This is the second post in our “Burning Down the (Pit) House” series. For part 1, read Allen Denoyer’s post here.
Doug Gann, Preservation Archaeologist and Digital Media Specialist
(July 28, 2017)—In experimental archaeology, a common technique for trying to learn about past human activities is to attempt to re-create or replicate ancient behaviors, and then make observations about how our ideas about the past match the physical evidence archaeologists encounter during excavations.
Allen Denoyer’s reconstruction of an Early Agricultural period pithouse is a perfect example of this process. Allen selected evidence from the excavation of the ancient village of Los Pozos to guide our efforts to learn more about how ancient homes were affected by fire in the past. Allen selected a specific burned pithouse which had been documented by David Gregory in the early 1990s to serve as our conceptual model, and then went about building a 1/2-scale replica of that specific house, including replicas of the items that were exposed on the house floor during excavation.
Although we were limited to a smaller house size due to the constraints of our construction site at Steam Pump Ranch, small houses from this time period were not that uncommon, so we were able to work with a basic assumption that the processes we would observe would remain the same in the present as they were in the past.
My role in this archaeological experiment was to document various stages of the pithouse construction, collect reference videos of the house as it burned, and then document the resulting evidence. Once the pithouse burn was complete, the structure was partially reburied. It will be excavated in 2018 to further examine the experimental evidence collected.
The house construction was documented using 3D photogrammetry for every phase of construction. Selected 3D models of the construction process are available below.
Step 1 – The pit for the house was excavated using traditional technologies for this era: digging sticks and baskets.
Once the pit was perfectly shaped, post holes were dug, and the wooden frame, as reconstructed by David Gregory, was installed.
Thatched, and capped with a layer of raw adobe, the pithouse reconstruction was complete. The structure was allowed to dry for roughly 6 months before being put to the flames.
This model illustrates all that was left after hot coals ignited the brush structure. On first observation, the resulting deposit of charcoal and ash matched the archaeological evidence almost exactly.
Though the 3D models provide us with excellent information on the physical state of the construction and resulting burned deposit, digital video provided us with the means of documenting the process of actually burning the pithouse down. Below are recordings of the burning event in their entirety. The first video shows the burning in the visible light spectrum, whereas the second video was recorded in near-infrared light to see if we could gather additional information on the pace and scale of the fire.
The infrared footage did not reveal any particular extra information other than the fact that the fire was slightly larger than could bee seen with the naked eye, but when recording experimental data, more information is always better than less information, so we are pleased to be able to share this part of our data-recording techniques.
This post is being cross-posted at the Day of Archaeology site.