Author: Ruth Tipton, Trainee Archaeologist
A Grubenhaus (which derives from the German words grube [pit] and haus [house]) is a type of sunken floor building that was built in many parts of northern Europe between the 5th and 12th centuries. They are almost entirely exclusive to Anglo-Saxon settlements, though it is not uncommon to find fragments of Roman pottery; it is possible that Anglo-Saxon settlers reused Roman pottery for their own use. These buildings are also referred to as ‘SFB’s (sunken feature buildings), ‘grubhuts’ and ‘grubhouses’.
Grubenhäuser (the plural of Grubenhaus) are usually shallow and sub-rectangular in shape, which can seen in figure 2 (and on our instagram) where the excavated dwelling was only approximately 0.28m at its deepest point. Within the depression, postholes can be found. These would have contained substantial wooden posts, which would have supported a gabled, (likely) thatched roof. They typically have one entrance and it is unlikely they would have had windows. Overall, they look a bit like a sunken thatched tent.
These structures tend to be interpreted as domestic dwellings due to their relatively small size and proximity to other dwellings. However, finds a few sites have led some to argue that some dwellings would have had a more specialised purpose. For example, Grubenhäuser located in Manston, Fulston Manor and Ickham (Kent) contained what appeared to be domed ovens and charred grain, leading some to suggest these structures were kitchens or bakeries. Overall, the exact purpose of these buildings is still contested and unknown as no equivalents appear to have been built since antiquity. Furthermore, in most cases, there are no features of buildings at ground level. As such, it is uncommon to come across them.
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Past to Present Archaeology. (2022). Example layout of a typical Grubenhaus [Image]. Created using: QGIS 3.22.0.
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Grubenhaus featured photo [Photograph]. https://heritagefutures.wordpress.com/2015/10/05/anglo-saxon-grubenhaus-to-be-dismantled/