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I've read detailed social history on Scotland which goes back to about the 16th century, and it would seem like some of the poorest Scots of that era sometimes lived in housing which was as modest as mud / dirt huts.

If I'm understanding correctly the medieval era saw a very gradual rise of the town and city, or in other words civilization, so my assumption would be that early medieval society may have been closer to tribal and very primitive.

In any case, that brings me to the question of how people in early medieval Europe housed themselves, with Scotland as my case study. How did people in the current state of Scotland house themselves in the early medieval period?

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  • This question is too broad to answer effectively. Different geographic regions and people of different income levels and occupations housed themselves differently. At a minimum you need to specify (1) the region or country, (2) what type of person (soldier, tradesman, farmer, etc). Commented May 18, 2015 at 19:02
  • Given, unless you answer the question broadly. I assume that'd be possible. "People lower on the economic strata tended to build their homes with [x] material, and were of [y] size".. etc. Surely there can't be that much variation across Europe.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 19:59
  • Yes, there is, and don't call me Shirley. Commented May 18, 2015 at 23:06
  • prima facia the answer will differ from Norway to Southern Spain and from Scotland to Turkey. The answer will be different in the Swiss Alps than in the Netherlands. The answer will vary with the available materials, soils, and cultures.
    – MCW
    Commented May 18, 2015 at 23:55
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    Ok, I've narrowed it down to early medieval Scotland. Does that work?
    – Cdn_Dev
    Commented May 19, 2015 at 13:21

2 Answers 2

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There's an archeological site called West Stow in England that attempts to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon village found there around the 5-7th Century. That would probably qualify. There's another website covering it that has a lot more pictures of the buildings.

It looks like the richer folks and their retainers lived together in "halls" that a lot of us are familiar with from Norse mythology, while the more humble folk tended to live it pit-houses (although there's an ongoing debate about how many pit-houses were just used for storage). The primary source of building materials there was wood, but that probably varied based on what materials were available locally.

Outside of the Germanic areas, one would imagine the architecture might be a bit different.

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If we take the Early Medieval period to be from about 500 to 1000 CE, there were various types of housing in Scotland. There was an abundance of loose stone in Scotland resulting from glacier action in the last ice age. When the glaciers retreated, moraine was littered all over the country. In certain places, the type of rock also lent itself easily to splitting into slab-like sections.

There were stone brochs (a type of structure found only in Scotland) that consisted of high circular double-walled towers in drystone building techniques with stairs in the hollow walls to access higher wooden-floored levels. The best preserved of these brochs is the Mousa Broch in Shetland.

Other habitations were crannogs. These were artificial islands built in lochs (the Scottish word for lakes) which supported circular wooden houses with thatched conical roofs and had plank bridges or causeways for access from the shore. Although the first crannogs were very old, crannogs were still in use well into the early Middle Ages.

But generally, houses were usually built of stone, with cavity walls filled with earth, topped with peat or turf that supported timber-framed thatched roofs. These were known as black houses. One side of the house was dedicated to animals, the other side was the living quarters.

Mud huts would definitely not have been a good idea in Scotland with its wet climate. It is possible that in certain areas turf or peat squares might have been used, but generally stone or wood would have been used for the walls.

Early medieval society in Scotland was not tribal or primitive. Scotland was Christianized early, starting from the 5th century. The Picts were just as civilised as people on the European continent and Pictish carvings (cross slabs) show a very high degree of artistic representation. Their clothing and weaponry was the same as that to be found across Europe. The Picts were also highly skilled metalworkers

However, in the Middle Ages, there are reports of houses in cities being built using wood rather than stone. Here is a detailed report on that, although a lot of it is speculation based on English sources rather than Scottish ones:

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  • The question was asked seven years ago. That aside you'd need to determine if there were cultural differences in housing between the various groups- Scots of Dalriada, any Irish or later Norse colonists in Galloway, "Northumbrians", Cumbrians and the "Picts". Commented Dec 26, 2022 at 22:38
  • Just wanted to pipe in here to say that this seems like a really good answer, I've upvoted it, and it wouldn't really hurt my feelings any if the checkmark were moved to it.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 18:57

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