7th Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Mary Ellen Crothers

How warm was an Anglo-Saxon house? Testing reconstructed buildings and unravelling myths of Dark-Age discomfort: A case study at West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village.

Mary Ellen Crothers

West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village.

It has long been assumed that Anglo-Saxon Sunken Featured Buildings had pits underneath the floors of their living spaces to maintain heat within the house above, particularly at night and that the Hall buildings did not have pits beneath because they were not used as domestic spaces. Re-enactors’ experiences, perceptions and understanding of Anglo-Saxon living at West Stow vary considerably and are often based on comparisons between this and their modern-day lives.

For experimental archaeology, awareness of subjective comfort is important but objective measurement is needed to avoid making value judgements on Anglo-Saxon lifestyle. Temperature and relative humidity were measured inside the reconstructed buildings and the pits below. The fluctuations between cold/wet and hot/dry margins were evaluated against other variables such as outside temperature, domestic activities and hearths. The aim of the tests was to determine if and how activity and weather affect temperature readings within each of the buildings. The findings have shown that the pit does not play the critical role that was once held firm and alternative explanations for them must now be sought.

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