Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

An Addendum to the Study of Smoke cottages/Taiendavat Muistse Suitsutoa Uurimisloole

Academic journal article Estonian Journal of Archaeology

An Addendum to the Study of Smoke cottages/Taiendavat Muistse Suitsutoa Uurimisloole

Article excerpt


According to what research has established so far a typical Estonian farm building from the 8th-15th centuries--the so-called smoke cottage--was an oven-heated log house with one or several rooms (Lavi 1997, 114). In a broader sense, the term smoke cottage should denote a chimneyless dwelling, irrespective of whether it is being heated by an open hearth or a closed-top oven. Usually, however, the term smoke cottage is being used to refer to a horizontal log dwelling constructed with dovetail-notch quoins and heated by an open rock stove (1) or a flueless stove located in the corner of the main chamber.

In the course of archaeological investigations, smoke cottage remains have been discovered at various settlement sites and sometimes also in earlier cultural horizons of towns; in fact, one of the best preserved house bases known to date was unearthed at Sauna Street excavations in the Old Town of Tallinn and in Haapsalu (Lavi 2003b, 153, 155; Porn 2004,269-286; Zobe12001, 121, 124-125, Fig. 111).

The amplest sources of information concerning countryside settlements have been the Lehmja and Olustvere excavation sites; over 1 ha of land was investigated there. Some preliminary results on the building remains have already been published (Lavi & Niinre 1990; Lavi 1997). Significant input to the history of smoke cottages has also been attained from research carried out on the dwelling sites of ancient hill-forts. When studying hill-fort housing patterns, some particularities must be taken into account, for the territorial compactness on these sites has usually conditioned the smallness of buildings, their association with defence structures etc.

On the other hand, investigations have shown that buildings on hill-forts do follow the conventions of contemporary village architecture. As stronghold sites have rarely been contaminated with the construction of new buildings or farming, the house remains have been preserved much better and can thus offer more information.

The current paper will give an overview of how the presented results have supplemented to our knowledge of the ancient smoke cottage as a construction type that has played a very prominent role in the development of Estonian farm architecture.

Dwelling sites in archaeological evidence

Hearth-heated dwellings were probably the most common house-type before ovens came into use in the 7th-8th centuries. Even though open fireplaces accumulated far less heat than ovens or stoves, hearths remained in use in some places until the first centuries of the second millennium.

A stone heap that was 1.1 m in diameter and round-rectangular in shape was discovered at Olustvere Hearth site No. 24; the heap consisted of 8-15 cm heataffected cobble-stones that had been set in straight lines along the western and southern sides of the fireplace. Limestone fragments were found on the margins of the heap; it is possible that these may have once been surrounding the hearth site. The base of the hearth had been dug 36 cm deep inside the ground.

A darker patch (3.5-4 m in diameter) could be discerned in the sandy ground surrounding the hearth; this could be indicative of a one-time house sill (Fig. 1). The most suitable place for an open hearth was in the middle of a dwelling.

Olustvere Excavation VII, Dwelling site No. 2 (in further text: O. VII, 2) was discovered on a West-East oriented slope. The length of the NW-SE oriented house sill was 5.7 m, the width was 4 m (Fig. 2). To achieve even flooring, the higher western side of the building had been dug into the ground to the depth of about 20 cm. Consequently, the outlines of the dredged construction part were visible more clearly. The dug-in logs of the south-western wall had been resting on granite rocks that were 30-50 cm in diameter and lay in tandem; some stones were also recovered from under the NW wall outline.


In the southeastern corner of the building, the remains of an open rock stove were found, consisting of a jumbled heap (1. …

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