A pit-house (or pithouse) is a building that is partly dug into the ground, and covered by a roof.[1] Besides providing shelter from extremes of weather, these structures may also be used to store food (just like a pantry, a larder, or a root cellar) and for cultural activities like the telling of stories, dancing, singing and celebrations. General dictionaries also describe a pit-house as a dugout,[2] and it has similarities to a half-dugout.[3]

In archaeology, a pit-house is frequently called a sunken featured building[4][5] and occasionally (grub-)hut[6] or grubhouse, after the German name Grubenhaus[7] They are found in numerous cultures around the world, including the people of the American Southwest, the ancestral Pueblo, the ancient Fremont and Mogollon cultures, the Cherokee, the Inuit, the people of the Plateau, and archaic residents of Wyoming (Smith 2003) in North America; Archaic residents of the Lake Titicaca Basin (Craig 2005) in South America; Anglo-Saxons in Europe; and the Jōmon people in Japan. Anglo-Saxon pit-houses may have actually represented buildings for other functions than just dwellings.

Usually, all that remains of the ancient pit-house is a dug-out hollow in the ground and any postholes used to support the roof. In the nineteenth century, it was believed that most prehistoric peoples lived in pit-houses, although it has since been proved that many of the features thought of as houses were in fact food prehistoric storage pits or served another purpose.

Authausen Grubenhaus
Reconstruction of a pit-house in Authausen, Germany

Mammoth bone dwellings

Dwelling made with mammoth bones
Mammoth bone dwelling

The oldest pit dwellings were discovered in Mezhyrich, Central Ukraine. Dating back 15,000 years to the Upper Paleolithic age, the houses were made of mammoth bones. The base is circular or oval in shape, 12 to 14 feet (3.7 to 4.3 metres) in diameter, with limb bones used for walls and lighter, flat bones used for the roof. Presumably, animal hide was stretched around the exterior for insulation. Each dwelling had a hearth. Groups of houses were arranged around a base camp layout, occupied by families or relatives for weeks or months.[8]

Early medieval Europe

Grubenhäuser Rosstal und Sussex
Grubenhaus at Bede's World Jarrow
A reconstruction

Pit-houses were built in many parts of northern Europe between the 5th and 12th centuries AD. In Germany they are known as Grubenhäuser, and in the United Kingdom, they are also known as grubhuts, grubhouses or sunken featured buildings.

Archaeological evidence indicates they were built in a shallow sub-rectangular pit and vary in depth (often relating to the preservation of the site). Some may measure 0.25m by around 2m by 1.5m, whilst examples from excavations from the 1950s onwards at West Stow in the United Kingdom are 3.7m-4.44m long x 2.72m-3.5m wide x 0.58m-0.97m deep. Within this pit were placed two (but sometimes 0, 4, or 6) substantial wooden posts in postholes at either end of the long axis. Some archaeologists have suggested that a suspended wooden floor lay over the pit and that the cavity beneath was used for storage or to control dampness, although others have disputed this, suggesting that grubenhäuser did not have suspended floors at all. A gabled roof supported by the timber posts covered the hut, which likely had no windows and had a single entrance at one end. Excavations at West Stow (UK) in the 1970s found preserved evidence of charred planks, suggestive of suspended floors. Hearths were also found, which sat partially over the edge of the sunken pits and appeared to have collapsed downwards when the structure supporting their overhanging sections (possibly a suspended floor) was removed and that a bivouac style roof would not be practical.[9]

Grubenhäuser are often understood to have been domestic dwellings. However, their use may have varied, especially on a regional basis. In Western Europe their small size and the fact that they can be found near other buildings and associated finds of loom weights has led to theories that they had a specialised purpose such as for weaving sheds. In the Slavonic regions of Eastern Europe, Grubenhäuser are larger and often have a fireplace. In most settlements there have been no features of buildings at ground level.

There are reconstructions of pit-houses in several open-air museums, e.g. in the Hitzacker Archaeological Centre, the Kalkriese Museum and Park, the Oerlinghausen Archaeological Open Air Museum, and the Hochdorf Chieftain's Grave.

In North America

Throughout the inland Pacific Northwest, indigenous people were nomadic during the summer and gathered resources at different spots according to the season and tradition, but over wintered in permanent semi-subterranean pit houses at lower elevations. The winter was often the only time families saw others- even if they were from the same village and tribe- and congregated in any numbers before the arrival of trading posts. Often these houses were located along on major rivers and tributaries like the Columbia and Fraser; were typically round and fairly small, and were covered in layers of tule mats to keep out the weather and keep in the heat. There was a smoke hole in the center, and the interior, though warm in winter, was exceptionally smoky.[10]

Pithouse at Step House Mesa Verde 1
A reconstruction of a pit-house at the Step House ruins in Mesa Verde National Park, United States, shows the pit dug below grade, four supporting posts, roof structure as a layers of wood and mud, and the entry through the roof.
Phoenix-Pueblo Grande Ruin-Hohokam Pithouses Replicas
These are pit-house replicas in the Pueblo Grande Ruins in Phoenix, Arizona. They represent what the Hohokam pit-houses looked like 1000 years ago.

In the northwestern Great Plains and the Plateau region located nearby, climate changes and extreme temperature and weather conditions made it difficult to live year-round. Hot summers led to the building of simple tent like structures that were portable and could be packed up to move. For cold winter months, pit-houses provided the warm, protected shelter necessary for survival.[11]

Cross-cultural patterning

Gluringen Scheunen
Barn on a wooden cellar in Gluringen, Valais, Switzerland. Traces in the ground would appear as a "pit-house".

A cross-cultural middle range model of pit-house architecture using the Ethnographic Atlas found that 82 of the 862 societies in the sample occupy pit structures as either their primary or secondary dwellings.[12]

All but six of the 82 societies live above 32° north latitude, and four of the six cases in this sample that are below 32° north latitude are from "high mountain" regions in east Africa, Paraguay, and eastern Brazil.[13] The last example is from the Yami[14] who occupied a small island south of Formosa.

Three conditions were always present among groups in the sample: 1) non-tropical climate during the season of pit structure habitation; 2) minimally a biseasonal settlement pattern; 3) reliance on stored food during the period of pit structure occupation. These conditions may be related to other factors of society and the presence of any or all of these three elements in society does not pre-condition occupation of pit structures. Nonetheless, these three conditions were present in all cases of pit structure occupation present in the Ethnographic Atlas. Other cultural patterns were common, but not universal across the sample. These commonalities include: cold season of occupation, low population estimates, and simple political and economic systems.

The ethnographic sample is based almost entirely on case studies from societies located in northern latitudes. The period of pit structure occupation is generally during the cold season, probably due to their thermal efficiency. Dug into the ground, pit structures take advantage to the insulating properties of soil, as well as having a low profile, protecting them from exposure to wind-induced heat loss.[15] Since less heat is lost by transmission than is in above ground structures, less energy is required to maintain stable temperatures inside the structure.[16]

Out of the 82 ethnographic cases in the Ethnographic Atlas, 50 societies had population estimates. Of these, 64% had fewer than 100 people per settlement.[17] In only 6% of cases were there more than 400 persons per settlement. The cases with the highest population densities were the Arikara and Hidatsa of the North American Great Plains and the Konso of Ethiopia. Gilman attributes high population densities among the Arikara to the availability of buffalo.

Pit structure occupations are generally associated with simple political and economic systems. For 86% of the sample, class stratification or social distinctions based on non-hereditary wealth were reported as absent.[18] However, some pit-dwelling societies are characterized by chiefdom level complexity. In terms of economic organization, 77% of the societies who occupy pit structures had a hunting and gathering economy.[19] This is a large fraction of the sample, but is not considered a universally consistent feature like biseasonal settlement and a reliance on stored foods during pit structure occupation.

During the part of the year when people are not living in pit structures, activities should be focused on acquiring foods to store.[17] Based on the sample from the Ethnographic Atlas, this may be through either hunting and gathering or agricultural activity.

Many different prehistoric groups used pit houses. Although generally associated with the American southwest cultures, such as Fremont, Pueblo, Anasazi, Hohokam, and Mogollon, pit houses were used by a wide variety of people in a wide variety of places over the past 12,000 years. Large pit house formations have been excavated in British Columbia, Canada, such as at Keatley Creek Archaeological Site.

Excavation procedure

First, all loose dirt is scraped off the pit-house surface, using trowels.[20] A construction number (C_) and a feature number (A_) are assigned, and bird's-eye view photos are taken of the surface of the pit-house.[20] A ~30 cm wide section of the pit-house is cordoned off using string and nails in an east–west orientation, as is typical.[20] This profile wall is left intact for the bulk of the excavation so a team can clearly see the separate layers of the pit-house as they dig deeper.[20] Trowels are then used to excavate on either side of the profile wall.[21] While some finds turn up directly through digging, others are found once the removed soil is sieved. A scaled diagram (either 1:10 cm, 1:20 cm, or 1:50 cm) of the pit-house is drawn afterwards to document the location of important finds.[20] Once the floor layer is reached, aerial pictures are taken once again.[20] The profile wall is then excavated to reveal the full pit-house floor.[20] Along the way, all important finds are bagged and assigned artifact (X_) numbers.[20][22]

Current usage

While many standard definitions of pit-houses tend to render them as 'primitive' or 'pre-modern' structures, they remain examples – along with rammed earth and straw-bale building – of elegant and sustainable architecture and design technologies that work with the existing ecological and environmental features of a given space or site. In Canada, pit houses are emblematic of local indigenous knowledge and practices, which build with as opposed to against the land.

One current and symbolic example is the pit-house recently erected at the Unis’tot’en Camp, an autonomous community located on the proposed North Gateway Pipeline route across the traditional territory of the Wet'suwet'en people (central British Columbia). Built by members of the band along with activists and allies who live in solidarity in the camp, the house is an expression of sustainable building alternatives.[23]

See also


  1. ^ "Pit house" in the online Merriam Webster's Dictionary
  2. ^ Harris, C. M. (1998). "Dugout". American architecture: An illustrated encyclopedia (p. 104). New York: W.W. Norton.
  3. ^ Whitney, W. D. (1889). "Dugout" def. 2. The Century dictionary: An encyclopedic lexicon of the English language (Vol. 3, p. 1793). New York: The Century Co.
  4. ^ Hidden Treasure Fact Files By Dr Neil Faulkner Last updated 2011-02-17 http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/archaeology/fact_files_08.shtml accessed 2/14/2013
  5. ^ Crabtree, Pam J.. Medieval archaeology: an encyclopedia. New York: Garland Pub., 2001. 533. ISBN 0815312865
  6. ^ G.L. Brook Symposium, C., & Kay, C. (2000). Lexicology, semantics, and lexicography: Selected papers from the fourth G.L. Brook Symposium, Manchester, August 1998. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.
  7. ^ Hourihane, C., Strickland, D. H., & Simonetta, M. (n.d.). Anglo-Saxon Architecture. In The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture (Vol. 2, p. 80). (2012) New York, NY. ISBN 9780195395365
  8. ^ Hoffecker, John A Prehistory of the North: Human Settlement of the Higher Latitudes Rutgers, 2005, ISBN 0-8135-3468-2|url=[1]
  9. ^ West 2001, West Stow Revisited, St Edmundsbury Borough Council
  10. ^ Lithic design and Technoloigical Organization in Housepit 1 of the S7istken Site, Middle Fraser Canyon, British Columbia By Matthew Mattes "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-15. Retrieved 2016-03-15.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Snow, Dean (2010). Archaeology of Native North America. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. p. 261. ISBN 013615686X.
  12. ^ (Gilman 1987:540)
  13. ^ (Gonzalez 1953)
  14. ^ Kano and Segawa (1956)
  15. ^ Gilman (1987:542)
  16. ^ Farwell (1981)
  17. ^ a b Gilman (1987:544)
  18. ^ Gilman (1987:547)
  19. ^ Gilman (1987:545)
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h Trier, T. "2014: Archaeological Excavation Report for FHM 5216 Tønnesminde, Brundby By, Tranebjerg sogn, Samsø herred, tidl". Moesgaard Museum. Sb.nr. 138 (Sted nr. 03.05.05).
  21. ^ Brown, Nancy Marie. "Secrets of Ancient Iceland, Dispatch 1: Digging into the Viking Age". Penn State News. Penn State University.
  22. ^ Vésteinsson, Orri. "Icelandic farmhouse excavations. Field methods and site choices" (PDF). University of Oslo. University of Oslo Press.
  23. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2017-01-16.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)


  • Farwell, R. Y. (1981), "Pit Houses: Prehistoric Energy Conservation?", El Palacio, 87, pp. 43–47
  • Gilman, P. (1987), "Architecture as Artifact: Pit Structures and Pueblos in the American Southwest", American Antiquity, 52, pp. 538–564, doi:10.2307/281598
  • Gonzalez, A. R. (1953), "Concerning the Existence of the Pit House in South America", American Antiquity, 18, pp. 271–272, doi:10.2307/277052
  • Kano, T. & Segawa, K. (1956), An Illustrative Ethnography of Formosan Aborigines, Tokyo: Maruzen
  • Smith, C. S. (2003), "Hunter-gatherer Mobility, Storage, and Houses in a Marginal Environment: an Example from the mid-Holocene of Wyoming", Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 22, pp. 162–189, doi:10.1016/s0278-4165(03)00017-5

External links


A barabara or barabora (Russian); ulax̂, ulaagamax, ulaq, or ulas (plural) (Aleut); and ciqlluaq (Alutiiq ~ Sugpiaq) were the traditional, main or communal dwelling used by the Alutiiq people and Aleuts, the indigenous people of the Aleutian Islands. They lay partially underground like an earth lodge or pit-house, and most of the house was excavated from the dirt so as to withstand the high forces of wind in the Aleutian chain of islands. Barabaras are no longer used, as present-day Aleuts live in modern houses and apartment buildings.

The roof of a barabara was generally made from sod and grass layered over a frame of wood or whalebone, and contained a roof doorway for entry. Inside of the barabara was a main room, and a secondary room used for parental purposes. The main room had two rows for cots, less-excavated and higher than the rest of the room. The bottom of the room had one or more holes for an "inhouse". The entrance typically had a little wind envelope or "Arctic entry" to prevent cold wind, rain or snow from blowing into the main room and cooling it off. There was usually a small hole in the ceiling from which the smoke from the fire escaped.

Basketmaker III Era

The Basketmaker III Era (AD 500 to 750) also called the "Modified Basketmaker" period, was the third period in which Ancient Pueblo People were cultivating food, began making pottery and living in more sophisticated clusters of pit-house dwellings. Hunting was easier with the adoption of the bow and arrow.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.

Chimney Rock National Monument

Chimney Rock National Monument is a 4,726-acre (1,913 ha) U.S. National Monument in San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado which includes an archaeological site. This area is located in Archuleta County, Colorado between Durango and Pagosa Springs and is managed for archaeological protection, public interpretation, and education. The Chimney Rock Archaeological Site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970. U.S. President Barack Obama created Chimney Rock National Monument by proclamation on September 21, 2012 under authority of the Antiquities Act.

Cowboy Wash

Cowboy Wash is a group of nine archaeological sites used by Ancient Puebloans (the Anasazi) in Montezuma County, southwestern Colorado, United States. Each site includes one to three pit houses, and was discovered in 1993 during an archaeological dig. The remains of twelve humans were found at one of the pit house sites, dating to the 12th century.

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Dugout (shelter)

A dugout or dug-out, also known as a pit-house or earth lodge, is a shelter for humans or domesticated animals and livestock based on a hole or depression dug into the ground. Dugouts can be fully recessed into the earth, with a flat roof covered by ground, or dug into a hillside. They can also be semi-recessed, with a constructed wood or sod roof standing out.

These structures are one of the most ancient types of human housing known to archaeologists, and the same methods have evolved into modern "earth shelter" technology.

Dugouts may also be temporary shelters constructed as an aid to specific activities, e.g., concealment and protection during warfare or shelter while hunting.


A gazebo is a pavilion structure, sometimes octagonal or turret-shaped, often built in a park, garden or spacious public area.

Grattoir de côté

A Grattoir de côté (translates from French as Side Scraper) is an archaeological term for a ridged variety of steep-scrapers distinguished by a working edge on one side. They were found at various archaeological sites in Lebanon including Ain Cheikh and Jdeideh II and are suggested to date to Upper Paleolithic stages three or four (Antelian).

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.


A hut is a primitive dwelling, which may be constructed of various local materials. Huts are a type of vernacular architecture because they are built of readily available materials such as wood, snow, ice, stone, grass, palm leaves, branches, hides, fabric, or mud using techniques passed down through the generations.

A hut is a shape of a lower quality than a house (durable, well-built dwelling) but higher quality than a shelter (place of refuge or safety) such as a tent and is used as temporary or seasonal shelter or in primitive societies as a permanent dwelling.T

Huts exist in practically all nomadic cultures. Some huts are transportable and can stand most conditions of weather.

Neolithic architecture

Neolithic architecture refers to structures encompassing housing and shelter from approximately 10,000 to 2,000 BC, the Neolithic period. In southwest Asia, Neolithic cultures appear soon after 10,000 BC, initially in the Levant (Pre-Pottery Neolithic A and Pre-Pottery Neolithic B) and from there into the east and west. Early Neolithic structures and buildings can be found in southeast Anatolia, Syria, and Iraq by 8,000 BC with agriculture societies first appearing in southeast Europe by 7,000 BC, and central Europe by ca. 5,500 BC (of which the earliest cultural complexes include the Starčevo-Koros (Cris), Linearbandkeramic, and Vinča.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.

Quiggly hole

A quiggly hole, also known as a pit-house or simply as a quiggly or kekuli, is the remains of an earth lodge built by the First Nations people of the Interior of British Columbia and the Columbia Plateau in the U.S. The word quiggly comes from kick willy or keekwulee, the Chinook Jargon word for "beneath" or "under".


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.

Types of Khmer house

The types of Khmer houses reflect on the culture , architecture style and civilization. In Cambodia, there are many Khmer style houses that are built in different ways depending on hierarchy. In special terms, the house is a symbol of prosperity in the national society, and it serves the lives of the people in each village, which is culture and nature


In archeology, a uniface is a specific type of stone tool that has been flaked on one surface only. There are two general classes of uniface tools: modified flakes—and formalized tools, which display deliberate, systematic modification of the marginal edges, evidently formed for a specific purpose.


Wigpool (grid reference SO652196) is a 7.5-hectare (19-acre) nature reserve in Gloucestershire in the Forest of Dean.The site is managed jointly by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust and the Forestry Commission by agreement with the Forestry Commission. Originally the Trust held two separate nature reserves under lease from the Commission. The revised agreement for a single reserve, called Wigpool, operates from 2009, but involvement with the two separate areas goes back to 1967/68. There was a formal agreement for Pit House Pond and Bog in 1978. The site (both original parts) is listed in the 'Forest of Dean Local Plan Review' as a Key Wildlife Site (KWS).

Hut dwelling designs and semi-permanent human shelters
Traditional immobile
Traditional mobile
Named huts
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