Households on the hoof: mobile domestic communities in Danish prehistory

Activity: Talk or presentation typesLecture and oral contribution


It is too easy for the ‘household’ to be normative and banal. So much of European prehistory is populated by the nuclear family under one roof, perhaps extending to grandparents and a grouchy uncle. In reality, prehistoric life must have allowed, and sometimes even called for, radically different social arrangements. In this paper, I ask whether disrupting the term ‘household’ could help expand our recognition of socially important communities in the past. What other social configurations appear if we refuse to foreground the house, a married heterosexual couple, and their dependents?

Instead of starting from domestic architecture, here I explore the concept of household from the outside in, starting with the multispecies assemblage that is the herd in motion. Herds are central to the organisation and daily and seasonal routines of pastoral and agricultural communities. Thus, this paper follows herds through and around the heathlands of Jutland, Denmark—the grazing and burning practices involved in the landscape’s persistence, and the humans, animals and plants that make up these mobile communities. Different social configurations and rhythms of life emerge through three windows on prehistory in the Neolithic Single Grave Culture, the Early Bronze Age and the Early Iron Age. Through each period, I consider how relations with and absences from houses assemble multispecies communities and produce ‘households’ of radically different composition, shape and form from the mythical nuclear family.
Period17 Dec 2022
Event titleTAG 43: Revolutions
Event typeConference
LocationEdinburgh, United KingdomShow on map