One thatched roof finished.

Over the last two weeks there has been some amazing progress on the houses.

The progress so far.

The progress so far.

We have completed the knotted straw thatch on House 1 complete with a rush capping on the ridge. This effectively holds down all of the knots preventing them from being lifted by the wind.

House 1 with it's completed thatched roof.

House 1 with it’s completed thatched roof.

We have also finished daubing the walls on House 3. This has had the effect of making it feel like a finished building – even though the thatch hasn’t yet reached the top!

The completed daub walls on House 3.

The completed daub walls on House 3.

Both House 2 and House 4 have started to be thatched. These will be thatched in the same way as method 3 in our post about thatching here.

The thatch has been started on Houses 2 and 4.

The thatch has been started on Houses 2 and 4.

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Meet the Neolithic House Builders: Wendy Pallesen

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What made you want to get involved with the Neolithic Houses project?

 I live in Durrington and  was invited by friends  to volunteer  for a couple of days  on the Riverside Project dig which uncovered the Neolithic houses,  when I heard about the English Heritage Neolithic House project  I couldn’t resist being a part of making the archaeology  come alive.

My partner’s Granddad  John was part of the Ministry of works, and was there  when the lintels were raised in the 1950s and now I will be able to tell my Grandchildren that Nanny helped build the houses on the Stonehenge landscape too.

 

What are you enjoying about the project so far?

Pretty much everything,  being taught  new skills by Paul and Luke from the Ancient Technology Centre , putting them into practice and being part of a team creating a village and living experience which will be on our local landscape for some time to come –  as well as being a part of our  history.

 

Is there any part of the project that you’re particularly looking forward to or that you are particularly interested in?

The first fire being lit in any of these  buildings, but particularly the one I have spent most time working on.  From  my experience at Old Sarum in the prototype build I know this will be  a very emotional and proud moment.

 

In what ways has being involved in this project made you think differently about the people of Stonehenge and their lives?

I have learned and thought about many things on the project, for example:

  • how incredibly resourceful our ancestors were
  • how they must have been physically fit and tenacious – working as they would have been through some most disagreeably cold and harsh weather
  • how their clothing must have needed to be fit for purpose – e.g materials gathering in the woods and building  
  • what did they eat to be able to maintain  the energy required to build these houses?  My diet has changed to include more protein and don’t mention the cake and biscuits being eaten daily (that’s my excuse)!

What do you do when you’re not building Neolithic houses?

Sleeping mostly! Ha ha!  It is hard work,  and at the end of the day  a hot bath, hot meal and occasional hot toddy are the order of the evening.

When I found out about this project I had just been made redundant  and rather than going back to a full time desk job  or  office management I took a weekend night job in a local supermarket to make ends meet and enable me to commit four days a week to the project.   Fortunately I have an understanding partner Dave who has supported me in this. It  has been the most interesting project I have had the privilege to be  involved in.

 

What would you say to people who are tempted to volunteer at Stonehenge?

Try it! If you are fit and healthy,  not afraid of hard work and would like the opportunity to meet some of the most interesting people on this planet.

I have spoken to people from all around the world and from all walks of life and they all have a different story to tell but they all have one thing in common – a need to visit  Stonehenge and experience  a unique part of British history.

The houses  will bring Neolithic  history to life and give a more sensory experience to all and you will make life long friends to boot.

Would YOU like to help us bring the stories of the Neolithic people to life?

If you are interested in becoming a Stonehenge Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer, you can find out more on the English Heritage website. As a Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer you will be responsible for maintaining the Neolithic houses once they are built, by lighting fires and assisting with the building maintenance.  You will bring the stories of the Neolithic people to life in our external galleries and provide a warm and friendly welcome for all visitors, helping us to deliver a world class visitor experience.

   

Focus on techniques: Chalk daub

ImageDaub is made by crushing the chalk and then mixing it with chopped straw and water. This claggy mixture is then applied to the woven wall under the eaves. It takes a while and it’s quite messy!

The walls are daubed on the inside and out and externally the eaves of the roofs create a ‘rain shadow’ to protect the daub from the weather.

We asked one of the volunteers Guy Hagg to tell us a bit about his experience of daubing the houses.

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What is the most difficult part of daubing?

The most difficult part is getting the mix right. It’s a bit like the three bears porridge. Sometimes it’s too runny, sometimes it’s too dry and sometimes it’s just perfect.

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How do you get the daubing to stick to the walls?

If the mix has the right consistency it sticks to everything! The consistency you are looking for is a firm putty. This has the malleability for it to be worked into the weave of the walls so that it forms a solid structure, rather than just a thin skin of daub on the wall surface. Both the inside and outside of the wall are worked on at the same time so that the daub binds together and makes the wall stronger.

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What is the daub like to work with?

Very satisfying when the mix is right. It goes onto the wall well, fills the gaps and does not slump. Slumping occurs when the mix is too wet and the thickness of the daub in some areas causes the mixture to sag under its own weight. I like daubing as you can see a lot of progress very quickly compared with thatching which can take a considerable amount of time to complete a roof.

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 Is there a trick to successful daubing?

Start at the bottom and work up the wall, filling in the gaps in the hazel weave and ensuring that you apply a thick enough coating. If the daub is applied too thinly you can’t push the larger pieces of chalk into the wall and you end up with a rougher finish. Once the daub is applied the wall is then patted over to obtain a good finish. Again the consistency is important at this stage as if the mix is too wet the patting raises a series of small peaks, rather than creating a smooth finish.

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Guy happily daubing

What is the recipe/method for a successful mix of chalk, water and straw?

The recipe is approximately 15 shovels of crushed chalk, a handful of hay that has been teased apart and a small quantity of water. Mix until the daub develops a putty like consistency, similar to a bread dough mix.  It is more of an art than a science and a wetter mix may be useful for filling in areas where concavities arise once the first layer has been applied to the woven hazel. A drier mix is preferable when applying the initial layer as this is often applied quite thickly due to the irregularities of the hazel weave.

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Around 12 tonnes of chalk is needed to daub our five Neolithic Houses. Imagine how much would have been needed for the settlement at Durrington, which it has been suggested may have been the largest Neolithic settlement in Britain and Ireland.

 

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Would YOU like to help us bring the stories of the Neolithic people to life?

It won’t be long before the houses are finished and we are looking for Neolithic House interpretation volunteers. If you are interested, you can find out more on the English Heritage website. As a Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer you will be responsible for maintaining the Neolithic houses once they are built, by lighting fires and assisting with the building maintenance.  You will bring the stories of Neolithic people to life in our external galleries, working with our replica artefacts currently being painstakingly made by experts, and provide a warm and friendly welcome for all visitors, helping us to deliver a world class visitor experience.

Gallery part 4

Meet the team of Neolithic House Builders: Kathy Garland

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What made you want to get involved with the Neolithic Houses project?

The unique experience and learning a lot of new woodworking skills.  Also, meeting like minded people.

What are you enjoying about the project so far?

Everything! Watching the buildings grow from the plan to what we have achieved so far.

Is there any part of the project that you’re particularly looking forward to or that you are particularly interested in?

Working with the reproduction axes – just part of the building process and weaving the hazel as a backbone for the houses

In what ways has being involved in this project made you think differently about the people of Stonehenge and their lives?

I think that the people of Stonehenge were very skillful and adapted to their lifestyle.

What do you do when you’re not building Neolithic houses?

I enjoy all aspects of archaeology and local history.  I am a member of Bulford Conservation Group archaeology and volunteer at my local library. I also occasionally volunteer at Old Sarum Castle.

What would you say to people who are tempted to volunteer at Stonehenge?

Volunteering at Stonehenge is very rewarding especially when working with groups of children who always respond with enthusiasm

 

Would YOU like to help us bring the stories of the Neolithic people to life?

If you are interested in becoming a Stonehenge Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer, you can find out more on the English Heritage website. As a Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer you will be responsible for maintaining the Neolithic houses once they are built (which weather permitting will be by the end of April), by lighting fires and assisting with the building maintenance.  You will bring the stories of the Neolithic people to life in our external galleries and provide a warm and friendly welcome for all visitors, helping us to deliver a world class visitor experience.

 

Kitting out the Neolithic Houses: Making cordage from Deer Sinew

We are in the process of commissioning lots of replica objects to go into the Neolithic Houses.  These objects include pottery, clothing, wooden artefacts and also flint tools.

We have enlisted the help of a number of specialists, each making their own particular types of replica objects.

Sally Pointer is making a number of items, specifically cordage and clothing and has managed to find a bit of time, when not scouring the countryside for quern stones and antlers for picks, to share some of her expertise here in a guest blog post. 

The new Neolithic houses and their contents at Stonehenge make use of a wide range of cords, fibres and bindings. One type of cordage that was widely used in prehistory is animal sinew, and today I’ve been making thin cord from deer sinew.

The sinew is the tendon that is found in the lower leg of the deer, and when dried, it looks rather like a stick, very tough and solid.

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Before it can be used, it needs to be gently pounded with a rounded rock against a piece of wood until the tough surface begins to break down. Here you can see the end of starting to turn pale and get larger as the fibres soften.

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After a few minutes steady pounding, the fibres split into a fluffy mass of strands. At this point they can be peeled off and separated into thin sections.

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Now it’s just a case of twisting them into a cord. Here I’m making a simple two ply cord that is very strong and useful for binding tool heads, sewing heavy garments or shoes, or making nets and snares.

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I’ll also be making cordage from nettles, flax, hemp and tree bast including the inner bark from willow. Each fibre source has different strengths and our Neolithic ancestors were very skilled at using the materials available to them.

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If you’re interested in historic and prehistoric materials and artefacts, we recommend having a look at Sally’s website 

www.sallypointer.com

Image@neolithichouses is on twitter and we’d love to answer any questions you have about the build or the replica objects going into the houses.  

 

Focus on techniques: thatching – different methods and different problems

The Neolithic House team are using three different thatching techniques on the different buildings.

The first method is called knotted straw thatching. Using knotted straw means that rope, string or ‘withys’ would not be needed. Not having to make rope would save on time as well as precious resources for the people building the original houses at Durrington Walls in the Neolithic period.Image

The team have found however, that the knotted straw method does have its drawbacks.

The first problem they have negotiated is the fact that the knots are not consistent in size or knot ‘method’ – so some are larger, fatter, shorter or longer than others, and some have their ends pulled through (the team refer to these knots as having ‘beaks’) while others don’t (and therefore don’t have a ‘beak’).

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The first task therefore is to go through a ‘grading’ process and then to choose specifically which knotted bunch of thatch is the best for each (also inconsistent) woven area of the roof. Each weave presents different angles and planes, and in some areas of the roof the weave is tight and elsewhere it is loose.

Once the right bunch of straw is selected for the right area of weave, the knot is tucked underneath the hazel rods.

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The team are learning solutions to each issue as it arises for example, the distance in the weave at the eaves means smaller pieces of thatch are needed.

ImageThe second and third methods of thatching are very similar to each other and were discussed in our previous post. Instead of tucking knots under the weave, unknotted bunches of straw are laid flat against the woven hazel rafters and held in place with a hazel rod or ‘sway’. They are then secured with a willow ‘withy’ and tied with a rose knot on the inside of the roof, by someone working inside the house. If you were to look up in the roof space of the houses where this technique has been used, you would notice a pattern of these pretty rose knots at relatively even intervals.

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In method 2, the sheafs or bunches of straw are laid in an alternating pattern of grain up and grain down. In method 3, the heads of the grain are all kept at the top.

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The volunteers are becoming experts. They are all speaking with great knowledge and pride about the techniques they are mastering. They have developed their own lexicon, their own solutions and were pointing out areas of the roof where they could tell they’d done a better job (e.g. the thatch lay flatter) than in others.

It’s been pretty cold and miserable on site this week but the team are making great progress. There are more photos on thatching in the gallery. 

 

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Additional Volunteering Opportunities

If you are interested in becoming an Interpretation Volunteer at the Neolithic Houses, you can find out about the opportunities on the English Heritage website. As a Neolithic House Interpretation Volunteer you will be responsible for maintaining the Neolithic houses once they are built (which weather permitting will be by the end of April), by lighting fires and assisting with the building maintenance.  You will bring the stories of the Neolithic people to life in our external galleries and provide a warm and friendly welcome for all visitors, helping us to deliver a world class visitor experience.