Iron Age stately home rises again

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The Independent Online
A PREHISTORIC chieftain's stately pile is being rebuilt - 2,300 years after it was demolished.

As part of a research programme to discover how Iron Age architects built their largest buildings, archaeologists in south-west Wales are recreating a 45ft wide (13.7m) roundhouse on the exact spot it stood 23 centuries ago. Designing the roof angle to minimise rainwater retention, they have worked out that the original structure must have stood 26ft (7.9m) high.

The chieftain's house, at Castell Henllys in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park - will be among the largest reconstructed prehistoric buildings in Europe, and the only structure of its size in the UK built on its original site. The shallow foundations of the wattle and daub walls are even being built in the trench dug by the Iron Age architects in circa 300BC.

The roundhouse was almost certainly built - and is being rebuilt - entirely from timber uprights and roof beams, water reeds for the room thatch, young hazel branches for latticework walls (wattles) and clay, cow dung, straw and horsehair for daub to cover the wall latticework.

The building would have been home for a powerful local chieftain. It stood within and dominated a small village surrounded by multiple earthwork, stone and timber defences. Apart from the chief's stately pile, the settlement boasted up to a dozen smaller roundhouses, lived in by up to 150 relatives and retainers.

The chieftain, who probably controlled a territory of some 30 square miles, is likely to have been a leading member of a tribal people later known as the Demetae (from which the modern regional name Dyfed is derived).

His fortress village appears to have been a hive of industrial activity. Archaeologists, led by Dr Harold Mytum of the University of York, have found evidence of textile production and metalworking. Further evidence from the site suggests that the chieftain and his entourage ate beef, lamb, pork and emmer wheat porridge, rode horses, and wore high- quality woollen clothes andglass jewellery from Somerset.

The chief's roundhouse will be completed by late November. Three smaller replica Iron Age houses, a granary and animal pens have already been built on the site, which is surrounded by the remnants of its ancient defences. Iron Age-style sheep, cattle and boar-like pigs are being kept at the village.

n Castell Henllys is open 10am-5pm daily until 1 November, and will reopen at Easter.