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Stonehenge and a Neolithic World of Interiors

Opening today, five re-created Neolithic houses at Stonehenge reveal the type of homes the builders of the ancient monument might have lived in four and half thousand years ago 

Far from being dark and primitive, the homes of our distant ancestors were incredibly bright and airy spaces and consisted of a single room measuring five metres on each side with white chalk walls and floors designed to reflect sunlight and capture the heat from the fire. The smoke from the fire filtered up through a thatched roof made of knotted or tied straw carefully secured onto a hazel woven frame. Around the walls stood wooden or woven furniture - beds, seating, storage and shelving.

The houses are the latest phase in the major programme by English Heritage to improve both the setting around the monument and the overall experience of visitors to Stonehenge. They sit alongside the new visitor centre and are furnished with replica Neolithic axes, pottery and other artefacts and are lit with fires. Volunteers will be on hand to talk to visitors about the houses and - from grinding grain with a quern and a rider to making rope out of rushes - to demonstrate the daily activities of our ancestors.

"One of the things we're trying to do at Stonehenge is to re-connect the ancient stones with the people that lived and worked in the surrounding landscape," said Susan Greaney, Senior Properties Historian at English Heritage. "Now visitors can step through the door of these houses and get a real sense of what everyday life might have been like when Stonehenge was built. These houses are the result of careful analysis of the archaeological evidence, educated guess work, and a lot of hard physical work.

"For our team of volunteers, the project was a labour of love and an incredible learning experience. We still need volunteers to help in the houses so if you fancy working in an incredible setting, please get in touch!"

Over the past five months, the 60 strong team of English Heritage volunteers - who include a lawyer, teachers and a tour guide - built the houses using authentic local materials: weaving hundreds of hazel rods through the main supporting stakes, thatching the roofs with wheat-straw, and covering the walls with a daub of chalk, hay and water. In total over 20 tonnes of chalk were used as well as 5,000 rods of hazel and three tonnes of wheat straw.

The re-created houses are closely based on the remains of Neolithic houses discovered during excavations in 2006 and 2007 at Durrington Walls, a large ceremonial earthwork enclosure, just over a mile to the north-east of Stonehenge. Radiocarbon dating showed that these buildings were built at around the same time as the large sarsen stones were being put up at Stonehenge, in approximately 2,500 BC. Experts believe the original occupants might have been involved with the construction of and celebrations at Stonehenge.

The excavation uncovered the floors of the houses and the stakeholes where the walls once stood. These provided valuable archaeological evidence for the size and layout of the re-created houses. We know for example, that each house contained a hearth, that puddled chalk was used to make the floor, and that the spacing of the upright stakes suggest that hazel of about seven year growth was used to weave the walls. The likely construction of the roof was worked out by calculating the load-bearing capacity of the walls.

Channel website: http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/

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