9th Experimental Archaeology Conference abstract – Freeman and Watts

Understanding Iron Age construction techniques through the reconstruction of ‘Great’ roundhouses

David Freeman and Ryan Watts

Butser Ancient Farm

The ‘Great’ roundhouses of the Wessex Culture are a short-lived phenomenon found only  during the middle Iron Age in Britain. These large structures are fine examples of the building abilities and technologies used by Iron Age people. It is because of this demonstration of skill  that Butser Ancient Farm, Hampshire, England, has always had a reconstruction of a ‘Great’  roundhouse on site.

The Balksbury round house built in 1972 was Peter Reynolds’ and Butser Ancient Farm’s first attempt at building one of these ‘Great’ roundhouses and was the corner stone for the first generation of roundhouse that set the standard for the methodology of round house constructions around the country. Since the construction of the Balksbury, Butser Ancient Farm has developed their methods of constructing ‘Great’ round houses through observation and recording of their life and death. This includes the complete methodical dismantlement of the reconstruction of the Longbridge Deverill round house which demonstrated the pros and cons of the building methods and allowed the evolution of the first generation of roundhouse reconstructions to a new second generation style roundhouse. This has included changing the type of joints used, the pitch of the roof, the placement of force and even a new way of  thatching. The skills and methods developed on the construction of the ‘Great’ round houses can and have been applied to the smaller buildings found at Butser Ancient Farm.

Through long term experiments and observations over 42 years on the life and death of some of the largest buildings in Iron Age Britain, Butser Ancient Farm has developed our understanding of the construction methods and techniques of Iron Age man.

Jamerson, J. and Altamira, R. (2004). The Reconstructed Past. London: Google.

Reynolds, P. 1975: ‘The Butser Ancient Farm Project’; Bulletin of the Birmingham Archaeological Society 13, 36-38

Reynolds, P. (1967). ‘Reconstruction of an Iron Age Hut’; Evsham Hist. Soc Res. Papers, 5-10



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