Construction Update

All of our houses are nearing completion, some are almost finished!

House 1 – we have laid the floor and made the hearth, also the furniture has been fitted and fires have been lit to test the smoke levels.

The freshly laid floor in House 1.

The freshly laid floor in House 1.

Houses 1 and 3 almost finished.

Houses 1 and 3 almost finished.

House 3 – we have finished thatching the roof, putting a straw cap compared to the rush on House 1. The floor has been laid and a hearth created along with all of the plank built furniture installed. Fires have also been lit to check smoke levels. This building has a completely different feel to House 1.

Interior of House 3.

Interior of House 3.

House 5 – this is the smallest building of the five, the evidence for which shows no stakeholes around the floor. Our rationale for building this structure is explained below. This House has been thatched in the same style as House 3 and we have also added a doorway made from woven hazel and which has then been daubed.

House 5 thatched with the wattle and daub doorway.

House 5 thatched with the wattle and daub doorway.

We are continuing with House 4, the daub has been completed and we are very close to finishing the thatching.

The thatch is nearly finished.

The thatch is nearly finished.

House 2 is currently being daubed and the roof is being thatched at the same time. The thatch is being ‘dressed’ back to look more like a you would expect a thatched building to look like.

A more traditional style of thatch on House 2.

A more traditional style of thatch on House 2.

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.

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.

Second Day of the Neolithic Activities

Three more schools came to our Neolithic Activities workshops yesterday. As well as taking part in some of the activities from Tuesday they also learnt how to do rope making, cob making and storytelling.

Rope making

It was great seeing the pupils get stuck into learning how to make rope from bramble. To be able to make the rope the children had to take the thorns off the bramble by hitting this with wood until the stem is weakened to be able to twist it. With the children working in pairs they twisted each end in opposite directions until it was ready to be doubled and twisted again to make rope.

A child hitting the bramble to remove the thorns.

A child hitting the bramble to remove the thorns.

Working in pairs to twist the bramble.

Working in pairs to twist the bramble.

Doubling  up the bramble to make rope.

Doubling up the bramble to make rope.

Cob Making

Cob making was undertaken in the house building sessions, it is a great workshop for pupils to learn how the walls for the Neolithic house are made. It is also a great way to get messy. The image below is the start of a new section which was done by Wilton Primary Campus pupils.

Wilton Primary Campus cob making.

Wilton Primary Campus cob making.

Storytelling

Luke from the Ancient Technology Centre led these sessions explaining about some of the earliest written stories from the Neolithic period with evidence found on wet clay with reed in Sumeria over 5,000 years ago.

The story that he told was “The debate between sheep and grain” and exploring the idea of what sheep can give us and what wheat can give us. After arguing for so long the Gods step in and decide that both should be brothers but wheat was more important to humans rather than sheep.

Luke telling the story of the debate between sheep and grain

Luke telling the story of the debate between sheep and grain

The final week is here

We have reached the final week of construction!

With the buildings almost finished, this week sees the finishing touches being added. On building 851 we have finished daubing the last section of wall with the crushed chalk, this will hopefully dry out now that the sunny weather has arrived.

The completed north wall of building 851.

The completed north wall of building 851.

Around the eastern side of building 851 we are adding a woven hazel fence line, this features in the survey carried out when these buildings were excavated. This is a small section of fence approximately two metres away from the building.

The fence line on the eastern side of building 851.

The fence line on the eastern side of building 851.

On building 848 the floor has now been laid, this means that we no longer have to crush any chalk! Also we have started the last sections of roof that need covering. When these are finished we will be able to evaluate the different thatching methods used to see which are most suitable.

The last sections of roof on building 848 have been started.

The last sections of roof on building 848 have been started.

Another main structure is complete

We have now finished the main structure on building 848. The woven hazel banding is now complete and an extended section has been added to create a sheltered doorway.

The sheltered doorway on building 848.

The sheltered doorway on building 848.

Another amazing push on the daubing has seen us complete almost three quarters of the walls in building 851. We hope to complete the walls in the next few days.

Guy daubing building 851.

Guy daubing building 851.

Our thatching team completed the last quarter of the roof of building 851. We now have to put on a capping on the ridge and the roof will be finished.

Thatching is complete on building 851, just the ridge to finish.

Thatching is complete on building 851, just the ridge to finish.

Press day

We have been visited by various members of the media this morning, filming for tv and live broadcasts on the radio, with many of our volunteers having a starring role. It was great to see the interest that this project is creating.

On building 851 today, we have been continuing to apply the chalk daub, we now have covered approximately a third of the total wall surface. As a consequence our chalk pile has been reduced considerably!

Harald and Trevor apply the chalk daub.

Harald and Trevor apply the chalk daub.

A completed wall section.

A completed wall section.

Meanwhile on the roof of building 851 our thatching teams have been busy adding more layers, it has been lovely up on the roof in the sunshine today!

Janey and Gareth putting on more layers of thatch in the sunshine.

Janey and Gareth putting on more layers of thatch in the sunshine.