Fans of Robert Heinlein will recall that in his short story ” –And He Built a Crooked House” one of the characters remarks that the main job of a house is to keep the rain off. Yes, shelter is a core function, because getting wet is always miserable, for you and all your stuff. Before you can do anything — write, read, cook — you have to be dry.
So here we are, the absolute basic shelter: a cave. This cave in the village de la Madeleine has been a residence since the Neolithic. Prehistoric humans built wooden walls, the Romans built in stone, medieval farmers hid from raiding knights. and the local lord erected a castle on top. But this handy cave still keeps out the rain!
But caves are relatively rare. And they’re not easy to expand — what if you need extra space? Then you move into building. This is fairly low-tech, a wood and reed hut. No joinery or carpentery necessary, just stick those timbers into the ground, hitch them together, and tie bundles of twigs over. It’s not very satisfactory however. Stand inside and you can see sky! In the Neolithic you might plaster this over with clay, but it’s not going to hold up for more than a winter.
Thatch, now, is sturdier. This roof is, I’d say, about eighteen inches thick. The thatch is bundles of reed or straw, tightly tied together and then hitched to the cross-pieces of the roof. You can see some extra bundles in the eaves there. This roof will shed water for a good five or ten years, if it’s maintained and you keep critters from nesting in it. This is skilled labor — look at that pretty edge! And here’s a shot of the underside, so you can see the wood understructure.