AN archaeological experiment involving the construction of three Neolithic houses has been unveiled at Old Sarum.

The buildings, put together by around 60 volunteers and English Heritage, are based on the evidence of remains discovered at Durrington Walls in 2006.

Offering a glimpse of the lifestyle of the Neolithic people who built Stonehenge, they have been made using materials such as chalk, willow wattling, oak logs and water reed.

Volunteers, who started building the protoypes in early March, have been testing different materials and structures to see which work best before the houses are reconstructed at the new Stonehenge Visitor Centre in January 2014.

Project manager Luke Winter of the Ancient Technology Centre said: “While the excavation in Durrington unearthed the floors of the houses and the stakeholders where the walls once stood, providing valuable archaeological evidence for the reconstruction, little is known about the appearance of the houses above ground.

“So at this stage we are using lots of different methods and experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. For example the shape of the walls is different on each building and requires three quite different roofs. In one method we were using, the weight and structure of the rafters caused the walls to bend but we realised that by tucking the rafters into the wall itself and bending them over – a kind of basket roof - it stopped this.”

As part of the project, the group spent two weeks harvesting materials in woods using flint tools.

One of the most labour intensive and time consuming activities involved the chopping down of a pine tree that was 40cm in diameter – it took two hours and 48 minutes, 11,477 blows with a flint axe and a mass of volunteers who took turns for two minutes at a time.

Volunteer Wendy Pallesen from Durrington said: “I volunteered during the excavation of the Durrington Walls and then heard about the English Heritage plans for these prototypes.

“I’ve learned so much, from how to thatch and twist hazel to all the different plants – it’s been brilliant.”

Susan Greaney, senior properties historian at English Heritage, said: “The stunning discovery made at Durrington presented us with a tantalising opportunity of doing something special for the new visitor centre. “The reconstructed houses will be an immediate and sensory link to the distant past, and will bring visitors as close as they can to appreciate what life was like for the extraordinary individuals who built Stonehenge.”

Guided tours and hands-on activities for members of the public will take place during open days at Old Sarum on May 5 and 6 and from May 25 to 27. For more information call 0800 3331183.