Longhouse (residential building)

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Farm workers' house made of field stones (length 104 m), Hallalit near Vollrathsruhe , built in the middle of the 19th century

The long house is an elongated house shape in which a family or several families live together; Depending on the culture, it can also be a residential stable house . The term describes different types of houses in the past and present and according to the construction and the way of life of their residents. For the classification as a long house, a certain organizational form of coexistence and the resulting room division are decisive and not the length of the building.

Social structure of the residents

Organizationally, there should be two different groups:

Single family homes

These houses accommodate a family or extended family that forms an economic unit. An example of this are multi-generation farming families. In such a house, the main rooms should occupy the entire width and if there are several room units, these are lined up lengthways. The ends of the house are usually assigned different functions: for example, a living area at one end and a stable area at the other end. Such houses can only be expanded with the corresponding function at the corresponding end. This group includes for example the residential barn houses the Germans in the North Sea that make up the Friesland on the later North German Plain to spread to East Prussia Hall House has developed, which can hardly called a longhouse. Some of the farmhouse types common in Cornwall and Wales , the buildings of the band ceramists and those of some of their successor cultures are also likely to belong to them.

Apartment buildings

This group is somewhat similar to modern row houses . The buildings essentially consist of uniform segments that are inhabited by a family. These units are strung together in an indefinite number in the longitudinal direction. To distinguish it from, for example, a row of houses in a city street, the units are built under a constructive common roof and the house forms a social and political unit, for example a clan or a village community. The longhouses of some Northeast American Indian tribes, as well as the longhouses on Borneo, may belong to this type .

Note: Multi-family houses are also available in other traditional forms, for example the round village complexes of some South American Indians of the Amazon and Orinoco regions (for example the Shapono of the Yanomami ) or the buildings of the Hakka in southern China. In principle, they are organized in a similar manner, but in contrast to longhouses, they are difficult to expand afterwards.

European longhouses

Longhouses have been archaeologically proven in numerous regions of Europe and from different epochs. Longhouse types from the (late) Middle Ages are in some areas a building tradition that has been maintained until the recent past.

Neolithic long house

The Neolithic (Neolithic) nave was built as a post house about 7,500 years ago by the first farmers in Central Europe. It first appeared in connection with the band ceramic culture. Archaeological findings indicate a spread to other regions of Europe and a long time distribution. Even with the same construction principle, differences in the typical house size, the distribution of use in the house and the type of settlement were found.

The length was about 20 m (12 m to 40 m), the width about seven meters. The high gable or hipped roof was supported by five rows of columns. Sill joists laid in trenches also served as the foundation for the outer walls, some of which were made of wattle. A general construction as a pile structure is also being discussed.

For most sites, it is assumed that the house type had no windows and only an entrance at one end. The daylight-lit area near the entrance or a covered forecourt was used for manual work. The fireplace was in the middle of the house. They probably cooked here. Some archaeologists see the back of the house as a bedroom, others as a storage room. 20 to 30 people can have lived in such a house. Villages with six to thirty (not necessarily used at the same time) longhouses were found.
In the Ville , the foothills west of Cologne and elsewhere, the houses existed as scattered settlements. There they may have been used as residential stable houses , with a distribution of use similar to the - much later - Low German hall house (see below).

Longhouse in the Genesmon Open Air Museum

Bronze Age stable house

Reconstruction of an old Saxon homestead from Feddersen Wierde , with the nave in the background
In addition the scheme of the floor plan
Video: How the Germans lived

In the Bronze Age , the transition from four to three aisles, i.e. H. At some point you were able to do without the middle row of posts. The residential stable house became the dominant form of use in the Middle Bronze Age in Central Europe (around 1600 to 1300 BC). In order to be able to house all the cattle, houses of considerable length were built. As in the Neolithic Age, many houses were not rectangular. The house could be significantly wider at one end than at the other. The distances between the supports were also sometimes variable. Where the construction was more regular, the houses were often wider in the middle than at the ends. With regard to the distribution of the entrances, different types emerged, clustered regionally, but each in several regions. There were small entrances at the end opposite the main entrance. And there were houses with side entrances in regions far apart from one another, such as Norway and the Eifel, which at that time was not populated by Germanic people. These houses had two entrances that faced each other roughly in the middle of both outer walls. The entrance area created a transverse division in the middle of the elongated house. The cattle were housed in one end, the people lived in the other.

Such types of building were built well beyond the turn of the century. In the 4th / 5th Century AD. Such longhouses are up to 60 m long, with a width of almost 8 m.

In longhouses from the Nordic Bronze Age and the Germanic peoples, the roofs often reached almost to the ground. The roof was supported by two rows of internal supports. The non-load-bearing outer walls were usually barely as high as a man. In colder regions, the outer walls consisted of peat plots or turf instead of wickerwork and clay.

Medieval further developments of the stable house

Further developments were or are the Low German hall house in northern, especially northwestern Germany and the neighboring Cimbrian house in Jutland and in the Duchy of Schleswig with the Geesthardenhaus and the Uthland Frisian house .

In these types of houses, the wooden posts originally driven into the ground have been replaced by stands on a foundation. The large and well-supported attic made it possible to store large quantities of hay or grain in a dry place. This development was possibly driven by the weather becoming more humid. Well-preserved examples of these houses have been around since the 14th century (others, Hagenend 3, burned down in 1385, 2011).

Nordic longhouse

Reconstructed Viking house in Fyrkat
Reconstructed Viking house on Bukkøya near Avaldsnes
Reconstructed Viking house in Borg (Lofoten)

Longhouses are both the farmhouses of the Iron Age ( Gudme ) and Viking Age Danes and Scandinavians as well as the buildings that have been proven in some of the Viking castles. The dimensions of the houses varied greatly depending on the economic and social status of their builders. The largest longhouse found in Norway so far measured 9 m × 83 m, simple farmhouses, however, only 4 - 5 m × 10 - 12 m.

There were also longhouses in Trelleborg near Slagelse , a Viking castle from 981. In the main castle there were a total of 16 longhouses, which were grouped in four squares around an inner courtyard. The houses were 29.42 m long and had the shape of a ship. Each house was divided into three parts: a large central hall (18 × 8 m) and two smaller rooms on the gable ends.

The following description of a longhouse shows one of the houses of the Viking castle Fyrkat . Four of them were arranged symmetrically to form a square with an inner courtyard.

Only the floor plan of the house can be precisely determined on the basis of wood finds, since the beams of the walls were anchored in the earth. It was 28.5 m long and 8.5 m wide in the middle. The width decreased towards the gables. Further reconstruction is based on illustrations and other buildings. The house was made entirely of wood and covered with oak shingles, one of which was found in the castle. The walls consisted of vertical oak beams; Beams positioned at an angle on the outer wall should probably support the roof load. In the ground plan, the longitudinal walls were arched like a ship. Of the 18 m long hall, which served as a lounge, there was a central door to the inner courtyard and one to the street. There are also references to door openings on the gable ends. In the middle of the hall was a fireplace that was used for cooking and formed the central point in the house. Traces indicate that there were earth benches on the long sides that served as seats and sleeping places. The chambers on the gable sides were apparently used as storage facilities.

In addition to a replica of a castle house, a civilian courtyard from the Viking Age has also been reconstructed in Fyrkat. The findings from excavations in Vorbasse near Jelling were used.

Longhouses in the British Isles

17th century Dartmoor Longhouse

In English, the term longhouse is also used for a traditional type of farmhouse. Most of them, at least in their early form, are byre-dwellings , but much smaller and usually only housed one family.

Dartmoor longhouse is the name of a type of farmhouse that has been found in the south-west of England at least since the 13th century. The buildings that are still preserved today mostly have walls made of granite and a hipped roof, which used to be made of thatch. In the living area they are often two-story and sometimes have a small porch with the entrance on one long side.

In its original form, the floor plan is strikingly similar to that of the residential stable houses developed on the southern North Sea coast. The most important difference is the lack of a large door on one narrow side for the cattle.

The oldest structures were elongated houses, divided roughly in the middle of the long sides by a corridor connecting the two opposite doors. On one side the cattle were housed, while on the other side the people lived. In the living area there was initially an open fireplace, behind which the sleeping area was probably. Later there was an intermediate floor at the end of the living room where people slept. A separate floor with bedrooms developed from this perhaps since the 16th century. The stove area was given a fireplace with a chimney and screened off the living area from the hallway. From the 17th century, the entrance was often given a porch. In the stable area the cattle were placed along the long walls and in the middle there was mostly a channel that led through a small hole in the wall on the narrow side into the open air. The houses are mostly built into the slope so that the living area faces the mountain and the stable area faces the valley.

The longhouses in Wales are likely to be closely related to those in Dartmoor. In the northwestern England a similar type in the landscape is Cumbria described. It seems to have been widespread in England in the Middle Ages. In Scotland , instead of “longhouse” it is also known as blackhouse or taighean dubha . In the north, however, there seems to be more of a relationship with buildings from Scandinavia.

Longhouses in France

In central and western France , traditional longhouses, known there as longère , are widespread today, for example in Brittany , Normandy , Picardy , the Maine-et-Loire department , near Calais , in the Massif Central and the Pyrenees . One or two storeys, roof pitch and building material can vary greatly from region to region. In Normandy, on the other hand, it is not uncommon for several residential wings and several farm wings to be really united under one roof, not to be confused with closed villages (e.g. Lorraine ), in which the firewall-to-firewall houses are clearly separated from one another.

Longhouses of the Indians in America

In two areas of North America, building traditions that knew longhouses developed.

North American Northeast Coast and Great Lakes

A late Iroquois longhouse

In North America , longhouses are known to several Indian tribes , including the Iroquois and the Quinault . The Iroquois call themselves Haudenosaunee - "people of the long house". The best known are the buildings of the Iroquois Federation. The average length was about 25 m, width and height were about 6 m. If one can believe the reports of the explorer George Vancouver , for example, there were even houses that were several hundred meters long.

On average, a long house accommodated 5 to 20 families. In the larger houses and some tribes, the center was reserved for the chief. The lower-ranking clan members lived in the outer areas, graded according to their reputation in the community. If the clan enlarged, the house could be extended lengthways.

The dwelling usually only had two doors, one at each end. In the middle of the house ran a corridor 2 to 3 m wide. Fireplaces were located several meters apart.

The house was created by building scaffolding from logs rammed into the ground and braced with poles. The houses either had a round roof, which was created by bending the logs and tying them together in the middle, or a gable roof was placed on the entire structure . Large pieces of bark were then placed on the trunks and poles in an overlapping manner. Windows were not used so that the house could be tempered with the fires.

Longhouses were known to members of the Iroquois League (Haudenosaunee), for example the Onondaga , as well as to their enemies, the Wyandot and Erie . The Lenni Lenape settled south of the Iroquois Federation, along the Hudson River to its mouth and further south to both banks of the Delaware Bay and along the river of the same name . Longhouses were known to the tribes of this people as one of several forms of construction. The Canar Sea , a tribe of the Lenni Lenape, who originally lived on Long Island in what is now New York's Brooklyn district , used such a longhouse as a ritual tribal center in Keshaechquern , which was in what is now Flatlands. The Pamunkay of the Powhatan Tribal Federation in Virginia also used a similar construction method.

North American northwest coast

The buildings in the wooded west on the Pacific coast consisted of a frame made of tree trunks that were covered with boards, in addition to the bark cladding known in the west. These "plank structures" measured about 12 by 9 meters and were about 6 meters high, but could also be about 20 meters long. The only entrance was usually in the gable wall facing the coast. A large area was lowered in the center to house the common hearth, often with the chief's seat nearby. This area was surrounded on all sides by a slightly raised seating area. This was framed in the four corners by the main supports. One level higher, on the outer walls, were the sleeping niches of the individual families, separated from each other by walls, which in some houses could each accommodate their own small fireplace. The chief's area was usually on the gable wall opposite the door. The pitch of the gable roof varied depending on the rain and snowfall in the region, but cultural influences also play a major role here. Each house had at least one totem pole , which could also be integrated into the house construction. In some longhouses, the entrance led directly through a hole in the totem pole. The whole building was mostly decorated with carvings and paintings. Common motifs include faces / masks, ravens, bears and whales.

The houses were mostly inhabited by extended extended families who worked together or even formed a team in procuring food and handling their long boats.

Longhouses on the Pacific coast were known to the Nuu-chah-nulth , Haida , Tsimshian , Tlingit , Makah , Clatsop , Coast Salish, and Multnomah , for example .

South America

In South America, the Tucano people in Colombia and north-west Brazil also build long houses.

Longhouses in Asia

Prehistoric Korea

In Daepyeong , an archaeological excavation site from the Mumun Pottery Period in Korea , "longhouses" have been found dating from around 1100 to 850 BC. To be dated. Their layout is similar to that of the Iroquois in northeastern America. As with these, fireplaces seem to have lined up along the longitudinal axis. Later buildings with a similar floor plan were erected on stilts and thus hardly allow any conclusions to be drawn about the internal layout. The size and arrangement of the buildings in the settlements, however, suggest aristocratic or functional buildings for the community. In Igeum-dong , an excavation site in South Korea, for example, there are the largest longhouses, about 29 and 26 m long, between the megalithic burial ground and the rest of the settlement.


Communal buildings such as longhouses may be a common traditional form of construction within the Austronesian language group. The Austronesian languages seem to have spread from the island of Taiwan into Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Madagascar. Groups like the now presumably extinct Siraya on Taiwan built longhouses and practiced headhunting like the later Dayaks on Borneo.


A modern Iban longhouse in the Kapit region of Sarawak

Many of the residents ( Dayak ) on Borneo , the largest of the Great Sunda Islands (politically now part of Indonesia , Malaysia and Brunei ) traditionally live in buildings that have long been known as longhouses. What they all have in common is that they stand on stilts and that the house is divided lengthways into a communal part and lined up living areas for the individual families. Since otherwise rarely related trunks build longhouses that are similar to one another, this may have long been considered the construction method best suited to life in the jungle. There are some parallels to village community buildings in South America.

A fully articulated nave is constructed as follows:

The whole house is divided lengthways into two roughly equal halves by a wall. While one side appears as a corridor that stretches the entire length of the house, the other side contains the private living and sleeping areas of the individual families (bilek), again separated by walls. The cooking area (dapor) of each individual family, which is outsourced due to the risk of fire, is usually located in an extension to the private area or even in its own stilt house connected to the nave by a bridge.

The corridor is in turn divided into three areas: In front of the doors to the private areas there is a work area (tempuan) that still belongs to the respective family. Here, for example, the freshly harvested Padi (rice) is mashed. In the middle follows the common room (ruai), which, although also used individually, is mainly used as a passage room and for community activities. On the outer wall is the guest area (pantai), in which the guests can also sleep. On this side there is also the large veranda (tanju), on which the rice can be dried. A kind of attic (sadau) is located in the roof area above the middle part of the house, where rice and other food are stored. Sometimes the attic forms a gallery to the corridor below, so that what is happening in the communal and guest areas can be observed. Under the house, between the stilts, is the living area of ​​the chickens and pigs.

The buildings of the individual trunks can differ from one another. The above is so constructed by the Iban and Melikin ; The Bidayuh (Land Dayaks) build similarly , but with a wider veranda and single houses for unmarried people and visitors. The Kayan , the Kenyah , the Murut and the Kelabit also build as described above, but without the partition walls between the individual families and, more recently (20th century), also the Punan . Even today there are many places in Sarawak that have the word “Long” in their names. These were or still are places with longhouses. Some like Long Semado in Sarawak even have their own airfields.


Ein Uma, the traditional house of a Sakuddei family community in Siberut

The buildings of the Sakuddei on the island of Siberut , which belongs to the Mentawai Islands about 130 km west of Sumatra , are also called longhouses . They accommodate about 5 to 10 families, but are divided inside differently than the buildings on Borneo. The length of such a building, called an uma, consists of an open platform, a covered veranda, two consecutive rooms and a final platform. The whole building stands on relatively short stilts about half a meter above the ground. The entrance platform is used for general activities, while the open, but covered veranda serves as a popular place to stay, where guests are also received. Many of the men sleep here at night. The next room is separated by a door. In the middle is the communal fireplace and a larger dance floor. There are also areas for religious purposes and cult activities in this room. In the adjoining room, the women sleep with their unmarried daughters and smaller children in areas that are usually separated by families. The rear platform is mainly used by the women who usually enter the house from this end as well.


A Mnong longhouse in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
A longhouse of the Ê Đê of the Central Highlands of Vietnam in the Ethnological Museum in Hanoi

The Mnong and Ê Đê in Vietnam also have traditional longhouse designs, which can be 30 to 40 meters long. In contrast to the jungle versions of the Dayak from Borneo, however, these, similar to the buildings on Siberut, have shorter stilts and use a veranda in front of a gable end as the main entrance.


Sources for the longhouses in Sarawak, Borneo:

  • Hedda Morrison: Life in a Longhouse. 5th edition. 1974, OCLC 499139204 . ( Pendiau Dirumah Panjai - Kehidupan Di-Rumah Panjang ).
  • MG Dickson: Sarawak and its People. 3rd, revised edition. Dai Nippon Printing, Hong Kong 1968, OCLC 7325239 .
  • Hanno Kampffmeyer: The long houses of Central Kalimantan: Report of a field research. (= Ganesha. 1). Anacon-Verlag, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-928112-52-X .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ House construction in the early Neolithic @ praehistorische-archaeologie.de, September 3, 2014.
  2. Eric Biermann comes to the conclusion in Varia neolithica VI 2009, p. 37 that the numbers are too low
  3. Prehistoric settlements, boardwalks and fishing facilities. Advances in archaeological research on the Federsee. ( Memento of February 21, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF)
  4. ^ Musée du Lac de Paladru (in French) ( Memento of May 29, 2007 in the Internet Archive ), site near Grenoble
  5. Le Néolithique , with a house floor plan
  6. Genesmons Arkeologiska Friluftsmuseum
  7. Stephanie Hoffmann: The origin and development of the middle Bronze Age in the western low mountain range. ( Memento from June 6, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) (Part 1) p. 47 ff. 8.4 Settlements
  8.  ( Page no longer available , search in web archives ) Museum Bronsepiegen: Viking Age@1@ 2Template: Dead Link / www.bronsep Klassen.com
  9. Fig. See The Dartmoor Longhouse Poster (pdf) ( Memento from June 16, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  10. ^ Longhouse in Cumbria ( Memento of October 2, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) In: Vernacular Architecture. 33, 2002, pp. 19-27.
  11. ^ Blackhouse in Scotland ( Memento from December 31, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  12. L'Architecture Vernaculaire de la France (French) by Christian Lassure, or in English .
  13. ^ A long house village ( Memento from December 17, 2005 in the Internet Archive ) (English)
  14. ^ Peter JM Nas: The House in Indonesia Between Globalization and Localization - The Sakuddei House (Mentawai). ( Memento from February 28, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) In: Bijdragen voor de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde. vol 154, no 2, 1998, pp. 335-360.
  15. Description ( memento of October 18, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) of the Ê Đê buildings in the Ethnological Museum in Hanoi, Vietnam.
  16. Vietnamese description ( memento of March 2, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) of the h Đê buildings called Nhà dài.