Student handout

Home, Home on the Ridge

Poverty Point people were at "home on the ridge" because their dwellings were probably built on top of the ridges at the site. There are six concentric circular earth ridges at Poverty Point. These C-shaped, hill-like ridges are thought to have been about twice as high when they were first built. Today, they are only about one to six feet high because of years of erosion and plowing.

No archaeological evidence of houses has been uncovered at Poverty Point. This does not mean that the people living there failed to construct dwellings. Louisiana's wet climate may have decayed the remains which archaeologists are seeking. Other sites have the remains of buildings. Post holes have been found at Jaketown, a Poverty Point site in Mississippi. The house there was in the shape of a circle about 12 to 14 feet in diameter.

The people living at Poverty Point would have used the materials in their environment to build their homes. Louisiana has an abundant supply of willow trees, river cane, palmetto leaves, grass, and mud. These natural resources are excellent materials for building simple but effective homes.

A "life-sized" palmetto hut can be made from a framework of willow branches covered with palmetto leaves. This hut will be smaller than the one at Jaketown, but large enough to be an actual home. You may build your hut either inside or outside. If you build your hut inside, you will need to construct it on top of a large piece of cardboard and use cardboard corner scraps and hot glue to hold your willow poles. If you build your hut outside, dig holes in the ground and stick your willow poles in them. Follow these simple directions to build a life-sized palmetto hut!

Materials:
Eight willow branches, each 10 feet tall, for the uprights
About eight willow branches for the crosspieces
Bark from the willow branches or string
Lots of palmetto leaves
Indoor hut: a large piece of cardboard for the base, cardboard corner scraps to secure the framework, hot glue gun, and exacto knife
Outdoor hut: post hole digger or a digging stick to dig holes for the framework

Directions:

1. Use a string and a pencil as a large compass. Draw a circle on either the cardboard (inside) or the dirt (outside.) The diameter of the hut can be as big as you like. Experiment with the different diameters because a larger diameter will result in a shorter hut. All of your willow poles will need to be the same length.

2. Divide your circle into eight equal parts by marking halves, fourths, and eighths.

Marks for Post Holes

3. Dig eight holes for your upright poles along the circumference of the circle.
Outside: Use a digging stick just like the Poverty Point people may have done or use a post hole digger to make your holes.
Inside: Hot glue a cardboard corner square scrap along the diameter of the circle where you want the "hole." Ask an adult to use an exacto knife to "dig" the hole by cutting into the scrap piece of cardboard.

4. Build the upright section of your hut by placing two willow branches in the holes on opposite sides of the circle.
Outside: Stomp dirt back into the hole around the pole.
Inside: Squirt hot glue in the hole before you place the branch in it.

5. Bend the two opposing branches so that they form an arch. Overlap the branches and tie them together at the top with a strip of willow bark or string. Continue with steps 4 and 5 until you have connected all four pairs. Tie the pairs together at the top of the house.

6. Add horizontal crosspieces around the sides of the hut by tying branches to your uprights. The distance between the crosspieces will be determined by the size of your palmetto leaves. The palmetto leaves should overlap each other, so the distance between the layers of crosspieces should be slightly less than the measurement of the palmetto leaves from the stem to the tip. This will probably be about one foot.

7. Leave room between two of the uprights for a door into your hut.

8. Tie a palmetto leaf to the bottom crosspiece. Use the end spikes on the palmetto as string by tearing them all the way to the stem (if they break off, just use the next spike.) Put both palmetto spikes over the crosspiece and then bring them back to the front of the palmetto leaf. Tie the spikes together in a square knot (right over left, then left over right) on top of the palmetto leaf.

9. Continue tying palmetto leaves on the crosspieces, overlapping them so the rain won't get in your house. Each palmetto leaf acts like a little umbrella. When you get all around the bottom level of the house, begin tying leaves on the next level up, making sure that the top leaves overlap the ones on the lower level. Continue adding levels of crosspieces and palmetto leaves until you get to the top!

10. Leave a smoke hole at the top of your house, but DO NOT build a fire in your hut! Remember that the real huts were 12 to 14 feet in diameter.