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.
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’).
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.