RECONSTRUCTED IRON AGE ROUNDHOUSE
Roundhouses have been built in Britain since at least the Bronze Age, approximately 4,000 years ago. They continued to be built until the Roman Invasion and perhaps for a short time afterwards during the later Iron Age (100AD). Until recently, no complete roundhouse had ever been found but that all changed with the discovery of a round house in marsh at Must Farm in Cambridgeshire which, although having been destroyed, much of the structure and many artefacts were found where they had been abandoned. Dwellings of a round plan with distinctive post holes and a central hearth have been found all over Western Europe and particularly in low-
A lot of roundhouses used walls of wattle-
To the north east of North Duffield, there are indications of roundhouse ring ditches showing up in the crop marks in the fields. Crop marks, visible from the air, are created when structures or features, undetectable on the surface, cause crops to grow at differing heights and thereby showing up as a 3D image. Indeed, doorways facing to the East or South East, are clearly visible in the aerial photographs, together with boundaries and other, as yet, unidentified features.
In an attempt to understand the technology of building a roundhouse, our ever resourceful Secretary has made a 1/12th scale model from natural materials. It is made so that part of the roof can be taken away to reveal the inner area and construction details. He has also supplied the roundhouse with typical furniture and craft paraphernalia such as a loom and hide stretching and drying rack. It further shows the hearth, beds, cooking utensils and decorations and is completed with a live-
Detail of construction of model roundhouse
We are lucky that the Ellwood family have loaned us a piece of land upon which to build our roundhouse, very close to crop mark indications of a real Iron Age hut-
First, we had to fence the site for the reconstruction and to level it out. We then set about gathering the materials with the intention to use locally sourced materials as far as possible since that is almost certainly how the original occupants of North Duffield would have gone about it. There is no stone locally so our roundhouse was entirely organic. Some of the materials were brought to the site, mostly at little or no cost to the Society. This meant that we had a reserve of funds that could be put to other uses.
Based upon visits to Butser Iron Age Farm in Hampshire, Ryedale Museum at Hutton-
Firstly we acquired lots of sycamore for the walls, posts and wall-
Then we approached John Bramley who farms next to the Ellwood's and who grows willow for bio-
The first real construction started on 21st April 2012 when four of us dug the post pits and erected the wall posts to a diameter of 5 meters, our chosen dimensions. The work went a lot better than we expected. We also raised two longer posts for the doorway and started to joint-
Posts erected and wattle woven round them 2012
Over the next few weeks we constructed the walls by weaving the withies in between the posts. We next measured the centre of the inside of the roundhouse and then erected a tripod of purlins tied together at the top and buried in the ground at their bottom end. These were then drilled and secured withhand-
The weather hampered our attempts to harvest water reed for thatching although, we did manage to cut and transport a few sheaves or yealms. On 11 December 2012, we took a tractor and trailer to The Brick Yard at Hemmingbrough where Plasmore Ltd kindly donated four tons of clay for the daub of the walls.
John Ellwood managed to find time to collect some miscanthus from a local farmer, Richard McNeil, who is growing it for bio-
We started thatching despite snow and sub-
Finally, we had the schoolchildren from the local Primary School up to view the house and then they came up the week after to 'help' applying the mud and cow-
So that was the roundhouse built. It was fitted out with a loom, saddle quern, beehive quern, ‘ard’( scratch plough) wooden rake and wooden pitchfork, storage chests and a sideboard, wooden bowls and mugs, a bed, shaving horse(early form of vice-
We now use the roundhouse as an educational resource. The children come, accompanied by teaching staff and are walked to the site from a nearby field by myself in Iron Age costume to give them a feeling of ‘walking back in time’. As they enter the site they are put into Celtic Tribes: Parisii, Brigantes, Iceni, Corieltavi, Dobunni, Cornovii, Trinovantes and Catuvellauni(all local to this area 2000 years ago).They are then dressed in Iron Age costumes and taken into the roundhouse where the fire is burning in the hearth. They are told a few ‘House Rules’ and then split up into their tribes. They then have the chance to mill grain using saddle and beehive querns, make and cook flatbread, which they then eat with honey, weave on a loom and using sticks, card wool and spin wool using drop spindles(spindles whorls), It is then time for lunch and they go into the barn and sit on bales as they have their meal. After this they are armed with shields, helmets, spears and a sword(pipe-
Finally, they are taken back into the roundhouse where they are told stories and given weaving cards to make woollen bracelets.
The construction was ‘experimental archaeology’, so we were learning ‘on the hoof’. We found that the sisal string we used to tie the beams and ring-
A fortuitous visit of my wife and myself to Blacktoft Sands Nature Reserve for bird-
Consequently, on 3rd February, 2016, a team of volunteers from the Society plus Staff and volunteers of the RSPB, gathered and bundled a huge pile of reeds which were then transported off the reed-
We even had a blackbird take up residence and rear two sets of babies in 2017
Since completion of the roundhouse, numerous children have visited the site from North Duffield, Riccall, Carlton, and Wilberfoss Primary Schools as well as lots of individual visits by local groups and children accompanied by parents. We also made it a feature of the Celtic Festival(see later report).
A full version of this item can be found in the book : ‘North Duffield:Archaeology and the Local Community’ for sale from this website at £12.50(£15 with P & P)
Tripod erected and porch in place 2012