Shelters, Houses, and Homes Throughout Human History

Written by Milan Jara

Throughout history, shelter has always been one of the basic needs of human beings. We need shelter to protect us from environmental factors such as rain and heat. Shelter also protects against predators and insects. Modern-day housing does far more than protect against these basic elements. The usage of environmental materials and tools to build shelter shows the evolution of man from apes. Man has built a variety of shelter types based on the materials and manpower that was available to build the homes.

Early Shelters

The first shelters that humans had were in trees. Tree protected against wind, rain, and sun. They also protected humans against animals who could not climb up into the trees. Eventually, small shelters made from branches were built on the ground. Man later moved into caves. In areas where few trees and foliage were available, man learned to use tools to build shelters out of clay, soil, and stone.

Homes of Ancient Civilizations

The Ancient Egyptians made houses out of sun-dried bricks with flat roofs as early as 3100 BC. The Assyrians adopted this brick-making method later in 2500 BC but also added a step by baking the bricks in the fire. This strengthened the bricks and led to stronger buildings. The Assyrians would also put a glass coating or glaze on the bricks for additional strength.

The Greeks being from a different environment had a much different way of building their shelters. Their houses were made from stone with slanted roofs that allowed the snow and rain to drain off the top. The Romans had a similar technique but added heating to their homes by running pipes filled with hot air or water under the floors and roof. Roman houses were built around a central open-air courtyard. The rooms were all built off this main atrium.

Native American Shelters

Native Americans used materials found in their environment to fashion different types of houses. Tribes from the East made wigwams with frames made from bendable young trees surrounded by tree bark. The plains Indians had few trees, so they used Buffalo skin to cover the frames of their tepees.

Down South, the Incas made houses with several levels from stone blocks. The Incas also built stone aqueducts that carried water to the outside of their homes where they would drink and bathe. The ancient Maya lived in huts built on low platforms. Since their houses were made of all organic materials, there are no examples of ancient Maya homes left today as they were all perishable. The floors were made of gravel and soil and the roofs were composed of beams of wood through which palm fronds were woven.

Houses of the Middles Ages

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Germanic and Scandinavian tribes inhabited a large portion of Europe. These tribes constructed sets of buildings called hams, which were made of wood with clay that filled in the spaces between the wood. These houses led to the development of castle strongholds with moats, strong stone walls and drawbridges of the Middle Ages. In the 1400s, Europeans built houses of timber with brick and stone foundations. Walls were covered with wooden strips called lath, plastered with clay and straw.

Industrial Revolution to Modern Day Homes

The Industrial Revolution caused a huge shift in the cost of products used to make homes. Materials became cheaper and easily available; although living conditions varied. The rich lived in elaborate homes, and the poor lived in small houses that were close together. They often had open sewers. In the 1800s, the heating of the house shifted from fireplaces to iron stoves, and candles were replaced by kerosene lamps and later gas lights. Outhouses became a thing of the past as more indoor restrooms became common.

In the Western world today, most homes have indoor plumbing, heating, cooling, and many other comfortable amenities. Interior design and decorating has become popular, and many people even have a theme throughout their homes. Although houses have changed significantly, many modern homes are made of brick much like the ones that the Assyrians used to construct their shelters.

Additional Ancient Housing History

Roman Atrium Style Housing

From Huts to Houses: Transformations of Ancient Societies

Ancient and Modern Pueblo Construction

Native American Housing


- Milan Jara

Buy Ceiling Tiles in Bulk & Get 10% - 15% off + Free Shipping Buy Now

Buy Ceiling Tiles in Bulk & Get 10% - 15% off + Free Shipping

Buy Now
Need Help