Unsurprisingly perhaps, mud (or 'cob') architecture as it's
usually known as in England, appears very little in the
archaeological record hereabouts. Ashes to ashes, mud to mud etc.
Especially wet, cold, British mud. I have read of advances in
Africa and the USA in identifying excavations of mud wall
architecture, but there is something profound to me about the
absence of these most primitive shelters from the tangible past
celebrated in this country - I guess it leaves more work for the
imagination to do.
Fortunately visitors to our cob building zone at
Cambridge Archaeology Unit's Prehistory Day were
in general under 8 years of age and hence spared us clueless
artists a grilling on the evidence of earth-building in prehistoric
building techniques. Their parents were just glad to have them
occupied I think and therefore neither did they ask any tricky
history questions - though if they had, there were plenty of
real-life archaeologists around to point them to - all doing
exciting things like butchering a deer, archery and -er-face
painting. I even heard two chatting each other up,
'What's your specialism?"
"Oh, the Mesolithic transition in South East England"
"Cool. That's mine too"
One very keen small boy had done a thorough excavation of his back
garden, that had - he proudly said - yielded 'Half of a wig
curler'. I think his Dad was an archaeologist, or maybe this is
normal stuff for kids in Cambridge to be into? If it is, we are
definately not in Kansas anymore.
Anyhow, the local kids seemed happier just to get stuck in and
muddy, assisting us in building a small cob 'tower block' that we
were trialling for a sculpture proposal for the NW Cambridge site. I brought to
the workshop some wooden beehive 'supers' (boxes in which the combs
hang) to try as time-saving moulds, as Nina shows in the picture,
these seemed to work well packed with mud, and the resulting
one-metre high cob tower stacked up rather well, though I'm not
sure it would win any RIBA awards.
You can see more pictures
of the workshop on Flickr here
Thanks to Sara Harrop, CAU and to Maeve Polkinhorn of CAS
for their help on the day