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5 April 2013
Afterlife of early Neolithic houses in Poland

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 - rolling glacial hills in the north, lowland plain in the south.
     The largest area is covered by a light sandy soil, however in some regions heavy fertile soil lies over a clay subsoil. The most important of these fertile 'islands' were settled by the first wave of Neolithic farmers belonging to the Linear Band Pottery Culture [LBK] that stretched across Europe from the Paris Basin to the Ukraine and Moldavia, and lasted for about 600 years, from 5500 to 4900 BCE.
     They are famous for their distinctive long houses - an astonishingly uniform element of this culture throughout the vast territory. In the region of Kuyavia, where many rescue excavations were conducted in recent years, examples of an extremely long "afterlife" of LBK houses can be traced.
     The LBK long house is a rectangular post-built dwelling, with a pitched roof resting on three rows of posts along its axis. Their length varies from 12 to more than 40 metres, though the average is about 20 metres. Width ranges from 5 to 8 metres. Too big and too elaborate to represent purely functional living spaces, they were built to make impression, and can be described as monumental. In the east, houses are aligned north to south, with only slight deviation.
     It is currently assumed that a single family of about 5 to 10 persons occupied the building, abandoning it after 20 to 30 years - a single generation of use. Each generation builds its new house, leaving the old one while still structurally sound. Very few houses within settlements overlie each other, so it is argued that older houses were not demolished, but rather left to decay. After some time a settlement consisted of houses of the living, and houses of the ancestors, and remembrance could last even longer than the occupation of the site itself.
     The most astonishing example of the seeming remembrance relationship comes from an LBK long house dated to circa 5300 BCE, superimposed by a typical Bresc Kulawski [BKC] culture trapezoidal structure about 1000 years later. The later house follows the axis of the former so precisely that we conclude their relationship was intentional and not accidental - nor is it the only site which displays this practice. These commemoration practices demonstrate how long these abandoned buildings of the first farmers could have been visible in the landscape of prehistoric Europe, and what this must have meant to those who came after.

Edited from Past Horizons (23 March 2013)

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