Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Rosehip November

I woke up at 10.30 am a few days ago (November 20th) and looked outside while I was putting the kettle on. Everything the sun hadn't yet touched (most things at that time of day) was white with frost.

The grass was stiff and crunchy underfoot.  My toes immediately began to freeze inside my boots. Jesse crouched under the porch going "uuurrrrhh" ("what the hell is this") while I took photos of geranium and buttercup leaves covered in ice crystals. Eventually I got far enough away that he followed me out onto the grass, but he wasn't happy about it.

I've held onto these photos for a while, and I don't know what to say about them. I'm just barely hanging on these days. I don't know what to say about anything. There are no words, for some things.

I haven't seen frost in nearly a decade, and I don't have any memory from before of what it was like, or what anything else here was like. It's entirely new to me now. This is not where I wanted to end up, or what I wanted to be doing, but the frost is pretty cool. And I like the rosehips.

The sun on the fields in the afternoon.

Jesse sleeping on my lap while I read and following me around outdoors.

A decaying old snag at the edge of the field that finally succumbed to the wind last week, and fell into a thicket of roses laden with fruit.

A friend showed me this song today:

Rose hip November 
Autumn I'll remember 
Gold landing at our door 
Catch one leaf and fortune will surround you evermore 
Evermore, evermore

Vashti Bunyan (Youtube)

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Reconstructing an early medieval turf house in the Netherlands

This is a time lapse video showing the reconstruction of an 8th century turf farmhouse at the Yeb Hettinga Museum in the village of Firdgum, Friesland, northern Netherlands:

The finished house in November 2015:

(University of Groningen/medievalists.net)

 Firdgum had a population of 100 in 2004, according to Wikipedia, and is located in the fertile salt marshes along the coast of northern Friesland.   

Location of Friesland in the Netherlands (in red).  (Wikipedia)

Landscape in Friesland with sheep (source).
Horses in a salt marsh in Lauwersmeer, Friesland (source).

In the days before dykes, regular flooding prevented trees from growing in the north of the Netherlands, so very little wood was available to build houses.  Starting around 400 AD, houses there were built on artificial platforms to keep them out of the flood water, and constructed  of stacked clay turf blocks (turves). The walls of this house are a metre thick, which both insulates the house from the cold of the North Sea coast and supports the weight of the roof. 

Most of the 8th century house collapsed due to a roof leak in 2013 and was reconstructed starting in 2014 by volunteers, in coordination with the University of Groningen. 

The collapsed house, from a article dated November 2013 (Photo by Jakob Talsma)

You can see the exposed rafters of the turf house here.  I'm guessing that's the museum building behind it, but I haven't been able to translate 'Yeb Hettinga Skoalle.'  That might be in Frisian, not Dutch. (Photo by Daniel Postma)

The pre-collapse roof, replaced in the summer of 2013, was made of layers of sod and manure over wooden rafters, but the roof of the 2015 reconstruction is made of thatch over wooden rafters.  I don't know why that might be.

The 2014-2015 reconstruction project was part of Daniël Postma’s PhD research into building traditions in the northern coastal regions of the Netherlands.  Postma published a book, Het zodenhuis van Firdgum – Middeleeuwse boerderijbouw in het Friese kustgebied tussen 400 en 1300 (”The Firdgum sod house: Medieval farmhouse building in the Frisian coastal area between 400 and 1300″) which details the design and construction process of the turf house.  (Description of the book translated by Google).

The medievalists.net article on the reconstruction describes the house:
The [farm house], which is nearly 17 metres long, is characterized by a 1 metre-thick carrier wall made of layered turf, as was customary throughout the region from the fifth to the early eighth century. It is also the first archaeological reconstruction with an arch-shaped roof construction, which clearly distinguishes it from the rectangular trusses of existing historic farmhouses.

I couldn't find more than a couple progress photos of the reconstruction, just the video up top and a few casual photos on the Zodenhuis Project Twitter (mostly in Dutch), but I did find some good quality photos of a roof replacement done on the house in the summer of 2013 on the Zodenhuis Project Tumblr (in Dutch):

The stripped inside of the house (May 2013)
The rafters almost ready to be covered with sod (May 2013)

Applying cow manure mixed with straw over top of the turves to provide a waterproof layer (May 2013)

Manure being applied to the first layer of sod (May 2013)

"On the west side the roof of the sod house is now equipped with the first layer of turf. This side now awaits a layer of manure and two layers of sod." (June 2013)

The house after it re-opened to the public later in 2013:

The finished house.  I think those dots are cow patties stuck to the walls to dry.

That little girl is even wearing wooden clogs.  I'm guessing that's early medieval dress (Yeb Hettinga Museum).

Inside the house (Zodenhuis Project, fall 2013)

A pot of something cooking over an open fire inside (Yeb Hettinga Museum).
Houses in prehistoric and early medieval Europe didn't have chimneys, so the smoke from the fire either drifted out through the door, if it was open, or just filtered out through the roof, like this thatched example in Ireland:

From Aidan O'Sullivan on Twitter.
There's a bit more on early medieval Frisian turf houses and this house's construction at Daniel Postma's Tumblr, the  Zodenhuis Firdham Facebook page (in Dutch) and Twitter (mostly in Dutch), the Zodenhuis Project Tumblr (inactive, in Dutch), but I've summarised most of it here. I found a couple academic articles in the links section of the project Tumblr, but I can't read Dutch and that's more than Google Translate can handle.