Creating an understanding of daily life in and around a Bronze Age house through science-based artist impressions

Subsistence in its purest form is a form of survival, which means that there are five basic requirements that must be met: food, water, shelter, fire, clothing. For the fulfilment of each of these basic needs, it is necessary to identify the different activities that are required to make subsistence a success. Most of these activities will take place within or from the place of shelter.

In the Bronze Age, shelter is provided by the house. But what do we really know about the house? Scale models and actual reconstructions of Bronze Age houses have been made, which provide an idea of the (relative) dimensions and possible appearance of such buildings. Still, these reconstructions commonly focus on architectural details, and do not (sufficiently) include the tools, equipment and furniture needed for everyday subsistence.

This is remarkable, since numerous examples of furniture, household supplies, tools, and equipment have been discovered at several Bronze Age sites throughout Europe (e.g. Hauterive-Champréveyres, Switzerland; Must Farm, United Kingdom). These finds provide a direct insight into prehistoric life. Even though not every individual Bronze Age site always yields all the objects related to daily life, the combined European Bronze Age finds together hold a wealth of information on which objects, knowledge and skills must at least have existed in the Bronze Age and have been present in and around a Bronze Age house.

Besides these amazing finds, there will also be aspects of the house interior and of daily activities that will rarely or even never preserve because of taphonomy and other (archaeological) formation processes. However, an expectation of these aspects can be made in an indirect manner. Since Bronze Age subsistence is focused on farming, it is to some extent known from ethnographic and historical sources which activities must have played a role in Bronze Age life, and with it, which required objects could be expected in and around the house and the settlement.

In this paper, by using both the known finds from Bronze Age sites from the Netherlands and northwestern Europe as well as the expectation of objects, a Bronze Age house was reconstructed with the area of West-Frisia in the Netherlands as a case study.

This reconstruction has ultimately resulted in the creation of five science-based artist impressions (made by the author) of different areas within the house. Science-based means that most of the information portrayed on these images was supported by either archaeological, botanical, ethnographical and/or zoological studies, including the location of the different activity areas, the tools and equipment, and the different types of food that formed part of the diet.

The primary aim of the reconstruction is to stimulate the discussion on (the appearance of) the inside of the house and its many consequences and opportunities for practicing daily activities. In this manner, new ideas about daily life in prehistory can be generated and researched. Secondly, by attempting to fill the gaps of knowledge about past practice and skill, it might hopefully help to alleviate the negative or degenerative thinking about the capabilities of prehistoric people.