Longhouse 3.1

Posted By mcarter on Aug 11, 2015 | 0 comments

kegressy-IMG_2996mv-500WIt’s been a bit since our last post.  My partner in this project, Craig Barr, was off in LA doing a training shoot for Lynda.com and while he was away, I took some time for a short vacation and a chance to catch up on more readings.  During that time something odd happened which started me thinking about environmental lifecycle of a longhouse.  My wife and I live in the country in a wood framed and sided British Loyalist style house.  We woke up in the morning from a pounding coming from the kids room on the second floor and with them at camp, we rushed in to see were the noise was coming from.  Discovering quickly that it wasn’t coming from inside, but outside of the house, we ran down, out the back door to discover a Ontario Pileated Woodpecker making a meal out of my Maibec siding.  As you can see from the University of Guelph picture above, these lovely birds can make quite a lot of damage!  It got me thinking about the environmental stressors Iroquoian longhouse builders and inhabitants had to endure; mice, fleas, stray racoons (if they were dumb enough to venture in), small birds, insects and of course, woodpeckers and other wildlife assuming the longhouse was just another tree in the woods.  Along with considering to add these elements to our digital (re)construction, I encountered moss growing unconstrained on the North side of our house and along the brick walkway which also got me thinking about if the houses were regularly maintained.  Our woodpecker however will definitely be included within the audio segment of our Unity longhouse virtual archaeology environment and I hope to add some additional visual elements as we continue to build!

Craig is back in LA this week for SIGGRAPH 2015, where he will be demonstrating at the Unity, Autodesk and Lynda.com booths. However we have made some progress on the internal modeling and the initial external longhouse structure.  In Longhouse 3.0.5 we started to play with the interior bunking based on the oral and historical material available. As seen in the image below, we followed Dean Snow’s (1997) description of cedar barking being used for walls to provide delineation of family sleeping cubicles.  This building technique isn’t mentioned in Northern Iroquoian histories, but I thought it would be an interesting addition to test visually.Bunks_updateSeen in the images below from the Canadian Canoe Museum, cedar bark can be very easily harvested into long pliable sheets.  The inner side is softer and has a warmer cork-like colour and texture.  The outer side is the traditional mottled black and white rougher bark.  Immediately the discussion turned to whether the bark sheets were used for the roof and to mask the exterior wall (almost in a drywall application).  However that notion quickly was discarded as people sleeping on the platform would be pressing against the sheets on the exterior wall with their feet (assuming that everyone slept with their heads towards the fire) and cedar bark when dry would be more brittle and less forgiving to wear and tear.opening-the-bark-profileAnother concern was, if cedar was used to separate the sleeping compartments and if only one strip of cedar was used, which family would get the rougher side and which would get the seemingly nicer side?  This then led to a discussion on combining two sheets, so that each family had a softer side facing their compartment and it also helped to reinforce the wall and bark which would hopefully endure greater wear and tear.  bark-sheets-laid-outAlso, since cedar is very thin, we decided that small gauge rope cordage would be used to secure or tie down the wall sheets.  We have no record whatsoever of this practice or even an extended use of cedar sheets for wall covering in Longhouses (although there is speculation that cedar sheets did adorn the ends of the longhouses from the rounded vestibules (storage & entry areas), however, the beauty of using 3D modelling is the ability to test these assumptions.

As seen below, final strapping to secure the sleeping platform was also used (a difficult feat in 3D modelling) and we knew that white ash (which might have been used if available) for sleeping platforms would generally be about 8 meters in length at maximum or two sleeping platforms long.  Hence we needed to figure out what to do when two poles butted up against each other to continue the sleeping platform.  We added a second support and assumed that the terminus of the poles would be roughly where the compartment wall would be.  Additionally, with the support poles, the sleeping platform poles have a slight taper from one end to the other to represent the natural growth pattern of the tree.  Finally, it was decided to completely strip all bark away assuming that every piece of available bark would be used for something else.  As such, Craig put dirt smudges into the textures and even finger prints to simulate continued use.Strapping_updateWe started placing proxy examples of wood supplies under the main bench as also described in Snow (1997) and added rough versions of grass matts on the ground to simulate where they would be placed around our eventual fire hearths.  Although I haven’t asked Craig to try and simulate a blanket of mixed fur bearing animals (beaver, racoon, fox, rabbit and such) we did cut down on the Grey Wolf and Black Bear furs (less represented in the faunal middens) and increased the deer skins (abundantly represented within multiple archaeological sites) to start suggesting what would be used for bedding.  Lastly, the first modelling draft of the grass matts suggested that we would likely have to use a dull yellow or brown as the initial green would disappear very quickly as the plant dried out.  The strips would also have to be thinner to meet the scale of the rest of the items in the longhouse.Interior_Test


Our next effort started with the exterior poles of the house.  As discussed previously, the research group chose to go with a Kapche’s longhouse framing methodology as opposed to Wright or Snow’s interpretation.  This was primarily done due to the long history of longhouse construction at the Museum of Ontario Archaeology in which this model has become a key style choice.  However as noted, we really have no clue what style any of the Northern Iroquoian groups used, mixed or matched in their many centuries of building refinements.  This does not preclude that other styles might have been in used or that within 3D visualization that models are in any way static, just that for our purposes we chose to go with the traditional framing methodology used when representing and visualizing the Lawson Village site.

Below is our first attempt at understanding how the support structure would work with the arching wall posts.  Based on Dodd’s research, exterior wall posts were 1-3cm’s in diameter and on average there was 4.5 poles per meter along the length of the longhouse.  We assumed a pole would have to be longer than 7.5m’s (the width and thus height of our test longhouse) in order to have enough length to both bend and then be secured down to some sort of roofing system.  As with the support posts, a slight taper was introduced from the thick end to the tip of the roof end.Ext_wall_testIt was immediately clear that the wall posts would need to be “moulded” around additional support structure poles to allow for the wall poles to be bent, but also tied down to create the tension needed for the distinctive arbour roof.  The picture below are my production notes back to Craig requesting changes to how the interior support structures would ideally need to be if following this methodology.  Keep in mind that our experiment is not architecturally based but visually and artistically.  I fully realize we are making broad assumptions at every level.Ext_wall_test_RevisionsThe assumption is that the exterior poles would be placed into the ground and then bent over the support infrastructure.  There is an 11 minute video on Youtube describing how two families built an Iroquois (South of the Great Lakes) longhouse more in the tradition of Dean Snow’s theories.  In it, they describe using rope to pull on the end of the wall pole to bend it in shape as another person tied down the pole to the interior framing, creating the arbour style of roof.  I can imagine this type of construction methodology being deployed easily with a two or three person crew.

In the next post we will explore the exterior framing further and the refinement of the interior space.  I will also be weaving in two great papers I’ve read recently.  The first by Dr. Sara Perry entitled Crafting knowledge with (digital) visual media in archaeology (2014), which explores the academic acceptance, or not, of archaeological illustration which 3D animation and virtual reality visualization falls under.  The second paper Modeling in archaeology: computer graphic and other digital pasts by Grahame Earl (2013) starts to question whether digital assets have “agency” or can be truly representative of the physical archaeological record.  Both papers help to solidify the valuable work of visualizing heritage as archaeological research and not just illustrations for public consumption.


  1. Longhouse 3.1.5 - theskonkworks - […] record in virtual space.  Both Sara Perry and Grahame Earl, who I spoke about briefly in Longhouse 3.1, talk…

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