Curtain up... on roundhouse that fascinates the young

WHEN archaeologists from Sheffield University began work on an Iron Age reconstruction at a city farm they hoped that local people would come along and help.

But never did they imagine that groups of youths would also join in, under the cover of darkness.

Dr Roger Doonan, a lecturer in experimental archaeology at Sheffield University, explained: "When we started building this there was a fear that people might come and set fire to it.

"But it's been quite the opposite.

"Local youths have started weaving willows and adding to the building.

"They've helped us build it without being asked, which is hugely positive."

The archaeologists are currently working with Heeley City Farm, about a mile away from Sheffield city centre, on a Heritage-Lottery funded project called "Digging Our Roots".

The main part of the project involves reconstructing a giant Iron Age "roundhouse", of the type people would have lived in more than 2,000 years ago, from wood, clay and straw.

And at an open day yesterday, members of the public were invited to go along and get involved with the construction process, taking on tasks such as wattling – working on the woven willow walls – or daubing, which involves building up the walls with a mixture of clay and straw.

Dr Doonan said: "This is a great project and hundreds of people have been involved over the last couple of sessions.

"Archaeology is often seen as being about dusty old pots, but there's a real community element to it as well.

"This is a great thing for Heeley to have.

"Students are often taken out on field courses to learn how to dig, but this is about how we go from abstract archaeological remains to a living reality.

"It's an artefact on one level, but it also helps us imagine how people came together as a community to build things like this.

"Some jobs would need to have had seven or eight people to help out, so we've started to learn how people worked together and how communities would have been established."

Alan Lewis, a second-year archaeology student who is also president of Sheffield University's archaeology society, said the project had so far proved "really interesting".

He added: "We get to involve people who wouldn't usually be involved in something like this.

"I very much prefer the practical side of archaeology."

Mr Lewis said that roundhouses of the type currently being recreated in Heeley would once have been found "all the way across Yorkshire".

He added: "But this is certainly the only one that's been recreated in Sheffield since the Iron Age."

Sally Rodgers, "Digging Our Roots" project officer at Heeley City Farm, said the roundhouse would have a turf roof and be used as a classroom once it was finished.

She added: "This is a lovely thing to make that engages young people. We've got such a lot done today and there's been a real mix of ages helping out.

"When it's finished we're going to run some workshops and do some ancient crafts.

"Eventually we will build a furnace and smelt iron in a way that hasn't been done in our Steel City for at least 500 years.

"We would like to thank the university staff and students for their help, Sheffield Woodlands, who have kindly donated the wood and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust who have provided the 1.2km of

willow needed for the walls."

Members of the public are invited to join in work on the roundhouse at another open day, to take place on Saturday, December 6, at the farm between noon and 3pm.

Admission is free and there is no need to book.