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Butser Ancient Farm

Location

Hampshire Map

OS Ref: SU 719 165

Last Visited: 2017

The Iron Age Village

The Iron Age Village

In its early days Butser Ancient Farm led a somewhat peripatetic existence. It started life in the early 70s as an experimental archeology project run by Dr Peter J Reynolds on Little Butser, a spur of chalk running north from Butser Hill at SU 719 207 (50.981938° N, 0.976599° W). View in Google Earth

The semi-octagonal (or irregular hexagonal, if you prefer) bank and ditch (built to monitor erosion) can still be made out, and shows up well in the Google Earth imagery (particularly some of the earlier historical images).

Old Butser Ancient Farm

Old Butser Ancient Farm

However, Little Butser's remote location did not lend itself well to public access or for educational activities, so a second demonstration site was opened in 1976 alongside the A3 at SU 715 187 (50.963727° N, 0.982254° S). View in Google Earth

The creation of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park in 1976 introduced restrictions on what could be done on these sites, so in 1991 the decision was taken to move to the current location at Bascomb Copse near Chalton.

Although there is still experimental work undertaken, the site is just as much an educational resource these days. It sees itself as a museum of buildings from the neolithic to the early mediaeval, complementing the nearby Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, which covers the late mediaeval onwards.

For opening times, admission prices, etc. please see the official site.

The Iron Age Village

Posts Little Woodbury

Posts
Little Woodbury

The original focus of the project was on the Iron Age, and this still makes up the heart of the site.

Within an octagonal bank and ditch enclosure are a group of five huts and various ancillary buildings.

I must admit that I have a problem with the use of rafters in the roofs of the huts. Some years ago I visited the Kasubi Tombs in Kampala, Uganda, and there the roof is supported on concentric circular purlins with the vertical strength coming from the roofing material and rings of posts.

Of course, it is entirely possible that somewhere on the long trek out of the Great Rift Valley and into Iron Age Britain someone had a bright idea and came up with a new way of building roofs, but concentric rings of postholes are very much a feature of places like Woodhenge.

A Bed Danebury

A Bed
Danebury

The other thing that struck me was in the Danebury hut. Here the walls made of vertical boards.

I was instantly transported back to the Beara Peninsular in Ireland, and my conviction that many of the small stone circles there (such as the one at Ardgroom) are the remains of huts, rather than of ritual sites.

Minor quibbles aside, on the whole the reconstruction is very convincing, and the way the huts are grouped together makes for a very believable Iron Age settlement.

The Roman Villa

The Roman Villa

The Roman Villa

Although they had always hoped to include the Roman period from the outset, it wasn't until the move to the current site that this ambition could be realised.

The central range of the villa at Sparsholt near Winchester has been recreated, although at the time of writing (2017) the floors are unfinished. It can claim to be the first Roman villa to be built with authentic materials and techniques for 1,600 years.

The Interior

The Interior

Visiting in February, the contrast between the cosy Iron Age huts, each of which had a fire in its central hearth, and the cold (and quite frankly rather damp) Roman Villa is was what struck me most.

Apparently only the kitchen had a hearth, and in the original only a small room at the end had a hypocaust.

Can't help feeling I would have preferred to live in a cosy circular hut.

The Stone Age Buildings

Llandygai

Llandygai

The central feature of the Neolithic enclosure is the Llanygai house based on one excavated near Bangor, North Wales. This is largely speculative as the archeology consisted of two rows of parallel post holes and little else.

It struck me as odd that our ancestors would build rectangular houses in the Neolithic and the change to round houses in the Bronze. But then, what do I know; I'm just a photographer.

The Saxon Longhouse

The Saxon Longhouse

The Saxon Longhouse

The Anglo-Saxon longhouse is a recent addition to the site; opened in early 2016

It is based on excavations at nearby Chalton, and demonstrates the woodworking skills of the Saxons.

A small Carpenter's Workshop has been built to the rear of this building.

The whole site is highly speculative, of course, but it is all very interesting. All they need now is some Bronze Age reconstructions.