26 October, 2009

35. Olszanica Longhouse 6: Why has it got wide doors?

When I saw her, it was love at first sight: beautiful, slender, elegant, complex, and I know size isn’t everything, but she has got the biggest roof I’ve ever seen on an early Neolithic building!
But there was something else. Not that I noticed it at first, as I ran my eyes over her sleek form, but eventually my eyes were drawn to the openings.
So let's cut to the chase: Longhouse 6 from Olszanica in Poland [1] has a doorway 2.20m wide, and it is dated to 5000 BC.

So what is that all about?

Olszanica Longhouse 6
The Olszanica site B1 is a typical LBK period settlement [Linear Pottery Culture, etc.]. It was one of several sites excavated on this loess area above the flood plain of the River Rudawa, on the outskirts the ancient Polish city of Kraków.
The site was part of a much wider series of sites covering 50 ha, with traces of subsequent Lengyel, and perhaps Funnel Beaker, cultures found. The former was discussed in the previous article, and the latter is discussed below.[2]

The site plan looks like any other settlement of this period, with the remains of about 10 longhouses formed by postholes. These structures are similarly aligned, with some overlying each other, and are cut by later pits.
These characteristic borrow pits, typical of the period, were dug for material for daub walls and then filled with refuse, the residue of which largely defines their culture 6000 years later.
In common with other buildings of the period, these vary in width from 4.75 – 6.5m, with size being achieved by increasing the length of the structure.
However, Building B6, at 41.5 long (that’s 136’), is the longest building known from the period, 50% longer than Elsloo 32, covered in a previous article.[3] It is still a longhouse, with a broadly similar structure, but there are some important differences. In fact there is so much to say about this building, a more detailed analysis will be covered in a later article.
Olszanica Longhouse 6 has a remarkably well-preserved set of posthole foundations, although the trench of the stave wall was only apparent on the NW side. The building has three lines of postholes running the length of the building, with double sets at the southern end.
The basic pattern follows that of Elsloo, with a stave wall section, with evenly spaced sets of internal posts, a central ‘hall’ section roof with wider and more complex bays, and a section with double postholes at the southerly end. As would be expected, there is clear indication of a doorway at this end, perhaps projecting from the end of the building.
In addition, there are two gaps in the wall on the eastern side of the building, suggestive of entrances, at either end of the central section. This is where the trouble starts!

Cart Shed?
The diagram below has a label “Cart shed?". This would not be a problem, but for the date of the building. In all other respects, I would be happy to call it a “cart shed”; but the site has radiocarbon dates that put it in completely the wrong millennium for carts!
So, what are we to make of this?
In terms of the current evidence for wheeled vehicles, which we will briefly consider below, LBK buildings are simply too early to have entrances wide enough accommodate carts. Two obvious explanations present themselves:
* There is some other reason for wide entrances.
* Postholes have been missed by the excavator.
As I have observed in an earlier post[4], normally the only reason you need a wide door on a farm is to allow access for a wheeled vehicle. Neither humans nor stock need a door wider than necessary. In the case of the latter, the last thing you want is an animal to able to turn around while it is going through a door or passage. Offering animals choice is not how farming works.
Wide doors are more difficult to construct and hang, and serve no purpose in vernacular architecture, unless to allow something wide to enter the building.
The model of the Elsloo 34 longhouse noted that a single missing post was the only indication of the presence of an entrance. This building has two posts missing at each point. In the real world, excavators miss features for a variety of mundane reasons. It’s all perfectly normal, if somewhat frustrating for a specialist in building plans.

Edward De Bono,who came up with, among other things, the concept of lateral thinking, pointed out in his book Po: Beyond Yes & No that a concept like ‘po’, that exists beyond simple yes or no, is important for developing ideas.[5] In exploring the detail architecture of prehistory, very much an unknown land, like many frontiers in archaeology, I am happy to leave issues hanging unresolved and move on. There are pieces of the jigsaw that don’t fit, things that can get ignored as we describe the picture we have made with the bits that do fit.
There are those who would take all the odd, anomalous and unexplained to weave an alternative narrative. This is to miss the point. Being ‘unexplained’ can only be resolved in terms of the existing narrative based on the majority of the evidence.
In terms of the current understanding, a cart shed of this date is out of the question. However, as archaeologist who specialises in structures, this building intrigues me, and I think it would be useful to look at the implications for the built environment of wheeled transport. This is a line of evidence that has not been widely explored.

Thinking the unthinkable
The model developed for Elsloo 32 was of a tripartite building, with a stave wall section, a central hall, and a floored part at the southerly end. There is a door at this end, and at least one, and quite possibly two, further entrances along one side. These correspond to the position of passages that separate the three main sections.

Schematic plans of Olszanica 6 and Elsloo 32

Olszanica 6 appears to have end sections of a very similar size to Elsloo 32. Most of the extra 50% of length comes in the middle section. This is an interesting observation, indicating that whatever functions the stave wall and floored parts of the building represent, their capacity has not increased with the size of the building.
The hall section is 60’ long. This compares with 30’ for Elsloo, which may be viewed as three 10’ bays. The Olszanica building hall section has six bays of uneven size, wider (about 12’) in the middle, with narrower bays at the ends.
The doorway suggested next to the floored section in Olszanica 6 is in about the same position as the passage in Elsloo 32.
The entrance provides a gap of about 8’. It opens into a space about 18’ long and 10’ wide, room enough for a modest saloon car, but a bit tight fit through the door!
There is only one post in the space, located to the left of the door. While this appears to narrow the entrance, it is actually also 8’ from its nearest post in the opposite wall.
The more northerly entrance has a post in a similar position. However, a second possible feature indicated to the south [dashed on the plan], would block the interior. This entrance is 6’ wide, and leads to another wide bay, which seems to be part of the central section.
As we will see, there are some compelling arguments to suggest that carts at this early date are highly improbable. However, my reasons for considering that the term ‘cart shed’ could be applied to this part would be as follows:
  • It is positioned where we might reasonably expect there would be an entrance.
  • It is next to a floored section of the building that most authors would assign some agricultural function, such as a granary.
  • It is of sufficient width to be of use to store a wheeled vehicle.
That is a far as the evidence goes, and no further.
We will return to consider other aspects of this impressive building in more detail in a later post. Next we should consider more generally what adoptions and changes to the built environment would be required by, and may be indicative of, the introduction of wheeled vehicles.

Theoretical Built Environment

The early LBK farmers who first cleared the land and established the agricultural infrastructure and built environment, would require relatively narrow paths and openings. Deliberately constructed pathways might require sufficient width for two cows or people with baskets to pass with ease, but there is no pressing reason for width in a farming context: narrow lanes and entrances are convenient for moving stock around.
However, once wheeled vehicles were introduced, provision would have to made for them in the built environment.
Considerations for new and existing infrastructure:
  • Pathways, gates, and entrances have to be widened;
  • Gradients must be reworked.
Considerations for new and existing buildings:
  • Wider and higher doors;
  • The ergonomics of wheeled vehicles [e.g., loading platforms];
  • The greater logistic potential of wheeled transport [i.e., bulk loads].
Buildings have to be developed or adapted for:
  • Storage of wheeled vehicles;
  • Storage of associated tack and accessories;
  • Requirements of draught animals;
  • The making and maintaining of wheeled vehicles.
These features appearing in your built environment are likely indications of the presence of wheeled transport.

When was the wheel invented?
This question actually is more complex than it looks and actually prompts three further questions:
  • What do you mean by "the wheel"?
  • What do you mean by "invented"?
  • What do you mean by "when"?
At present, the best short answer is probably that the potter's wheel was invented first, in the 5th millennium, and wheeled vehicles probably in the following millennium, both in Mesopotamia.[6]
It is fairly clear that pottery produced on a slow wheel appears in the early phase of Sumerian culture known as Ubaid period [5300 –4100 BC], and was quite widespread. The development of wheeled vehicles and the fast potter's wheel is associated with the following Uruk period [4100 - 2900].

Left: Late period Ubaid pottery from Tel al Ubaid, [British Museum] [7]

The Uruk period is also particularly significant for the invention of writing, which later would create the conditions necessary for the invention of historians. But there is more to the story than that, and ‘when’ is always a complex and contentious issue for archaeologists and historians, and the further you go back, the hazier the answer becomes.

A brief history of archaeological time

There has always been a conflict between ‘real time’ as measured by our clocks and calendars, and time as measured by the various means employed by archaeologists and historians.
It is important we tackle this issue, so let's start in c17th century Ireland, where Archbishop James Ussher made the most famous, but not the first, calculation of age of the earth, by adding up the reigns, lifetimes, and periods in the Bible. He came up with October 23, 4004 BC, a date still regarded as accurate by those who ascribe similar properties to the Bible.
While Ussher's conclusions have long since been rejected, his methodology has survived in certain branches of archaeology studying periods where the reigns of pharaohs, kings, and their priests were recorded. Thus archaeology developed a complex, intricate and ingeniously linked chronology based largely on time as perceived and recorded in the past.

The Radiocarbon Calibration Curve, with a simple timeline for the development of the wheel [8]

Archaeologists in prehistoric Europe, without any written records, were forced into even more tenuous associations with this chronology until rescued by the advent of radiocarbon dating. Radiocarbon relies on the fact that the rarer C14 form of carbon, found in the atmosphere and captured by animal and plants, decays to form C12 at a known rate. Measure the amount left in any remains and you can back-calculate the time of death of the organism. You also must be able to estimate the amount of C14 you should have started with, that is, its proportion in the atmosphere at the time of death.
However, when objects of known age, like tree rings, were tested, it demonstrated that the amount of C14 in the atmosphere must have varied over time. This gave rise to a calibration curve to adjust the radiocarbon date to a calendar date, +/- a margin of error.
So now we have ‘historical’ chronologies, radiocarbon dates, and calibrated radiocarbon dates, as well as calendar dates, which can be obtained with the most accuracy from local dendro-chronologies created by comparing the annual growth rings preserved in ancient wood.
Global events like large volcanic eruptions, which leave a wide and distinct footprint in the archaeological record, provide the best method of synchronising these various systems. Attention has focused on the eruption of Thera, which destroyed the Mediterranean island of Santorini in the Minoan Period. Radiocarbon, dendro-chronology and other dating evidence suggest a date for the eruption around 1628 BC, about a century earlier than the ‘traditional’ date based on chronology.
We need go no further into concepts like ‘High’ and ‘Low’ chronologies, but it is important to note that by the middle of the Second Millennium BC we have a disparity of a century.
Olszanica B1 is dated to 4400–4000 bc in un-calibrated radiocarbon years, which corresponds to about 5400--5000 BC as a calibrated date. In other words Longhouse 6, one of the later buildings on the site, is probably a little over 7000 years old, and dates from around the time that wheel-turned pottery appears in Mesopotamia, but long before evidence of carts in central Europe.

The wheels of Change
In 1976, an excavation at Bronocice in SW Poland uncovered parts of a pot with incised decoration depicting two carts with yokes. [left] [9]

The site was occupied during the Funnel Beaker or TBR culture phase, one of a complex group of cultures that succeeded the LBK in northern Europe, in the Fifth and Fourth Millennia BC.
Bones from the pit in which the pot was found gave radiocarbon dates of around 3635--3370 BC, which, as the excavators pointed out, is earlier than dates for pictograms of wheels from the Samarian Uruk Period.

Details of the decoration of the Bronocice pot, showing two carts in a stylised landscape [10]

There a two other main lines of evidence in this period, both from graves associated with the Baden culture that is found in central Europe in the period 3600--2800BC.[11]
In cemeteries like Budakalász on the Danube in Hungary, pottery models of carts have been found. The example, from Grave 177, was painted and is incised with zigzag decoration. [Left] [12] Some models with handles, which may be drinking cups, have been found on the earliest Baden cultures sites like Boglarelle on Lake Balaton.
What was also found at Budakalász was a grave containing two humans with the bodies of a pair of cattle laid out at right angles to them. Double cattle burials occur in other Baden cemeteries dated to the middle of the Fourth Millennium.[13]

Matters arising
There is remarkable convergence of evidence around 3500BC from a variety of sites and sources for the presence of wheeled vehicles in central Europe. Furthermore, the use of draught animals for ploughing may be placed in a similar timeframe.[14]
However, how long this technology took to become fully developed, and what period elapsed before it was thought appropriate to bury draught animals with the dead, is not clear. Mesopotamia is still seen as the most likely source of this technology.
In the late 1920s, while excavating the cemetery at Ur, Iraq, Leonard Woolley found deep shaft graves where the rulers of the Sumerian city were buried around 2500 BC, along with their finest possessions, and a complete retinue of deceased soldiers, servants, and assorted hangers on -- even draught animals! This prompted Woolley to christen it ‘the Great Death pit of Ur’.
The grave goods, although badly decomposed and crushed, were some of the most extraordinary archaeological ‘treasures’ ever found. While undoubtedly overshadowed by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb earlier in the decade, the finds from the death pit are a thousand years earlier and in many ways much rarer and more valuable. Their recovery and conservation was a considerable technical achievement for the time.

The Ur Royal Standard

One object, known as the Royal Standard, is a tapering box of uncertain function, beautifully inlaid with a colourful mosaic made of lapis, ivory, and limestone stuck together with bitumen. It is one of the earliest depictions of an army and warfare, and it illustrates carts with composite wheels, bristling with spears, being pulled by teams of four male donkeys [jacks].
We have almost, but not quite, reached that icon of ancient warfare, the horse-drawn chariot with spoked wheels. It was still five centuries away, but that is a whole new chapter. However, it does remind us that, while evidence for carts is emerging in Europe at around 3500 BC, far to the east, in Kazakhstan, the horse was being domesticated by the Botai Culture.[15]

It would clearly be unwise to argue for a cart shed in a late LBK building -- it simply does not fit with the other evidence. Irritatingly, it is not actually 'impossible', as the building is roughly contemporary with the earliest wheel-made pottery.
There are two important points about wheels and animal traction. Firstly, they are two separate technologies; and secondly, they are difficult ideas to keep secret [compared with metallurgy, for example.] We could also consider sledges, or some other form transport dragged by an animal. I have always tacitly assumed that the several hundred pieces of timber required for building a longhouse could be dragged by an animal, presumably an ox.
If nothing else, it has been a useful exercise to consider the impact on the infrastructure and built environment of wheeled vehicles. It provides a different approach to this issue.
It also revolutionised the movement of goods and people, and the practicalities of an itinerant lifestyle.
It reminds us of the importance of carts, wagons, and wains in the past, not least to the generations of Cartwrights, Wainwrights, Wheelwrights [above right][16], and Carters, who built and drove them. What is now a rapidly vanishing area of technologies once was a vital new cog in the agricultural, and broader cultural, system.
To bring the wheel full circle to the British Iron Age, an age of chariots and roundhouses, I should also point out that some large roundhouses had projecting 'porches' with entrances 8 – 10’ wide, something that is too easily overlooked.
So what is that all about?

Roundhouse 'porches' with wide entrances: A: Pimperne Down, Hampshire. B & D: Little Woodbury, Wiltshire. C: Moel Y Gaer P10, Flintshire. E: Longbridge Deverill Cow Down, Wiltshire. F: Orsett S9, Essex. [17]

Stop Press; More about sledges; Notes & Queries; Sledges

Sources and further reading:

[1] S. Milisauskas (1975): 'The Linear Culture site at Olszanica B1 in Poland', Archaeologia Polona vol. 16:
http://www.iaepan.edu.pl/archaeologia-polona/article/245 (accessed 28 October 2009)

[2] http://structuralarchaeology.blogspot.com/2009/10/34-curious-case-of-lengyel-longhouses.html (accessed 28 October 2009)[3] http://structuralarchaeology.blogspot.com/2009/08/33-elsloo-32-neolithic-longhouse-made.html (accessed 28 October 2009)
Also:PJR Modderman (1970): 'Linearbandkeramik aus Elsloo und Stein 2.' Tafelband, Leiden Univ., Faculty of Archaeology.
PJR Modderman (1975): 'Elsloo, a Neolithic farming community in the Netherlands,' in Bruce-Mitford, R L S, Recent archaeological excavations in Europe, Chapter IX.
PJR Modderman (1985), D'ie Bandkeramik im Graetheidegebiet, Niederländisch-Limburg.' Berichte der Römisch- Germanischen Kommission, 66:25-121
[4] http://structuralarchaeology.blogspot.com/2009/04/27-trip-to-farm.html (accessed 28 October 2009)
[5] Edward de Bono (1973): Po: Beyond Yes and No ISBN 0-14-021715-0
[6] P. Charvat (2002): Mesopotamia before history London: Routledge; p148
H. E. W. Crawford (2004): Sumer and the Sumarians. Cambridge Univ Pr; p180
[7] After: http://www.hartford-hwp.com/image_archive/ue/pottery03.jpg (accessed 28 October 2009)[8] After: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Radiocarbon_dating_calibration.svg (accessed 28 October 2009)
Data from: M. Stuiver, P. J. Reimer and T. F. Braziunas (1998): High-Precision Radiocarbon Age Calibration for Terrestrial and Marine Samples. Radiocarbon 40, 1127-1151. Downloadable from University of Washington, Quaternary Isotope Lab: http://depts.washington.edu/qil/datasets/uwten98_14c.txt (accessed 28 October 2009)
[9] J. Kruk & S. Milisauskas (1999): Rise and fall of Neolithic agricultural societies, Krakow
[10] Image source: http://www.ma.krakow.pl/wystawy/wozy_z_bronocic [in Polish] (accessed 28 October 2009)[11] Eva Maria Wild, Peter Stadler, Mária Bondár, Susanne Draxler, Herwig Friesinger, Walter Kutschera, Alfred Priller, Werner Rom, Elisabeth Ruttkay, & Peter Steier (dng): New Chronological Frame for the Young Neolithic Baden Culture in Central Europe (4th Millennium BC). At: http://winserion.org/Stadler/StadlerP_2002g.pdf (accessed 28 October 2009)
[12] S. Piggott (1973): Ancient Europe. Edinburgh Pl, Xa p96, & fig. 48 p. 93.
[13] A. W. R. Whittle (1996): Europe in the Neolithic: the creation of new worlds. Cambridge University Press Fig 5.1 & pp 121-123[14] A. Sherratt (dng): Animal traction and the transformation of Europe. http://www.archatlas.dept.shef.ac.uk/people/Frasnois.pdf (accessed 28 October 2009)
[15] A K Outram, N A Stear, R Bendrey, S Olsen, A Kasparov, V Zaibert, N Thorpe, and R P Evershed (2009): 'The earliest horse harnessing and milking.' Science 6 March 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5919, pp. 1332–1335[16] J G Jenkins (1978): Traditional country craftsmen. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London
[17]After D. W. Harding, I. M. Blake, and P. J. Reynolds (1993): An Iron Age settlement in Dorsett: Excavation and reconstruction. University of Edinburgh. Department of Archaeology Monograph series No. 1
G. Bersu (1940): 'Excavations at Little Woodbury, Wiltshire. Part 1, the settlement revealed by excavation.' Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 6, 30 -111
G. Guilbert1 (1981): "Double-ring roundhouses, probable and possible," in Prehistoric Britain Proc Prehist Soc 47 &. G. Guilbert (1982): 'Post-ring symmetry in Roundhouses at Moel y Gaer and some other sites in prehistoric Britain', in Structural Reconstruction - Approaches to the interpretation of the excavated remains of buildings; British Archaeological Report 110, BAR, 67-86
S. C. Hawkes (1994): "Longbridge Deverill Cow Down, Wiltshire, House 3: A Major Round House of the Early Iron Age." Oxford Journ. Archaeol. 13(1), 49-69
G. A. Carter (1998): 'Excavations at the Orsett ‘Cock’ enclosure, Essex, 1976'. East Anglian Archaeology Report No 86


Martha Murphy said...

Hurray! I was getting bored.

Congratulations on the new post.


Geoff Carter said...

Thanks Martha,
. . . and thanks for the edits!
[esp. the refs]
Finding things is the interesting bit, writing them up & researching the background takes the time.
When you spot something like a 'cart shed?', it's unexpected, and unplanned, and it is just the start of your problems!

"the Dude" said...

Asking blindly, were these stilted longhouses above open water in wetlands? Rather than carts (only terrestrial), perhaps humans punted/pushed/pulled sedge sledges, on indoor tracks to unload cargo, used year-around?

Geoff Carter said...

Hi Dude,
While houses with piled foundations on lake edges developed in the Neolithic, possibly a little later, these longhouses are on dry soil.
However, your point about sledges is important, Martha has been looking into this an alternative and intuitive solution to moving small loads.
It does imply the use of draught animals, prior to the invention of the wheel, but has much to recommended it as a solution to the transport of bulky loads like hay, straw, and firewood, around a farm.

Ned Pegler said...

Dear Geoff

I know this is long after the event, but I presume you saw the post on Mathilda's Anthropology about a toy with wheels from the Balkan CT culture, dated around 3700BC (well, according to her, anyway)?(http://mathildasanthropologyblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/12/proto-indo-european-speakers-of-the-late-tripolye-culture-as-the-inventors-of-wheeled-vehicles/#comments)


Geoff Carter said...

Thanks Ned,
To be honest I missed this; it is an interesting artefact, linking oxen and wheels, and is in the right sort of timeslot. I am not sure I can agree with the wider implications of the article; a single find can still change the whole debate, so I think it is, at present, one of those imponderables which it is unwise to draw firm conclusions, however frustrating that may be. {As often discussed over at Armchair Prehistory!].

The general point of my article is that the presence of wheeled transport may be inferred from the layout of the built environment, and that this is line of evidence should also be considered, as well as the more direct evidence of artefacts.

kathleen duey said...

I love reading your posts. I am a novelist, and have no training in your field. But here is a possibility besides wheels being likely.

If they drove/herded animals in from the fields--for bad weather or night shelter--as opposed to leading them inside one by one- wider doors would make everything MUCH easier.

Also,if fire was a danger, or had ever been experienced by the people who built these, wider (and multiple)doors make evacuation of animals possible.

If the animals were ever used as beasts of burden, any kind of pannier widens the animal considerably.

Again, thank you for your posts.