Make your own Roundhouse
During the Bronze and Iron Ages of Britain, people lived in a type of dwelling called a ‘Roundhouse’. These circular buildings were made with timber posts, wattle and daub walls and had a conical thatched roof. One communal room would be heated with a fire in the centre, used also for cooking, and the smoke would escape through the thatched roof.
Towards the end of the Bronze Age and as we progressed through to the Iron Age, you would find clusters of roundhouses in a settlement known as a hillfort. As the name suggests, these settlements were set on hilltops, using the location to their advantage for defensive purposes. They would also be encircled with ramparts and ditches.
I was inspire to create a roundhouse by one of the downloadable activities on the young archaeologists website, with all of the steps listed here on the YAC website. There is also a fun activity to test the effectiveness of your thatched roof. I wanted my finished result to be as close as possible to the picture on the YAC website, and found it was pretty easy to adapt the instructions to the materials I had available to me.
Roundhouse walls were made with wattle and daub. This means wood was woven around posts and then filled with a mixture of clay, soil, straw and animal poo !
If you have access to all of the materials on the YAC website, you can make your posts using wooden dowels and MDF, weaving hazel or willow around them to create the structure of your walls. Maybe your parents have these in a workshop – or you could go for a rummage in your garden or on a daily walk. See if you can find any suitable sticks or twigs.
I didn’t have access to MDF and wooden dowels, because I haven’t seen any of our national park rangers to ask for some, so I used 3 undecorated Easter wreaths, which I tied together using pipe cleaners. And positioned centrally on a square piece of cardboard I saved from a delivery from the postman.
Before I added the daub (minus animal poo of course), I made the frame for my thatched roof. You need to make a conical shape, using wooden dowels, twigs or lolly sticks. The YAC worksheet shows you how you can tie you roof beams to your walls and together in the middle, to make this cone shape.
I used pipe cleaners which I wove together for added strength. I liked the pipe cleaners because they were easy to bend into shape, so made a suitable alternative to wooden beams.
You can add struts between your roof beams for added strength and structure. This also means you have something to tie your thatch on to when you come to finishing your roof later.
Because I hadn’t tied the roof to the walls of my round house, it meant I could lift off the roof structure while I added the daub to my wattle walls.
For the daub of my walls, I used air drying clay in a natural colour. If you don’t have clay – maybe somebody in your house has play dough, or you could get really messy and mix wet mud and sand together from the garden.
Make sure you cover your table with newspaper, a plastic sheet or make it outside. We don’t want to upset the adults at home! Whatever you choose to use as your daub, press it into your woven walls.
Smooth the sides of your walls using your thumbs. If you use clay, I found it helpful to keep dipping my thumbs in a little bit of water.
Leave your structure to dry before adding the roof back on.
Whilst I was waiting for my clay to dry, I decided to add some dried moss to hide my cardboard base. I stuck the moss down using clear PVA glue. You could do the same.
I followed YACs suggestion of using raffia to act as the thatching for my roof. You might have some left from a Christmas hamper. Its quite similar to fresh rabbit bedding. If you cant get raffia, maybe you could collect skinny twigs in the garden, use straw or shred some thick paper
Tie bundles of the raffia together using jute, twine, string or even ribbon. Whatever you can find and is available to use. Starting from the bottom and then working your way up, tie the raffia bundles onto your roof beams and struts.
This is the last step in creating your own round house. Remember, there is no need for a chimney in your roof – the smoke was allowed to disperse by itself.
And so, here is my finished roundhouse, sitting proud in my own house. This is the first in a series of models I shall be recreating. And if you enjoyed making yours too, perhaps you could share them with the national park. Remember to tag us in your social media posts, and tag the young archaeologists club too! Join us next time, for more step by step guides.
Don’t forget, the full guide is available on the YAC website at the link – https://www.yac-uk.org/activity/build-a-mini-roundhouse.