Collapsing houses are not the first things that come to mind when we think about the effects of snow. In the U.K., we have civil engineers and architects who sort that stuff out. However, even modern buildings can be caught unaware by the climate, and snow, being made of water, is heavy.
The Hypostyle Hall had an area of 5000 m2 (103 x 52m). Its flat stone roof was supported by 16 rows of massive pillars, 132 in total, over 20m tall, with 12 exceptionally large ones, 24m tall, at the centre. Each column is 2.8m in diameter, about the same width as the gaps between them, creating a forest of stone with acres of surface decoration.
The timber architecture of northern Europe starts in the ‘Neolithic’, the period of the earliest farming peoples in Europe. Starting in about 7000 BC, the first cereal farmers spread northwards and westwards into Europe from the Near East. They sought out light, easily cultivated alluvial soils, spreading round the coast of the Mediterranean and up the Atlantic seaboard, as well as up river systems like the Danube and the Rhine. Agriculture had reached central Europe by 5500 BC and was established in the British Isles about 4000 BC.
The Neolithic longhouse is heavily constructed, with dozens of posts in the interior space. This style of structure, where the weight of the roof is carried on posts buried in the ground, persists for most of prehistory. In northern Europe it is gradually replaced in the Iron Age and Roman periods by structures with load-bearing walls. This change reduced the number of posts or columns required to support the roof, increasing the utility of the interior space.
Conversely, on the northern edge of Neolithic expansion, timber building had to be abandoned quite early. On the Orkneys, a group of islands off the north coast of Scotland, the natural tree cover of birch, aspen and rowan is not good for building, and, as often happens on islands, trees became scarce, presenting a problem for Neolithic builders.
During the Neolithic, where available, stone was used for tombs and monuments. The simple ‘megalithic’ style of architecture, utilising natural slabs of stone with a minimum of working, is very durable, especially for subterranean tombs, where timber would rot. In exceptional cases, such as Stonehenge, stone was transported, but in many areas, such as southeast England, it was simply not available, and timber was the only structural building material.
Some archaeologists have suggested that the use of stone was of itself symbolic of death. If true, such symbolism would have a limited geographical relevance. It has even been suggested that, by contrast, some wooden structures represent life, which would be news to the trees, who pretty much have had their chips when they are cut down for timber. The choice of building material is very much a response local conditions, and is not a straightforward cultural decision.
Knowing how to put these heavy timber components together safely, so they can withstand the local environment without killing their occupants, was a specialist job, even in the Neolithic; someone has to make the call as to what is safe. Even over-design requires a designer.
For four millennia, post and lintel timber building was the dominant system of architecture in Britain, part of a tradition with even older roots in Europe. However, the primitive assumptions made by archaeologists about building in the Iron Age leave little room for development in the 4000 years, leading some to conclude that Neolithic buildings were tied together with some form of rope or string. I don’t think I have seen this written explicitly, but this ‘string theory’ is part of the visual language of prehistory used in illustrations.
Leaving aside the sheer impractically of successfully tying together timbers weighing hundreds of kilograms with honeysuckle or something similar, it implies that Neolithic people could not make a hole through a piece of wood and form a simple tenon joint. A post with a tenon joint at the top to join to a horizontal timber is the reason you use ’post & lintel’ architecture. It's how it works. Not jointing the post and lintel is like using nuts but not bolts!
Neolithic woodworking tools were made of stone. Toolmakers dug mines with antler picks to find the best flint beds, and sought out the hardest stone they could find, then laboriously ground and polished it into tools. They would even bore shaft holes through hard stone axes – and it is not immediately obvious how you drill a hole through stone! (They probably used a bone drill with abrasive sand.) There is something uncompromising about Neolithic tools; they are made to be as good as possible.
The early antiquarians had to fit all history into the 6000 odd years allowed for it in the Bible, but British prehistorians have made 6000 years of timber building end up with the simple form of mud hut we have imagined for the Iron Age.
Sources & Further Reading:2006 snow [all links accessed 12 October 2009]:
Orkney [accessed 12 October 2009]: http://www.orkneyjar.com/index.html
Evidence for string [accessed 12 October 2009]: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/3681143/Archaeologists-find-piece-of-string-dating-back-8000-years.html
 W. Startin (1978), "Linear Pottery Culture Houses: Reconstruction and Manpower." Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 44: pp. 143-59.
 Neolithic house at Llandygai [accessed 12 October 2009]: http://www.heneb.co.uk/llandegaiweblog/neolithichouse.html