Stone Age shelter in Oxfordshire

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Robson Valley

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Nov 24, 2014
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I visited a native summer fishing camp on the Churchill River. Wind-blown, barren spit of rock and sand. No bugs at all. Absolutely neat and tidy. The midden must have been back in the forest. They were there when I arrived in late May, they were there in late August when I left. Winter survivorship in that location would have been zero. There were clusters of log cabins no more than 5 miles down river. Very swampy ground in summer but good forest shelter for the winter. I think they went downstream for the wild rice harvest in the autumn.

On the Pacific Northwest coast, rising sea levels have flooded all but the most recent few centuries of native activity. I'm told that the coast line was some 200' below the present, during the last ice age. So low that walking from the mainland to Haida Gwaii was probable. Museum people have told me of several substantial coastal middens but it's the same old issue: time and money, to see those examined.
Even now, slowly rising sea levels make some paleo-nordic sites on the east coast accessible only at low tide.

The Haida lived in large villages in log-framed long houses. The anthropologist, Franz Boas, recorded that the largest split cedar plank in a house wall was 14' tall, 36" wide and 3/4" thick. Split. With the big cedar canoes, Haida took their house boards from one camp to another.

I've seen pictures of some paleo village houses in the UK, constructed from stone. With moss chinked into the cracks and partly(?) below ground, those must have been cozy.
 

boatman

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Feb 20, 2007
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My favourite discussion of dwellings and dwelling site is in the early history of archaeology, Testimony of the Spade by Geoffrey Bibby. Lots of more recent digs and so on but he had a touch with his writings that combined interest and information. Thus, we not only get an introduction to Palaeolithic camps but the story of how they were discovered. For example, there are the apparent deer sacrifices in a lake, each with a weighting stone. Similar age for each deer when died so most likely to have been an initial sacrifices when the camp was used in due season each year. Evidence of a twenty year return and use. And shelters with mammoth bones instead of wood supports earlier and on the tundra of course.
 
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Robson Valley

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Based upon the characteristics of the landscape around discovered sites, can you extrapolate that to other physically similar locations? Just reading the other day of "predictive archaeology" in the American southwest. Laid their hands on 9 new sites of occupation! Just a personal hunch but as shelter from the wind drops snow in the winter (water problem solved), I can't help but wonder if dropped soil erosion gradually buried some sites. A thousand years at even 1/4" per year is a lot. Recent terrible winter storms have revealed a few places.
 

Goatboy

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Jan 31, 2005
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I agree with Joe that folk wouldn't be living like beasts, you still see it today in folks living by standards that us rich Europeans would call "primitive". The dwellings are suited to the environment, clean and efficient. (Often more so than a lot of modern "houses").
I know that they're slightly aberrant but the houses up in Orkney I'd happily move into and live in today. Beautiful in form and function.

Sent via smoke-signal from a woodland in Scotland.
 

boatman

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Feb 20, 2007
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Based upon the characteristics of the landscape around discovered sites, can you extrapolate that to other physically similar locations? Just reading the other day of "predictive archaeology" in the American southwest. Laid their hands on 9 new sites of occupation! Just a personal hunch but as shelter from the wind drops snow in the winter (water problem solved), I can't help but wonder if dropped soil erosion gradually buried some sites. A thousand years at even 1/4" per year is a lot. Recent terrible winter storms have revealed a few places.
Medieval rather than "Stone Age" but predictive archaeology was what I did with a little amateur project on water mills along the River Kennet in Berkshire. Basic proposition was that fulling mills required water power and access to deposits of fuller's earth. Cloth would be beaten by water driven hammers and cleansed with fullers earth. The question common to a lot of predictive archaeology is that if the conditions are right why isn't the settlement, or fulling mill, there?

In the case of the hunter-gatherer and absent settlements this could be taken to indicate some form of perceived exclusive ownership of an area, maybe only in particular seasons.
 
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peaks

Settler
May 16, 2009
722
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Derbys
Great post Joe.
I suspect that a lot of the academic theories and papers written about early homes and lives are pure conjecture or based very limited experience from flawed reconstruction,written by folks who - understandably - have/had very limited experience of non urban 20/21 century living.
I'm convinced that our ancestors had high standards and efficient/effective homes and were far more sophisticated than we give them credit for.

I appreciate that his may ruffle a few feathers - but its just my opinion.
 
Archaeologists buried an elephant at Tubingen University... I wonder if that's in their plans? ;)
Maybe it would be better if elephant buried the archeologists.

I wonder how many archeologists or people who are claiming they are experimental archeologists have any real experience at building or making anything for a living? If they have not then maybe no surprise their experiments show everything to be bad, untidy or uncomfortable, etc.,

You cannot expect a bunch of inexperienced folk with little or no skill to be able to know or do something with the same skill as someone who has spent much of their life doing it for real. Yet it is these people who claim to know or tell how things must have looked long time ago.

If I gave you or anyone else, an axe, a crooked knife, an awl or small knife along with cedar ribs, spruce roots and a couple of sheets of birch bark, could you or they make or tell how a bark canoe was built - could you build one?

Of course not!!!

If you disagree maybe next time you want house built,, you ask experimental archeologist to build it rather than ask a proper builder.
 

Toddy

Mod
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Jan 21, 2005
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S. Lanarkshire
The same kind of thing was done in the Lake District when looking for Viking farm sites, Boatman. Knowing the level, the metre height line that others were built on, and spotting a gap, when investigated there it was, a deserted Viking farm steading.
Again with south facing hillsides, and the scooped out platforms for roundhouses. Experienced landscape archaeologists (and field walkers) 'get their eye in' for the same places that the people of the past chose as sites. When investigated, the evidences are clear and the archaeology supports the supposition.

M
 

Toddy

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Jan 21, 2005
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Joe, in general I really do agree with you, but I invite you to look at this site.
It was built by archaeologists in Scotland, and it was based on the underwater excavations (that actually gave us organic preservation, in situ) of the crannog at Fearnan. Fearnan is on Loch Tay, the name means 'place of the alders', and the sunken timbers on the loch bed were indeed alder, from thousands of years past.
The new roundhouse was built of alders too :)

http://www.crannog.co.uk

Sometimes the experimental archeologists are skillful and hardworking people.
Reality shows are a bit of hit or miss to be honest :sigh:

Mary
 

Goatboy

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Jan 31, 2005
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I concur with Toddy on the Crannog, a beautiful, workable and above all comfortably livable space. Well worth a visit; either website or preferably in person.

Sent via smoke-signal from a woodland in Scotland.
 

Palaeocory

Forager
Maybe it would be better if elephant buried the archeologists.

I wonder how many archeologists or people who are claiming they are experimental archeologists have any real experience at building or making anything for a living? If they have not then maybe no surprise their experiments show everything to be bad, untidy or uncomfortable, etc.,

You cannot expect a bunch of inexperienced folk with little or no skill to be able to know or do something with the same skill as someone who has spent much of their life doing it for real. Yet it is these people who claim to know or tell how things must have looked long time ago.

If I gave you or anyone else, an axe, a crooked knife, an awl or small knife along with cedar ribs, spruce roots and a couple of sheets of birch bark, could you or they make or tell how a bark canoe was built - could you build one?

Of course not!!!

If you disagree maybe next time you want house built,, you ask experimental archeologist to build it rather than ask a proper builder.
Why do you assume people on our project have no relevant experience? It's not nice to judge people like that... as Toddy says, sometimes experimental archaeologists are skillfull people.
 
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Toddy

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Jan 21, 2005
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I think it's perception that's amiss, I really do, and I can well understand both Joe, and Cory's, frustration with how their lives are perceived.

It's like the wardrobe mistress of a film. Five seconds on screen to present the character, in it's entirety. That's what she's working with and it means often that the reality is smudged, a pastiche, just a flavour and an almost cartoon like image.
So, when folks try to 'present the past', the inherent in built notion that people have is 'primitive' (I hate the way that word is used to denigrate) insubstantial, something like an animal's den, brutal and short lived.

The reality is that the people of the past were much like us. There weren't as many of them, they lived fully immersed in their natural world, with it's seasons and it's resources, and they didn't have machinery to make life easy, or tv's and internet telling them they were, 'doing it wrong!!", or as a constant reference manual either.

People are very capable, very able, very much not one or two dimensional. We forget the emotional, the cultural and the aesthetics at our peril when we try to imitate them.

Cory didn't build that last house used in the filming Joe, but she is involved with those who have built one for the newer show.

Truthfully I don't watch tv….the wardrobe mistress bit again, I have literally dressed an Earl (whose ancestors really did fight with Bruce at Bannockburn) in ye genuine hand knitted silver spray painted fake chain mail, got him up on a muckle great horse, and sent him off to battle, for a film. Costume runs to budget :sigh: and the National Trust are permanently skint. I just can't watch films and tv programmes and get into them at all. I end up nitpicking holes in the costume, the scenery and the whole concept. :eek:

I would like to see this house that Cory and company have created though :) to see the choices they've made and understand the reasoning behind them.

The past is not primitively pathetic, and the people of the past most certainly were not. It's time we lifted them out of the grunting, ungroomed, filthy and brutish perception that they are held in.

After all, they're our family :)

Mary
 
Hey I wasn't getting at you and I didn't mean to insult you. The film you made a link to just showed rather crude looking huts to me and there were comments about how the door and bad design or construction method caused these huts to be too cold for the folk to stay there.

Anglos believe that most first nations peoples were also stone age culture. I don't think they build houses then as bad as that because they would not have survived maybe. Even a bark dwelling can be comfortable to live in when the temperature drops low enough to burst trees with sap - if they are properly built.

I did not claim they had no experience. I simply asked whether these people who made these things have been builders before and are experienced?

Did anyone show them how to build something strong, warm comfortable and waterproof? Or did they try by experiment with no instruction?
 

boatman

Bushcrafter (boy, I've got a lot to say!)
Feb 20, 2007
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Being mostly interested in "primitive" boats I learnt a lesson with my first build for a raft race. Water is unforgiving and will get in anywhere unless you are good enough to prevent it. I assume that houses, as with, boats worked because people used them. If they hadn't they wouldn't have. Therefore not primitive but fulfilled their function.

As to that challenge I think I could make a workable birchbark canoe, several of my acquaintances could build a much better one than I. Some of them could even knap stone or smelt and work metals to make the necessary tools. I would prefer to build a pirogue or skin boat according to materials available.
 

Goatboy

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Jan 31, 2005
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Is always handy if you can get folk with parallel experience involved though.
Remember the experiments done on the retractable canopies they tried out at the Colosseum in Rome. They got carnival peoples and stevedores involved and they came up with some excellent and eminently workable ideas that outperformed the historians. Also a mate of mine showed a well respected bronze age specialist a way of binding axe heads on that outperformed his, my mate works in haulage and is a bit of a knot/rope freak though.
Not saying that they're better than the archaeologists, just sometimes have more hands-on and practicle experience, both bodies can learn a lot from each other, and in life 99.9% of the time there's someone out there that can teach you something new.
If you look at a lot of breakthroughs in scientific history a lot of the time people bring skills in from other disciplines they have to move things forward. One of the reasons a broad education and experience base is a good idea. Nothing wrong with being a Renaissance man/woman or polyglot. :D
I've found in life that one should never be too proud to ask or receive help from others no matter what their educational status.

Sent via smoke-signal from a woodland in Scotland.
 
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