Archaeologists don’t know a lot about daily life in the Neolithic period because hardly any evidence has survived. We know much more about death in the Neolithic period because we have found and excavated many great stone ritual monuments – like the passage grave here at La Hougue Bie. This unique project will help us learn more about the daily lives of our Neolithic ancestors and will help school children and visitors to see and feel what life was like nearly 6,000 years ago. The people building the longhouse are volunteers, working with Luke Winter from the company Historic Concepts Ltd. Work started on the building in October 2016 and will take about 3 years to complete.
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Under the expert guidance of ancient technology expert Luke Winter, the house is being built by an enthusiastic team ofvolunteers using only hand tools and traditional methods. When the house is finished some of the volunteers will continue to make sure the house is looked after and show visitors how it was built. The house is being built solely using hand tools and traditional methods. There is no architects plan for this house! A lot of the project will be experimental. No above-ground evidence exists so we have to be flexible in our approach. Our interpretation of the archaeology will probably change and evolve as the building progresses.
Local schools and students will play an important role too. There will be opportunities to get involved with many elements of construction and the creation of interior features that involve hide tanning, daubing and making rope, rush mattresses and pottery. Once the house is built, schoolchildren will be able to learn about and experience life in the Neolithic.
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The Neolithic which started around 5,000 BC, is an important period when hunter-gatherers began to settle in one place. It was a time of great change and technological advances. Jersey was an island then and these first farmers arrived by boat bringing seeds and domesticated animals. The people who built the great passage grave here at La Hougue Bie would have lived in a house like the one we are building - sometimes grouped in a village.
This longhouse is based on evidence of the very first Neolithic houses ever built in Europe. They are called Danubian, as they were first excavated in the Danube Basin. Recent Neolithic discoveries in Germany and Switzerland have shown the complexity and high standards of Neolithic carpentry and building techniques.
We haven’t yet found any evidence of Neolithic buildings in Jersey – but we know they must be here! The closest evidence is from recent discoveries in Kervouric in Brittany, France. Excavated remains reveal only the footprint of these buildings so we know they were long and narrow in plan, orientated north west to south east, with a door in south wall. Rows of three posts supported a wooden frame which held up the roof. Scorch marks show where hearths were and burnt remains of wattle and daub give us clues to what the walls were made from. Wattle is long wooden strips woven together and then covered with daub which is a sticky material made from clay, sand, straw and animal dung.
What will it look like?
The longhouse will be a thatched timber frame structure 18m long, 4.5m wide and 4.6m high. The main posts are buried in the ground to a depth of 60cm. The timber frame is based on three aisles of vertical earthbound posts. All the long timbers are jointed with plain scarf joints lashed together, and supported on top of vertical posts using cup and tenon joints to prevent sideways movement. The wall between the posts will be of wattle and daub.
The layout of Neolithic houses had to be flexible enough to meet the needs of a family group and community, to store crops and shelter livestock in the winter. Archaeological
evidence suggests that a house was divided into three bays, each with a different function.
Bay 1 - at the east end may have been of ceremonial importance, a meeting room or place for ritual behaviour. It also had the main door(s) of the building, allowing natural light in.
Bay 2 - in the centre may have been the main living and cooking space as it contained a hearth.
Bay 3 - at the west end had stronger walls so we think it may have been used as a byre for keeping animals or a grain store or a combination of the two.