New Observations on the Bandkeramik House and Social Organization

By Hachem, Lamys | Antiquity, June 2000 | Go to article overview

New Observations on the Bandkeramik House and Social Organization


Hachem, Lamys, Antiquity


The people who settled in central and western Europe at the beginning of the Neolithic were farmers living in villages composed of longhouses. These structures were made of wood and daub, but all that remains today are post-holes, wall foundation trenches, refuse pits alongside the walls and other pits further away from the houses.

Research into the earliest Neolithic of Europe has always shown great interest in how these domestic units functioned (Soudsky 1969; Modderman 1970; Boelicke 1982; Mining 1982; Milisauskas 1986; Coudart 1989; 1993; Hodder 1990). Analysis of a number of recently excavated sites in the Paris basin has produced some new data on this research issue. The main results come from Cuiry-les-Chaudardes (Aisne, France), dating to the late Linearbandkeramik (Lbk), and Jablines (Seine-et-Marne, France), dating to the subsequent, Lbk-related, Villeneuve-Saint-Germain group. The period involved is approximately 5000-4800 BC.

The new data from these sites provide a preliminary response to several questions, notably concerning the distribution of finds in the lateral pits and the function of the household and its place within the village.

The site of Jablines: houses and original neolithic occupation surface

At Jablines, near Paris, an excavation covering 2500 sq. m produced two houseplans. The original Neolithic occupation surface was preserved as a layer roughly 10 cm thick, which could be compared with the underlying and contemporary subsoil features (Bostyn et al. 1991). Several thousand artefacts were recovered (around 85 kg of ceramics, 380 kg of lithic finds and 500 kg of animal bone), the occupation layer representing just over 72% of the total weight of finds. The dispersal of finds within this layer is far from uniform. The principal deposits are concentrated outside the houses in the areas along the side walls, reflecting the position and main use of the lateral pits. However, some finds are located within the rear part of the buildings (Lanchon et al. 1997: 6). This rear sector, which corresponds to the western third of the houseplans, produced evidence for specific activities, indicated by the presence in situ of complete vessels, as well as waste of a more general nature. Similar observations have been made in the Villeneuve-Saint-Germain settlement at Echilleuses in the Loiret departement (Simonin 1996, 1997). Other areas within the houses at Jablines produced insignificant numbers of finds, suggesting a closed domestic space where debris was regularly collected and then dumped outside. Zones of high artefact density were observed well outside the houseplans, corresponding for example to temporary flint-working areas behind the western, back end of the houses. By contrast, there are very few finds from the area in front of the east end of the buildings, traditionally considered to be the main access zone.

Analysis of household activities has been made in two famous Linearbandkeramik sites where the original Neolithic soil has disappeared, in Germany (Aldenhoven Plateau) and in Poland. Study of the finds in the pits (which did not preserve animal bones) around the houses suggest that at Langweiler 8 the northern area of the house was associated with lithic artefacts (Boelicke 1982; 1988), and that at Olszanica some human activities were spatially segregated by gender (Milisauskas 1986; 1989). At the recently discovered `Petit Paradis' site in Belgium, pit containing thousands of lithics and few other finds will also provide new informations about household activities (Burnez-Lanotte & Allard 1998).

The situation outlined above for Jablines clearly indicates the amount of material lost on sites without preserved occupation surfaces. However, at Jablines similar kinds of artefact occur in both the occupation layer and the subsoil features, and this is particularly the case with the lithic finds (Bostyn 1994). This would suggest that, on sites where the original occupation surface has disappeared through erosion, the preserved sample of finds remains unaffected in qualitative terms, since the range of artefacts is not fundamentally modified.

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