Saturday, November 21, 2009

244. The Baseline Scenarios -- Part 20: Still More Huts

There are many types of "beehive" hut in various parts of the world -- and the question is: are they related or is their shape simply a coincidence. When the designs and methods of construction are extremely similar, and they are found among hunter-gatherers or horticulturalists with traditions similar to those of HBC, then it would be difficult, I think, to argue that they all don't stem from the same ancestral source. When found in more "advanced" societies, in more elaborate forms, or built from different construction materials, then the relationship is not so clear -- but further research is certainly indicated, because the shape itself may have been passed on traditionally, even if other aspects of construction have changed. Once a baseline has been established, it's much easier to trace origins, since each example we find need be compared only with its hypothetical prototype in the baseline culture. For me, the ultimate baseline is HBC, but in many cases it might be necessary to establish intermediate baselines, from which certain "secondary" or "tertiary" traditions might have arisen. If no backward link can be established, and only then, it would be reasonable to consider the possibility of "independent invention."

This hut is clearly more elaborate than the huts we've seen from Pygmy, Bushmen and Hadza sources:

Zulu hut

But when we compare it with a more traditional type of hut from the same culture, it seems reasonable to assume that the more complex design may well have evolved from the simpler*:

Traditional Zulu Hut

This "beehive" hut is from a completely different part of the world, and made of stone rather than wood and grass or leaves:

Stone "Beehive" Hut -- Bronze Age Ireland

It's beehive shape might well be a coincidence. Or it might have evolved from an earlier type much closer to the traditional African design:

"Celtic" Hut (reconstruction) -- Wales

I'm wondering how the stone hut was constructed. If a wooden framework, similar to the framework of the traditional African huts, were constructed first, it would have been easy to position the stones against the wood, which could be easily removed once the stone structure was complete. In this way it might be possible to imagine a single line of evolution from the wood and grass hut pictured above to the stone one. On the other hand, if some other method of placing the stones had been used, then the connection wouldn't be so clear.

The same thinking could be applied to these mud huts, from the Near East:

"Beehive" Mud Huts -- Harran, Turkey

How were they constructed? If built over a wooden framework similar to that of the traditional African huts, that would establish a clear connection with HBC. If not, then one would have to consider independent invention.

[Added 11-22, 5:15 PM:
Speaking of independent invention, the Igloo certainly looks like a good example, despite its beehive shape.

On the other hand, not all Igloos are made of ice. This one appears to be covered with skins and probably had a wooden frame:

Did the ice Igloo evolve from a hut like this one? If so, it too could be traceable to HBC, why not? Skins are a natural subsitute for leaves or grass in an environment without much vegetation. And when there's no wood around to built a framework, then ice might be the only recourse. Nevertheless, the Igloo is definitely one of the more brilliant inventions of the human mind, no question. It's also an excellent example of cultural adaptation to environmental conditions. But where there is adaptation, there must also be something that's been adapted.]

*You'll notice, by the way, that for the first time I am making an assumption, something I've avoided during the entire course of this thread. Once our (hypothetical) baseline is established, on the basis of evidence and not assumptions, we are then in a much better position to make meaningful assumptions regarding associations for which solid evidence may be lacking, at least for now. Indeed, such assumptions are useful as the basis for future research.


Maju said...

The Chalcolithic "beehive hut" you mention is clearly different because:

1. It has no true dome but a false dome: the "domed" conic roof is made like an igloo (roughly) and not with the classical arched pole structure of true domed hutes or true historical domes.

2. These tholoi of Europe were used as burial sites, not homes. Though it is not impossible that they derived from similar ones from Cyprus (Khirokitia) and Kurdistan (Tell Halaf) of a much earlier period, which were used as real homes, it seems.

DocG said...

Maju, is there any evidence of how these stone huts were constructed? It seems to me that the placement of the stones to form the domelike shape would involve an extremely difficult balancing act unless there were some sort of framework already in place to set them against. Are there any records that tell us how this was done?

Maju said...

AFAIK, the tholoi are there for all to be seen. Some have lost their false domes but others are well preserved. So archaeologists have determined this fact by mere structural observation.

Tholos type buildings do have that "extremely difficult balancing act" you say as essence of their construction techniques (each row has a slightly smaller diameter than the previous one). And that is why they can't build a true dome but just a false conical one (this doesn't happen with igloos but that's because of the particular building material they use).

That's why I said before that this type of building evidences (or appears to prove) that there is conceptual discontinuity from the domed hut (which has a true dome, even if made of perishable organic materials) and the architectural dome of Etruscans and successors.

However it is not totally impossible that some domed huts still existed in Etruscan or proto-Etruscan times, inspiring their architects, but these lessons were not applied to Tholoi, maybe because, lacking mortar, they could not build the arches on stone.

I'll see if I can find some online material on this matter but you can take my word that I have read on it several times already and I'm very confident of this fact re. tholoi.

As with your case of the domed huts, there is some debate if tholoi architectural concepts were invented only once (in West Asia then) or several times independently. There are serious issues regarding time and space gaps to allow for a simple continuity model however it is also known that Cyprus in particular was active in the Mediterranean early trade and there is one or two glass beads in Iberia that evidence that there was some W-E transmediterranean trade at the time of the first Western tholoi (which pre-date the Greek ones and are likely to have inspired them).

DocG said...

Maju, take a good look at this stone beehive:

First of all, it looks to me like a true dome -- NOT conical. Second check out the jumble of stones, going every which way. I can't imagine any other way of constructing such a hut other than by piling stones almost randomly against a framework of some sort, most likely wood. The wood could easily have been removed after the stonework was complete, leaving a stable stone structure. I wonder what architects and engineers have written about this type of structure. What do you think?

Manjunatha Vadiarillat said...

Toda, a Dravidian tribe in South India are known for their unique huts. However, the tribe is relatively lighter skinned than surrounding caste population or even other Dravidian tribes (excluding some of the tribes in Nilgiri hills, where they inhabit, like Badaga and Kota). I think they were believed to have migrated from West Asia.

Maju said...

From Wikipedia, Beehive tomb:

"A beehive tomb, also known as a tholos tomb (plural tholoi), is a burial structure characterised by its false dome created by the superposition of successively smaller rings of mudbricks or, more often, stones. The resulting structure resembles a beehive, hence the traditional English name".

The conical top is obviously not any true dome, which should be semi-spherical.

However, I've noticed that some of your conically topped examples have some sort of what looks as outgoing beams, what may indicate a third different type of architecture.

Maju said...

PS. There is also a graphic example in form of section of the "Treasure of Atreus" tholos, where the structure is clearly visible.

German Dziebel said...

Great collection, Victor! Thank you. I'm not sure if the skin-covered dwelling of the Eskimo is an igloo. I think it's called tupiq. They used it once the snow is melted.

So what's adaptational here and what's driven by descent? The type of covering seems to be adaptational (leaves, skin, snow depends on the availability of resources). Is the frame (conical, with several poles leaning against each other or against a mainstay [a "lean-to type"], or round, with poles being bent around and weaved together at the top) driven by common descent? Bushmen skerms are lean-tos just like American Indian tipis or Siberian chums, while Pygmy mongulus are weaved together at the top just like Plains Indian sweatlodges. Are these differences significant, I wonder?