First farmers on the Polish Lowland
The transition to farming on the Polish Lowland, which is a part of the North European Plain, was a complex process lasting over a millennium. This is partly due to the diversity of the landscapes (Figure 1) from the Pomerania Lakeland to the north with its rolling glacial hills and the south with the flat monotonous Great Poland Lowland Plain. The largest area is covered by a light sandy soil, however, in some regions heavy, fertile mollic gleysols formed over a clay subsoil can be found; comparable to the fertile loess-based soils prevailing in the uplands of southern Poland.
The most important of these fertile “islands” is Kuyavia, with other smaller areas such as Chełmno land and Pyrzyce land. These regions were settled by the first wave of Neolithic farmers belonging to the so called Linear Band Pottery Culture (Linearbandkeramik, LBK), that stretched across a vast area of Europe, from the Paris Basin in the west, through to Ukraine and Moldavia in the east. This culture lasted for about 600 years, from 5500 to 4900 cal BC.
They are famous for their distinctive settlement structures, consisting of unique, easily recognisable long houses (Figure 2) which seem to be an astonishingly uniform element of this culture throughout the vast territory of distribution. In this paper I will concentrate on the region of Kuyavia, where many new rescue excavations carried out due to motorway and pipeline projects were conducted in recent years and where examples of an extremely long “afterlife” of LBK houses can be traced.
The Early Neolithic long house
The LBK long house is a rectangular post-built dwelling with a pitched roof structure, which rests its weight on three rows of posts along the its axis (Figure 2). The side walls are created by a row of more densely spaced external posts sunk to a shallower depth than the weight bearing posts. In the eastern part of the LBK distribution area, including Kuyavia, there is as yet no record of foundation trenches in the buildings, which is a more common feature to the west.
The length of these long houses varies from 12 to 40 plus metres, though the average is about 20 metres. The width is more standardised, ranging from between 5 to 8 metres.
The internal divisions in Kuyavia are not as distinctly drawn as in the west. However archaeologists usually record three uninterrupted rows of posts in all parts of the building, with a possible division being indicated by the distance between them or, in the case of three-roomed houses, by the presence of double timber posts in the southern part.
In the eastern part of the LBK distribution area, houses are aligned north to south, with only slight deviation to the east or west.
The issue concerning the length of time that the LBK structures are occupied and the number of their inhabitants has been broadly discussed for many decades. It is currently assumed that a single family of about 5-10 persons occupied the building and that abandonment took place after 20-30 years, which represents a single generation of use.
From a practical point of view they seem too big and too elaborate to represent purely functional living spaces and in regard to their almost iconic style we can assume there was much more to these structures than simple dwellings. LBK houses seem to be built to make impression, and can be described as monumental in the colloquial sense of this word.
Afterlife of LBK houses – examples from other regions
Each generation in the LBK builds its new house with each ‘old house’ abandoned when they would still have been structurally sound.
Very few houses within LBK settlements overlie each other, so it is reasonable to argue that older houses were not demolished per ce, but left to decay with future generations remembering and respecting them. After some time a settlement consisted of houses of the living and still visible houses of the ancestors.
Remembrance could last even longer than the occupation of the site itself. One example of long lasting social memory was presented recently by Jens Lüning for the site at Schwanfeld in Franconia (south Germany) where an interesting sequence of occupation has been traced: the first phase begins with a settlement lasting for five generations, dating to the earliest LBK period, followed by a later settlement located at a new site in the vicinity.
450 years after the first house in the old settlement had been erected, a child’s burial was interred within a pit situated by the wall of this “founder’s house”. Two hundred years later, in the time of the succeeding Großgartach culture the oldest houses must have still been visible as their layouts were respected by Großgartach structures (Lüning 2011).
A further example of ritual treatment of abandoned LBK houses by people from succeeding cultures comes from the Rhineland, where single graves of the Rössen culture were dug directly into the LBK structures at the site of Müddersheim (Veit 1996: 147). In other cases the previous settlements of the LBK were actively avoided by the occupants of the Rössen culture in this region. The most famous example is at the site of Balloy in the Paris Basin (France), where the graves and long barrows of the Cerny culture are superimposed directly onto or in the long houses of the Villeneuve-Saint-Germain culture (following the LBK, with similar architecture; Midgley 2006; Figure 3). It is difficult to imagine that those who buried their dead in monuments XV and XVI were not aware that they were burying them within the foundations of ancestral houses that had been abandoned some 200 years earlier.
Commemoration practices on the Polish Lowland
On the Polish Lowland even more spectacular finds were made in recent years as commemoration practices can be dated to nearly a millennium after the LBK. The location of long houses belonging to these first farmers in Kuyavia must have still been visible as low mounds and respected by people of the so called Brześć Kujawski culture, dated to c. 4600-3900 cal BC.
The question of cultural and demographic continuity between these two cultures has been hotly debated and is still very controversial. Both cultures belong to the tradition of “Danubian” long houses, but there definitely is no chronological and technological continuity in their architecture. They are divided by a post-LBK period (with influences of the Stroke Band Pottery culture) without any similar permanent occupation traces.
The most astonishing example of the seeming remembrance relationship comes from Bożejewice 22/23, where an LBK long house, dated to c. 5300 cal BC is superimposed by a typical trapezoidal Brześć Kujawski (BKC) structure, about 1000 years later (Czerniak 1998, Midgley 2006; Figure 4). The later house follows the axis of the older so precisely that we have to come to the conclusion that their relationship was intentional and not accidental.
This is not the only site that displays this practice, although it is an exceptionally well preserved example. At the sites of Brześć Kujawski 3 and Smólsk 4, postholes of LBK houses were not preserved any more, however, the typical external elongated pits, located usually along the N-S walls of the buildings clearly indicate the presence and exact location of such structures. In both cases Brześć Kujawski trapezoidal houses were superimposed on them, in exactly the same way as Bożejewice 22/23 (Grygiel 2008).
Of course not every LBK house was treated in this way. These are exceptional finds. In general the former, large LBK sites were intentionally avoided by Brześć Kujawski people, even though the settlement location preferences were practically identical for both cultures.
Brześć Kujawski people often settled in the vicinity of these older habitations and must have been absolutely aware of the presence of the older sites.
An example comes from the microregion of Ludwinowo near Włocławek in eastern Kuyavia, where both LBK and Brześć Kujawski sites were excavated in in advance of motorway construction. The site Ludwinowo 7 is the largest LBK settlement in this area, consisting of at least 25 houses covering the whole time span of this culture (Pyzel 2012). A large Brześć Kujawski settlement, Ludwinowo 3 is located only 400 metres to the west (Marchelak et al. 2012). Single pits of the LBK were uncovered there as well, and at other, smaller neighbouring sites, structures of both cultures were found, but at Ludwinowo 7 no traces of permanent occupation of the Brześć Kujawski culture could be found.
There are only traces of individualistic ritual activities such as event that place items into the older LBK pits (Czerniak, Czebreszuk 2010). A grave dated to about 4380 cal BC – of the Brześć Kujawski culture – was also inserted into an earlier pit associated to the longest LBK house at this site (Czerniak, Pyzel in print; Figure 5).
Brześć Kujawski people seem to have acknowledged the presence not only of LBK houses but also older houses of their own predecessors (Pyzel 2013). Unfortunately the precise dating of buildings from this period is not as easy as it was for the LBK – there are few pits associated with them and the pottery, mostly found, does not allow such precision. This explains why internal occupation histories of Brześć Kujawski sites are quite general. Nevertheless on some sites it is possible to find superimposed buildings indicating similar practices. Houses in the Brześć Kujawski culture were even more standardised but these differing treatments demonstrate that they did not have the same meaning in the society.
Maybe some of them were a kind of origin houses known from ethnographic sources (e.g. Waterson 2000). Some people may have chosen to build within the older LBK houses to further enhance this function and thereby legitimise their ancient origin (and privileges that must be associated with this). There can be no doubt that the past, even a remote one, played an important role in the Brześć Kujawski societies. Leaving aside the question of this relationship to LBK ancestors representing a genuine continuity or an invented tradition, these commemoration practices demonstrate to us how long these abandoned buildings of first farmers could have been visible in the otherwise unchanged landscape of prehistoric Europe and what this must have meant to those that came after.
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Cite this article
Joanna Pyzel. Afterlife of Early Neolithic houses in the Polish lowlands. Past Horizons. March 23, 2013, from http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/03/2013/afterlife-of-early-neolithic-houses-in-the-polish-lowlands