In its early days Butser Ancient Farm led a somewhat peripatetic existence. It started life in the early 70s as an experimental archeology project run by Dr Peter J Reynolds on Little Butser (map), a spur of chalk running north from Butser Hill
The semi-octagonal (or irregular hexagonal, if you prefer) bank and ditch (built to monitor erosion) can still be made out, and shows up well in the Google Earth imagery (particularly some of the earlier historical images).
However, Little Butser's remote location did not lend itself well to public access or for educational activities, so a second demonstration site was opened in 1976 alongside the A3 (map)
The creation of the Queen Elizabeth Country Park in 1976 introduced restrictions on what could be done on these sites, so in 1991 the decision was taken to move to the current location at Bascomb Copse near Chalton.
Although there is still experimental work undertaken, the site is just as much an educational resource these days. It sees itself as a museum of buildings from the neolithic to the early mediaeval, complementing the nearby Weald & Downland Open Air Museum, which covers the late mediaeval onwards.
For opening times, admission prices, etc. please see the official site.
The Iron Age Village
The original focus of the project was on the Iron Age, and this still makes up the heart of the site.
Within an octagonal bank and ditch enclosure are a group of five huts and various ancillary buildings.
I must admit that I have a problem with the use of rafters in the roofs of the huts. Some years ago I visited the Kasubi Tombs in Kampala, Uganda, and there the roof is supported on concentric circular purlins with the vertical strength coming from the roofing material and rings of posts.
It is interesting to speculate when on the long trek out of the Great Rift Valley and into Iron Age Britain someone had a bright idea and came up with a new way of building roofs as on some sites rafters have survived. However concentric rings of postholes similar to those at Kasubi are very much a feature of Bronze Age places like Woodhenge.
The other thing that struck me was in the Danebury hut. Here the walls are made of vertical boards.
I was instantly transported back to the Beara Peninsular in Ireland, and my suspicion that many of the small stone circles there (such as the one at Ardgroom) are the remains of residential, rather than ritual sites.
Minor quibbles aside, on the whole the reconstruction is very convincing, and the way the huts are grouped together makes for a very believable Iron Age settlement.
The Roman Villa
Although they had always hoped to include the Roman period from the outset, it wasn't until the move to the current site that this ambition could be realised.
The central range of the villa at Sparsholt near Winchester has been recreated, although at the time of writing (2017) the floors are unfinished. It can claim to be the first Roman villa to be built with authentic materials and techniques for 1,600 years.
Visiting in February, the contrast between the cosy Iron Age huts, each of which had a fire in its central hearth, and the cold (and quite frankly rather damp) Roman Villa is was what struck me most.
Apparently only the kitchen had a hearth and, in the original, only a small room at the end had a hypocaust.
Can't help feeling I would have preferred to live in a cosy circular hut.
The Stone Age Buildings
The central feature of the Neolithic enclosure is the Llanygai house based on one excavated near Bangor, North Wales. This is largely speculative as the archeology consisted of two rows of parallel post holes and little else.
It struck me as odd that our ancestors would build rectangular houses in the Neolithic and the change to round houses in the Bronze. But then, what do I know; I'm just a photographer.
The Saxon Longhouse
The Anglo-Saxon longhouse is a recent addition to the site; opened in early 2016
It is based on excavations at nearby Chalton, and demonstrates the woodworking skills of the Saxons.
A small Carpenter's Workshop has been built to the rear of this building.
The whole site is highly speculative, of course, but it is all very interesting. All they need now is some Bronze Age reconstructions.