Experiments in Building 851

Briony Storm Clifton, an archaeology student, explains her experimental work with the houses

As part of my archaeology dissertation with the University of Southampton I have been conducting experiments, scientific and subjective, inside 851 in order to answer such questions as how frequent fires might have affected the health of persons living within the building, how thermally effective the reconstruction is, and how the space might be used by varying numbers of people.
This project is in its early phase and analysis of the results is yet to take place, however the methods used to obtain these results are outlined below:

Thermal efficiency

Heat loss within Building 851 was recorded using thermal imaging. Preliminary results suggest that the central part of the thatched roof was the most thermally efficient, but that air-flow through the eaves and gaps in the doorway has affected the efficiency of the walls. The majority of heat loss in Building 851 is through the top of the structure.

The East exterior wall of Building 851 – © John Reynolds, FLIR

The East exterior wall of Building 851 – © John Reynolds, FLIR

Air Quality

Samples of air particulates have been collected using stubs dressed with carbon paper and arranged around 851. The tests were conducted under controlled conditions with the fire lit for one hour. The samples were arranged at sleeping, sitting, standing and door heights in order to see if there is any noticeable and significant change in particulate size within these different heights. The samples will be analysed using scanning electron microscopy and the results will reveal if particulate size is small enough (less than 10 microns) to be inhaled into the lungs causing serious damage to health over a period of time. Carbon monoxide (CO) reader/alarms were set up and yielded no activity.

Living Experiments

With an increasing number of people (from 1 to 4) staying and sleeping in Building 851 over 4 days and discussing their practical experiences, I hope to achieve an idea of the use of the building itself, the space the volunteers occupy and how that changes when more people are introduced into the building.

The Living Volunteers – Mark, Alyson, Lisa and Barry. Many thanks to Alyson for the photo.

The Living Volunteers – Mark, Alyson, Lisa and Barry. Many thanks to Alyson for the photo.

The analysis of the results will take place over the next year and the project will conclude in May 2014.

Many thanks to English Heritage and Susan Greaney; Luke Winter and Paul Grigsby from the Ancient Technology Centre; Josh Pollard (supervisor), Fraser Sturt, David Wheatley, Alistair Pike, and Ian Williams from University of Southampton; John Reynolds from FLIR; Mary Ellen Crothers from West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village; Jannie Christensen from Aarhus University; Richard Pearce from NOC in Southampton; the Living experiment volunteers and all the people involved in the building project who have made this dissertation possible.


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