Academic journal article Antiquity

Rows with the Neighbours: The Short Lives of Longhouses at the Neolithic Site of Versend-Gilencsa

Academic journal article Antiquity

Rows with the Neighbours: The Short Lives of Longhouses at the Neolithic Site of Versend-Gilencsa

Article excerpt


Great timber longhouses are a defining feature of the first Neolithic communities in Central and Western Europe, belonging to the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture of the later sixth millennium cal BC (Coudart 1998). Even in the first recorded phase of longhouse construction (belonging to the LBK 'formative' phase), many elements of this architecture, such as longpits, side ditches and internal post rows, were already present (Banffy 2013). During the succeeding (or earliest) LBK, buildings could be substantial, up to 20m or so long by 6m wide (Stauble 2005). From the later LBK onwards, in the Flomborn, Ackovy, Notenkopf and Keszthely phases, which began c. 5300 cal BC, some longhouses reach over 30m in length and become more elaborate internally, with the typical internal cross-rows of three posts changing to any number of combinations and layouts (Modderman 1970; Coudart 1998). Many settlements have been found, each characterised by larger and smaller groupings of longhouses.

Despite their high archaeological visibility, wide distribution and thousands of excavated examples, many questions remain about these iconic structures. Where did this architecture first emerge? In the virtual absence of preserved floors, what can be said about the use of the interiors? How long did these buildings last, given the substantial oak posts with which the majority of them were framed? How did houses relate to their neighbours? What did variation in house size mean in terms of household composition? Should each house be considered an independent unit, or was household membership distributed across more than one building?

Consideration of such questions was long framed by the Hofplatzmodell, or independent homestead model. This model emerged from pioneering, large-scale rescue excavations on the Aldenhovener Platte in north-west Germany (Boelicke et al. 1988). It is based on a complex set of arguments founded upon a combination of site layouts, horizontal stratigraphy, ceramic sequences constructed through correspondence analysis of decorative motifs on fineware pottery and an inferred house duration of some 25--30 years (summarised in Zimmermann 2012). The model posits that each longhouse existed in its own space and is separated from irregularly spaced neighbours by a wider area that includes an activity zone spanning approximately 25m (in the case of Langweiler 8: Boelicke et al. 1988). With each succeeding generation, these loose house clusters shifted slightly. Any given community thus comprised a combination of independent households, or groupings of such households, as seen at Vaihingen, south-west Germany, or at Cuiry-les- Chaudardes, northern France (Bogaard et al. 2011; Hachem 2011).

More recently, the Hofplatzmodell has been strongly criticised (Ruck 2009, 2012). In its place, and principally on the basis of visual inspection of settlement plans, settlement layout based on rows of closely spaced longhouses aligned long side to long side has been proposed. Concurrently, differing hypothetical house durations up to and exceeding 75 years have been suggested (Schmidt et al. 2005: 162; Ruck 2009). A wide range of row layouts were proposed, essentially covering the LBK areas in Central and Western Europe. Other studies, particularly in the eastern part of this distribution, support the revision of the independent homestead model, without accepting all elements of the row model, or necessarily following the proposed alternative estimated house duration (Lenneis 2012; Marton & Oross 2012). Other variations, such as linked house pairs and other close-set clusters, have also been proposed (Czerniak 2016).

The chronology of neither the Hofplatzmodell nor its alternatives, however, has been formally modelled (although note Lenneis 2012). The site of Versend-Gilencsa in south-western Hungary forms the focus of this paper. It provides an opportunity to examine jointly issues of layout and chronology, as it shows clear row layout and has produced large assemblages of faunal remains suitable for radiocarbon dating. …

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