Monday, August 22, 2011

Three Fingers of Clay

I have begun working on the Byzantine house publications of Chersonesos for Adam Rabinowitz's upcoming monograph, Excavations in the South Region of Chersonesos, 2001-2006: A Multidisciplinary Approach, ed. Adam Rabinowitz, Larissa Sedikova and Paul Arthur.

One aspect of the study will reconstruct the roof system based on fragments unearthed in the complex's debris. The scholarship on house roofs is practically non-existent, since most medieval houses of the period hardly survive above a few courses.

I will start with a wonderful ancient building inscription that records the restoration of a covered walkway in Athens' city walls in 306 BCE. It's a valuable document because it discusses the juncture between the roof tiles and the wooden beam support: “And after laying upon the sheathing moistened rushes [κάλαμον], and under these (i.e. between the planks) beanstalks [λοβόν] or rushes he shall cover the whole with a layer of clay mixed with straw [δορώσι] three dactyls in thickness.” Although the text is 1,000 years before the houses at Chersonesos, it gives some insights on a vernacular building method with a long afterlife. It gives a precise measurement of three fingers (1 1/2 inches) for a layer of clay mixed with straw as the binding agent.

My explanatory sketch above is based on L. D. Caskey, “The Roofed Gallery on the Walls of Athens,” American Journal of Archaeology (1910) 14, pl. V.


Nauplion said...

In 1977-79 I lived in a Venetian-built (ca. 1700) house in Nauplion whose roof was tile over reeds which had once been packed with mud, but so long ago that most of it had crumbled away.

Alex Norton said...

I came across your blog whilst researching a project we are involved in. We have been asked by Architectural Firm to recreate a Greek Stoa Roof. The have given us drawings of Antefixes and we are going with a flat pan and angled cap. One thing that surprised me in my research is that i noticed that some roofs had a starter row of stone tiles followed by clay ones after that.

I would love to follow your work on ancient roofing systems when you publish it, so I hope you keep up your blog.


Dear Alex. Thanks for your comment. I checked out your Cooritalia website. Wonderful work. I'm not much of an expert on ancient roofs, but the ultimate study is Nancy Winter, Greek Architectural Terracottas.

In the 1950s, the American School of Classical Studies rebuilt an ancient Stoa in Athens. I'm sure you'll find points of interest in your own stoa project. A good starting point is Homer A. Thompson and Alison Frantz, The Stoa of Attalos II in Athens (Excavations of the Athenian Agora Picture Book 2), Princeton, N.J. 1959

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States