Neolithic Longhouses and Bronze Age
Houses in Central Europe 112
´sztor and Judit P. Barna
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1308
Orientation and Archaeology .................................................................. 1309
Case Study: Prevailing Wind or Midwinter Sun? . . . . ..................................... 1312
Northern or Eastern Orientation? .............................................................. 1313
Case Study: Bronze Age Settlement of the Tumulus Cultural Group . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1313
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1314
Cross-References ............................................................................... 1315
References ...................................................................................... 1315
The investigation of the cause and guiding principles of the orientation of houses
has been a neglected ﬁeld in archaeological studies. If clear regularity can be
observed in the location of houses and constructions, it is assumed to follow the
prevailing winds in most cases.
The position of a house is inﬂuenced by environmental and non-environmental
factors. Besides the winds, sunlight, heat, etc., it is argued in anthropology that
there is no phase in building traditional houses in which the position is not
connected to a rite. Careful investigation of the orientation can reveal some
attitude of prehistoric peoples to their natural surroundings that involve not only
the terrestrial but also the celestial “landscape” as an inseparable unity.
Magistratum Studio, Dunafo
Balatoni Museum, Keszthely, Hungary
C.L.N. Ruggles (ed.), Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy,
#Springer Science+Business Media New York 201
The orientation of houses has not stirred up serious interest among archaeologists.
If the regularity is a striking feature, they consider its cause to be the prevailing
wind. There are however exceptions. The analysis of the alignments of British and
Irish Neolithic houses denotes the followings causes (Topping 1996):
1. Pointing into the wind to give greater structural stability against the prevailing
2. Solar radiation – direct absorption of the heat by aligning the axes roughly with
east–west, to get the largest possibly roof area to face the longest period of the
sun’s path in the sky
3. Light penetration in location and orientation of doorway.
Unusual alignments, changing doorways, pits with sacral deposits, and cultic
artifacts inside the houses, all may also indicate social and/or spiritual expectations.
The impact of this factor is observable, if there are houses of different orientations
in different periods at the same site, or if the orientation is altered in a settlement in
several layers. Did the prevailing wind change?
Ethnographical records attest the presence of non-environmental factors in
building houses or settlements. Basic functions of human existence are closely
attached to houses, which are totally or partly the subject of traditions and
beliefs. Creating analogies between the outer and inner world is characteristic
to traditional way of thinking. Omens coming from the transcendent world are
signiﬁcant groups in a belief system concerning houses. There are few ethno-
graphical analogies to select the site and the orientation of houses in the
Carpathian Basin as in the last centuries, possession became stable, and there
were no free sites to occupy. A new house had to follow the already established
pattern (Bereznai 1999).
One of the exceptions is the old Csa
´(a Hungarian-speaking minority in
Moldova), whose belief in the signiﬁcant role of the sun inﬂuenced their folk
architecture. Their villages were situated in valleys, which extended from the east
to the west, e.g., Magyarfalu, La
´bnik, Pokolpatak, Kle
´zse. The paths leading
through the villages were heading from “napjo¨vet” – the course of the rising
sun – to “napszent€
uletre” – toward where the sun goes to sleep (they are old
Hungarian expressions). The orientation of the openings of the houses, to allow
the sun to shine into them, was also important. Southward positions were generally
favored with orientation, i.e., when the facade faced south (Duma-Istva
Anthropological records also report a double role of the houses. It was partly
a stage for everyday life and partly a shrine on special occasions. The profane space
transformed into a sacral one by ritual activities.
When analyzing the internal space, some researchers came to the conclusion that
the enclosed space as a microcosmos expressed its occupants’ beliefs about the
world they lived in. The orientations, the constructional elements, and the position-
ing of functional activities were all a visible embodiment of that cosmology
(Pearson and Richards 1994).
1308 E. Pa
´sztor and J.P. Barna
The so-called ba
´zak (houses with idols) in the Hungarian region of
´g seem to support this argument. The main, trimmed oak pillars of the
houses, 270–280-cm high and often with a diameter of 50–60 cm, were dug with
their roots. They held the principal beams, the whole roof. The decorated prop,
which divided the facade, is a characteristic unit of the folk architecture of the
´region in Hungary. There are often ancient cosmological signs among the
symbols of the decoration (Fig. 112.1,Pa
Arguments on orientation by ethnographical analogies:
• The facade/the main entrance is relevant for the alignment.
• The order of outer directions is always altered inside. While outside the sun is the
reference, it is often a human body inside.
• There is always a sacral direction; however, the orientation of houses does not
follow it clearly.
• Traditions (almost) always take over the helm from the environmental factors;
principles of space organization are guided by beliefs.
• Directions are often joined by color symbolism.
Orientation and Archaeology
Mostly the alignments of Neolithic houses have been investigated. Marshall argues
by anthropological ﬁeldwork performed in Papua New Guinea that the essential
cause for the main axes of Neolithic trapezoid long houses with their narrower ends
is the alignment to the prevailing wind (Marshall 1981).
Fig. 112.1 The house with
carved prop, Ta
region, Hungary (Pa
112 Neolithic Longhouses and Bronze Age Houses in Central Europe 1309
In the case of the Neolithic Linear Pottery Culture in Central Europe, Coudart
made the point that house orientation was probably not chosen to minimize the
effects of the wind and adverse climatic conditions. There was certainly a link
between house orientation and the prevailing summer winds, but this does not apply
to all the areas occupied by Danubian groups (Coudar 1998).
Studying the Danubian long houses, Hodder also concludes that the topographic
factors could be of secondary consideration to certain communities, and the sym-
bolic or social inﬂuences were of greater importance as he points out a certain
correlation between the Central European longhouses and those of contemporary
tombs (Hodder 1990).
Bradley even argues that the buildings in Linear Pottery settlements were
generally orientated toward the areas of the origin of the communities, who lived
there (Bradley 2001).
In the Early Neolithic Period, groups can be classiﬁed for the orientations of
houses in Southeastern Europe. There are no signiﬁcant orientation for them in
most tell settlements, where the territory occupied by the houses was more
important than the houses themselves. The relation of the clusters might be of
decision. There is also a group with strict North–south orientation that can be
attributed to the heritage of the surviving indigenous Mesolithic populations
In the Middle Neolithic Linear Pottery culture (LPC), north–south was a general
custom. The long pits along the walls indicate well this alignment (Marton and Oross
´k1994). The strict orientation is one of the most characteristic
elements of the LPC houses, which are assumed to be manifestations of a community
with a completely new identity (Ba
While analyzing the orientation of the houses of the Middle/Late Neolithic site
¨ldek, different principles can be detected. Preserving Middle
Neolithic traditions, the people of the Sopot culture oriented all the houses they
built toward the north–south, the most frequent value is 352east of north. The
houses built by the Late Neolithic Lengyel community however seem to be aligned
according to a differing principle, the enclosure. The houses rather deviate in order
not to cross the circular, possible sacral boundary ditch, they rather follow it
(Fig. 112.2). The signiﬁcance of the territory took over the government of the
houses. It might indicate the growing importance of the ideology that the circular
enclosures represent (Barna and Pa
´sztor 2011). The same ideology seems to
inﬂuence on positioning the houses of the tell settlement of Polga
(Raczky et al. 2005) and the settlement with two rondels in the site at Svodı
´1995) as well.
The north–south orientation as a heritage, and a long tradition, had still a leading
role in the Bronze Age Carpathian Basin. It can be even recognized in tell
settlements. The houses arranged in triple groups at the site Tiszaug-Ke
were placed in a North–South direction with their axes. The strict geometrical order
of the decorations found on the outside walls supports the assumption about the
strong interweaving of the everyday life and the creation of a living-place with the
religious beliefs (Csa
1310 E. Pa
´sztor and J.P. Barna
Fig. 112.2 Orientation of houses at site Sorma
¨ldek (Barna and Pa
Fig. 12). 1: Orientation of the longer axis of the houses excavated in the site at Sorma
¨ldek. 2: Rates of the diameters, the number of the roundels having the same rate and the rate
expressed in interreges. 3: Diameters of Enclosure No. II. in the site at Sorma
composing lanes running through gates No. 2 and 8. 4: Orientation of the longer axis of houses
representing the cardinal (cosmic) points
112 Neolithic Longhouses and Bronze Age Houses in Central Europe 1311
Analyzing the Late Bronze Age settlements in the Carpathian Basin, V. Szabo
establishes the fact that at present, there are no constructions, which could be
considered as a shrine or communal or chieftain’s building by their layout or ﬁnds.
The houses are thus assumed to be also places for sacral activities (V. Szabo
The investigation of Bronze Age houses of the Carpathian Basin (26 sites, 127
houses) indicates that:
• In most cases, the dispersion is quite low, which refers to intentional orientation,
apart from the target.
• There are sites, where alteration can be observed in the orientation, although the
settlements belongs to one cultural group.
• The north–south and the northwest-southeast are the most preferred directions. If
it is northwestern and southeastern, the value is around 140of North.
Case Study: Prevailing Wind or Midwinter Sun?
A comparative analysis of the prevailing winds and the orientations attests that 17
of 35 investigated sites of the Carpathian Basin close to 50 % do not show
a correlation with the prevailing wind of the site (Pa
Investigation of an Early Bronze Age cultural group, the Bell Beaker–Csepel group:
Thirteen boat-shaped timber houses (Fig. 112.3) were unearthed at two sites. The
freestanding constructions were probably inhabited by extended families, making
Fig. 112.3 Reconstruction of a Bell Beaker boat-shaped house in the Archaeological Park,
´sztor 2005, Fig. 3)
1312 E. Pa
´sztor and J.P. Barna
home for 100–120 inhabitants. The orientations of the houses are almost parallel,
with a mean value of 141East of North with a statistical dispersion as low as 10.
This direction is only 15south of the sunrise at the winter solstice at the geo-
graphical latitude of the settlements. This direction is however the direction of the
prevailing wind as well.
The houses might have meant more than shelters from the adverse climatic condi-
tions for the residents. This assumption is supported by the ritual pits inside the houses.
The household rituals converted the profane space into a sacral one when it was
needed. No traces of hearths were found inside the houses, but remains of temporary
ﬁreplaces were unearthed in pits in the southern part of the settlement section; thus,
smoke was not needed to be removed on a regular basis. During the time around the
winter solstice, the sun reached the altitude of 9.2at the mean orientation of the houses
at about 9 a.m. This means that the sun then ﬁlled the houses with light through the
open gables (Endro
˝di and Pa
The entrance can take over the leading role from the facade in the belief system.
One of the best examples is given by the Iron Age settlement system in ancient Israel.
The main entrances of the buildings including not only the dwelling houses, but
public buildings in towns as well were generally aligned to the East. The high
preference in the investigated cases cannot be interpreted by either the climatic
conditions or functional expectations in the second phase of the Iron Age. Further
support comes from the ethnographical reports and from the Bible, where the Hebrew
word of east has a very positive meaning, while west has a negative one (Faust 2001).
Northern or Eastern Orientation?
Case Study: Bronze Age Settlement of the Tumulus Cultural Group
The Late Bronze Age settlement at Dunakeszi – Sze
˝site, Hungary, exca-
vated by Ga
´bor Szilas, includes about 60 houses. The longer axes of the houses
show a very good correlation with the north–south direction, which is not the most
favored for environmental factors. The statistical dispersion for the direction of the
main axes is 13.5, which is not high. It signals that the possible goal for the
orientation might have been a celestial, but not a topographical one as in this latter
case, the parallaxes would be noticeable (Pa
The South is where the sun and any other celestial bodies reach the height of
their daily path, at the peak of “their power”. This direction is easy to stake out as
the sun shows it every day. The ethnographical records however prove how well
traditional people knew the motion of the sun; consequently, the statistical disper-
sion is too high for their practical knowledge.
The same correlation can be argued for the main entrances in connection with
the East as the main doorways, detected often as a two-swing door, were
generally found on the eastern side of the houses, close to their southern end.
The chart attests the rising sun may become more relevant as there is not a single
doorway, which did not face the rising sun, as the solstices are at 52-54 and
112 Neolithic Longhouses and Bronze Age Houses in Central Europe 1313
126-128 degrees in the Carpathian Basin (Fig. 112.4). The chart also indicates
that most houses were staked out around equinoxes. The ancient building technique
may also have applied props to the structures like in the Ta
´region (see above).
The preference of north–south orientation was also a custom in the Carpathian
Basin for a long time.
Positioning the dwellings in north–south direction is not a favorable one regard-
ing the environmental conditions. As archaeological evidence attests, it might be
a long tradition going back as far as the Mesolithic period. It might be the visual
manifestation of a hunter-gatherer’s cosmology for which the south–north direction
was of signiﬁcance, and which might have been generated by the migratory birds
Although the data may indicate a clear eastern or southern orientation, the
anthropological records can report very different reasons for a direction. Tradi-
tional Japanese houses faced the south, or rather their fac¸ade avoided the
north that had a negative meaning for them. The houses in the Indonesian
village named Toraja face the north where the rivers have their sources
The anthropological records indicate how complex causes of cultural
understanding can have an inﬂuence on positioning a house. The sun often has
50 55 60 65 70 75 80 85 90 95 100 105
N = 57
110 115 120 125 130 135
Fig. 112.4 The orientation of the main entrances of Tumulus culture houses excavated at the site
˝, Hungary. x-axis: azimuth in degrees. (Pa
1314 E. Pa
´sztor and J.P. Barna
a double role. As an environmental factor, it gives light and heat to houses, and as
a non-environmental factor, it is often an essential element of the belief system.
Materializations of beliefs can however be different even inside one system.
▶Cultural Interpretation of Archaeological Evidence Relating to Astronomy
▶Cultural Interpretation of Ethnographic Evidence Relating to Astronomy
▶Neolithic Circular Ditch Systems (“Rondels”) in Central Europe
▶Solar Alignments - Identiﬁcation and Analysis
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