Beeston Bronze Age Structure: Construction Week 3

11th – 15th March 2019

Phase 1 Construction Week 3

Our false spring last visit has given way to far more seasonable weather this week.  High winds and heavy rain are forecast for the middle of the week.

Our aim (weather allowing!) is to put in as many of the structural posts as we can – starting with the three tall central ones.  As always when lifting heavy things vertically, we need to take things steady, with safety being paramount on site.

Monday saw the team prepare the site.  Holes were widened, small “A” frames were constructed to support the posts at the correct angle on their prepared ramps, and the directions of pull were finally chosen and rigged to enable the most efficient raising possible.  A Large “A” frame was also constructed to provide a better pulling angle to each post. The issues with raising 6 metre timbers vertically focus around the acute angle of pull from the pulling team to the top end of the post. The more acute this angle is, the more effort is required to make the post move.  To alleviate this, we have ramped the post holes in order to take the lying posts from a horizontal position to around 10 degrees off the ground. The second step is to increase the angle of pull further (to around 45 degrees) by running the pulling rope from the post top – through the apex of a large “A” frame and then down to the pulling teams.  This should (theoretically) make the pull as efficient as possible. However, this operation is not only theoretical. It requires many things to come together in one glorious moment, including volunteer strength, weather and ground conditions, and some would believe a nod from the Gods!

Tuesday saw the gathering of around 30 volunteers to assist with the raising of the three central posts.  By far the most complex stage of construction, these three post (previously jointed with tenon pegs and mortises) needed to be positioned in their prepared holes at exactly the right angles to make their joints work.

Our first lift failed due to several factors.  The sides of the prepared post hole were too soft to hold the post upright without continued support, the movement of the post from its central axis of lift as it came up to vertical, and the weight of the ash pole “A” frame, once it was past vertical, was enough to drag the post out of its footing.

We put the failed post to one side and thought again.  This time with a main pulling team (pulling the white rope – through the “A” frame and to the post top), two lateral teams (pulling blue ropes from each side of the post to keep it in line with its main axis), and a backstop team – holding a red rope (to stop the post moving too far forward under the load of the main “A” frame.

This time, with small movements and continual checking and adjustment, the post inched its way to a vertical position where it was held by the 4 teams while soil was tamped in around its base in thing, well compacted layers.

The process was repeated perfectly for the remaining two posts, and as the thin crescent moon appeared overhead at 4.30pm, all three posts stood magnificently at the centre of the building footprint.

What a team! – great effort, patience and ideas to make the task work.

Wednesday and Thursday saw the forecast arrival of storms across the UK and high winds at Beeston Castle, so, as expected, the site was closed to construction.

Friday saw the team pressing on with the placing of wall posts in their prepared holes.  Compared to the tall central posts, this proved to be less of a challenge, although care and patience was required to lift properly and tamp the soil around their bases firmly.

The wall outline takes shape…

While this was happening, I was assessing the overall shape of the building, and the pitch of its potential roof at various points.  From the outset, this project and its evidence has raised difficult questions in terms of reconstruction.

The apparently sporadic spacing of wall posts in a rough circular arrangement, combined with what appears to be a triangular central post arrangement, has always raised issues of creating some kind of uniform roof pitch.  During the drawing and model building stage of the concept, I solved these issues in various ways, but (as is always the case), the difference between a model and the real timbers is always a further step along the chain of complexity that results in a building that works. My job next week will be to work out how to solve some of the full scale issues that are becoming visible to us on the ground.

Despite the two day weather setback, we have had another great week.

 

Well done team!

 

Beeston Bronze Age Structure: Construction Week 2

25th – 29th February 2019

Phase 1 Construction Week 2

The weather is incredible with unseasonable warmth and sun bathing the tor in golden light.  This week, the remaining posts and wall plate timber have arrived and we have begun to cut joints and to prepare the new timber ready for use.

This project is using locally gather materials that are far from standard in size or shape and as such we have to work with each piece of timber to find its specific location within the structure.  The joints used to link these timbers reflect their individual properties. Work is progressing well with the three central posts. These the joints in these timbers reflect their individual characteristics.

Post CP14 has a very knotty top that does not lend itself to creating a tenon peg, so the volunteers have cut in two deep mortises to house the ends of the triangular purlins that will meet there. Mortise 1 was completed entirely with bronze tools and recorded in detail.

 The efficiency of the tools surprised the volunteers, as did their capability for accuracy and refinement. The mortise took 108 minutes to complete (total working time), a staggering 13,124 blows using bronze tools, with an average removal of 0.12 cubic centimetres per blow.  The final mortise is impressive. We are fast approaching the technical challenge of raising this 6 metre oak post into the ground and orienting it to the exact position for the mortise to support the purlins in the correct place.

Wall posts are also having tenon pegs cut into their tops to locate and support the wall plates that will eventually link them together.  

Our aim this week is to have most of the posts jointed and ready to lift into position in the first half of the next project week.  That will then leave us time to joint and fit the wall plates and purlins that will make the basic structure sound.

The volunteers have tried various methods to achieve the round pegs, but general consensus has settled on the cutting of flat surfaces to form a square peg – then rounding off the corners.  The results are impressive and, timber allowing, relatively fast.

We have also been gathering some comparative data regarding tool efficiency.  This has involved cross cutting logs with the same circumference using steel and bronze tools to understand how our ancient tool types perform.

All in all, we have had a very productive week and now stand ready to spend the next session hauling the posts into upright positions!  After all of the initial labour intensive work of bark stripping, cutting to length, and jointing, the structure will suddenly burst into life!

 

 

Beeston Bronze Age Structure – Construction Week 1

11th – 15th February 2019

Phase 1 Construction Week

Work begins in earnest this week!  

The weather looks settled – at least for now, so we are taking advantage of less mud and rain to organise the 14 post holes ready for fitting our structural posts in the ground over the next three project weeks.

Each hole is being cleared of debris and widened to accommodate the timbers we have available.  Some of the post holes come down onto quarried bedrock at 600mm below surface, but where possible we are digging further to around 1000mm.  This should provide ample cantilevering to the earthbound posts once the excavated soil is tamped back in thin layers around the foot of each post.

We begin the careful matching of available posts to available wall plates.  The wall plates will run horizontally across the post tops to link them structurally.  Eventually, the wall plates will form a continuous ring of timbers that will prevent the walls from spreading under the load of the roof.  The joining of each wall plate to a pair (or more) of post tops can be achieved in a number of ways and, depending on the specific timber sizes we have to work with, we will try several of these methods to construct the ring.

The volunteers are now well into the routine of working the timbers.  Bronze and steel tools are at work and the sound of sharp edges fills the woodland at the quarry site.  We take for granted how the woods have changed over the last millennia. Modern managed woodland tends to scream with the high pitched wail of chainsaws and large machinery.  The woodlands of our ancestors were more melodious in their management and we have all commented on the difference. Conversation and birdsong can be heard during our work and yesterday, we paused in our efforts to listen to a woodpecker tapping out its message on a nearby tree.

Alongside this traditional noise is the inevitable need for hard work at generally mundane tasks, but the unobtrusive noise of traditional tools at least enable time and space for thought and friendships while the work continues.

The volunteers have also cut in ramps to locate the base of each post during raising. The site is suddenly looking like a real construction zone!

New bronze tools have also been hafted using branches selected from the woods and prepared with notches to house each tool head.  The heads are then attached to the haft using rawhide strips that are applied wet and then dried to form a shrink wrapped binding.  All of these tools will be well used during this project and it will be interesting to see what issues we face as Bronze Age workers.

Experiment 2 is underway to see what effort and time is required to cut a deep mortise into the top of one of the three central posts.  The post top will locate two of the purlins that form the rafter supporting triangle of timbers at the top of the roof.

 

Beeston Bronze Age Structure – Induction Week

4th – 8th February 2019

Training Week

This week marks the formal beginning of this project on site.  The volunteers arrived, keen and well wrapped up for the weather and to all our surprise, the weather has been relatively mild and calm!

The team begin their first day on the project!

The aim of this first week is to introduce some of the essential methods and principles of moving, processing and working green timber to create the individual timbers for construction.

Organising and hewing the first structural timbers on site.

My approach is always to do a little bit of essential talking, to outline the project and its construction phases, some of the thinking behind the structure (lots more discussions along these line will be had!), but then to do a lot of hands on learning by practising skills and familiarise ourselves with tools and processes.

Experimenting with some beautiful bronze tools kindly loaned to the project by Edwin and his son Robin Wood.

This has involved learning how to move large and heavy things safely using a variety of methods and tools from bars, long tongs, timber arches, and more traditional methods such as Spanish windlasses.  The key to all of these tasks is teamwork, organisation and clear commands given by one person!

Splitting a knotty Silver Birch with wooden wedges

This week is also focusing on identifying specific construction timbers from the piles of available materials we have and then using tools to prepare those timbers to the right length and shape.

Tapping in the wooden wedges to direct a split.

Debarking is one of those early jobs that simply has to be done.  Removing the bark and sometimes the sapwood of particular species will prolong the life of a building structure and discourage the actions of boring insects.  At a later date, another way of achieving this is will be to ensure a regular fire is lit inside the building as soon as it is finished! The smoke is very effective at discouraging insect action – especially in the natural smoke zone of the roof frame.

Beginning the epic task of bark stripping!

The weather is finally becoming seasonal towards the end of the week with high winds and heavy winds forecast.  We will have to see how sheltered the construction site is and to what degree adverse weather will affect our work over the coming months!

The volunteer team are bonding very well, with everyone keeping a close eye on each other and being very careful with some unfamiliar tools and processes.  Our only issue at the moment is a general reluctance to stop for breaks, due mainly to the walk back down the hill to the cabin!

Construction begins next week!

 

Neolithic Longhouse; 10th – 14th December 2018

Monday 10th December 2018

The final project week for 2018 has begun!  This week sees the continuation of daubing (what an epic task!) to see the building weather and wind proof.  There is final dressing of the ridge to be done – making sure the butted reed is tight and dressed to the correct angle to shed the rain.  

Carpentry continues internally with the shaping and installing of three thresholds for the main doors.  These will be half split timbers that fit at ground level between the door posts. The thresholds will enable the doors to pivot in a solid base and provide a hard wearing surface for the main points of footfall.

This week also sees the attempted splitting of a large Sweet Chestnut log which was recently felled at La Hougue Bie.  This log – large and knotty in places will be the final challenge for our skilled and experience volunteers. The aim is to split out some broad planks that will become the main doors of the house.

Tuesday 11th December 2018

The log splitting continues today.  Unfortunately, after all our hard work, we have discovered substantial rot in the heart of the timber.  This will inevitably change the way we use the timber, and is already modifying our original hope of three plank Zurich doors to two plank doors instead.  This is another example of some of our contingent thinking and problem solving based on our lack of “Neolithic Forest”. If we had access to those climax woodlands of long ago, we would have chosen a tree for its straight grain and splitting qualities, and if we had discovered rot within, we would have wandered a relatively short distance from home to find and fell another suitable candidate.  Some of our decisions on this project have been based on our limited and finite timber resources.

Today, another session of daubing took place.  We are, slowly but surely, making our way towards the end of this epic phase.  The building becomes darker inside day by day. We await the first lighting of a fire!

Wednesday 12th December 2018

Today saw a serious organisation of the longhouse and site. Daubing continued with good work and progress from several volunteers.  The shutters are now becoming the only openings in finished walls!

We also organised the remaining thatch and stored it inside the house so it can dry off a bit over the wettest months.  Tim has also been working on a special finale to the roof. Using his skills and imagination – he has created something on the gable end to give the building character! All will be revealed tomorrow at the topping out ceremony.  

Derek has been slogging through the enormous log – cutting out the dead wood and starting to split the second half into quarters.  We have decided there will only be enough good timber to create one of the large doors! A bit disappointing – but we can only work with what we have!

We have also been cutting out any straight lengths from our remaining willow.  These will form the “Zales” of our hurdles in the New Year. We are hoping, with good stacking, to survive until fresh willow is harvested.

Thursday 13th December 2018

A bitterly cold continental wind is with us today.  Volunteers are wearing multiple layers and working hard (as always) to keep warm.  Today heralds the official finishing of the roof! Volunteers and Jersey heritage staff have come to daub for the morning and to celebrate the completion of the roof with a BBQ and drinks.  

Tim’s finale was revealed at lunchtime – the head of a wild boar – with crest, tusks and personality – made with reed and wheat straw – what a great effort and fantastic way of finishing the roof!

I have to say, its reaching that very emotional part of the project where we look ahead to the next few years without my direct input.  The volunteers are such a fantastic team of individuals with real skills and knowledge and motivation to carry on with tasks and experiments.  It will be a real wrench to say goodbye.

Over lunch we made a toast to Sweat!  This project has been born of research, material knowledge, practical skills, countless debates and theories  – but all of those aspects would have amounted to nothing without the key ingredient of Sweat! This precious commodity, the sap of endurance and dogged determination, runs like a stream, through every aspect of this building.  It is a physical glue that holds together the friendships, knowledge and skills that this project has required, and in the appropriate words of Hesiod,

 

“Before the gates of excellence, the High Gods have placed sweat!

Hard is the road thereto, and steep at first,

Though when the heights are reached, then there is ease,

Though grievously hard is the winning.”

 

Friday 14th December 2018

 

A clear day heralds the end of another year on the project!  The site is looking tidier, the building is looking beautiful and we have consumed many mince pies and sausages!  

Astra has finished shutter 4 in the main hall – and the final elements of daubing can now go ahead.

When I return in January for the last official visit, we will focus on building doors, laying floors and getting the building ready for the wonderful volunteers to take over and populate with the projects, experiments and artefacts they intend to make.

A momentous week indeed!

Well done All!

 

 

Neolithic Longhouse; 26th – 30th November 2018

Monday 26th November 2018

The forecast this week is for heavy rain at times – but this morning is relatively bright – if a little chilly!

We have set aside this week to hopefully finish the roof.  The thatched ridge will form the water tight cap that keeps the weather out of the building.  There are any number of ways of thatching a ridge, and a variety of materials suited to the task (depending on the method chosen).  This roof will employ the simplest version of all. In the modern world we are familiar with the sight of beautifully ornate thatched ridges on roofs.  Historically this seems to be a very recent phenomenon – illustrated by paintings and early photographs where early butted ridges become ornately decorated in the Victorian period.  What is clear is that any number of thatching methods exist that are founded on local tradition that often stems from the use of particular local materials and their specific properties.  Our roof is employing a simple ridge that utilises our most abundant material (in this case reed). It may well be the case that as this ridge version degrades, other materials may be tested that are also on the island such as sedge and bracken.

As with all of our new construction stages, the initial learning curve is very steep!  Today we tested the process of forming a ridge using teams on both sides of the roof. We found quickly that it is a task that requires fewer people to do well (one on each side and one tying beneath).  The process involves securing an inverted (thick end at the top of the roof) bundle on the leeward side of the roof and dressing its butt end to the same slope as the previous layer on the windward side.  This is then covered by a bundle on the windward side and both sways lashed through the roof – beneath the internal timber ridge. This effectively squeezes the two sways together and – with the thatch acting as a wedge, prevents the ridge from slipping off.

Tuesday 27th November 2018

Our first real day of rain on the project for months and months!  The site is wet and the building interior is extremely dim. We still have most of the north side daubing to complete too, so we need to be careful to allow in as much light as possible on days like these.  

One positive is that we can now see the advantage of the daub “robber trenches” as drains.  The water from the roof is dripping into these perfectly and taking the water away from the interior floor level and post holes.

Inevitably work progresses more slowly in foul weather, but this morning we are trying to pass on our lessons from yesterdays ridge thatching to new teams of volunteers.  The aim is to have this knowledge in more than three brains so work can continue when we have three people on site.

The ridge is progressing and our intention is to finish the ridge this week if the weather allows!

Daubing is in full swing with teams working on the south side of the building.  We are also clearing around the building to make way for schools who are hoping to come and daub the building tomorrow.

 

Wednesday 28th November 2018

After heavy rain last night and high winds forecast for today, the pressure is on to complete the ridge this week.  We have settled into something like a routine with the method. Three people working closely from both sides of the roof and beneath.  

Today also saw the arrival of 4 schools to help with our daubing mission.  It was great to see so many enthusiastic and excited faces getting stuck into the job.  It is always interesting to see how quickly children adapt to new situations and this was no different.  After an initial briefing, the teams of year 3 and year 6 children set about their work with gusto. We roped off the ladder areas inside and out and from my position in the heavens I could see how much they all really enjoyed the experience of contributing to something that is permanent.  There is no better way of learning about the past than actually doing it!

 

Thursday 29th November 2018

After a night of gales and heavy rain, work continues on the final six metre section of ridge.  Nothing was moved on the roof by the wind last night which conforms the quality of our volunteer thatching.  Today we have more schools visiting to push on with the daubing of the remaining walls.

Daubing is another one of those jobs that on the face of it seems easy and straight forward.  Its just a case of throwing some mud onto the walls right? The reality is very different and once again teaches us the difference between understanding the process of doing something and the skills and refinement required to do that thing well and beautifully.  Daub making is a skill. It requires an understanding of the local raw material (earth or clay) and it properties. It requires the understanding of how much or little fibre needs to be added to reduce its shrinkage when it dries on a wall. The amount of water added to the dry daub is a critical factor to success – too much and it becomes impossible to use and will shrink, too little and its is impossible to use, won’t bind with daub through the wattle panel and simply won’t stick to the wall.  The application of the daub also requires skill. Working it in the right way, blending and merging it, applying at the right thickness, and of course the standard of finish, are all elements where the artisan has the capability of making a beautiful and functional wall.

All of this skill and knowledge only comes with the act of actually doing it of course.  The more of this “simple” task we do, the more we realise it is anything but simple to achieve fine results!

 

 

 

Friday 18th November 2018

Yesterday – with minutes to spare before the light failed, we managed to place the final bundles of thatch on the ridge!  What a great achievement by the whole team. Looking back at the sheer hours and effort that have gone into this roof, its slightly strange to think its finished!

 

 

Today, we are making some final touches and dressing the ridge to shape.  The smoke hole area of the roof has been defined and lashed using various methods to keep the thatch in place and to allow the hole to be kept open if we decide.  

The roof has taken 1200 bundles of reed and many metres of cordage to complete.  It is only one possible method of thatching a roof and has raised various issues during its construction that should be considered.

What is clear is the amount of experience and skill our volunteers have learnt on this project.  They are now more than capable of problem solving with thatching materials and repairing when the roof begins to age.  It has been the most epic phase of the construction so far – requiring hundreds of hours on ladders by dedicated and weather resistant people.

 

I take my hat off to you all for such a wonderful achievement – and doesn’t it look stunning!!

 

Neolithic Longhouse; November 12th – 16th 2018

Monday 12th November 2018

The Neolithic Gods are clearly with us on this project!  Somehow, the weather seems to have favoured us over the last year in an extraordinary way and yet again, despite the atrocious weather at the weekend, we are welcomed back to the project with bright and mild days this week!

Today the volunteer teams are quickly back into the swing of it after a three week break.  Inside we have the final wattle sections being constructed in the livestock end of the building.  Work on this continued while I was away and this end of the building is nearly complete. Outside, more volunteers are starting on the daubing of these sections and the race is now on to complete the walls so we can lay the floor!.  It will be fascinating to see the effect on Derek and Edward’s shutters when the walls are complete. Will they provide enough light in the darkest end of the building? If not, the potential and knowledge is now there to replace other daubed panels with more shutters.  This building will (as hoped) undoubtedly change and evolve as time goes by and as its functionality raises more and more questions.

The end is also in sight for the roof.  Thatch layer 8 continues on the south side of the roof – half of this layer remains before we move onto layer 9.  Then we tackle the final layer – the ridge!

 

Tuesday 13th November 2018

Fine weather greets us again, although a chilly wind reminds us it is November!

Wattle panels are proceeding at a pace in the livestock end of the building.  Only 2 large panels remain before this end of the building is enclosed.

Daubing also continues at this end of the building.

Tim has trimmed part of the overlapping reed at the ridge line to allow layers 8 and 9 to overlap from the south side.  These last two layers should block out any residual light from the roof and we will begin to get a feel for the final interior space.  

What is clear – even at this stage, is the difference in light levels between the south eastern end of the building (the main entrance) and the livestock end of the building.  The winter sun tracks through the doorways from early morning until around midday. This offers a surprising level of light within the first 6 metre bay of the building by which to work during the winter months. This is then enhanced in the afternoon from around 1.30pm until sunset when the light is given unimpeded access to the end of the building through the open door on the southern wall.  It has been amazing to see the effect of direct low winter sunshine on this area until the sun dipped below the level of the nearby hedge (around 4.30pm). This can’t be accidental can it?

 

Wednesday 14th November 2018

The weather continues to be unseasonably fine and mild.  Today the volunteers are still pressing on with the main tasks of finishing any remaining wattle panels and the final layers of thatch on the south side.  We would like to finish the remaining section of layer 8 and the whole of layer 9 before the end of the week so we can focus on the ridge during the next visit.

We are also installing some horizontal timbers at the front of the building to support the upper wattle work that will eventually seal the gable end.  These lintels sit above the main door lintels and also effectively for m a box frame for a shutter (this may be a simple leather flap or wattle panel or a more elaborate carpentered shutter) that can be opened on days when more light or ventilation is required in the building.

Astra has been working on her shutter this week.  Today she had completed the first stage of matching and joining the two individual ¼ split timbers that will form the shutter.

 

Thursday 15th November 2018

Our first mirky morning of the week.  The mist is hanging over the longhouse and wrapping the site in its quiet blanket.

Thatching team 1 is finishing layer 8 on the south side of the roof.  Their intention is to immediately press on with layer 9. Thatching team two have started layer 9 from the other end of the building.  Our mission is still to try and complete layer 9 by the end of tomorrow!

Astra is forging ahead with the final shutter of the project (for now!) which will fit the frame already in position in the living space.  

Patsy and Edward are working on the last wattle panel in the livestock end of the building!  This end of the building is becoming darker as the days go by and each panel is filled. By the time the daubing is finished it will be the darkest part of the building.  It may be that two shutters and reflected light from the north doorway isn’t enough to illuminate this space, but the volunteers now have all of the skills and know-how to replace wattle panels with more shutters if required.

Today we have also had a site tidy – gathering all of our split and prepared pieces of timber and sorting them into sizes.  This timber will form the framework of furniture, beds, platforms, work benches, and anything else the interior may require.

The final bundles of reed are also being organised into piles for layer 9 and the ridge.  Layer 9 requires 60 bundles (one side) and the ridge will need around 100 bundles.

 

Friday 18th October 2018

 

The work week is ending with another foggy morning!

Two thatching teams are busy working on layer 9 with the hope of finishing today.  We also have a team of volunteers on daubing – working on the newly installed livestock wattle panels.

Derek has finished one of the tricky wattle panels at the gable end and is moving onto the other one.

What a great end to the week! It is so fantastic to see the completion of all the thatch layers.  We have a weeks rest now and then we push on with the completion of the roof with the ridge.

 

Well done All!

 

Neolithic Longhouse; October 15th – 19th 2018

Monday 15th October 2018

Work begins amid the leaf fall of autumn!  The roof is looking a little shaggy at the moment as the short reed from each bundle are blown and weathered out of the roof.  This is a natural part of the thatching process if reed is not thoroughly processes when harvested. Traditionally, harvested reed was shaken to remove short lengths and other plants.  Modern mechanised harvesting processes cut and bundle the reed without great care. The shaggy appearance at this stage is NOT indicative of a poorly thatched roof though. Only the reed that is too short to be gripped by its sway will make its way out of the roof and so won’t affect the overall tightness of the ties.

Today, in damp autumnal conditions, we are continuing with layer 7 around the livestock end of the building.  This will be the last layer that covers this end of the building, the remaining two will stop short and form a “hood” or “cowl” that gives any potential smoke hole shelter from the weather.

Daubing also continues with the continuation of walls on the northern side.

We have conducted a small experiment to see what volume of milk will be required to complete the floor.  A 50cm x 50cm x 15cm section of floor was removed by spade and loosened to produce a fine lump-free soil.  This was mixed with water in stages until the required consistency was achieved. We found that 8 litres of liquid produced a stiff mix while 10 litres produced a wet mix.  To complete the floor (66 square metres) we are looking at around 2500 litres of milk. The test also looked at bonding the floor mix with the levelled soil beneath. An area was chosen and half of it thoroughly wetted, leaving the other half dry.  The wet mix was then dumped on the area and levelled by hand to a depth of around 8cm (its natural slump) When this section of floor is “cheese” hard, we will burnish the surface with smooth stones to compress the damp particles and form a hard wearing surface.  

By the end of this week we should know more about the best way to approach this kind of floor using the local soil.  

 

Tuesday 16th October 2018

 

Another damp and misty morning covers the Longhouse.  

Thatching teams have now finished layer 7 on the north side and are working on layer 8.  This will be the first layer to form the hood of a potential smoke hole. Making this reed sweep over the downward curving thatch roll on the ridge will be reasonably tricky, but if we can pull it off it should look great!  

Daubing is pressing on today.  Remaining panels on the north wall are being filled to produce a solid barrier against the weather.  Many months ago, our ideas included leaving gaps at the top of each woven panel to act as openings. The idea was to allow “free” light to enter the building rather than to have to burn materials to create light.  Our thinking has changed in part. The north wall will now be solid (those gaps are being filled in with extensions to the wattle frameworks) because there will be little reflected light under the eaves on the north side.  

Another consideration is the issue of creating too much moving air in the area of the fire place. Our thinking now is that the north wall is closest to the fire (it is off set towards the north in the original evidence of some buildings) and that ventilation should be minimal to encourage the smoke to rise with the heat of the fire and push through the thatch between the purlin and the ridge beams.  Once again, this project illustrates the strength of not having a rigid design at the outset and taking advantage and notice of the options that open themselves as construction continues. The downside of course, is the possibility of forever changing things and frustrating the workforce!

 

Wednesday 17th October 2018

Glorious weather has greeted us today on site.  The sun is out and the weather is calm.

Today, Our willing volunteers are pressing on with thatch layer 9 on the north side of the roof.  Our mission is to finish these final layers of thatch this week so we can then move on to the south side next visit.

Inside, we are testing the use of wattle to finish the planked walls in the livestock end of the building.  The results are reasonably speedy and very sturdy. Three uprights are enough to provide tension in our somewhat “dry” hazel and willow on site.  Ideally we would probably harvest fresh materials for this task, but we have so much material left over from last winter it seemed a waste to not try and use it.

 

Thursday 18th October 2018

This morning we have two thatching teams on the roof.  Team 1 (Astra, Iris and Christopher) are working on layer 7 on the south side of the roof, while Team 2 (Danny, Tim and Mike) are working on layer 9 on the north side of the roof.

Other jobs continue inside the building including the fitting of Edwards finished Shutter and frame into the livestock end of the building, the construction of wattle panels around Derek’s finished window and the filling of other gaps.

Daubing also continues on the north side of the house to complete the walls.

 

Friday 18th October 2018

 

The work week is ending with another fine and bright day.  Overall we have been incredibly lucky with the weather over the last two years!  This week marks the projects two year anniversary – and its amazing to see where we’ve come from.  Our visitors this week have included schools who came to us a year ago and it is encouraging to see their reactions to what has been achieved.  The volunteers have turned from a group of random individuals to a team of friends who are skilled and comfortable with any new challenge the building demands.  Along with this, the standard of work has improved dramatically, from the early days when the materials and methods were so new and alien, to the levels of skill that can only come from a deep familiarity with materials, tools and techniques.  Overall, the journey has been impressive for all of those involved.

Today the sun is bathing the stunning longhouse in its autumnal light and, after many weeks of thatching, the roof is nearing completion.  An even more dramatic impact of this, and the daubing of walls, is the dramatic drop of light levels inside the house. We all have to let our eyes adjust to the new dimness of an interior upon entering.  Once again, it raises the question of openings (windows especially) in houses such as these.

Our decision to incorporate a few shutters in the living space and livestock section is already having a visible effect on light levels.  I personally have no doubt that windows would have been included in these structures. For me the availability of “free” light combined with their known ability to fill holes with well carpentered solutions (like the Zurich door) suggests the use of shutters or similar openings in the buildings.

The livestock end of the building is really coming together with the installation of strong wattle panels.  This part of the building now feels like a room with the walls nearing completion and the joists of the mezzanine floor creating the feel of a ceiling.  

Daryl and Edward have finished shutters 2 and 3.  It is fascinating to see how different brains work with a similar starting point of evidence and materials.  Edward has followed Derek’s lead and produced a lovely miniature version of the Zurich door using two narrow planks to fill his frame.  Daryl was interested in pursuing a different method and used a broad plank with a central pivot to do the same task. The differences are obvious and interesting, both use known technology from the period (hinge pegs and box frames) but the shape of the starting raw material suggested different solutions.  Again, this highlights the issue of limited evidence. As archaeologists we tend to fixate on specific artefacts rather than the broad technology they represent. This can result in specific methods being used across broad geographical areas – in which there are often very different material sets. From the beginning, we have looked at the broad models of technology based on the archaeological evidence and applied then to solving the problems we have encountered using the local materials we have available.

Another good week from the volunteers.  Our next visit should see the roof completed!

 

Neolithic Longhouse; October 1st – 5th 2018

Monday 1st October 2018

The mornings are darker and the evenings are drawing in.  Winter is coming! The project enters its final stage with a dual focus this week.  

Daubing is now a race against time.  It it important to get the walls covered in order to protect the building from the inevitable wind and rain that will come with the onset of winter.  Today our trusty volunteers are carrying on with this task. Daubing is a labour intensive job that involves the digging, mixing, and applying daub of just the right consistency to the willow and hazel wattle panels.  Issues and questions of colour can come later; but for now we have to push on with covering the walls.

The roof also enters a final stage.  Thatching layers 1-6 are complete and we now turn our attention to the ridge.  Volunteers are creating thatch rolls to fit between the crucks of the rafters. This roll will support the final ridge and create a mass of reed that will stop any wayward drips from entering the hall itself.  It will also give us a mass of material to peg or tie the final ridge covering to.

 

Tuesday 2nd October 2018

The first section of 6 metre thatch roll has been placed at the top of the ridge.  This forms a depth of thatch to stop any wayward drips, but crucially creates a high point that increases the pitch if the thatch that overlies it.  The ridge of the rood must shed water as quickly as possible to minimise its ingress into the building. Thatch layer seven has begun, This is the first of two layers that will rest on the thatch roll.  The ridge is now being worked in 6 metre sections to allow us to problem solve as we go. There are any number of ways to create a weather proof ridge, but each one requires skill and care to do properly.

Elsewhere on the building, Derek is working on fitting a latch to his beautiful shutter.  Edward is working on fitting window frame 2 in the livestock end of the building while Franco is doing the same with frame 4 in the main hall.  The last “tie beam” is in place in the building and the livestock mezzanine floor can now be extended over the passageway.

 

Wednesday 3rd October 2018

Today sees the thatching of layer 8 on the first section of roof.  The reed is now shooting beyond the thatch roll at the top and creating good coverage at the peak.  

We have extra volunteers today to help with our daubing challenge!  We still have many panels left to do – but even two panels a day (which is a good amount of work for 6 people) adds up to an important contribution to the project.

Window frame 4 is being fitted and Edward is nearing the completion of his shutter.

We are also taking the opportunity in this fine weather, to have a good site tidy.  The thatching process tends to leave a fair bit of waste material around the building, but a carefully controlled fire deals with it pretty rapidly.

We have decided to proceed with thatch layer 9 on the north side of the building.  The idea is to create a thickness of reed at the ridge on the lee side of the prevailing weather.  This can then be trimmed close to the thatch roll and over lapped by three layers of thatch on the south side of the roof.

Thursday 4th October 2018

This morning we have two thatching teams on the roof.  Team 1 (Astra, Iris and Tim) are working on layer 9, while Team 2 (Pippa, Mike and Bill) are working on layer 7 in the middle section of the roof.

The last thatch roll is made and ready for positioning at the top of the roof.  The rolls are made by estimating the thickness required (in this case, thick enough to fill the cruck between the overlapping rafters at the top of the roof), and then measuring out the length required on the ground.  

Pairs of pegs are then tapped into the ground to contain the thatch as it is sorted. The ridge roll has 1 ½ bundles of reed per metre of its length. The bundles are laid out between the pegs and overlapped to provide the correct volume.  Their ties are then cut and the reed sorted to avoid abrupt joins. The thickness of the potential roll is continually confirmed during this process to avoid the roll being excessively thick or tin along its length. Once we are happy, the bundle is lashed (I prefer a blanket stitch) to maintain its shape and enable it to be carried up onto the roof.

The third 6 metre thatch roll forms the ridge shape at the livestock end of the building.  This end of the roof is relatively complicated, simply because we don’t yet know if we will need a smoke hole in this position or not.  From the start this build has had to change at times as each new stage unveils questions and answers that were impossible to foresee at the design and model stage.  One of the more obvious questions concerning houses like these is “Did they have smoke holes in the roof?” The short answer is that we simply don’t know! But before we leave it at that, why don’t we ask “what do we know?”  Experimental archaeology has tried many options for ventilating smoke in replica buildings. My own experience in the construction and use of many different “traditionally” built houses is that smoke holes are sometimes required and sometimes not.  The type of roof covering, size and shape of building, surrounding vegetation, orientation of building, the type of fire used in the structure and even the species of timber being burned, all have critical influence on the decision for, or against, smoke holes.  This building is being thatched with water reed, and in relatively light layers (compared to modern thatched roofs).

The goal is to allow the smoke particles from a cooking/heating fire to percolate through the thatch layers (driven from beneath by the heat of the fire).  My experience tells me that we “shouldn’t” need a vent in the roof. However, this is a longhouse – and my experience of building Viking Age longhouses with shingle roofs and central vents tells be that any smoke from the fire that misses the smoke hole cools and lingers in both ends of the building unless there is some kind of vent in the apex of the gable ends.  Returning to our Neolithic Longhouse; given its length, if all the smoke is not driven through the central portion of the roof by the fire beneath, I suspect it may linger – especially in the entirely enclosed “livestock” end of the building. Our solution to this currently unknown issue is to create the potential for having a smoke hole in this end of the roof. When we eventually test the fire, we will have to option of opening a smoke hole without the need for retro-engineering.  Of course, ancient builders would not have had this issue as their experience in seeing and building successful houses would have answered these questions before they started building. This entire discussion is a product of trying to re-invent the process of Neolithic house building.

 

Friday 5th October 2018

 

Another fine and warm day has dawned at la Hougue Bie.  The teams are in for the last session of the week. Work continues with two thatching teams.  Team one is working on layer 7 while team 2 works on layer 8. Today works also starts on a rough levelling of the floors in the house.  The house frame has been built “by eye” with no use of levels. What has become noticeable as the frame has been finished, is the unevenness of the floors in places.  The floor still has to be constructed properly – but at this stage we have begun to remove soil from the high point and deposit it in the low points.

More shutters are being made to finish the window frames.  Steadily, the building is beginning to reveal some of its beautiful detail!

A week of unseasonably warm weather has come to an end and we have cracked the technical detail of the roof ridge.

Well done to the team!

 

Neolithic Longhouse; September 10th – 15th 2018

Monday 10th September 2018

We are back at work after the summer break.  Everyone is refreshed after their break and what an amazing summer it’s been!

It feels like we are on the last leg of this fantastic project.  The next few months will see the building finished as a blank canvas, with, frame, roof, walls and floor complete.  The next few weeks will see discussions between our fantastic volunteers and to identify the first series of tasks that will start to fit out the building (in terms of beds, storage, upper floors, shelves) and will form a range of activities and tasks that turn the building into an interesting attraction for visitors.

Today we press on with thatching the roof.  We have around one more layer of thatch to put on before we then have to start working on the ridge.  The ridge will consist of several thatch rolls that fill the cruck between the rafters and form a dense mass of reed beneath the finished ridge.  We then need to trim the rafter ends and thatch the final two layers over the top. The final touch will be the addition of a cap – that may be reed, wheat straw, bracken or even turf.

We are also marking out and de-turfing the ditch that will run around the building.  This ditch will act as a drip trench to soak away water rainfall from the roof – but will also double as a robber trench to get our daub material from (topsoil).  

 

Tuesday 11th September 2018

Today sees the start of daubing at a determined scale!  Our test panels have had several months to dry and endure the weather, giving us time to see how well they work.  The results are positive. The local soil sees to produce a fine grade daub that resists weather well, is relatively easy to mix and apply and gives a good surface finish.  The key to mixing daub is ensuring a high fibre content to prevent excessive shrinkage and cracking.

We are using hair and hay as the fibre for our daub.  Clay is commonly used for daub (in clay rich areas) and animal dung can be used as the fibre element as the digestive system of the animal processes the plant fibres to a high degree, but our testing has shown that the local loess soil is a very good daub material when mixed with amble fibre.

We have extra help today from a group of volunteers from Lloyds Commercial Bank.  They are really getting stuck into the task of daubing and the walls are becoming dark and solid from the ground upwards!

Today we have also started giving serious thought to the second mezzanine floor.  This floor will be installed at the main entrance end of the building and enable further storage of tools, repair materials, harvest and fodder crops.  We have thought long and hard about how this floor will function and how best to enable light to access the heart of this end of the building.

 

Wednesday 12th September 2018

So, an interesting day today.  Teams have carried on with thatching (of course) while Bill has been fitting and securing joists for the mezzanine floor above the livestock end of the building.  The tie beams and joists for the second mezzanine floor have also been shaped and positioned ready for fixing.

James Dilley (flint knapper and ancient technologist) was here today to be filmed making a Neolithic Flint Axe rough out.  It was great to see James again and great for the volunteers to see outstanding knapping skills at close hand. The sound of a real Neolithic skill filled the longhouse – a sound that was undoubtedly heard in building like this 6000 years ago.

This afternoon, between jobs, our volunteers met with Jersey Heritage staff to discuss ideas for the exciting future of the building.  From the very beginning, this project was as much about the volunteers as the building, and it is great to see them putting forward great ideas for the kinds of crafts, skills, maintenance and improvements to the longhouse and its environs.  This project will clearly go from strength to strength when the building is “finished”.

 

Thursday 13th September 2018

 

After rain last night, the site is damp and autumnal this morning.  Iris, Danny and James are thatching this morning in an attempt to get closer to finishing layer 6.  I am dressing the thatch on the south side – making sure each layer is the correct distance from the previous.  Dressing involves the use of a leggit or paddle that is used to pat (sometimes harder!) the ends of the reed upwards towards the roof ridge.  This process neatens the roof, but critically also tightens the reed beneath the sways that clamp it into position.

Bill and Mike are finishing lashing the joists in the first mezzanine floor so we can proceed with making it a usable and safe surface for storage.

Derek is coming to the end of his task to make a shutter and window frame.  We have all had brief glimpses of it partially fitted – and it is clearly a fine piece of work using known Neolithic carpentry construction – can’t wait!

The tie beams in the entrance way mezzanine are now being lashed to the posts using some of the fantastic cordage Astra has made.  There are three uprights tie beams and we have decided to lash each one with a different type of cordage, Nettle, Sweet Chestnut, and Willow.  This is a lovely piece of detail that will be clearly visible to visitors.

 

Friday 14th September 2018

Layer 6 is nearing completion and we are taking some time to dress and organise the thatch that is already on the roof.  The next phase involves working on the ridge of the roof. The finished thatch ridge will bear the brunt of the weather and accordingly, needs to be substantial, secure and water tight.  Our plan is to create several thatch rolls that will lay along the ridge line and create a depth of thatch at the very peak of the roof. The final two layers of thatch will then overlay these rolls and be trimmed off.  The final stage is to then attach some kind of cap to the whole mass.

Saturday 15th September 2018

A calm sunny morning heralds the end of another week at La Hougue Bie,

Today we are continuing with dressing thatch layers 1-6 in readiness for the final two layers that will run up to, and over the ridge of the building.  We have an enthusiastic team of daubers in the form of Andrea, Anya and Ruth who are mixing and applying our own unique blend to another of the many willow wall panels.

Derek is nearing completion of his amazing shutter and frame, is is impressive to see his commitment to accuracy and finish.  

His standards set the benchmark for other projects on site. Interestingly i don’t think it is in anyway out of place. Existing and new evidence for crafts and carpentry in the Neolithic Period show high levels of finishing and sometimes unnecessary complexity.  Well linings from Germany show the presence of mortise and tenon joints where simple overlapping joints will suffice (as demonstrated in other well linings). The planks are split and shaped but not refined (the well lining was intended not to be seen after all) but the level of sophistication can only hint at the level of finish and refinement that would have been invested in visible items of furniture for example.  

From the start of this project, our mantra has been one of expelling the commonly held belief of the Neolithic as a time of rudimentary adoption of agriculture, all of its associated trappings, and its struggle, almost kicking and screaming into modernity.  Each new discovery confirms to us that this period, coming right at the end of the Stone Age, is abundant with sophistication and a knowledge of materials and their properties that we will never attain again.