Within the rather picturesque Vale of Pewsey in the UK – halfway between the famous Stonehenge and the similarly ringed Avebury monument – resides the Cat’s Brain long barrow. This curiously named Neolithic structure dates back to around 3,800 BCE, and this summer, the University of Reading’s Archaeological Field School got the chance to excavate it.
The site made headlines recently after it was claimed that the long rows, similar in form to what are thought to be funerary structures in other places, meant that it was some sort of “house of the dead”. As pointed out by Dr Jim Leary, director of the Archaeological Field School at the University of Reading, no human remains have been found – so what exactly was this place?
During the dig, a massive timber hall up to 20 meters (66 feet) across was identified. This suggests that people used to regularly come here, not bring their dead here.
The building itself is – or was – fairly sizeable and robust, implying a decent number of people used to live or visit it 5,800 years ago, but it’s not clear who they might have been. Either way, for their time, they were architectural pioneers.
It’s unclear that it’s a house, though, one that people lived in in the long term. It could have been a communal space for social events of some sort, although again, the evidence here is circumstantial and speculative.
Still, it’s a tantalizing theory, and one that Leary leans on his Game of Thrones proclivities to elucidate on somewhat.
“The word ‘house’ is often used as a metaphor for a wider social group,” he explained in a piece on The Conversation, referencing the very real House of Windsor and the very fictional House Lannister.
“In this sense, these large timber halls could symbolize a collective identity, and their construction a mechanism through which the pioneering community first established that identity.”