that Peter Reynolds was offered the post of Director of the newly formed Butser Ancient Farm Project was that he had already constructed roundhouses based on the archaeological evidence from specific sites while working as a teacher. He and his students built turf houses and constructs based on Glastonbury and Brieddin at various sites including Avoncroft. Pages on the constructs built at the Butser sites can be viewed here.

Other Post Structures

Post-holes are often found on excavations of Iron Age sites which do not fit into any likely pattern for a building. We cannot be absolutely certain what these structures represent. What we can do is to guess what they might have been for given our knowledge of the type of farming that was going on at that time, and the functions that would have needed to be fulfilled. We can then test these hypotheses in real life to see if in fact these structures would have worked.

A solitary post-hole in a shallow circular depression could be the foundation of a haystack. A floor, being a raised platform of wood would keep the base of the stack dry. A single central post supports the core of the stack

A pair of post-holes might have been the foundation of a drying rack for the leaf fodder collected in high summer and sun dried prior to storage. All the livestock prefer to eat dried ash and elm leaves rather than hay as a winter fodder. In addition, a pair of posts might have been used to stretch out animal skins for preparation and curing.

Rectangular arrangements of four, six and eight post-holes could have a multitude of purposes ranging from firewood stacks, timber and wood stacks to temporary pens for goats, sheep and chickens. One regular rectangular pattern of 4 and 6 post-holes occurs frequently. The post-holes are quite massive - often 0.4 metres in diameter and quite deep, though never deeper than the length of a man's arm. It is thought these four and six post structures were raised granaries. A storehouse set upon these posts allows circulation of air all round the stored grain and prevents rodent infestation. Other theories suggest they were for watch towers, the massive timbers being necessary for the height of the structure.

Working Hollows

Other major archaeological features are pits and working hollows. For example, alongside most of the houses, there is a shallow circular working hollow either empty or full of clay, soil and straw. These hollows are the natural by-product of making the daub mixture which is plastered onto the house walls. Other hollows may have been the bases of Iron Age clamp kilns. The heat from the firing caused a certain amount of fracturing in the rock under the kiln, and as the kiln was scraped out after firing, the hole got gradually deeper. When it eventually reached about 0.5 metres in depth, the kiln would have to be relocated.

Storage Pits

More important pits, cylindrical or flask-shaped and up to 2 metres in depth, are thought to have been underground grain storage units. Research carried out at the Ancient Farm for over twenty years has shown that seed and food grain can be perfectly stored in such pits.