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Early Medieval SettlementsThe Archaeology of Rural Communities in North-West Europe 400-900$
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Helena Hamerow

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780199246977

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199246977.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 27 November 2021

Houses and Households: The Archaeology of Buildings

Houses and Households: The Archaeology of Buildings

(p.12) 2 Houses and Households: The Archaeology of Buildings
Early Medieval Settlements

Helena Hamerow

Oxford University Press

As Rapoport suggests, a house is more than merely a shelter against the elements. The built environment and the way space is organized within the house reflect and reinforce social organization. While this is obviously true of the great hall in Beowulf, it is equally, if less obviously, true of ordinary houses. If, furthermore, we are to assess the economic conditions and daily life of the early Middle Ages, we need to understand the nature of the buildings in which people lived and worked. Indeed, the study of early medieval settlements in northwest Europe has traditionally been dominated by the study of buildings, chiefly for two reasons: first, on a small number of waterlogged sites, buildings (which were, with few exceptions, constructed entirely of timber) are extraordinarily well preserved, with walls standing in some cases up to a metre or more in height (Fig. 2.1); and second, other categories of artefacts, with the exception of pottery, are usually scarce. In the great majority of settlements, floor layers contemporary with the use of the buildings have been destroyed by later erosion or ploughing, and only the debris which collected or was discarded in pits and ditches survives. Even where none of the timber superstructure survives, the ground-plans of these buildings, etched into the subsoil as patterns of postholes, reveal that they could be imposing structures. A fifth-century longhouse at Flögeln-Eekhöltjen (Lower Saxony) measured an extraordinary 63.5 m in length (Zimmermann 1992a, 139). A seventh- to tenth-century hall at Lejre (on the island of Zealand) was comparable in floor area (over 550m<sup>2</sup>) to the halls of the Carolingian palaces at Paderborn and Frankfurt, and is estimated to have stood up to 4 metres in height (Fig. 2.2; Christensen 1991; Winkelmann 1971; Stamm 1955). Of similarly lofty dimensions was a Migration period hall recently excavated at Gudme, on Funen, whose main roof-supporting posts were set into massive pits (Figs. 2.3 and 2.4). The fact that these timber buildings have naturally fared less well in the archaeological record than their more durable stone counterparts in former imperial territories has often led to gross underestimates of their size, complexity, and quality.

Keywords:   Baekke, Forsandmoen, Germania, Hatzum, Leges Alamannorum, Mølleparken, Oseberg, Sannerville, Valsgärde, Wurten

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