‘What did Viking Dublin’s houses look like; how were they made and what were they made from?’
As excellent as preservation is in Dublin from the 10th and 11th centuries, the evidence for its houses survives to knee height at best. How we imagine these houses looked, from their doors to their roofs, to the ways they are drawn in books or rebuilt in heritage centres, are all inferred through archaeological and architectural interpretations.
At UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology and Material Culture however, we have a unique opportunity to test these interpretations, and explore first hand, some of the architectural features of the kinds of houses that would have stood in Dublin over a thousand years ago.
We are building a house using a simple rule”, Says Prof. Aidan O’Sullivan, Director of UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology, “It must be based on archaeological evidence, we cannot introduce any modern features that make it stronger in engineering terms and aspects like the sizes of the post-and-wattle or timbers we use, must be the same as what was found in the Viking Dublin excavations”
After months of planning and material gathering, the building of a Type 1 Viking Dublin house at UCD has finally begun. The structure, whose doorframes and post-and-wattle foundation walls are now firmly in the ground, is primarily based on excavated houses at Temple Bar West (BN1), and Fishamble Street (FS90) and uses environmental evidence from the Viking Dublin excavations, provided by Dr. Eileen Reilly.
“With fragmentary evidence of around 600 buildings;… this is the most extensive record of its kind from Medieval Europe” – Pat Wallace (2016)
Of the hundreds of houses identified from the fragmentary remains of Dublin’s first settlement, the vast majority were nearly all of a kind known as, ‘Type 1’. Like other examples of Norse houses throughout Scandinavia and the Viking World, and unlike Irish Roundhouses, Type 1 houses were long, rectangular structures.
They had an entrance at both the front and back ends of the building. Stepping over a wooden threshold, one would have ducked below the lintel and walked into a rectangular three aisled room with bedding or sleeping areas either side of a stone lined hearth. After a moment, with eyes adjusting to the darkness, before taking a seat by the fire you might then have rested your hand on one of the most characteristic features of a viking house; one of always four, thick internal roof support beams.
These features and the senses of space they give are gradually what is beginning to take shape at our Centre for Experimental Archaeology; from fragmented traces in the ground, to physical constructs, the dynamics of which haven’t been tested in over a thousand years.
The structure, which is part two of UCD School of Archaeology’s “Early Medieval and Viking House Project”, led by Aidan O’Sullivan, Brendan O’Neill, Eileen Reilly, and Stephen Fox, is funded by UCD Research Seed Funding, Dublin City Council, UCD School of Archaeology, the National Botanic Gardens, and the Irish Museums Trust.
The house will continue its build over the summer and its progress can be seen this month when UCD Centre for Experimental Archaeology opens its gates for the UCD Alumni Festival on the 18th June from 11:00am – 16:30. There we will be giving tours of the Viking house, the Centre for Experimental Archaeology and hosting a range of craft demonstrations.
For more information about the project see our Early Medieval and Viking House Project section in ‘current projects’. And follow ArchaeoFox to receive project updates.