More Houses being thatched.

The focus of the next few weeks will be on getting the roofs thatched on the buildings. We will be staggering the start of the thatching on each roof by one week.

Two buildings at different stages of thatching.

Two buildings at different stages of thatching.

The latest roof to be started is House 3 which will have it’s thatch applied in a more traditional method. The bundles of thatch are sandwiched between a sway on the outside and the main roof structure on the inside. The sways are kept in place by being tied on with willow, finished with a ‘rose knot’. We have managed to complete two layers in the first week.

A second layer of thatch being added, held on by hazel sways.

A second layer of thatch being added, held on by hazel sways.

A rose knot tied inside of House 3.

A rose knot tied inside of House 3.

We have also continued with the thatching on House 1, with it progressing nicely towards the top. The inside of this roof is looking very interesting with ears of the wheat visible.

The progress on House 1.

The progress on House 1.

The ears of the wheat visible on the inside of House 1.

The ears of the wheat visible on the inside of House 1.

A nice surprise this week was a stunning rainbow that appeared over the site!

A rainbow over the Houses.

A rainbow over the Houses.

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Education workshops

We’ve been running several education workshops at the Neolithic Houses – you can read more about them on our page on Schools Workshops

Here, Katherine Snell, English Heritage education co-ordinator, describes the latest of these workshops:

Neolithic Activities

We had our first day of our Neolithic Activities session yesterday where five activities took place; these included plaiting with rush, fence building, bartering, fire making and cooking bread took place. The school groups had the opportunity to undertake 3 of the activities in an hour long session.

Plaiting with rush

The pupils learnt about bull rushes and how they were used in the Neolithic period at Durrington Walls and they undertook two tasks. The first task was to strengthen the rush by pairing up and holding the dampened rush at each end, twisting it in opposite directions. This twisted rush is then halved while maintaining the tension and allowed to twist around its self to form a braid.

The next task to perform was plaiting of bull rushes. Three of the dampened rush stems were tied at one end by a pupil using an overhand knot. Another pupil then starts plaiting the bull rush until reaching half way, where the children would then swap over.

Below are some of the children plaiting the bull rushes!

Two children finishing off plaiting their rush.

Two children finishing off plaiting their rush.

Working in pairs to plait rush.

Working in pairs to plait rush.

Hazel weaving

Hazel weaving which was undertaken in the house building session is a great opportunity to get hands on and practical in the art of weaving. Below are a group of pupils starting of the weaving process.

The children starting to hazel weave.

The children starting to hazel weave.

Bartering

This activity explores the usefulness of materials and possessions in the Neolithic period and seeks to give children a greater understanding of the true “value” of everyday objects.

The pupils were given a Neolithic object from a basket and in groups decided which would be the most important object when living in the Stone Age. These objects were:

• A bronze knife blade
• A flint axe
• A small bag of wheat
• A Cows model
• A sheep model
• A pair of Leather Shoes
• A piece of Salted Meat
• A figurine (Gods)

Though each child had a different opinion as to which was most important, but the most popular choice was wheat; being a good source of food and allowing the Neolithic settlers to grow food on land by cultivating crops.

Fire making

Paul showing the children how to light the kindling with flint and pyrite.

Paul showing the children how to light the kindling with flint and pyrite.

A pupil blowing on the embers to light the kindling.

A pupil blowing on the embers to light the kindling.

In this session Paul gave a demonstration of how to use flint and pyrite to start a fire. It was explained how hard it was to use these tools but the benefits were tremendous and essential to the survival of settlers in the Neolithic period. To get an idea of what materials are used to start a fire in this way the materials were passed out amongst the pupils such as flint, pyrite, fungus and charcloth.

The next stage was to light a fire; as time was short Paul explained that the tools he used were iron and pyrite but Neolithic people didn’t have such luxury. All the pupils had a go at blowing long steady breaths onto the embers to light the kindling.

A teacher explained “Sometimes being told something in the classroom means nothing, when they come and do it for themselves they learn how it’s done…”

Cooking bread

This activity explores the process of taking wheat from a field to the table. The pupils learnt the different stages of processing from the standing wheat stalk, through harvesting, threshing, winnowing, grinding, mixing and baking.

The children having a go at grinding the grains into flour.

The children having a go at grinding the grains into flour.

Children tasting some flat bread.

Children tasting some flat bread.

The pupils were given three tasks; firstly, separate the grain from the chaff, when this is done the next task in grinding. The grains are grinded into flour using two stone querns. The final task was to shape pre-prepared dough into flat bread. The dough was then baked on a flat heated stone, once done the children got to taste what they had made. With a pupil commenting “I’m eating Neolithic bread! It could have been made 4000 years ago!”

Pupils warming their hands up by the fire.

Pupils warming their hands up by the fire.

At the end of a rainy day, pupils are warming their hands up by the fire, while a teacher says “This is fantastic, they learnt so much in a short space of time”.

Building 848

The evidence for this building in the original consists of a chalk floor with a hearth but no stake holes for the walls. This means that any structure that we build has to leave no trace.

The different thatching styles used.

The different thatching styles used.

The main structure consists of larch rafters with woven hazel ringbeams. One section of the building is completely woven hazel, this provides a base for the grass thatch to fix to.On the other sections we have experimented with different thatching materials and methods, with most of the thatch on the roof tied on with willow.

The grass thatch.

The grass thatch.

A floor has also been laid in the building made from crushed chalk.

The interior of the building showing the floor.

The interior of the building showing the floor.

A finished ridge

We have completed the ridge on building 851 today!

The sways were put in place over the folded rush and secured through with willow ties. We have also trimmed the ends of the wheat straw that were projecting out from under the rush.

Luke trimming the wheat straw at the ridge.

Luke trimming the wheat straw at the ridge.

On building 848 we have finished two sections of thatching. One of the completed sections involves using grass to cover the roof structure, the other section is thatched using wheat straw.

Another two different thatching methods on building 848.

Another two different thatching methods on building 848.

Thatching many roofs

We are finally enjoying some warm weather!

On building 851 we have started the ridge capping, using a roll of wheat straw to provide a guide, we folded rush over the ridge and are going to secure it using a hazel sway on each side tied with willow. We should finish this tomorrow.

Gareth removes the excess rafter from the roof of building 851.

Gareth removes the excess rafter from the roof of building 851.

We have also started thatching on the other two buildings. On building 547 we are thatching a section using water reed. The reed is held in place using hazel sways, these are tied through to the ringbeams below with willow ties. We think that this makes a very neat finish.

Three layers of thatch on building 547.

Three layers of thatch on building 547.

While on building 848 we are using wheat straw attached in the same way as the water reed on building 547. We are also trying some experimental thatching using rush on the adjoining section of roof. We are using these test sections to establish which methods provide the best coverage.

The two types of thatch on building 848.

The two types of thatch on building 848.

First layer of thatch on building 851

Today we were mainly concentrating on buildings 851 and 848.

Our first job was to set the horizontal spacing of the woven hazel on the eaves of building 851, so the thatch can be attached, we also completed the eave over the door. After this we added a roll of wheat straw to the bottom of the eaves, and then the first layer of thatch.

Janey and Harald fit the wheat straw roll.

Janey and Harald fit the wheat straw roll.

Fitting the first layer of thatch to building 851.

Fitting the first layer of thatch to building 851.

On building 848 we fitted the secondary rafters and wove hazel around the bottom to lock everything in place. Another weave of hazel was added half way up the rafters to which the shorter rafters were then attached.

All the rafters are in on building 848.

All the rafters are in on building 848.

The sun makes an appearance

It was great to see everyone this morning looking raring to go after the Easter break, even the sun made an appearance!

We have finished the roof structure on one of the quarters of building 547, with all of the ring beams being beautifully lashed with willow. This will be one of the roof sections that we will be experimenting with thatching methods.

Completed experimental roof section on building 547.

Completed experimental roof section on building 547.

Another of the roof quarters on building 547 that we are going to experiment with was also started today. This section is being woven in a similar way to building 851, but the roof structure is different, there is no ridge section on this building. This roof also requires that we weave as carefully as we did on building 851, as all the rafters are fixed at the top.

Stuart, Claire, Denise and Trevor weave another roof section on building 547.

Stuart, Claire, Denise and Trevor weave another roof section on building 547.