Those people who had expressed an interest in the neolithic house development and were living near Salisbury were invited to participate in the materials gathering stage, ie cutting wood for use in the house construction stage.
Week 1 & 2: Garston Woods
On a damp cool 28 January about twenty volunteers gathered in a remote car park at Garston Wood, near Sixpenny Handley in Dorset. We were led up a track into the wood to where a small camp fire was already burning. We were provided with a welcome mug of coffee as we got to know each other. The aims of the material gathering stage were outlined by Luke Winter of the Ancient Technology Centre, who went on to demonstarte the basics of "coppicing".
This particular "coup", operated by the RSPB, has been harvested on a regular seven year cycle for at least 300 years. At seven years the wood is the preferred gauge for wall weaving given the post spacing we anticipated (see neolithic houses page). With bow saws and lopping shears we set about reducing was coppice stand to a cluster of ground stubs. The wood was graded in diameter and tied into bundles of twenty. We were aiming at 2,500 pieces.
A set of photographs of the materials gathering phase will be found in the Gallery attached to this page.
Later in the week flint tools were introduced with varying degrees of success:
- The colour and sharpness of the flint varied with black flint being razor sharp but often fragile; while the grey material was less sharp by highly durable.
- As with a modern axe it was more difficult to cut the thinner hazel stems with flint tools as they tended to absorb the blows by movement.
- The work rate (time and number of blows was recorded). The tools proved very effective on 10cm diameter silver birch.
- Generally cutting at 45 degrees led to greater progress than a simple orthogonal blow - the inclined angle tended to help penetrate across several grain of the wood.
In an adjacent part of the wood older coppice (around 12 years) was gathered including different tree type eg maple.
Week 3: Cranborne & Alderholt
In mid February, in better (sunny) conditions, a small number of volunteers returned for two days in a wood just west of Alderholt selecting yet more mature larch trees. Around twenty 10-15cm diameter larch were cut own entirely with flint tools (axe and adz). This timber would be used for roofing.
The mighty larch!
On the final day (15 February) in Futher Daggons Wood a mature ~25m larch was felled using only flint tools!
This day was a team effort: everyone undertook a two minute interval session (after 90 seconds it seemed much longer!). Approaching three hours and after around 11,500 blows the tree came down exactly where planned.
There were around six flint tools available (axe & adz) and as the day went on everyone appeared to harbour an affection for a preferred tool. Sadly the better of the two adz failed after lunch.
This particular piece of wood would be sectioned and used later to provide the furniture base in the houses.
Video of the larch falling:
Updated KM 24 June 2013