Story and photos by Diane Slawych
They didn’t have home warranties, the MLS system or real estate agents back in the Stone Age. The typical home had none of the modern conveniences we’ve come to expect today. No running water or central heat, no bathrooms or fancy flooring.
But hey, when it takes months just to put up an exterior wall – laboriously made using mud and twigs – you’re grateful for having a shelter at all.
The typical Neolithic homes were made from organic materials, so they didn’t survive over the centuries – and as a result no one knows for certain what they looked like. However, experts working in the Channel Islands have a pretty good idea based on evidence from the Danube region as well as recent discoveries from Kervouric in Brittany, France.
The island of Jersey is rich in the tangible remains of the Neolithic period, and although no Neolithic houses have been found to date, it’s believed they did exist here.
Now, a full-scale replica of one of these typical Stone Age dwellings has been erected on the island thanks to a successful partnership between Jersey Heritage and the Ancient Technology Centre. The dwelling has been built at the historic site of La Hougue Bie, a Neolithic passage grave that testifies to the presence of significant farming populations during the Neolithic period.
The 20-metre long timber frame longhouse took a team of 140 dedicated volunteers, including a core team of 18 individuals, 8,500 hours and over two years to build.
Traditional tools and authentic Neolithic techniques were used such as mud daubing, thatching, bark-stripping and making cordage from stinging nettles and brambles. The project was supervised by U.K. ancient technology expert Luke Winter.
Inside, the home contains several large upright wooden posts, a water and weatherproof thatched roof and woven walls of wattle and daub (clay with straw, cow dung and horsehair) – this last technique being a particularly labour-intensive process.
In a nod to the past, the official opening of the house in March was marked not with a ribbon cutting (using scissors) but with cordage and a replica stone axe.
The Jersey longhouse is largely based on evidence of the very first Neolithic houses ever built in Europe called Danubian, because they were first excavated in the Danubian basin. According to a sign at the site, this style and layout would have influenced the type of building that the early farmers of Jersey would have constructed.
Excavated remains only show the footprint of these buildings so it’s known they were long and narrow in plan, oriented north west to south east, with a doorway in the 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 clues to what the walls were made from.
Jersey became an island at about the same time as the Neolithic Period began in the region – roughly 7,000 years ago. People began to settle into communities for the first time, abandoning a hunter-gatherer existence in favour of farming. They made pottery and stone tools, and for the first time built permanent homes much like the one on display at La Hougue Bie.
Visitors to the site can often watch volunteers demonstrating some of the ancient methods of weaving, pottery and woodwork – offering a glimpse into life as it was lived more than 6,000 years ago.