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.

Neolithic Longhouse; July 9th – 13th 2018

Monday 9th July 2018

Wow! Summer is definitely here and the sun is baking the volunteers on site.  Apart from thatching, which necessarily has to be exposed to the worst of it, other jobs have retreated to the shade of the trees.

Today sees help on the project from HSBC, who have sent us ten of their best to help out.  The mission today is to move some of the thousand bundles of thatch that were delivered two weeks ago.  We are separating them into short, medium and long bundles and piling them on either side of the roof to enable faster thatching.  

Two thatching teams are continuing work on the roof – we have a large amount of work each week to get the roof in place before the worst of the winter weather rears its ugly head!

We have teams working on peg making, preparing internal timbers for the building, and finishing the last few sections of woven walls before our next visit (which will focus on daubing).

We also have schools on site today – looking at the Neolithic Longhouse and exploring the methods behind its construction.

The ambitious timetable for thatching is to complete two layers per week.  Ironically, this super warm weather will affect this goal as the roof is a pretty hostile and energy sapping environment in full sunshine.  


Tuesday 10th July 2018

A grey start to the day has given way to glorious sunshine again.  The very busy site of yesterday has returned to the familiar murmur of voices and the tap tap tap of chisels on wood.

Today we are focusing on thatching once again.  Two teams are working methodically along each side of the roof.  Working on the second layer of thatch is proving to be far trickier than the first.  This is due mainly to the difficulty in positioning ladders in ways that do not hinder access to the thatch and sways.  Volunteers are being careful to stick to the correct thatch thickness (6 bundles per square metre) in order to create a roof that will allow smoke to escape.

We have created new devices to help the thatching process.  Needles have been produced from thinly split chestnut – with long eyes created by boring two holes a few centimetres apart and then cutting out the groove between them to make a slot.  

They are proving to be efficient and certainly possible to make with simple flint tools. The second device supports the thatch while it is being positioned. This plank with a pole attached hasn’t yet got a name – but it is enabling the thatchers to think about one less thing during the complicated process.

Franco, Rosie  and Daryl are working on the  window frames that will be slotted into place.  Edward has begun the second shutter – based on Derek’s first version, which has set the bar extremely high for those following!


Wednesday 11th July 2018

Another incredible day of sun at La Hougue Bie!

Our thatching teams are now well into their groove and they are really starting to refine the basic process of thatching into a skill.  The subtleties of thatch thickness, lashing position, dressing and sway thickness are being mastered and the roof is starting to look amazing.  

Layer three has started and our ambitious timetable of two layers per week seems to be possible!

At the gable end, we have put in some temporary barge sticks (a barge board usually faces the end of a roof and contains the roofing material and stops the wind and weather from driving in beneath).  Our barge sticks are lashed to the frame beneath and provide a working edge to the roof. Time will tell if these become permanent features or not. Layer three is now covering the roof to above the purlin height and marks a third of the roof covered.


Two window frame are now built and we begin the task of fitting them between pairs of wall posts.  Again, we are exploring different ways of doing this. One method is to “simply” cut notches in the posts to house the ends of the frame sill and lintel – allowing (at least theoretically) the frame to be inserted into the space as a unit.  Another way is to cut mortises into the posts at one end of the sill and lintel and to then push in the other side into locating notches.


Thursday 12th July 2018


Another astounding day of warm sunshine and clear skies today!

Both thatching teams are working on the third layer – moving from the gable end of the house towards the livestock end of the building.  The slightly more complicated method of working from ladders is well embedded now, with each team finding their own particular rhythm and routine for thatching.  It should be said that working with a regular team greatly improves efficiency. In line with all of the other tasks on this build, by the time the roof is finished, the thatching teams will have learned a method and refined it to a degree where they could thatch the same roof again in two thirds of the time!

The biggest issue we face this week is the heat!  Regular breaks are being taken to ensure we are drinking enough and finding shade.

Friday 12th July 2018

A hazy start heralds the last work day of the week.  The sun is due to shine again at lunchtime, so we have a few precious hours of coolness before the summer continues.

Thatching is the obvious priority again today with a obvious target of trying to finish layer three.  

We are also looking at tidying the site in preparation for possible public involvement during our next visit.  

Ideas are beginning to come in from our volunteers regarding the shutters that are/will be built.  It is interesting to see how the original evidence (in this case, a three plank door from Zurich) fuels a range of other options.  Derek and Edward are making shutters that reflect the Zurich door by having hinge pegs integral to the first plank of the shutter – this enables the shutter to open like a door.  Alternative suggestions have been made however, using the same principles, one of which sees the hinge peg in the centre plank of the shutter, thus enabling the shutter to pivot at its centre – allowing light and air to enter the building without requiring much opening space into the building.

This has been the most incredible week of fine weather and the building has moved on again.  


Jersey Neolithic Longhouse; June 4th – 9th 2018

Monday 4th June 2018

After a blazing week of sunshine, Hougue Bie sees some light rain this morning.  

The project is entering a new phase of construction this week with the beginning of thatching.

The volunteers will be taken through the process of this task during the week and have enough hands-on experience to set the method in their minds.

The first stage of the process is to make and attach a thatch roll that sits along the first batten (at eventual eave height).  This is formed by laying out three thatch bundles on the ground, cutting their ties and merging them to form a continuous “sausage”.  The roll is lashed and then attached to the batten using slip knots.

The aim of this roll is to create some height at the eave that forces the subsequent layers of thatch to bend and kick out at their base.  This builds tension into the thatch and helps it to stay in place.

In the afternoon, the first willing volunteers learned the basics of thatching.  Nicky, Tim, Mike and Jane formed a team and learned the knots, the process and the subtleties of placing bundles on a roof.  There first section is 6 metres long and has 18 bundles of thatch in in. A great first go and what will become very familiar territory over the next few project weeks!

Tuesday 5th June 2018

Grey cloud is blanketing Hougue Bie today – but the rain is holding off.  

A range of jobs continue on site.  The main focus this week is to get volunteers up to speed on the theory and practice of thatching.  Tim is transferring his knowledge to Bill and Ed this morning and as the day goes on, we will rotate more people through the process.  Thatching has its own kind of rhythm and often requires more hands than are available. For the straight runs of thatch we are putting 3 bundles of reed on the roof at a time.  Three bundles cover 1 metre of the roof to a depth of around 100 mm (compressed). The process is as follows…

  • Measure a metre on the roof.
  • Attach one end of the sway with a temporary lashing.
  • Roll three bundles of reed under the sway.
  • Clamp the sway in position (with hands or temporary ties).
  • Cut the reed ties (and hold!).
  • Spread the three bundles across the measured metre – ensuring they are untangled and following the rafter line.
  • Thread a thatching needle and push through the thatch around 200 mm from the temporary lashing at the end of the sway.
  • Unthread the needle on the underside – pass the string around a batten and rethread the needle (this is done by someone on the inside of the roof).
  • Pull the needle through the top side and tie the string around the sway – applying as much downward pressure to the sway as possible.  
  • Repeat the last process 3 times to reach the end of the measured metre.
  • Dress the ends of the thatch using a hand or scapula to force it upwards (tightening the thatch and knots) to a finished level.
  • Repeat…

Danny and Astra have finished installing the third wall planks in their respective bays.  Danny has now moved on to trimming the wall plates at the corners of the livestock end of the building.  This is required to allow the roof to curve around the corner rather than make an abrupt turn (making the thatching easier to complete, and importantly, easier to weatherproof.

Astra and Ray are working on the final internal wall sections – using the now familiar wattle technique of horizontal rungs and vertical fill.

Dave is trimming the rafters in the newly thatched porch to stop visitors from banging their heads!

Wednesday 6th June 2018

The grey cloud persists over Hougue Bie.  The first layer of thatch is completed on the north side of the house.  18 metres of the first layer has required 3 bundles of thatch spread across each metre.  This means a total of 54 bundles used so far. This work has been done by one thatching team in a day and a half – while learning a new skill!  Although it looks beautiful and impressive we are all aware that the first layer gives the impression of achieving much in a short space of time, the reality is that there will be another 7 or 8 layers above the first – each taking as long, to reach the top of the roof.  The first 18 metres belies the epic task of thatching a total of 340 metres total length!

Like all of the tasks on this building, an initial learning period is followed up by an impressive improvement in speed and efficiency. By the time we reach the ridge of the building, all of those involved will be competent at making a traditional building watertight.  This style of thatching is simple (that doesn’t mean easy!) compared to the complexity of methods used by master thatchers on medieval roofs.

At this stage the thatch is being stepped in visible layers.  This is a good way of keeping track of each layers thickness as the roof progresses.  Unlike a modern thatched roof (which has a chimney), our roof will need to “breathe” in order to let the smoke from the fire escape through the thatch so the thickness of the thatch is critical.  When the roof is covered we then have the option of “dressing” the edge of each layer to form a constant gradient (as you would see in a modern thatched roof).


Thursday 7th June 2018


A grey start has turned into a warm and brighter day.  

This morning we organised the thatch bundles on site, sorting them into, short, medium and long and piling them under tree cover on both sides of the building.

Today we are attempting to that with two teams on the roof in different locations.  Team 1 is starting the steepest part of the learning curve – working from ladders and still efficiently performing the many jobs that thatching requires!  They are starting layer 2 on the north side of the roof, working back from the gable end.

Team 2 are working on the south side to complete layer 1.  As with all of these tasks, efficiency and refinement can only be gained by doing it!  Each team is rotating to give members a go at each aspect of the job. In this humidity, the work is surprisingly energetic and tends to involve positions and actions that are entirely unfamiliar in modern daily life.

Derek is making great progress with Shutter 1.  Based on the amazing preserved Neolithic door from Zurich, Derek has now completed the mortises in three planks and has shaped and fitted the runners that tap through the mortises to stabilise the three planks and make them as one.


The idea here is that this first shutter will form the model for the remaining shutters to be made.  Even at this stage, the level of carpentry and skill required is plain to see and I am looking forward to the moment our first visitors question the complexity of  this technology in the Neolithic and we can securely tell them that it follows known evidence! It should be a real “eye opener”!

Friday 8th June 2018

A fine day has dawned at Hougue Bie.  Today thatching has paused while we get to grips with other essential jobs on site.  There are still some interior willow walls to construct, wall planks to fit in the end of the building, and joists to fit in the mezzanine floors.  

Derek is also continuing with Shutter 1  – based on the Neolithic door evidence from Zurich.  Derek raised a good point this morning concerning the use of detailed carpentered shutters in the “livestock” area of the building when the “living” space will only have simple openings at the top of its walls.  It is a good observation, and led to the decision to attempt the contruction of several “standardised” window frames and shutters that can be installed in any appropriate wall within the main living space. The question of windows in ancient buildings is problematic.  There is simply no evidence that they did or didn’t exist and so, once again we are left with a decision to make. For me, the Zurich door clearly shows high levels of carpentry employed to fill a hole in a wall (a doorway). Do we really suggest that other holes in walls (windows) would not have been used where light and ventilation was required, especially on those murky winter days when daily tasks have to continue under cover?

 Its a difficult question, and again comes back to questions relating to the purpose of the house and the spaces within it, the prevailing weather conditions and access to direct sunlight, and of course the ever ambiguous cultural considerations of the people involved.

Phil and Alcindo are now working on the first of these “shutter” frames for the building….the idea being that each constructed frame will slot into prepared notches in the wall post that will effectively lock the vertical frame elements in place without the need for pegs.

Iris has taken on the task of fitting planks into the triangular gaps at the end of the building where Derek’s diagonal braces slant from the central to outer posts.  This requires careful work, chiselling an approximate angle and then fitting and adjusting.

Doug is adzing off some of the thicker split planks to allow them to be used in the walls or even to become eventual shutters or furniture.  Ruth, Bill and Mike are fitting the split joists that will support the mezzanine floor above the livestock pens. Each joist is located in the tie beam by cutting a notch and pegging.  

Heather is working on the final internal wall panel – cutting the mortises for the willow rungs into hard Holm Oak.


Saturday 9th June 2018

Thunderstorms and heavy rain are bringing the week to a close.  Unfortunately, this means a pause on the thatching (due to treacherous ladders and sodden thatch).  

Our ever keen volunteers are not put off by a bit of torrential rain and standing water so jobs are continuing under whatever shelter we can find.

Bernie and Murry are pegging wall planks in position.  Derek has started on the frame that will eventually hold his beautiful shutter in position.  Astra, Chloe and Ania are making cordage in the shelter of the site hut (a wise move), while Pippa and Daryl are working on the other shutter frames for the main living space of the hall.

All in all, this week has seen another major push towards some kind of finishing point.  Everyone is impressed with the first layers of thatch and their affect on the look of the building.  The project is now entering the “home” phase, where we put our minds to the question of what goes inside the building!


Jersey Neolithic Longhouse; May 14th – 18th

Monday 14th May 2018

This project week has begun with sunshine and a fresh breeze.  The site has been transformed by the trees in full leaf, making the longhouse seemingly grow from the trees themselves.  It nestles in its clearing so beautifully, with its natural lines mimicking the surrounding woodland shapes.


This week work continues with the lashing of battens onto the rafters to form the final structural elements of the roof.  When this stage is complete we will have an all too brief view of the complete frame, the “skeleton” of the building, that will soon be lost, covered by the layers of thatch that will turn the project from beautiful frame into a useable building.

Although the thatch is an inevitable part of the build and has a beauty of its own, for me, the bare bones of a finished frame has a certain appeal that tells the story of how the building stands – and is visible reminder and physical story of the sheer effort and many processes that made it happen!

Derek and Danny are making a couple of final adjustments to rafters to ensure their ends don’t kick out too much from the wall plate.  Although the roof will become an organically irregular shape, we need to avoid the creation of gullies that will naturally funnel rain water into them (keeping them wet and rotting the thatch).  These final touches will make the difference between a beautifully functional roof and one that leaks!

Tuesday 15th May 2018

The sun is shining again today and a warmer summer breeze is welcome on site.

The battens on the south side of the roof are now finished!  Nicky and Ruth are checking them all to ensure they are tight before thatching begins.  The north side is ¾ finished with Astra, Ed, David and Derek lashing on battens and adjusting a couple of rafters to improve the shape of the finished roof.

Franco, James and Danny have made a start on the internal walls – the walls that divide some of the internal spaces such as the passageways from the main hall and livestock area.  This “simple” operation uses the same method as building the willow frames for the external walls but it has inevitably led to a debate concerning the angle of walls. The simple question is…. “Do we join the dots (in terms of making internal walls by simply linking vertical posts) or fabricate more recognisable angles”?  For now we have decided to join the dots and then see what spaces are available to us… it may be that we have to come up with some interesting storage solutions and carpentry, but the alternative is to make things straight in an organic building in order to fit our modern notions of usable space. We come back once again to the lack of detailed evidence for building interiors – and the eternal issues of building function reflecting material shapes and properties or the conscious decision making process and design of its occupants.  For example, do the stone built Neolithic houses at Skara Brae reflect a design choice of making curved internal corners, or a structural solution to building a cor-belled wall/roof out of un-cemented stone?

We have the same issue with our timber building.  Do the shapes we see in the surviving post holes reflect a conscious design that raw material was shaped to fit, or did it result from the use of a specific suite of raw materials?  In short, we will never truly know, and the temptation exists (often in academic thought) to throw the weight of personal opinion into one or other camp. I feel the answer may lie somewhere in between.  Coming to the modern era, we can look at buildings as diverse as the “Shard” or St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Both buildings seem to represent free choice in design (the whim or vision of an architect), but  the reality is very different! Each (indeed all) building is the result of vision and design, but that design is often predetermined by factors such as location,  available construction plot size, the eventual purpose of the building, what the society in which it stands is trying to say about itself, and of course available budget (in time and materials).  Once the design is settled, the real work begins, the endless modifications and sometimes dramatic changes imposed by the qualities of materials and the calculations of structural engineers, issues of time and shrinking budgets (impacting on materials). There is also a factor present in all aspects of what we do and build that we often overlook, Tradition.   For 99.9% of the time, things look like they do because of what went before.  Whether it be a restrained baroque style cathedral or monumental modernist skyscraper,  all buildings reference in greater or lesser ways, the styles and conventions of what has gone before.  The same has to be the case with a Neolithic longhouse. We presume that the design of these buildings incorporated the new requirements and architecture from a farming economy and blended them with existing construction styles (based on a hunter – gatherer lifestyle), architectural thought and cultural needs to create what we now recognise as the beginnings of sedentary house building.  The details of those influential parameters are, for the time being, lost to us.


Today I have worked out the joist pattern for the 7 bays of the building (4 at livestock end and 3 at entrance end).  We will require 56 joists varying in length from 1800 mm to 2200 mm. Each bay will have 8 joists that span from “tie beam” to “tie beam” – leaving gaps of 500 mm, which should be ample to support a strong floor (especially with a woven hurdle platform above).

Wednesday 16th May 2018

Today, work shifts from the roof to other tasks to allow unhindered access to the structural engineer and building control who are visiting today to check on progress.

The tasks include fitting the third layer of wall planks into the livestock end of the building.  From the start, the evidence of a slot trench at this end of the structure inferred a different construction method to the rest of the building.  Our interpretation has involved the setting of horizontal timbers in the ground (Sill Beams) and mortising posts into them to create upright walls.  The gaps between posts are being filled with planks to create a robust wall that would be capable of protecting livestock from predators and also preventing their escape when being over wintered.

More willow and hazel needs to be woven into the finished wall frames in other areas of the building to create strength before we daub in July.  And more work is needed on preparing the mezzanine floor joists before we begin fitting them in position.

Bob Godsell of “Just Structural” flew over from England this morning to check the progress so far.  Bob is a structural engineer and has done the calculations for the building so far. It is always interesting to see how the structure lives up to what the model and drawings suggested.  From the start of this project, the exact technical data has necessarily been a bit of a movable feast based on the exact decisions and specific pieces of timber we have used during the construction.  Bob has now seen the structure and is more than happy with its strength. The interesting conversations now start with Building Control who determine if a building is safe based on the very latest measures from the modern building industry.  On the face of it, a Neolithic Longhouse can never meet the requirements of a modern building industry – simply because it is using ancient methods. That does not mean that it is unsafe (as Bob’s calculations prove), but just different!

Thursday 17th May 2018

The fine weather is still with us!

Today we have a group of Corporate Volunteers with us from  RBS International. Our “regulars” are showing them a range of jobs and processes to push the building onto the next stage.  

Teams are busily working on draw knifing more joists for the mezzanine floors.  Infilling the wattle panels with willow and hazel to make them strong, and tying on the few remaining battens on the north side of the roof.

Our new volunteers are very keen and hardworking, their efforts have made a real difference to the building in just one day!

What is interesting at this stage is the separation of interior space by some of the new interior walls.  We are beginning to get a feel for the living space and the height of the mezzanine floor above the livestock bay.  Interesting shapes are forming that force us to start thinking about the best way to “live” in the finished building.

Today we made the decision to install some proper windows into the livestock bay walls.  It has become apparent that this end of the building will be the darkest when the roof is thatched – only being accessed through two interior doors that open onto a single exterior door.  To mirror the construction techniques in this bay (planks and sill beams), we are opting for a sophisticated solution. We will install two lintels or sills and two uprights to create a window frame.  The surround will be planked or willow filled and daubed, and the window will be closed by way of a miniature Zurich Door (or window in this case) that will showcase the known carpentry skills of Neolithic builders..

Today, with the help of RBS International, volunteers gave 6895 minutes to the project – that’s nearly 115 hours!  Well done all!

Friday 18th May 2018

A fine week is topped off with the best day yet!  Warm sun and a slight breeze are filtering through the leafy canopy at La Hougue Bie.  The Longhouse is partially hidden now by the summer trees and almost seems to grow out of the landscape itself.  Birdsong is punctuated by the tap tap tap of wooden mallet on chisel or axe on wood.

Today, another good week of progress comes to an end.  Tim and Mike have finished the batten lashings on the north side of the roof and are finishing by putting in willow or hazel rods between the crucks of the rafters.  This final run of timber will give us options for attaching the thatched ridge at a later date.

Danny is working on another wall plank – the time consuming grooving of the upright is all too familiar now!  Danny’s carrot is that when the third plank is in place, he will start making a sophisticated window to fit above it!

Iris and Astra are working together in “Bone Corner” – fitting a third plank – with bone chisels.  Epic work especially in hard Holm Oak!…

Derek has begun the complex and detailed carpentry required to produce a “Zurich” style window.  His logic is to produce the shutter first using off-cuts (we have limited splitting timber left) and to then fit the frame to the shutter – it will be interesting to see this marvel progress over the coming weeks.

Bill is also working on a third plank for another wall section while Heather, Ed, and Pippa are pressing on with the shaping of floor joists for the mezzanine floor at the livestock end of the building.

The progress of the building seems to be racing on now – and we are beginning to consider the detail of interior finishing that will be needed to turn this project from a fascinating construction into a home.


Jersey Neolithic Longhouse; April 30th – May 4th 2018

Monday 30th April 2018


Winter is making a final showing at Hougue Bie this week (we hope!) with low temperatures and a  biting wind!

The volunteers are beyond worrying about the weather though and are cracking on with the tasks at hand!

The test daub sections we applied last time have dried completely which allows us to assess their qualities.  What is noticeable is the hardness of the finished surface, where it has been finished smoothly it is hard to the touch and pretty resilient to knocks.  The expected shrinkage is well within acceptable limits – with the widest cracks measuring between 1 and 3 mm. This suggests that we can try and squeeze more fibre into the final mixes to reduce this further, but it also depends on what kind of finish we might be putting on the walls at the very end.  Narrow shrinkage cracks would actually act as a “key” to hold on a final render coat or even paint layer… Again, we have to start thinking about how the building will look when it is finished, now!

We are now well stocked with 4 mm hemp string for lashings, so the positioning of battens is proceeding this week.  We are attaching the stripped (white) willow battens over the living space to give it a different appearance from inside.

Willow panels are continuing in preparation for a “Daub Fest” planned in July.  We hope to get lots of visitors to help with this task during the first week of the summer holidays (July 23rd – 27th) so we can try and complete all of the daubing in a short space of time!


We are also boiling the next batches of willow bark for cordage.  The new “Law” on site states that each volunteer should make a 28ft length of handmade rope for some of the critical lashings in the building.  This is a serious task, requiring lots of prepared willow bark and time!


Tuesday 1st May 2018

The sun has unexpectedly come out to welcome the start of May!  Finally, spring tries (again) to throw off its winter coat!

Today teams are continuing with the lashing of battens to the roof.  We are aiming to finish one end of the building to allow thatching to start.  

We have also made a decision on the mezzanine floors.  We are now thinking that the passageways (see below) between the living space and storage and livestock areas should logically have floors that run over them.  This would increase the floor area available to storage, and make use of the wasted full height space that would have been in a passageway used only for access to the other elements of the building.  This of course assumes that they were passageways!

On this point we revisit the issues of reconstructing a building based mostly on ground evidence.  It is interesting though, moving beyond the model and its constraints. As always, it is only at this stage that the reality of the building takes over.  For the first time we can stand in the spaces and imagine how usable the finished building might be. Any doubts about the installation of a mezzanine floor have evaporated for me – simply because the structure is able to support one, and crucially, the space above the proposed floor is large and very practical.  Any farming activities require large volumes of storage for tools, fodder and harvest crops and I don’t see how this building would support a farming economy without the use of floors that essentially increase floor area by 40%.

Kerry Jane has produced an amazing 17 ft (5.1 metres) of willow bark rope in just over an hour!  She has changed the method to include tying the end of the rope to a post as she works – this makes it easier to maintain tension and to judge the thickness of the rope more accurately.  What is also clear is the new preparation method of the bark is producing good quality raw material for the job. The long sheets of stripped bark (with the outer removed) are boiled for two hours in wood ash and then teased into narrow (5 mm) strips.  These strips are then dried to keep them safe and soaked before use.


Wednesday 2nd May 2018

Rain is forecast for this morning but it is warmer than it has been!

This morning we have suspended work on the roof until conditions improve.  The wet weather is ideal for rope making though as the rain keeps the prepared willow fibre moist while it is being twisted!


Danny is working on another willow panel on the south side of the building.  The test daub panels have confirmed that we can use far less material than a traditional hurdle panel would need and still produce a strong and sturdy wall.  There are of course any number of ways to fill a gap with willow rods, but our preferred method seems to use the least material for the strongest and neatest result.  Horizontal spacing takes 5.5 metres of willow rod (12 rungs) whereas three verticals take 6 metres of willow rod (4 would possibly be better but use 8 metres of willow). – The horizontal method allows us to use any section from an irregular rod as they rarely exceed 50 cm in length, whereas the vertical rod method needs three 2 metre rods of higher quality (straightness) to ensure alignment.  The gaps between horizontal rods ranges from 12 – 14 cm, while on the vertical method it ranges from 17 – 20 cm (requiring more infill material to achieve the same strength). There is also potentially an issue with the eventual finish – especially at the sides of the panel where the infill meets the post.

An advantage of the vertical method is the fact that the daub does not touch the ground – and the mini sill beam the vertical rods are housed in forms a natural dry course.  This would be useful in particularly wet areas of construction. However, the evidence for these buildings seems to suggest a robber pit running close to the eave line (to take daub materials for the walls) and this would provide a natural drip trench for the eaves and a sink that takes water away from the wall bases.

Today a load of hazel was delivered to site.  It was harvested by Alcindo and delivered by Dave Pittom – once again (and very kindly) using his sons scaffold truck.  The hazel will be used for a range of tasks including roof battens, wall panels and floor panels.

28 Feet Later…

In the last two days, Astra and Edward have completed the first two 28ft (or 8.5 metre) lengths of willow bark rope!  The length is what is required to lash a rafter to a purlin, wall plate or ridge. The process has been an interesting example of technological evolution – starting at a small scale and becoming more refined to produce larger quantities of material.  

We have improved the outer bark stripping from using flint scrapers to split chestnut edges, we take the green outer bark off in stages and immediately peel the inner bark to stop it from drying out and adhering to the stem, and we split the sheets of boiled inner bark into 5 mm (roughly) wide strips as soon as it has been boiled as the fibres seem to separate easily at this point.   Rope making is more efficient when the end of the made rope is tied to a post – this allows tension to be maintained, and the addition of more fibres is done by looping them across both rope ply – creating a strong join and allowing refinement in volume to be made.

Although we have found a method that works on the scale we need, I have no doubt that Neolithic rope makers would have taken the process many stages further to include detail such as precise willow species, the exact time of harvesting, the exact duration of boiling for best results, methods for splitting the boiled bark into fine fibres and a method of manufacture that would have produced large quantities in a shorter space of time.  They also would have benefited from a direct line of knowledge transfer from their ancestors (undoubtedly over thousands of years), whereas we are trying, in many respects to re-invent that lost knowledge. Our rope production has been an interesting sideline to the main task of building a longhouse, but even the little we have done has hinted at the possible refinements we could make if we had the time to investigate and experiment fully.  


Thursday 3rd May 2018

A long spell of dry and sunny weather has begun and our work on the roof of the longhouse can continue.

Teams are lashing more battens to the roof.  The lattice of timbers is really starting to take shape – and the strength of the whole structure increases with every new piece of wood attached to it.  Our decision to use stripped willow rods over the main hall is producing the desired effect – in combination with the more refined rafters, the roof of the main hall is already looking more refined than the other utilitarian aspects of the building.

The “livestock” end of the roof is nearing completion and we now have to consider if some kind of smoke hole might be required.  It is always easier to build a frame for one and not use it – than to retro-fit a frame once the roof is thatched.

The question of smoke escape in traditional roofs is an interesting one.  Our familiarity with densely thatched (sometimes up to 45 cm thick) cottages belies the reality of thatched roofs before the advent of chimneys.  A chimney takes smoke from the fire and delivers it beyond the roof line.  This has led to increasing thickness in thatch since the medieval period – when, for the first time, thatchers had no need to consider the breath-ability of a roof – but only how long it would last. From experience, and without evidence for chimneys, ancient roofs must have had much thinner thatched roofs.  The ability of a thatched roof in a pre-chimney building to breath is critical. Without a roof that allows smoke to escape, the living space rapidly becomes unlivable. Depending on the exact location of a house, its orientation, types of wood being burned, the size of the fire and the direction of prevailing winds, enabling an efficient draw (the movement of smoke out of the building) can be tricky and dependent on the through flow of air from doorways, windows or other openings.    The heat of the fire is also critical to this fine balancing act. Too much air moving through a building will swirl the smoke into an unlivable haze, too little air will simply fill the building with smoke. For this project we intend to build in smoke holes and vents or openings in the walls. Only during a lengthy testing stage will we be able to discover which (if any) vents and holes are required to make the building work.


Friday 4th May 2018

The weather is fine again today… Another week is drawing to an end on the project.  Everyone has commented that progress on the building is speeding up. This week we have achieved a great deal, and the roof frame is probably only one more project week from completion.

The next serious stage of construction will be the thatching of the roof.  Before this can happen we reach a critical milestone in the project – the conversation between structural engineer and building control!

This building, although “ancient” and traditionally built, still has to be safe for visitors.  This relies on the ability of a structural engineer to mathematically prove if the actual structure (as he sees it on the ground) will stand.  My initial design has already been proven, and any changes we have made (due to actual materials) have been theoretically checked – but it is always an interesting stage – seeing the process of an ancient building being “ticked” off by professionals from the modern building industry.  I suspect there will be a fair bit of chin rubbing involved!

Well done to all those involved this week! – a strange mixture of Winter and Summer weather was met with fortitude and achievement!

Jersey Neolithic Longhouse; April 16th – 21st 2018

Monday 16th April 2018


Easter has passed and the week has opened with glorious sunshine and the promise of warm temperatures as the days progress!

The sound of tools on timber and the burble of voices mingle with the birdsong at La Hougue Bie.  This week we hope to really push the Longhouse on, taking advantage of the weather and a good volunteer turnout.  

A team (Dave, Paul and Mike) are continuing with the lashing of willow battens to the rafters.  They are using 4mm hemp string to form the square lashings. Each lashing will have to support human weight as we work our way further up the roof.  I have calculated there will be around nine rows of lashed batten on each rafter – effectively forming a ladder up the roof. There are 47 rafters which makes a total of around 450 lashings.  Each lashing requires around 5 metres of hemp – so we are looking at an incredible 2 kilometres of rope to hold the battens in place. This highlights once again the sheer volume of cordage making that must have been a constant aspect of daily life in the past.  There is no knowing if every intersection of batten and rafter would have been lashed – our focus is to produce a building that will not require the constant maintenance that a permanently inhabited dwelling would be able to provide, but the scale of material processing is an inescapable part of producing this type of building.

Nicky, Pippa and Chloe are making final adjustments and lashings to the remaining rafters on the north side of the building.  

Astra, Danny, Edward and James are starting to work through some ideas for creating wall panels.  For many years, I have filled in the spaces between posts with densely woven hazel wattle. This was as much a result of having access to large volumes of well managed hazel coppice.  This woven wattle is packed tight and forms a strong but slightly flexible wall for the daub ( a mix of soil/clay with fibre and water) to adhere to. It is certainly a good method if material volume is not an issue.  This project suffers from a lack of local woodland and coppiced materials in large volumes and requires us to think slightly differently. The idea is to create a series of shallow vertical mortises on each opposing wall post and to flex short willow lengths into the gaps.  At this stage we are unclear as to what gap needs to be left between each willow strut to ensure any daub mixture adheres well. Two panels are being created. One with 18cm gapping and the other with 9cm gapping. These panels will be daubed (at least in part) to discover any issues.  We are hoping that this method will use less than half of a traditional wattle wall and also enable us to use the really uneven and irregular lengths of willow that are traditionally regarded as waste when creating wattle.

It is interesting to note that the availability of specific raw materials in specific volumes can account for the emergence of individual building styles.  This project is interesting because it is forcing us to move away from methods that I have used for many years simply because the material sets are different.  This is a really positive thing and makes us move away from the idea of specific construction traditions in experimental archaeology. Experimental archaeology suffers from the recurring issue of successful experiments.  The relatively infrequent reconstruction of buildings at full scale creates an environment where a successful experiment (whatever it may be) rapidly becomes “the way it must have been done” simply because it is successful.  Other practitioners are often put off trying alternative versions of the same experiment because “it’s already been done” and worked. This creates a mythology that can easily form an unintentional blueprint for the way a roundhouse was built, birch tar was produced, or what Neolithic longhouse walls looked like.  Other practitioners tend to copy the successful model rather than seeking other successful methods to answer the same question.

Derek has finished cutting the first mortise through the tie beam that will support the floor above the “livestock” end of the building with a bone chisel.  The total time taken was 285 minutes. The mortise is neat and surprisingly square and although the bone chisel required resharpening (by grinding on a flat stone) several times, the result is impressive.  This square mortise mirrors those found on well preserved Neolithic well linings from Germany.


Tuesday 17th April 2018

A second bright day has dawned at la Hougue Bie!  

Today work continues with the placement and lashing of rafters in their final positions on the south side of the house.  Nicky, Astra and Pippa are working as one team while Derek and Danny find the remaining matched pairs of rafters and put them on the roof.

Mike and Ruth are continuing with the lashing of battens to the rafters,  This is (like all of our tasks) not as straightforward as it first appears.  It is crucial that joints between two battens are neatly matched to create a smooth surface for the thatch to lie over – and in places, the battens have to curve around the corners of the roof.  This requires the selection of specific lengths that will accommodate the required bend at a specific point.


Today we are also testing the first batch of daub to apply to our test wall panels.  This process needs to be thoroughly tested before we call for large numbers of volunteers to help as it would be easy to apply a lot of the wrong mix only to see it fall off two weeks later when it dries!

Mixing daub is an art.  The base material is the earth around the building (in this case Loess), mixed with large volumes of fibre (dry grass, green grass, horse hair and even dung) and a little water to create a good working consistency.  The idea of cramming the earth with other materials is to prevent too much shrinkage and cracking when it dries. In this fine weather we will know pretty quickly if we have got our daub mix anywhere near right!

Rosie got into the Neolithic spirit of things and puddled the daub with her bare feet!  In a couple of hours of mixing and applying, the daubing team (Ed, Carol, Ray and Rosie) finished the first test panel   Now we wait….


Wednesday 18th April 2018

Another fine day at La Hougue Bie!  The temperature is set to rise today – but it is welcome after the seemingly wet and very long winter!

Tasks are continuing today with the lashing of battens to the rafters.  Nicky and Pippa have taken on this job today and are being careful to make sure there is a 16 inch (40 cm gap between each one.  This gap is essential to ensure the thatch is supported and lashed in place at the correct position to allow subsequent layers to overlap to the required amount.

The final rafters are also being positioned by Danny, Tim, Bill, Derek and Astra.  As with many of the others, they require bending to shape in some places. This is being achieved using the classic “Spanish Windlass” to winch the two timbers together.  It is incredible to see the effectiveness of this simple method. One rafter is so irregular that Derek has suggested replacing it entirely with two shorter rafters that will meet side by side on the purlin.  This is a really good example of making the materials work for us and making those decisions that builders have always made through history.

The second batch of daub has been made by Rosie, Jan and Erin.  This is being applied to the second test wall built by James. The aim here is to see how little supporting material (in this case willow and hazel) is actually required to produce a solid wall.  Although we suspect it might fail (half of the wall has only simple willow struts at 9 cm spacing), we felt we should test that it fails rather than assuming it would!


Thursday 19th April 2018


Another stunning day at La Hougue Bie!  

Today we have more volunteers from BNP Paribas who are getting stuck into the test panels of wattle and daub.  Great so see their enthusiasm and drive for a project that is so far outside their everyday workplace environment!  And thanks to carol for taking them under her wing and making them so welcome, Well done!







Tasks continue with the lashing of battens to the roof.  Today we have two teams on this task and we are aiming to finish one end of the roof this week.  This will allow the thatching process to begin when materials arrive.

The third batch of daub is being prepared to apply to Tim’s’ willow wall frame.  Two further willow frames are being prepared to test the effectiveness of their structure and how the daub adheres to them.


Derek has just has completed his authentic mortise and peg joint!  The second mortise into the post and the making of a square peg using only a flint axe and bone chisel took 7 ¼ hours.  The peg is 3 ¾ inches long and is 1 ½ x 1 ¼ wide. Combined with the 4 ¾ hours spent putting the first mortise through the oak tie beam, this once again highlights the sheer level of input in seemingly simple tasks.  The question is, “would they have avoided making pegs and cutting mortises because of the time and energy required? I think not. The idea that this process is lengthy is entirely modern and based on our own experiences of how quickly the same task could be achieved now.  Once again, the evidence from Neolithic well linings in Germany show clearly that, in areas where strength was required in carpentry, pegs and mortises were readily employed.

Doug is starting to think in detail about how we construct the mezzanine floor at the “livestock” end of the building.  There are various ways of achieving this and it may well be (like every other aspect of the building) that we try a range of alternatives.  The mezzanine floor consists of 3 bays. Each bay is separated by a tie beam that will support the joists or the joist supports (depending on the method). Our intention is to produce a good load bearing floor, so any solution will need to accommodate the requirements of Neolithic storage!

As with every “above ground” aspect of this project, there is no such thing as an easy decision!  We are constantly evaluating how the next stage may be achieved and whether it is in keeping with the limited Neolithic evidence we have.  What becomes clear during all of these decisions, are the limitations and properties of the materials we are using. Particular timber species and dimensions suggest specific uses.  If we had an entirely different set of materials, the finished building might look quite different. What remains constant though, are those basic principles that tell us when something looks or feels “right”.  The ability to confirm your construction decisions on the basis that it “looks right” is only possible with experience with materials over many years (especially when a structure has to be proven to be safe with engineering calculations).  But I also feel that human ability to recognise when something “looks right” is in some way innate. Leave a group of children alone in the woods for a few minutes and their need to build “dens” is clear to see. The older the child, the more elaborate the den, based of course on previous experience and knowledge.  During the many projects I have designed and built over the years, engineers have been used at the end of the design and model building stage to check if the proposed building will stand.  I have never used engineering calculations to kick start a project and to inform the dimensions of timbers required. In terms of construction, I trust the builders of the past to know their own trades far more comprehensively than I ever will, and if the archaeology suggests timbers of a certain dimension at ground level, then for me there is a certain common sense, based on practical experience and a good knowledge of material properties and traditional methods, that leads, via piecemeal windows of evidence, to a structure that works and that might have been in some way familiar to those ancient people.


Friday 20th April 2018

We are starting to get used to this fantastic weather – and to expect it each day.  Spring/summer feels like it is finally here and the project seems to be moving fast!

Today, all hands are on the construction on willow frameworks for the walls.  We have learned a couple of useful lessons already, firstly, that although a traditional wattle or hurdle panel clearly works, it uses large volumes of good quality material to build.  Secondly, its is possible to build a sturdy framework using a ladder of willow rungs at 18 cm spacings and to infill with the “brash” of the stems (the twiggy bits) to create an impressively strong frame.  This method uses only ¼ of the materials a hurdle uses – and also uses up every part of the tree. Lastly, although it is possible to daub a panel consisting only of willow ladder rungs at 9 cm spacings, it is difficult and time consuming to ensure the daub stays in place between the rungs.  In the name of time and material efficiency, we are pushing forward with the general pattern of wider rungs (18 cm spacings) and brash infill.

The jury is still out regarding the exact daub mix we eventually go with.  Our test panels are drying, and although the weather has been very wartn this week, the shrinkage is less than expected.  James is going to do another daub test today, using local clay and straw. It will be really interesting to compare all of the panels nest visit.

Derek is pushing on with the installation of the first tie beam.  The tap tap tap of a bone chisel on oak is resounding across the site like a tired woodpecker…

We are boiling the first batch of willow inner bark prepared with our new methodology.  The outer bark is scraped off with a flint scraper. The inner bark is then peeled from the stem.  We found this is best done in stages on a long stick to avoid the inner bark drying onto the stem. The peeled inner bark is then bundled and placed into a pan with wood ash and boiled for around two hours – or until the bark changes colour to a deep nut brown.  The bark is now ready to process and twist into cordage.

Edward is working on a replacement haft for one of our flint axe heads.  Version two went the way of version one and split during use. Getting the socket just right for a flint axe is really tricky.  The axe needs to bear on its top and bottom edges rather than its sides to avoid it acting like a wedge and simply splitting the haft in two.  It sounds simple in principle – the reality is quite different. It will be interesting to see how version 3 holds up to its arduous future!


Saturday 21st April 2018

A sharp shower this morning has reminded us that it is still only April – despite the incredible week of sun we’ve had!

The daub wall tests are holding up well to the heat.  It has been a good test of their resilience to see them baked for a few days.  Although so cracks have appeared, they are minor and demonstrate that we managed to achieve a good level of fibre content and mixing.  They are now dry enough to “tap” and seem to be holding well. At some point we will have to consider how we finish the walls in terms of colours or further coatings.

We have a great turnout this morning – with lots of volunteers working hard in the sun.  Work focuses on the construction of more willow wall panels today. Our emphasis is on function rather than aesthetics!  We keep having to remind ourselves that the willow frames will not be seen once the daub is applied, so as long as the frame is solid, appearance really doesn’t matter.

We have decided that the battens that run across the roof over the main living hall will be stripped to give a lovely smooth and white finish.  This will provide some really good quality inner bark for rope making while making a visual difference to the living area.


Its been a really productive week!  

The weather has given us a premature taste of summer and everyone has felt compelled to get stuck in.  All of the tasks are now leading to the inevitable moment of thatching!! Coming soon to a Neolithic Longhouse near you….


Jersey Neolithic Longhouse; March 19th – 23rd 2018

Monday 19th March 2018

Winter is baring its teeth one last time with snow flurries and low temperatures at La Hougue Bie.  Today saw determined volunteers showing up despite the cold weather to make a start on another week on the Neolithic Longhouse.

This week, our time will be split between the building ad the harvesting of materials for the construction of the walls and roof.

Although my arrival was delayed by snow in Southampton, the volunteers made a start, continuing their efforts on the final sections of wall plate. Derek has shortened two posts to enable more V notches to be cut.  Bark stripping and log splitting continued to produce more joists and beams for the floors.


Tuesday 20th March 2018

Spring is officially here!  I gathered with a few others inside the passage monument of La Hougue Bie just after 6 o’clock this morning in the hope of seeing the first spring sunlight shine down the passage and into the chamber beyond.  The sun rose beautifully – but a bank of cloud prevented the glowing orange show we all hoped for. Still, Winter has turned and we now look forward to those long summer days on the project!

Today saw the volunteers gather at some willow pollards in St Peters Valley.  The willow was last cut 3 years ago and has (as willow does) grown impressively since.  Pollarding and Coppicing are woodland management techniques that go far back into human history.  Coppicing can be practised on a range of tree species including hazel, Willow, Ash, Oak and Sweet Chestnut. The process involves the cutting of all (or selected) living stems as close to the ground as possible.  This task must be undertaken in the winter season (when the tree is not actively growing) and forces the tree to throw up many new shoots in the springtime. The coppiced stump has a variety of regional names – “stool” being the common version.   In a perfect coppiced wood, the stools are packed closely together to encourage any new growth to grow straight and true to the available light. Coppicing is a traditional method of managing trees for product.

The type of product required is determined by the number of years the stool is allowed to grow before being re-cut.  Weaving material for baskets might only be one years’ growth (or less!), weavers for fence building and hurdles (gates) might range between 5 and 7 years growth, poles for construction might range from 15 to 25 years. A coppiced stool must be protected from animal damage to ensure a good crop of timber. This can be done by fencing off the area (or coup) or by cutting the tree at a height beyond browsing animals – the principles are exactly the same but the process is referred to as pollarding.

Today the volunteers experienced the mud and welly deep water that is pollarding in a low lying valley!  The main stems from each tree were cut and each stem then processed into thick medium and thin rods. The work was carried out with axes, saws and billhooks.  

Although the piles of material after day one look impressive, the Longhouse will very quickly eat up this material in the form of roof battens, thatching sways, hurdle walls and hurdle mezzanine floors – it will be interesting to see how far this material goes towards finishing the basic structure of the house.

Wednesday 21st March 2018

This morning saw a second attempt at sunrise at Hougue Bie – and what a difference!  The light crept into the darkest recesses of the chamber, turning the granite a burnished bronze colour – there really is something special about seeing it happen and watching the light move across the stones as the day unfolds – fantastic!

The second day of coppicing began some time later and once again, the volunteers worked their socks off to finish the job.  Dave Pittom’s (volunteer) son Alex, very kindly offered his truck to move the willow to the Longhouse tomorrow – a very kind and useful gesture which will save us a great deal of time.  

We now have enough willow to make a start on the walls and roof of the project.  We are also planning on using the willow bark to make strapping for the building – experiments begin tomorrow!

Thursday 22nd March 2018

There was an early start this morning for volunteers who came to la Hougue Bie in the hope of a clear sunrise.  Clouds prevented the spectacle of yesterday from happening again, but a fire and bacon butties made up for the disappointment!

The harvested willow arrived this morning – kindly delivered by Alex Wareham’s scaffolding truck.  Dave the driver and Dave Pittom were fantastically helpful in the traffic management during the unloading.  It was only as the willow was heaped on site that we realised just how well we had done in the last two days of harvesting!

Today the volunteer teams are swinging into action on several tasks.  Nicky, Ruth and Iris are working methodically through the positioned rafters to adjust them (where necessary) and to finally lash them in position.  The rafters need to cross at the apex of the roof, be lashed to the ridge beam, purlin and wall plate and overhang the walls to create an eave. Lashings need to be neat and strong as they will eventually ensure the strength of the roof.

Astra and Murray are working on stripping some of the fresh willow.  The stripped bark will be boiled in its own outer bark to effectively tan the inner bark and create strong strapping for future lashings.

Carol, Danny and James are sorting through the huge pile of willow and sorting into usable piles for the roof and wattle walls.  

Derek, Bill and Rosie are working on the final fitting of wall plate 6b and 7b.  That will leave just one final wall plate section to fit!

Paul, Mike and Edward are running an education workshop with a visiting school – explaining the building and project, polishing a flint axe and having a go at chopping with one too!


Friday 23rd March 2018

The sun is shining and there is a Spring warmth in the air.  Today we continue with lashing rafters into their final positions.  Some of the thicker willow stems are being lashed into place at battens.  These are placed at 40cm intervals up the rafters to effectively form a ladder.  This ladder will not only bear the weight of thatch but also provide tying on points to hold the thatch in place.  

At last, the final stages of the roof structure have begun.  It won’t be long now before the thatching begins!

It’s been another good week on the project with our time split between the harvesting of materials and their use on the building.

This week has really highlighted the volume of effort required to produce a building like this in terms of harvesting and processing.  Rope making is still an epic task that requires a great deal of preparation to get right.  any good quality cordage requires large volumes of effort and skill, not just in the harvesting and preparation of materials, but in the physical production of the cordage itself.   What becomes obvious as we test these methods, is the level of refined knowledge our ancestors must have had in their daily lives, and how that knowledge would have affected the timing (daily and seasonal) of various tasks to ensure the most efficient and effective use of materials.

Our harvested willow is not peeling as well as it would in just a couple of weeks time – to prevent disturbance of nesting birds.  The result is that more effort is required to strip the bark in order to make cordage.  James, after some good ideas has developed a good method of removing the bark by tapping the stem with a mallet.  It is this ingenuity in the face of adversity that has seen humans move from the stone age to walking on the moon in just 10,000 years!!


Jersey Neolithic Longhouse; February 19th – 23rd 2018

Monday 19th February 2018

A fog bound morning marked the start of the second volunteer week in February.  Volunteers are working on the remaining “V” joints to install the Wall Plate on the southern side of the building.  

Shorter sections of quarter split timber are being used to form this wall plate and it presents an interesting challenge for those involved.  Mike, Bill, Danny and Derek are combining their efforts on this task.  They are selecting specific timber shapes to suit the upright posts and then cutting the joints to house them.  Their skills and judgement are now more than capable of performing this task!

Astra has used the bone chisel to finish “Bone Corner” – a section of wall planks that have been shaped and fitted authentically.  Again, this demonstrates what is possible with Neolithic tools and provides a guide for our use of metal tools to follow (at a faster rate!).

Phil is organising and fitting the central bay rafters.  We have enough rafters to narrow their gap to around 700mm.  This will not only make a stronger roof frame, but make a visual and aesthetic difference to the inside of the main living space.  We rarely think about visual and aesthetic considerations within the same building.  It is an interesting idea to consider.

 If these longhouses were indeed divided into living, storage, animal “zones”, is it not reasonable to consider that each zone may have been treated differently in terms of refinement and finishing.  A Medieval farmhouse is quite different to a medieval barn or cattle byre – perhaps not in construction technique – but certainly in some of the material choices and aesthetic/non functional considerations such as colour, and levels of timber finishing.  Perhaps to move through the length of a Neolithic longhouse was to encounter obviously different zones, treated quite differently from the next to highlight the importance or significance of those areas to daily life or belief systems?

Tuesday 20th February 2018

Grey cloud and a light wind are with us today – but the temperature isn’t as cold as it has been.  

The decision has been made to insert two more rafter pairs into the “livestock” end of the building.  This will close the gap between rafters to 700mm and match the rafter spacing over the living space.

Work has begun on cutting and splitting joists to support the floor above the animal pen area.  These are being cut at 2 metre lengths and will be ¼ or ⅛ split depending on the diameter of the tree trunk.  The joists will be supported by timbers that run across the building from wall plate to wall plate.  We are positioning these timbers to come into contact with the sets of three posts that run down the centre of the structure.  Although the posts are not perfectly aligned to accommodate a straight timber, we think we can hand pick timbers that will match the curves and irregularities of the uprights.  Structurally this makes sense and will add a great deal of lateral strength to the frame.

It has been suggested by some that “tie beams” were not a part of Neolithic architecture….. My personal view is that there simply isn’t enough evidence for the superstructures of Neolithic buildings to make that claim.  However, looking at other available evidence, if Neolithic doors exhibit the equivalent of tie beams to give lateral strength to three butted planks, the same principle can be used in a building.  The Neolithic door found in Zurich, uses the same construction methodology found later in the the Dover Boat whereby butting planks are held together using a perpendicular beam that runs through mortised hewn “bosses”.  This principle effectively joins and stabilises the planks and requires a high standard of carpentry to accomplish.  Are we seriously suggesting that the thought processes that achieved these remarkable products were incapable of running a timber from one wall to another and lashing or pegging it to the three posts is would encounter on the way?

Wednesday 21st February 2018

A clear, bright and chilly day has dawned at La Hougue Bie.

Work continues today on preparing the “tie beams” that will support the joists for the mezzanine floor above the livestock end of the building.  An oak timber has been beautifully split by Pippa, Astra and Rosie and now needs adzing to remove the sapwood.  Oak sapwood is very soft and quickly rots and encourages beetle infestation.  Unfortunately, this is a time consuming process – but necessary.  Even as we are adzing through it, we can see the worn/beetle tracks already leading into the timber.

Franco’s wonderfully split joists from yesterday are being shaped by Daryl and Mike.  These joists will be support the mezzanine floor above the livestock pens and so will be visible to visitors.  Again, we face the issue of how finished or refined these timbers would have been in this portion of the building.  Was it normal to finish all timbers to a certain standard?

The wall Plate team are pressing on with their task.  More “V” notches into the tops of posts and fitting Wall Plate sections to them.   It is impressive to see the determinatiuon and hard work of this team.  It is a crucial part of the build and requires the largest numbers of joints (there are 19 posts in both walls) to accomplish.  

Thursday 22nd February 2018

A beautiful winters morning is bathing la Hougue bie in cold sunlight.

Volunteers are working hard on their tasks to keep warm and the temperature is due to drop further by the weekend!

Bill, Iris, Rosie and Astra are working feverishly to finish removing the sapwood from the split oak timbers that will become tie beams in the building.  Working with an adze to remove the sapwood and leave the strong and resilient heartwood is not straightforward.  It requires a good eye and feel for the changing texture and colour change in the wood.

Danny and Paul are splitting more sweet Chestnut joists – this in turn will need to be processed further to remove sharp corners, and eventually be shaped to slot into the tie beams.

Again we face the issue of aesthetics.  The joists will eventually be visible from beneath as visitors enter the livestock end of the building.  To what degree should we finish these timbers?


Derek is ploughing on with the “V” notches to house the next Wall Plate length.  

The first two tie beams have been lifted into place and marked for final adjustments.  The oak stands out against the weathered chestnut beautifully. Each timber now needs notches cutting into their ends and “scoops” to ensure a close contact with each vertical post.

Friday 23rd February 2018

Another bright and cold day has arrived.  The last day of another work week and what a week it’s been!  Everyone has been surprised at the progression of the structure and how brilliant it looks.  

Volunteer teams are focussing on the production of joists that will eventually support the mezzanine floor at the livestock end of the building.  

Some of the ¼ split timbers are being successfully split again to produce more.  From the start this project has been organic in its approach – with ideas changing or modifying according to available materials and interpretations.  We are now considering that the joists for the mezzanine floor will be presented in two ways.  Half of the floor will be finished to a high standard and half will be left as functionally split timbers.  At the very least this will provide visitors with a visual difference that they can base their own opinions of how it would have been.  

Derek has begun the process of cutting a mortise with a bone chisel into one of the tie-beam.  Again, we are testing the theory and evidence provided by square mortises in Neolithic timbers from Germany.  

Derek is discovering that the edges of bone chisels degrade after only half and hour of use in green oak.  The re-sharpening process is reasonably quick – involving grinding with sand on a flat stone surface.  Nevertheless, it is raising the obvious question of “support” for carpenters on large projects.

Once again the volunteers have pushed through the cold weather and really pushed the building on visually.  It is interesting to note that we are now beyond the construction stage shown in the model.  All of us have looked at it over the last year and wondered how long it would take to reach that point.  We have surpassed it and we are rapidly heading towards the next epic phase of construction – the roof  and thatching.




Jersey Neolithic Longhouse; February 5th – 9th 2018

Monday 5th February 2018

The first week of the new construction year has begun!  The last two months has been wet and cold, but this morning, the sun has broken through to welcome back the volunteers to an exciting year ahead.  The next few weeks will see the roof beginning to take shape.  Rafters will be shaped and lashed into place with a variety of materials, and the roof will then begin to be thatched using water reed.  

Some of the reed will be harvested from the Wetlands centre in the autumn and used to for the ridge.  We are also considering using bracken if we can harvest enough in the summer.

Today, we are pressing on with the wall plates that link the tops of the wall posts together.  These timbers will eventually bear some of the weight of the roof and must be fitted with care to ensure structural integrity.

The sun has appeared and the site is filled with the noise of axes on wood and conversations between volunteers.  It’s good to see the team again after a couple of months off and to hear their stories.  

The social aspects of ancient construction projects are often forgotten by archaeologists.  We tend to think of the build process as somehow clinical and devoid of social interaction.  What is clear with this project, is that the construction process is held together by a glue of human interaction, of relationships forged in the mud, rain, sun and heat of an active building site.

For me, it is these friendships that form the long lasting memories of the project. Each plank and knot, each split timber and axe cut notch are physical traces of the conversations that fuelled their production.  It is fascinating to visit a finished building and to have those memories jogged by particular shapes of timber or specific joints, or the form of a particular knot.  

The personalities of those involved are trapped in the very fabric of the building. 

Tuesday 6th February 2018

After more rain and some snow last night, the morning has broken with some blue sky and broken cloud.

Today sees the beginning of the roof taking shape.  We have to sort through the ¼ split rafters to find matched pairs that will lie opposite each other on the roof.  It is important that this is done to try to minimise any future warping of the roof line.  Each rafter will be lashed to the Ridge Beam, the Purlin Beam and the Wall Plate.  The irregularities of the four timbers means that each rafter will have to be pulled into position at some point along its length – this creates tension on the frame and makes it very strong.  However, if the tension on each side of the roof is unequal, the roof will distort and produce a building that is buckled.  This week, we will be lashing the first of each matched pair of rafters onto the north side of the roof.  The second of each pair will be lashed onto the south side of the roof when the wall plates are installed.  We are also considering the aesthetic of the internal roof, saving the nicest (in our modern opinion) rafters for the central bay as these rafters will be entirely visible in the finished central hall.  This of course raises the question of what would have been aesthetically appropriate and meaningful in the a Neolithic House.  We will never know the detail of this question, but we can say that aesthetics were important in Neolithic life, as demonstrated by objects such as wholly polished stone tools, decorated ceramics.

Work continues on the installation of split planks between the Wall Posts at the Sill Beam end of the building.  This end of the building is really taking shape and feeling more and more substantial as each day passes.  The installation of split planks is our interpretation of what might have been going on.  The slot trench clearly indicates a different method of construction from the other walls of the building, and for me suggests the need for something more robust.  We have fantastic evidence of split Neolithic planks and we have the right timber to produce them for this project.  Perhaps there was no fixed construction method for this part of the original buildings, or perhaps they reflected the available raw materials, or some cultural considerations that are now invisible to us?

 Wednesday 7th February 2018

A clear bright day has dawned at Hougue Bie.  The clouds are scudding across the sky driven by a biting northerly wind.

Volunteers are wrapped up warmly and keen to press on with their tasks to keep warm!  Bill and Danny are refining the fitting of Wall Plate 4a.  As always, this process is time consuming, requiring detailed work to fit irregular timbers to four other irregular timbers!

Rosie and Pippa are continuing with the fitting of their split planks into the walls.  Other jobs include the pegging and lashing of Wall Plate 3a, the cross cutting of a reasonably large oak to enable the production of more split wall planks.  

Edward is re-hafting the flint axe that has seen so much use on this project.  The old haft finally began to fail and Ed had kindly agreed to take on the job of producing a new improved version.  It’s interesting to see the process of producing a well shaped haft for a flint axe.  The assumption has always been that producing a flint axe head is the time consuming part of making a complete tool.  What becomes very clear, very quickly, is that the haft – the wooden housing and handle of the flint axe head is a technically difficult thing to produce.  It has to be shaped and a socket created (carved or burned) to house the profile of the flint exactly.  If the socket grips the flint too tightly on its side, the flint acts as a wedge and splits the haft in two.  If the socket is too loose, the flint can twist and shatter.  

The site is alive with the sound of tools on wood, flint grinding on stone and the conversation of volunteers, and the sun is shining!

Today we have entered the next phase of construction!  The first rafters have been lashed into position.  We are choosing the less regular rafters for the first bay of the building as we plan to put a floor above the animal area which will hide the rafters above.  It’s great to see the form of the roof and the golden winter sunlight highlighting this exciting new development.

Today we also hosted ITV news who filmed a short piece about the project and the weather forecast for tonight.  

 Thursday 8th February 2018

A calm and bright morning greets us for our penultimate project day this week.  

Today we push on in an attempt to finish the wall plate on the northern side of the building.  We are making adjustments to this as we proceed to accommodate the irregularities in each piece of timber.  The goal of course is to produce a roof angle that will allow thatch to shed water, without obvious high or low points.  

The placement of 3 rafters yesterday has demonstrated that each split rafter will have a particular place on the roof that it fits the best.  Our job is to match specific rafter shapes and bends to the undulations between ridge, purlin and wall plate beams.  Personally I prefer that this match is NOT exact (in other words, it doesn’t rest perfectly on the three supporting timbers), so the rafter has to be bent or tensioned to meet one of the three supports – I have always felt that this creates more strength by building tension into the roof.  The skill is in ensuring that this tension is equal on both sides of the roof to prevent distortion of the final shape.

We are also beginning the think about the internal structure of the building.  Four tie beams will span the building from wall to wall at wall plate height.  The plan is to accomplish this at the “passage way”  locations.  The tie beam will stabilise and link the walls, provide internal structure to build floors onto and form the lintels of any internal doorways.

Friday 9th February 2018

Heavy rain overnight has left the site waterlogged.  Today is forecast as sunny spells but with a bitterly cold wind.

The final section of Wall Plate has been finished on the northern side of the building and we are now switching our attention to the southern side.  The plan here is to utilise some of the shorter Wall Plate sections to span just 2 or 3 wall posts at a time.  This will test whether is is quicker to fit more short sections or fewer long sections.  The jury is out on this question.  But having seen the complexity of cutting accurate joints (sometimes 5) to fit a single Wall Plate and accommodate all of its irregularities , I wonder if shorter sections might not be quicker?

Before this process can begin, the volunteers have set the wall posts that are jointed to the Sill Beam vertical to hold them in position.  

We are also processing the first batch of harvested willow ready for use.  Each willow stem is snedded with a billhook (to remove small branches) and the thin whippy ends cut off.  This produces “Weavers” (willow rods that will be woven into the walls to create solid panels), zales (thicker rods that will be used as uprights in the woven panels) and “Ties” (thin willow ends that can be twisted to use as lashings.  We aim to attach much of the thatch to the roof frame using willow ties, so we will need thousands of them!

New splitting wedges have been made today.  We are rapidly moving away from the ¼ splitting of logs and refining our technique of plank splitting.  This requires patience  and a deft hand with narrow wedges to successfully achieve.

It’s been another good week.  Motivation is high and the building is now really starting to look like the scale model we have gazed at for months.  Well done all!