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Neolithic house goes up in flames

Leiden archaeologists have set fire to a reconstructed Neolithic house in Horsterwold: all in the name of science. Studying the remains will help them understand present and future finds.

The Horsterwold House was built in 2012 by archaeologists and students from Leiden University. This reconstructed Neolithic house was used for educational purposes for seven years. As the area will soon be redeveloped, the house had to go. It went out in a blaze of glory.   

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About the Horsterwold Project

Burning the house down signalled the end of the Horsterwold Project. The experimental reconstruction was based on the footprint of a house from the Neolithic (the Late Stone Age, about 2,500 BC) that was excavated at Haamstede Braders in the province of Zeeland. The emphasis of the research lay on the construction process and the technological choices that people in the past would have made. The only tools used to build the house were replicas of Neolithic tools, and the materials were gathered from the surrounding woods. The experimental project led to unexpected insights, and garnered international interest. Although historic and prehistoric houses are often reconstructed, this project is unique in the degree in which the labour, materials and tools used were quantified. Never before was the entire ‘life’ of an archaeological house reconstruction documented in such detail, from beginning to end.

Collaboration with Forestry Commission

The Hosterwold Project was carried out in collaboration with Staatsbosbeheer, the Netherlands Forestry Commission and custodian of Horsterwold. Staatsbosbeheer used the house for educational purposes with material developed by archaeology students. Archaeology students from Leiden University carried out various experiments, for instance with earthenware and tar production.

Future research questions

The end of the Horsterwold Project does not mean the end of Leiden research into houses from the past. The Faculty of Archaeology is working together with the Broekpolder Federation on an archaeological project in Vlaardingen that gives visitors an idea of what life in Delfland and the surrounding area would have looked like in the past. Two experimentally built houses and two dugout canoes can already be seen.

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