The roundhouse

small house with a thatched roof

A reconstructed roundhouse in the former museum's courtyard

Our ancestors lived in roundhouses, a style of building that dates back more than 3000 years to the Bronze Age. Each farm would have had a number of houses, probably for different members of the same family, parents, grandparents and cousins, or for the animals.

Excavation gives us very few clues about what happened inside the houses. Objects that survive tell us what kind of items people owned and used, and suggest the kind of activities that went on in the farms. Some houses had a quern for grinding cereals and a hearth in the centre for heat and cooking, and a clay oven for baking bread.

A typical roundhouse was reconstructed in the museum courtyard for this exhibition. Built using traditional methods, the roundhouse showed how houses in this area may have looked in the Roman period. You can see step-by-step photos and a time-lapse video of the construction on the building the roundhouse page.

man weaving long thin branches around upright posts

David Freeman building the roundhouse, dressed in Romano-British costume

How did we know how to build the roundhouse?

No original roundhouse survives so we need to use various clues to reconstruct what their houses may have looked like.

We know from excavations on sites such as Irby, Wirral, the size and shape of the foundations. These survive as postholes in the ground, into which upright posts were set to form the walls. We know from other sites that stakes of wood were set between the posts and hazel twigs were woven through the posts to make a wattle wall. The walls were then plastered with clay and straw. The roof was almost certainly covered with straw or heather, built in a conical shape. There is no smoke-hole as smoke gradually filters through the thatch. This roundhouse has been constructed using original methods and materials.

The garden

Alongside the roundhouse in the museum courtyard a garden was created with plant types known from Roman Britain. It featured a variety of species during the course of the exhibition, from native plants such as mint and the turnip to ‘new’ foods like onion and rosemary. The Romans introduced many new plants to Britain, including garlic, white mustard and dill.

Some of the species grown in Roman Britain were food plants, others were used to flavour food or as medicines. People also collected wild foods such as berries, nuts and fruit.

Further information

Follow the links below to see the construction of the roundhouse and find out more about who would have lived there