Pit House


The original pit house used as a model for this reconstruction was excavated at the Assembly of God Church site (11-S-926), St. Clair County, off Pleasant Ridge Rd, in Fairview Heights, Illinois. The site was excavated in 1974 and 1975 as a salvage excavation in preparation for the church's parking lot expansion. The site report was published in "Illinois Archaeology" Journal of the Illinois Archaeological Survey, 1996, Volume 8, Numbers 1&2. The house (Feature 13) is called a "keyhole structure" because it's floor plan resembles a "key" shape. The main body of these houses are usually square or slightly rectangular but they have an entrance usually consisting of a sub-surface pathway leading toward the main structure. At the distal end of the pathway there's a pit-like protrusion giving the structure it's key-like shape. (Finished map by Henry Holt) The structure was dated to the Patrick Phase (AD 600-800) through pottery identified by Dr. Timothy Pauketat. The house was considered for reconstruction, by the author, because of it's single-post construction, it's small post mold diameters, and it's small size. It was an experiment to see if such small framing members could create a strong structure capable of holding a man's weight and/or a heavy snow load. It was built on the author's property for ease of accessibility but mostly for security, since other reconstruction projects usually ran into vandalism problems after they were completed.

(Note: All black and white photos, courtesy of David Klostermeier.)

. The pit was dug with modern shovels, in the fall of 1986. The soil was left piled around the perimeter to retard water as the thatch was intended to overlap the piled-up soil.. Some hides were made into rawhide to provide lashings for the structural members and the hides are still in  their stretchers, for this photo. The layout of the original posts were positioned on the floor and the posts were set in their original positions and at their original depths. The bark was removed from the posts by burning. The outside bark was singed,   then moved across the fire,   singed, then moved etc. until the entire post was singed. It was determined to have had enough heat when steam began to shoot out of the bark  . After the whole post was singed the post would be hit with the celt    to start the bark removal. Then the post would be twisted to loosen the bark further. After the twisting, the bark could easily be stripped.  The outer bark was removed by dragging the bark, exterior side down, over a table edge. As the outer bark was pulled downward the inner bark continued running horizontally, thereby separating them quite efficiently. The inner bark was then soaked in buckets.        The inner bark eventually became the lashing material for attaching thatch to the roof members.

The ends of the posts were burned to help prevent rotting in the acid soils of the region.

    The posts were installed by jabbing them into their positions, adding water, and jabbing them again, until the desired depth was reached. After the jab, the post was wiggled a little to widen the hole for the next jab. This system worked very well but the installer would occasionally have to remove a little mud from his eyes. Some posts were installed this way, to a depth of over 30 cm.

 The walls with the "plate" installed .             

  An arch was needed for the entrance and it's being bent here. The hickory arch was heated in the fire and gradually bent to the desired shape.  Then, it was installed in the entrance. Next, hip rafters were cut from hickory   and installed    to the peak. It soon became apparent that there was not enough room at the peak, for all the rafters, so this     ring was made to allow the rafters to be cut shorter.

The hips were reinstalled with the ring in place.    That provided more room for  all the rafters.  The rafters were fastened like this. Mostly rawhide lashings were used but occasionally hickory bark lashings were applied.       After 2 truckloads of thatch were cut, cleaned and, bound, the thatching could begin.     A close-up  of the rafter lashing technique. The inner hickory bark, obtained from the posts and rafters earlier, worked well as a fastening cordage to tie the thatch to the roof members.   


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