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Sunken featured building/Pit house

Updated on March 1, 2014


Sunken featured building (SFB) or Grubenhaus is distinctive type of building that are found in England and across North- west Europe from the fifth to late seventh century. It is one of the most defining features of early Anglo-Saxon settlements. Earliest evidence of Grubenhaus like features in Europe was in 5th- 6th centuries BC .An archaeologist called Von Guyan discovered a site in Ochtendung ( Germany ) with 6 rectangular sunken huts and pits which had similar features of Grubenhaus (Tipper 2004).Grubenhaus like features has appeared in many periods like the early roman Iron Age period in Europe to late Anglo-Saxon period in England. Earliest evidence of Grubenhaus in England has being much debated with the traditional framework and settlement. As for now, the earliest is at a settlement in Mucking which is interpreted as an early military settlement in late 4th and 5th Century (Tipper 2004). It was excavated in 1970 and since then there has many settlements like those that of Dorchester on Thames, Wroxeter, West Heslerton has found number of Grubenhaus. Anglo-Saxon Grubenhaus has number of features , it should tell us about occupation, trade, cultural background and also tell us what kind of settlements were present and how the settlements transformed from early Anglo-Saxon period to late Anglo-Saxon in England. The purpose of Grubenhaus, interpreted by archaeologist as houses, workshops and storage sheds.


Main feature of Sunken featured building (SFB) or Grubenhaus is that, it is a pit house building type where the pit forms the central component. The building is sub-rectangular in shape and measures 3 x 4m in area and .3 -.5m in depth where side’s slopes down to roughly flat bate. The building has 2-6 post depending on structure to support the roof, they are meant to support the building and positioned at side like Figure 2. There is debate on how many post are kept to support roof, as each site is different from each other. There are 2 type of Grubenhaus which are based on floor of the structure, one is sunken featured building and the other is sunken floored building. Sunken featured building is that a planked floor is suspended across the pits at ground level . Sunken floored building where the floor of the pit forms the base level of the building. An internal feature of building has nothing special in it as shown in the

Figure 3. It has regular Saxon heating facility, made up either of stone or by hearth. As mentioned before, the floor suspended above ground through the pits. Some of the Grubenhaus had a under floor heating system to keep them warm .Some of them made pits inside the house for cooking and for making pots. Sunken featured building(SFB) or Grubenhaus is mainly appear as primary domestic building which has a secondary feature for other occupation like potter, storage and so on.


Methods used in excavation of Grubenhaus

The pits are the best archaeology evidence of Grubenhaus; they are rectangular and will have lots of finds in it to represent trade, culture, occupation. Occasionally slots/ stake holes have also being found around the base of the pit, they are located against the sides. When clearing the top layer of a site we first find a dark shady layer feature that is close to sub rectangular as shown in Figure 4. One must take photos of the feature, give it a special context number which is for only sunken featured building like SFB6, SFB 7. These number is to indicate the special feature which is important and also to avoid confusion while excavating and understand it. Next step is to take pictures of this feature and start to plan the feature so that we can keep record how it was before and after the excavating . After planning and taking photos, one would then start to excavate the Grubenhaus. The method of excavating the Grubenhaus is slightly different from normal excavation of feature. Firstly instead of splitting the feature into 2 half’s (like in post hole and linear features) ,one must split the Grubenhaus into 4 quadrants( north-south and east-west). This done because the Grubenhaus has to be carefully excavated as it has systematic method of excavation and easy to record finds. Excavation begins by removing two opposing corner of the quadrants of the feature so that one can easily see the stratigraphy of the SFB. While excavating in the Grubenhaus we take out 5cm of soil layer in each quadrant. This done to keep track of the finds and record them if necessary. Grubenhaus is not only has a lot finds, but also quite important. So each layer while excavating, one would normally sieve the soil for finds. Grubenhaus is quite important on finds, as one it would help us to understand the occupation of the settlement during the period of stay. .After taking 5cm of top layer one takes photographs and record to understand the stratigraphy and then starts to excavate next 5cm. This process goes on until we reach the natural. During the process of excavating the Grubenhaus if one reach the next fill one must take photos, planning and record the fill in section drawing sheet. One must use planning grids to record the quadrant and then go on to excavate the next layer. When reaching the natural, one would find few small features like postholes, stake holes in Grubenhaus. These features would give us the internal structure of building before abandoned. These features would be excavated individual as any other feature.


Example of Sunken featured building-SFB 7(from LYMINGE)

Sunken featured building 7 is the seventh sunken featured building found in recent excavation running from 2012-2014.SFB7 is located in north- eastern corner of the site(29th grid square). The SFB is roughly 5m x 4m which different from the previous site. This SFB is slightly larger and has extra features surrounding. This SFB is located near to one of the Timber building found in the site. There are few double postholes surrounding and located on the western side of the building. The building has a huge number of stake holes in northern and southern sides of the building. There are three post holes found in eastern side of the building which mean this could be a 3 post building as mentioned before.

SFB7 has tri partite fills, which is similar to once at mucking. This type of fill was referred to by Margaret Jones (Tipper 2004) in this dig. The Final fill is predominantly friable clay and has colour of Dark Brownish grey kind of soil. Final fill when excavated a frequent number of oyster shells, stones, jaws and teeth and faunal fragments, very occasion of pottery, glass, pebbles, and chalk were found in this fill. Primary fill has a thickness of 10cm. Secondary fill is firm silty clay and has mid blackish brown colour. Primary fill, when excavated contain frequent amount of charcoal which were found throughout the fill, daub were found about 20 mm , very occasional chalk pierces, pottery and animal bones about 10-60mm present in it . Thickness of this fill is 50mm.And finally Primary fill is friable silty clay, which contains 80 per cent of chalk. This fill when excavated contain frequent number of charcoal about 20mm in large chunks, moderate amount of animal bones about 120 mm and one piece of pottery and an iron nail. The fills thickness is 320 mm.

Looking at the information mentioned in the above paragraphs, the building could be used for some kind of occupation as it is located to near to timber shows an elitist kind of features were used in it. Presence of glass, decorated porter show that they traded a lot in Britain and in Europe. The deposits found in the building could be redeposit rubbish and dumped after disuse of the building. The posthole tells us that this building had suspended floors.


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    • ajithknn profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago

      There could be similarly...but the function could be different mostly seen seen northern europe and england part of saxon society...

    • Haiden William profile image

      Haiden Clark 

      6 years ago from Brisbane, Australia

      I remember when i went to africa, they had some similarly designed houses in the massai area


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