Pile-dwellings. The origins of Levalloisian architecture can be reconstructed ex post from Aurignacian finds. M. M. Gerasimov reconstructed successfully a number of Late Palaeolithic huts in Siberia (Malta), whose originators were Aurignacian tribes. I. G. Shovkoplias made a reconstruction of similar round huts in the Ukraine (Mezin). These habitations were quadrangular or polygonal pyramid tents (tepees) supported by a construction of with tall piles crossed on their top and tied with a bast rope (Jelínek 1972: 250, 267). The conic roof was covered with fells and hides, whose lower fringes were weighed down with heavy stones. Some tents had a circular design and had an asymmetric roof leaning to the entrance. Close kinship with microlith tribes was manifested in a similar architecture of Magdalenian pile-dwellings that differed from Aurignacian types by having lower asymmetric roofs, shorter piles and a circular wreath of surrounding stone stabs. On the other hand, Aurignacian pile-dwellings were of design almost identical to the Tungus chum and the North American Indian tepee. Their conic construction was very steep, the piles were extremely tall, the top ends overtopped a lot their crossing and the basement consisted of a circular wreath of plain stones. Both abodes were built by fishermen as temporary summertime shelters on the waterside but in the Neolithic they turned into waterlogged pile-huts intended for permanent living. Piles hammered into the lakebed or into the bed of boggy marshes served for insulation from water and humidity. The first Levalloisians wandering to Southeast Asia could live as fishermen in the marshland by making tree-dwellings with nests from boughs and piles in their crown.

    Pile-houses. Neolithic Europe was peopled by a race of lake-dwellers, who built their huts on platforms set on many piles in the middle of a lake or on a lakeshore. The earliest record of a settlement with pile-houses on an island amidst the marshes comes from Nea Nicomedeia on the Vistritsa river from (its radiocarbon dates were from 6,063 to 5,834 BC). Its inhabitants combined fishing with agriculture and keeping goats (Mongait 1973: 206). The site might have been occupied by ancestors of the Macedonian Paeones, who were attacked by Dareios and described by Herodot: ‘In the centre of the lake is a timbered scaffolding on high piers, accessible over one narrow footbridge ... They get these stakes from the Orbelos mountains and whoever gets married drives three stakes into the lake-ground for each of his wives. They live in huts built on the scaffolding and every hut can be entered only over a drawbridge projecting above the water. Little babies are tied up with a rope by their legs in fear lest they should fall down into the water’ (Herodot, Hist. V, 16). The ethnonym is suggestive of Paion, a divine healer on the Olympus of Apollo's and Asklepios’ stock.

    Lake-dwellings were most common in the cultures ranging as a long belt of lakes from Austria to Belgium. The pile-houses began to appear at Ljubljansko Blat belonging to the Vuèedol culture and continued with the Mondsee culture excavated on Lake Mondsee (Sharfling). It included sites on Lake Attersee and finds at Rainberg near Salzburg. The next station was the Altheim group found near Landhut in Bavaria. Its settlement was surrounded by three concentric rings of ditches and palisades (Bray, Trump 1982: 14). The continuous belt of lake cultures with pile-dwellings ended with the Michelsberg culture reaching as far as Belgium. Another parallel belt headed for Italy and split in Switzerland.  Its main station was situated in the Lagozza culture of northern Italy related to a few smaller groups in central and southern parts of the peninsula. The Swiss settlements included the Egolzwil centre near Luzern, the Horgen group on Zürichsee and the Cortaillod sites on Neuchâtel.  

    The Horgen group bore resemblance to the Seine-Oise-Marne culture in northern France, while the Cortaillod localities seemed affiliated to the Chassey culture in southeast France. The former two cultures tended to bury their dead in rock-cuts caves and should be classified as Epi-Tardenoisian. The latter two group lay on the belt of Epi-Aurignacian cultures and should be attributed to the Celtic Belgae. Cave-dwellings were very common also in the Chassey localities, because they covered deeper Azilian layers. The Chassean custom of inhuming dead bodies in burial caves links them with the Seine-Oise-Marne culture and rock-cut tombs common in the Phoenician world. Their heritage was due to Mesolithic microlith peoples. It associated the Hebrew with the Iberians in southwest Europe and the Eburones in Belgium. Their artificial caves were cut into soft rocks to form large chambers with niches. They became very common on Sardinia, at the lakeside of Chalain in the Jura, in the Paris basins and Burgundy (Whitehouse 1975).

    The Chasseans exhibited a very dense but incompact distribution, their settlements were scattered in many isolated groups. One group pursued the southern track to the Garonne basin, whereas the mainstream followed the northern track to the Seine Basin and Brittany (Piggott 1974: 111; Vogt 1955). The radiocarbon dating reckons with a period from 3,600 to 3,000 BC. Their origin is sought in a westward colonisation from Italy (Vouga 1934). Their burial customs indulged in digging pit graves or trench and chamber graves.

    Terramaricoli. In Italy the rock-cut caves flourished from 2,500 to 1,700 BC and their builders never became extinct. The Bronze Age lake-dwellings had a similar distribution but their area was shifted a little bit more westward. The Swiss lake-dwellings on Bieler See and Lac du Bourget contained much bronze industry. In northern Italy these pile-houses were built in the marshes on wooden platforms surrounded by artificial ditches and lakes so that they survived to posterity as heaps of black soil with organic garbage refuse (Pulgram 1958). The terramara finds (Plur. terremare) were unearthed also in the Alföld and Tószög terremare with heaps of garbage along the rivers in the eastern end. Their origin must be due to lake-dwellers mixed with Urnfielders. 

    Palafitticoli. On Lago Isolino and Lago di Varese we find more traditional lake-dwellings palafitte with almost unbroken records from the Neolithic period. Palafitta (Plur. palafitte) is a local name for pile-houses built on wooden platforms and waterlogged sites of the Lagozza culture. Best-preserved remains come from Castione dei Marchesi, Casarodole and Roteglia. Their Bronze Age heir was the Polada culture on the southern end of Lake Garda in north Italy. The list of their alleged inhabitants palafitticoli and terramaricoli is too impressive to quote but it counts mostly with the Ligures, Piceni, Italiotes and Celts.

    Crannog. While most pile-houses on the continent drew away about 300 or 500 m from shores, crannogs in the British Isles stood on artificial wooden islands. Long piers were hammered into the bottom of lakes and marshes to support a wooden waterlogged platform and surrounded by a timber palisade. Crannogs are found in Britain (Pickering, Somerset), Scotland (Galloway, Ayrshire, Clyde valley) as well as Ireland (Lagore Crannog, Lisnacroghera). Most of them come from the Iron Age or are of Early Christian date. Being relatively small, they must have been inhabited by single families seeking protection from dangerous intruders. ‘The oldest examples in Ireland have yielded early Neolithic material’ with Bann flakes (Bray, Trump 1982: 68).

    Another group of pile-dwellings is known from Wissmar in Mecklenburg and Gägelow near Schwerin. Vineta and Biskupin are towns of pile-dwellings, allegedly from Slavonic times, but they probably conceal an earlier substratum from the Iron Age. Their originators may have been the Pluni, Ploni or Polani, who could have their hand also in the similar Poznañ group. Their villages have long rows of houses along the waterside and the long central lane.

    In Africa a group of Bantu peoples use pile-houses that have developed from lake-dwellings. Their distribution in eastern and southeast Africa betrays a common starting-point in the Levalloisian or Pre-Aurignacian colonisation. Their architecture is based on pile constructions, wooden platforms and conic roofs. The tribes Fon, Luba, Zande, Vongera, Male and Mogadisha in East Africa use it for building their homes and dry granaries protected from water.


Talang. When the Tungus tribes traversed China and the Philippines, they flooded the shores of southern seas with their conic tepees that gradually transformed into seaside and riverside pile-houses. Typical lake-dwellings were rather rare but almost every waterside in Vietnam, Malaya and Indochina was rimmed by local pile-houses. They inhabitants lived on the water, travelled on it and used it also as a dump. The most primitive forms of pile-huts made appearance in Malaya and in Austronesia. The Dayaks built high platforms on high piles and approached them by ladders. Their huts were long houses for large matriarchal families. The Malays lived in stilt-houses called talang that were built in secluded places. Both tribes were remarkable for fishing skills, seafaring and their piracy. They slept on mats and used swords for self-defence. The Papuans in New Guinea built pile-dwellings on logs that were 5 or 6 metres tall (Vlach 1913: 127).

    Raft-dwellings. Also the Siamese were wont to live on the water, but their dwellings floated on the water surface as rafts. The Khao had stilt-dwellings with stilts projecting above the earth. Their granaries were made of live trees hanged by wooden platforms. The Annamites in Vietnam used both raft-dwellings and stilt-dwellings.

    In America the classic lake-dwellings are not very common, they were common only to the Olmecs, Chavin and Aztecs, who lived on the lakeshores and earned their living by fishing. The Paumara in Venezuela constructed floating rafts out of reeds. The Chavín and Olmecs are suspected to be a lost colony of the Phoenician seafarers, who came via the Atlantic Ocean. The Mexican Aztecs had taken over their tall tepees patterns from the Uto-Aztecan tribes of North America. The Haida, Nootka and other Salish tribes in British Columbia abandoned such tepees and built large rectangular pile-dwellings made from wooden platforms and long boards.

    Tree-Dwellers. Southeast Asia is inhabited by residual populations of primitive fishermen, whose culture cannot be explained by Mesolithic migrations. These populations live in trees, make nest from intertwined boughs in their crowns and access them by climbing up steep ladders. In South India the long stilt-dwellings in the trees are erected by the Kanikkarar. In China the Miao-tse were said to live in rock caves in winter and in tree-dwellings in summer (Buschan 1923: 540, 641). The dwarfish Senoi and Semang belonged to the Malaysian Negritos but their culture was influenced by prehistoric Proto-Malays to such an extent that they combined living in rock-caves with summertime relaxation in tree-dwellings. They average 155 cm in height but contains a strong admixture of Mongolian blood (Buschan 1923: 540, 641).

Table 55. Stilt-dwellings at the waterside

    Vako. Also the Garo used tree-dwellings for summertime habitation. The Naga used them only for their sentries as guarding huts. The Karen in Burma fled to them temporarily when staying outside far from their homes on harvest tours. In New Guinea the Kai tribe built tall tree-huts with long ladders. Similar huts were built by the Battaks in Sumatra who combined them with pile dwellings constructed on high wooden platforms. The fishermen’s tribes in the Solomon Islands built their tree-dwelling vako when menaced by foes. The aborigines on the Isle of Isabelle lived in tree-dwellings that towered 25 to 30 metres above the ground. They accessed them by means of long ladders (Vlach 1913: 38).


Extract from Pavel Bìlíèek: Prehistoric Dialects II. Prague 2004, p. 580-584