My involvement with experimental archaeology started with a full-scale reconstruction of an early medieval 'Frisian' farm building in the north of the Netherlands. This project's primary aim was to clarify the way which salt marsh turf ('clay sods') had been used in the past to build load-bearing walls. This so-called Turf House Project (Dutch: Zodenhuisproject) formed a key part of my PhD research on lost building traditions of the southern North Sea area. Additional research questions focused on the usability of salt marsh turf as a thatching material and the type of timber trusses used to support the roof structure. The 6,5 x 17 m turf house was successfully built in 2012 and early 2013, but it partially collapsed in November 2013 due to water damage. For the complete rebuild in 2014-2015 the design of the turf wall was improved and greater academic emphasis was put on the design of the timber structure, matching it with the preliminary results of my PhD research. As a result, the turf house now is the first reconstruction in the Netherlands to be based on the principle of 'Scottish' cuppill ('cruck') construction, using segmented, arch-shaped trusses. Preparations are currently being made to thatch the structure with rye straw.
My research primarily focuses on the technical design and construction of farm buildings in the north of the Netherlands, from ca. AD 400-1400. The manner in which the availability and characteristics of local building materials relate to specific building types, is a key research question. In order to be able to 'read' from the archaeological record which (natural and societal) factors influenced the development of a vernacular architecture, I want to develop the study of 'building traditions' as a distinct archaeological discipline. In this methodology, I expect experiential and experimental archaeology to contribute greatly to a more holistic interpretation of excavated settlement sites. In the near future I hope to further explore the possibility of archaeologically reconstructed concepts contributing to current sustainable building objectives, and the other way round.
My advice to other members - as I am asked to state this - would be not to disregard any building material or technique that is now commonly held to have been of limited applicability or economic value. Instead, investigate why people used it nonetheless - what aren't we seeing?
The Turf House Project can be followed online on www.facebook.com/zodenhuis (largely in Dutch).
Omroep Fryslân made a documentary on the project which can be watched back online here:
- part 1 (30 mins.): http://omrop.fr/qsH
- part 2: (30 mins.): http://omrop.fr/SNg
The Turf House Project was coordinated by the Terp Research Group of the Groningen Institute of Archaeology (part of University of Groningen) and primarily funded by the Province of Friesland. The building now is part of the small Yeb Hettinga Museum in Firdgum and open to public in the weekends (see: www.yebhettingamuseum.nl).