Medieval James Himself

Medieval James Himself
Guide at Ozark Medieval Fortress

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Forging Medieval Swords

Guests on tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have asked at the blacksmith’s shop whether swords can be made on the forge there.  TheJuly20 (1) answer is that even though the blacksmith shop and forge look very primitive, just about anything made of iron can be made there. 

People think of swords as being very special because they have a big reputation, but a lot of blacksmiths would argue that it takes as much care and skill to make a good knife or even a good mason’s chisel as a sword.  Most blacksmiths now and, I believe, most blacksmiths in the Middle Ages would call a weapon that is three span (18 inches) or longer a sword and under that measurement, a knife or dagger.  Also, it is important to remember that weapon and armor making was a specialty and not done by an ordinary blacksmith.  To describe the process of making a sword would be almost as involved as describing how to make a car.  You can get into a lot of detail and there are many good books on sword and knife making.

During the Medieval period, the sword, certainly, was an important weapon and a symbol of the knights.  The sword reached maturity in its development during this time.  In the 900’s the metal was hardened and tempered.  Hardening makes the blade stronger and tempering makes it more flexible.  In the 11th Century, the Normans of Northern France developed the sword type most associated with the Crusades - with a cross guard straight and long like a Christian cross. 

June25 (15)The cross guard is the “T” of the sword, which protects the hand.  The blade is the long, sharp, dangerous part.  The grip is what is held and the pommel is the counter-weight and decoration at the end of the grip.  The cross guard, grip and pommel together are called the hilt.  When you say “bury it to the hilt”, it means the entire blade up to the cross guard. 

After saying that the forge at the Ozark Medieval Fortress is the right setup to make a sword, I figured it was best to make sure so I made one.  I used a piece of hard steel from an old buckboard wagon and fashioned a likeness of a short sword I saw in a book I have on German Medieval weapons.  In the drawing I thought the pommel was too big, but it turned out a good thing I followed that old illustration carefully because the balance ended up just right.  Lessons like that are a big part of the “archeology in reverse” of the Ozark Medieval Fortress.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

Medieval Sheep Shearing Scissors

In the Wool Cottage at the Ozark Medieval Fortress guests see several Medieval spring-type scissors.  They often ask whether they are authentic June3 (26)to the Middle Ages and whether they are used to shear the nearby sheep.  The answer to both questions is “Yes”.   In addition, the good wife uses these scissors to cut the yarn.

Spring scissors like these go back to the ancient Egyptians, who made them out of bronze.  The Romans had not only iron spring scissors, but also developed a pivot scissor that is the ancestor of the modern scissors.  The Roman pivot-type used crossing blades like modern hand held grass shears.  By modern, I mean like the kind Grandpa used to trim the edges of his lawn on hands and knees. 

July17 (1)Medieval spring scissors were made of iron by the blacksmith.  The middle of the metal, which is the bottom of the scissors, is made of high carbon iron that is heated, cooled and heated again to make it like spring steel.  That gives these scissors their name.  In the middle on both sides are handles that let a person squeeze the scissor to make it cut.  At the ends, or top, are the blades, which are separate.  The tension between the blades is created by a slight twist in the spring end. 

These scissors were not especially difficult to make and the design stayed the same until the late Middle Ages.  They were, therefore, well known by common people and put to daily use in the home, on the farm and in the castles.  On the other hand, it is unbelievable how much work it takes to squeeze these scissors over and over on a job such as shearing a sheep.  Once again it is easy to underestimate the effort that went into something as common to us as cutting with scissors.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Medieval Sickles and Scythes

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress guests have asked about the tools used to harvest crops during the Middle Ages.  Unfortunately July13 (7)for the peasants, there had been improvements in crop planting tools (such as the plow) but none in crop harvesting.  Basically, they had to deal with the harvesting of grain crops such as wheat and barley by using a hand-held sickle in one hand and grasping the stems in the other.  That meant bending over and cutting almost at ground level.  Ouch!  For hay crops, which is cutting grass and similar crops for winter animal feed, peasants commonly are pictured in Medieval drawings using a scythe.  That is a blade which is straighter and heavier than that of a sickle and is mounted on a long, heavy handle.  A scythe handle required the use of two hands but was swung while standing erect.  That sounds better, but still a lot of “back work”.  Some of the blades for scythes were made curved and light like a sickle blade and with lighter handles.  Then and now these were used for weed control.  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress this weed cutting tool is what is used most because to date we have not had any grain

crops or hay to cut. 

The history of sickles and scythes goes way back into the ancient world.  In the Middle Ages they were also used as weapons.  Peasants were sometimes called upon to fight and these tools were what they had available.  Symbolically, the sickle came to represent the peasant farmer and the scythe to represent the “Grim Reaper” or death.  There was no set standard angle, length or curve to the blades.  Each blacksmith had his own style.  The most popular blade in use at the Ozark Medieval Fortress was made by Rasmus, a volunteer from Denmark.  What is amazing is that in the modern day of gas-powered weed cutters, this ancient tool is still in use all over the world.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Medieval Castle Construction and Life

Guests at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have askedJune22 (1) me to put together a video of my favorite photos and video clips taken over the more than 850 tours I have led there.  It has been a lot of work, but it is finished and I am pleased to say is now available.  It is in the gift shop at the Ozark Medieval Fortress and the best way to get it is to come visit the castle.  I understand some people may not be able to do that, so if you would like a copy you can call the Fortress’ Gift Shop and order one by phone if you have a credit card.  The cost is $20 plus Arkansas sales tax and $5 for shipping and handling.  The DVD is about 25 minutes long and a very pleasant look at Medieval castle construction and life.  It is also a great memento of a visit to the Middle Ages. 

Below is a clip of the first 2 minutes or so of the 25 minute DVD.  The phone number of the castle is 870-436-7625. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Medieval Doctors

On special occasions, guests at the Ozark Sept6 (45)Medieval Fortress have enjoyed  presentations about Medieval health care.  Sometimes guests have asked about Medieval doctors and health care at the Good Wife’s area where she talks about healing herbs. 

People of the Middle Ages were very much aware of the value of the healing herbs.  On tour, this is explained by the Good Wife with details about the different plants and how they were used. One of the three major purposes of the garden itself is the growing of medicinal herbs.  (The other two are food and dyes).  In addition to the general common knowledge of herbs, the village Good Wife was available for consultation, as were physicians.  There were also “specialists” like midwives to deliver babies, barbers to bleed patients, blacksmiths to pull teeth and monks to determine if the problem was natural or a punishment from God. 

Sept6 (50)In the 13th Century, a trained physician was rare and respected.  In Northern Europe there were only two medical schools: one at Paris and another at Montpelier.  Those schools called for eight years of coursework and an additional year with an experienced doctor.  A doctor’s license would only then be issued and it was done in church in the name of the Pope.  Although in the modern day, the Christian church and physicians reject them,  medicine in the Middle Ages consisted of aspects of astrology, numerology and the consideration of the body‘s “humors”, which were phlegm, blood, bile and black bile. 

On the other hand, what we would consider modern medicine was beginning.  In the Medieval, hospitals began to appear and were supported by wealthy sponsors.  Although bacteria was not understood, there was the beginning of the concept of isolation of the sick.  There were several thousand leper colonies in France alone.  Doctors advised that war wounds be washed in a boiled, salty herbal tea, which meant that without knowing it, they had sterilized the medicine.  They also advised using honey on the wound to assist in healing, which we now know has antibacterial properties.  Garlic was prescribed to help with the black bile humor, which we know now to be antibiotic.

However, doctors thought that bleeding a patient or the use of leaches was beneficial.  This was commonly done by barbers as well. Doctors were at great risk of contamination from their patients.  It was June24 (22)a common medical practice for a doctor to taste a patient’s urine to determine the sugar content. Yuck!

Health care is talked about a lot today, but no matter what the problems that we have, it is worthwhile to remember the benefits we enjoy compared to the people of the Middle Ages.  We have a good blacksmith at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, but I have to say there is no way I would want him to use those tongs on one of my teeth!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Medieval Wheelbarrows and Handcarts

It is common for guests on tour at the Ozark March30 (16)Medieval Fortress to see several kinds of wheelbarrows and hand carts.  They often ask if the modern type of single-wheeled barrow is authentic.  There seems to be no question for them that the two wheeled hand cart dates back to the Medieval.  Actually, they both do. 

Barrows with one wheel go back to ancient China, but the wheel was in the middle, front to back, as opposed to left to right.  Europeans, especially France, England and Flanders, improved on the design by putting the single June8 (26)wheel in the very front.  This is the design of wheelbarrows today.  It is certainly practical and well balanced and allows a single person to move a lot more bulk and weight than by hand.  There are references to these kinds of wheelbarrows in the early 13th century (the period of the Ozark Medieval Fortress).

Wheelbarrows with one wheel were called “civeria rotalis”.  The wheelbarrows sometimes had nails with large heads driven in the wooden wheel to avoid excessive wear.  Sometimes the wheel was given an iron band, or tire, like a wagon wheel.  May25 (5)

Barrowmen also used what we would call “stretchers”, which had no wheels and took two or four men to carry.  In the Middle Ages these were called “baring-barwes”.  Wheelbarrows freed up one or three men for other jobs on the site.  The experience of the masons at the Ozark Medieval Fortress has been that the wheelbarrow has not been suitable for the heavy loads of stone, and they have, therefore, preferred the stouter two wheeled cart or the baring-brawe.  The carpenters and garden workers, on the other hand, with lighter loads and often working alone have preferred the wheelbarrow.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Medieval Squires

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress many guests who haMay31Too (12)ve an interest in knights have also  asked what exactly was a squire.  The short answer is that a squire in the Middle Ages was a necessary middle step between a page (who was a boy) and a knight (who was a fully trained master in the skills of  war).  It was generally from the time that they were between the ages of 12 to 14 and age 21.

The word “squire” comes from the French “escuyer” or “esquire”, meaning “shield bearer”.   July3 (27)That idea goes back to the Old Testament and the ancient world.  By the 1700’s in England it came to mean a country gentleman and in the United States is was a title for the Justice of the Peace. 

A squire’s duties included care of the armor, helping the knight don his armor, attending the knight at table, taking care of the knight’s horses and related equipment, keeping the knight’s clothes in good repair, running errands of whatever nature ordered by the knight, accompanying his knight throughout all the dangers of combat and serving as night guard.  His training included all aspects of knighthood.  Besides the obvious military June9 (13)skills of the knight, he also was expected to learn character and chivalry, heraldry, court etiquette, and even dancing.  These skills were learned by watching the knight and practicing with other squires and his knight.  Imagine all the skills when we are talking about everything from siege engines and horsemanship to the game of chess and how to appropriately address a lady. 

In addition to all the learning and work in serving his knight, the squire had to find time to make his own chain mail and weapons.  June9 (10)Not to mention find time to sleep!

It is worthwhile to remember that the castle, besides being the residence of the knight/lord and haven for the vassals was also a school for knights.  The squire learned the use of the sword, ax, mace, lance and dagger.  It is also important to remember that the squire was not just the teenager in the background, but rather was in as much danger during the battle as the knight.  At a mid-sized castle such as the Ozark Medieval Fortress, squires would be considered a valuable asset.


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Medieval Horses

Guests at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have often asked what kind of horse we use and whether it is authentic to the Middle Ages.  Sept20 (14)The horse, named “Honey”, that they are referring to is a Belgian draft horse.  The short answer is that this is probably the most authentic Medieval horse that we could possibly have. 

Logically, the Belgian draft horse originated in Belgium.  It has become the most popular breed of draft horse in the United States and their breed association credibly asserts that the Belgian is the most direct descendant of the Medieval “Great Horse” of the knights.  When talking about horses of the Middle Ages, it is difficult because today we have common terms of specific breeds, but then they did not sort horses by breeds.  Instead, they described different groups of horses by use or purpose.  The “Great Horse” or “charger” or in the French, “destrier” was a war horse.  Riding horses were called “palfreys”.  They also had “cart” horses and “pack” horses. 

Some historians claim that the Spanish Andalusian is more like a war horse than any other modern breed.  Maybe this is true, because there are references to knights in July14 (101)battle remounting their horse.  That would be difficult to do on a tall, Belgian draft horse, but it was an advantage in battle to be on a taller, stronger horse.  Although not the fastest, the Belgian is tall and strong and we know was available to the people of the Middle Ages, whether a knight, squire to carry the knight’s gear, or a noble for transportation, agriculture or construction like at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.  Remember, also, there were innovations during the Middle Ages that included the nailed horse shoe, improved saddles, stirrups and the horse collar.

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, Honey is a part of the construction team.  She hauls the sand, lime, rocks and logs to the castle.  She grades the trail for the guests.  She hauls the feed for the other animals.  She is also part of the presentation of the historical Medieval era to the guests, who enjoy meeting her.  She definitely earns her keep.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Medieval Tournaments of Knights

On tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress we see a billboard Knightsdepicting tournaments painted by Solange Mirat, one of the founding partners.  This prompts a discussion of knights’ tournaments in the Middle Ages.  In addition, guests have been treated to demonstrations of tournament skills at the castle.  I like to point out that there were no tournaments in the low Middle Ages, although there was still trial by combat. 

The first tournaments were actually unregulated melees of a mob of knights fighting June9 (16)across fields and into villages, sometimes killing serfs that got in the way and doing injury that started blood feuds.  One of the first such melees was in 843 at Worms, Germany.  These were seen as training for the knights.  That concept was not new, the Romans had military games and, of course, everyone knows about the Roman chariot races. 

Tournaments became regulated by the 11th century.  They were big events and very popular with the knights and with the people.  June9 (15)They held at any time during the year except during Lent.  Even from the beginning, they were not considered proper to be held on a Friday or Sunday for religious reasons.  In 1130, however, tournaments had a setback when Pope Innocent II forbade Christian burial for anyone killed in a tournament.  Richard the Lionheart encouraged tournaments in England, but Louis IX (King of France during Ozark Medieval Fortress historical dates) outlawed tournaments in France after 1260. 

In the meantime, tournaments during our historical time are at their peak.  Volunteers expert at knightly skills have displayed them at the Ozark Medieval Fortress on numerous occasions.  The most recent demonstration has been of sword-and-shield tournament combat on foot.  I was first impressed with the discomfort and weight of the knights’ gear, but after seeing the combat, the physical effort amazed me.  And this, even though it was in fun.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Medieval Dancing

At the Ozark Medieval Fortress the main focus is on the Medieval Dancing5work of building a castle, but many guests ask also about leisure time in the Medieval and if there was any.  There is no question that the people worked hard like we picture our American colonists.  People who work hard also know how to take a little time to relax.  Dancing and socializing were a part of that leisure time in the Middle Ages. 

We have to remember, however, that the customs were strict and regulated for young people on everything.  A boy could not casually take a girl’s hand or touch her elbow.  Unmarried young people were chaperoned.  Communities were small and everyone knew each other.  Reputations were valued.  But dancing was an acceptable chance to hold hands, socialize and laugh together and enjoy each other’s company.  Much more enjoyable than seeing each other at church mass or across the fields at work.  Unlike the free-form dancing by separate couples of today, dancing in the Middle Ages was more structured and done in a group.

There were no nightclubs.  Although the local lord could call an impromptu special Medieval Dancing2occasion or a group of common people could gather at a road crossing, the most typical place for dances was at fairs.  In London, for example, four fairs were held every year.  They were on the anniversary of the ordination of the Blessed Ambrose, the feast of the Blessed Lawrence, on the Ascension of the Blessed Mary, Mother of God and on the feast of the Blessed Bartholomew.  From this list it is pretty obvious that the Church was a big influence and presence at the festivals and fairs. 

Guests at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have been able to see and participate in an excellent demonstration of Medieval and Renaissance dancing by the Dance Club from the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville, Arkansas.  What I noticed during the dancing was that our guests smiled and laughed as much as the dancers.  It is easy to see why the fairs with the music and dancing were a highlight of Medieval life.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Medieval Horse Collar

Another authentic aspect of the Ozark Medieval May22 (9)Fortress is the use of work horses in castle construction.  The horse collar was an important invention in the Middle Ages.  Before that, the harness just had a strap under the horse’s throat that could choke them.  The collar rests on their strong shoulders and lets them pull much better.  Most guests are familiar with the horse collar of today even if it is just because of the Budweiser Clydesdale horses and wagon. 

A lot of guests, however, are from the city and have never seen a draft horse in harness up close.  It is a good opportunity when visiting the Ozark Medieval Fortress to take the time to check out the Belgian draft horse named “Honey”.  Many people, even from the county, are so excited to meet the horse, they forget to take time to notice the harness.  This is especially so if she is working and away from the stable where the antique horse collars are on display.

The collar in daily use at the castle is the type that has been in use since the American colonial days.  It is a leather collar that has been stuffed with straw or wood shavings.  It has shaped hames, which are metal brackets that are strapped May22 (3)around her neck in a groove in the collar.  Some old harnesses have wooden hames but in America they have always been separate from the collar.

In the Medieval, the early horse collars were a single big piece that included the collar and surrounding hames.  In order to get past the horse’s head, they have to open.  The modern collar is flexible enough that because it opens on the top it can be slipped in place.  The Medieval collar was much stiffer and although the hames opened, the collar had to be more closely fitted to the horse.  The modern hames are connected at the top and bottom with leather straps.  The Medieval hames and collar May22 (5)have a blacksmith-made pin on one side and ring to receive the pin on the other.  After the pin is in the ring, a piece of leather was run through a hole in the end of the pin to hold it in place.  On a modern harness, the heavy pulling tug or trace lines are attached to the hames with a metal pin.  On the Medieval collar, these lines are attached to a blacksmith-made pigtail or ring secured to the collar with large wooden pins.

I encourage all visitors to the Ozark Medieval Fortress to take their time and see all there is available.  That includes the display of antique horse collars at the Stable.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Medieval Guns

On tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress guests oftengunpowder ask about gunpowder and Medieval guns and cannons.  Gunpowder was invented by the Chinese during the Tang Dynasty, about the 900’s, but it was used just for fireworks and was not known in Europe.  Black powder was separately invented in Europe by a German monk named Berthold Schwartz in 1315 and was quickly used to make primitive firearms.  This, of course, is after the time frame of the Ozark Medieval Castle (1226-1246).  The castle has, however, had the great opportunity to have demonstrations of Medieval guns as well as period weapons (swords, crossbows, etc.) by the Springfield, MO Bramble School of Defense on special occasions.  

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Medieval Sharpening Stone

The tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress goes to the stone carvers’ hut.  Although all the carved stones are a lot of work, one that has been especially impressive to me has been the sharpening stone.  In 2010, the first season, the blacksmith began with a sharpening stone from France.  By August he had asked the stone carvers to plan ahead and begin carving a new stone for sharpening tools.  The old one had worn away and was doomed to become just a handheld stone rather than a rotating sharpening stone.  Aug17 (50)

The stone carvers found a suitable stone.  The carter transported it to the stone carvers’ hut and they went to work shaping the stone.  It is thick.  It is heavy.  It had to be meticulously carved to be round.  Finally, it had to have the center drilled through for the blacksmith to attach it to the trough and turning arm.  The blacksmith customized new mounting brackets to balance the stone. 

The cooperation between the skilled craftsmen and their interdependency is one of the authentic aspects of the Ozark Medieval Fortress.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Medieval Construction - The 13-Knot Rope

May24 (1) “How did they measure on the job in the Middle Ages?”  “What is the 13-Knot rope?”  Guests at the Ozark Medieval Fortress have asked these questions and many have added the request to give some examples of how to use the 13-knot rope.  The Middle Ages predates the use of the metric system in France.  That was introduced after the French Revolution which is after the American Revolution.  They used the standard system which now people in the U.S. think means “American”.  It doesn’t.  It means human system.  The “inch” was the width of a man’s thumb.  The “palm” was four fingers. The “hand” was the width of the flat hand including the thumb and is still used to measure the height of horses.  People were smaller back then and the “hand” was four inches.

May24 (2) The heart of the system was the extended tip of the thumb to the extended tip of the little finger.  In French, that’s the “empan”, a term heard often at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.  In English, it is called the “span”, and in German it is “die Spanne”.  That is the measurement of the gaps between the knots of the 13-knot rope.  Of course, the “empan” of people differed, but on a carpentry job the empan of the Master Carpenter was the measure for all the ropes used on the job.  On a masonry project, such as the castle, it was the empan of the Master Mason.  At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, the empan is that of Michel Guyot, the French founder of the project.  At the rope maker hut, there is a board with pegs set at his empan so all the 13-knot ropes they make for the laborers are the same.

Medieval women thought in terms of the span because their lives were so tied to making textiles and tunics.  The benefit of the span is you can “walk” your hand in making measurements.  Many elderly ladies on tour have said they remember their grandmothers measuring with the span.  Incidentally later in the 1800’s with steam power at the mills and plentiful material ladies measured by the “yard”, from their nose to extended hand.  Men more commonly measured by the two-span, or “foot”.  That, of course, is 12 inches.  Most U.S. men still see things by the foot, except for some teenagers who play football and see things by the yard.  Three-span is a “cubit”, which was also considered the distance from a man’s elbow to fingertips.  In the Bible, Noah used the cubit to measure the Ark.

It is likely that Noah did not just use his arm to measure the beams for the Ark, but also a rope.  Use of a rope to measure goes way back.  In the Egyptian pyramids, workers are pictured using a rope to measure with eleven knots, creating ten spaces.  By the Middle Ages, we know they used a rope of 13 knots, creating twelve spaces and that the spacing was the “empan”.  Basically, the reason for twelve spaces was that it was as high as the peasants and laborers could be expected to reliably count.  There were no schools, but they were in Church each Sunday.  In the Christian church, twelve is an important number.  For example, there are twelve disciples. 

The 13-knot rope in the Middle Ages was used as a tape measure, geometric compass and protractor.  As a tape measure, a laborer could measure a stone, for example, to be two span, one hand and an inch.  The opening of a door might be six span or a log might be cut at the full twelve span or even using the ropes of two men end-to-end for a full 24-span.  The walls at the Ozark Medieval Fortress are 10-span wide.

May21 (18)The 13-knot rope uses a loop as the first knot, which makes it easy to use as a geometric compass.  The loop can by an eye-splice or a simple overhand knot.  The curve of an arc, or even a full circle was easily made by using the end loop of the 13-knot rope as a center and selecting the appropriate knot for the radius.  The builders knew the value of arches from the Romans and many were used in the Middle Ages.  Remember also that a new technique took over the whole French theory of building in the 1100’s called the “ribbed vault”.  That’s what they used on the cathedrals, which is a whole different story, but my point is that ropes were used for these, too.  Circles, of course, were important for the round towers as well as the making of wheels at the carpenter and blacksmith shops. 

May21 (15) As a protractor, two workers would use the 13-knot rope to create geometric shapes.  A steep (isosceles) triangle can be made with 5-5-2 spaces.  Ship builders used this for the bows of the ships.  Roofers used this for steeples.  In general, it was known as a brace.  That is a term that now makes people think of a medical brace.  Old Western novels will say things like: “the outlaw held a brace of six-guns”, meaning two guns.  The brace was what was used where today Americans might use a post.  A brace takes longer to make, but the Medieval carpenters made things strong and a brace imitates the architecture of a man standing on two feet.  They felt that design came from God and was worth imitating.  The rope of one carpenter laid out the triangle.  The rope of the second carpenter was laid up the middle of the triangle and they were able to mark the steep angles necessary for the cuts to make the two beams, or legs, meet perfectly at the top. 

May21 (10) A bridge triangle or roof  triangle (equilateral) appears with three sides of four spaces each (4-4-4).  This triangle was used when a wider base than a “brace” was needed. Such as on bridges.  This triangle also makes an excellent steep angle for roofs that won’t leak whether covered with tile in France, slate in Germany or thatch in England.  Remember that in the Middle Ages they did not preorder roof trusses, but rather cut their own and therefore had attics.  If you look at a picture even now of a city like Amsterdam you see steep roofs of this angle.  The steep roofed carpenter’s hut at the Ozark Medieval Fortress uses this triangle and it is expected that it will be used on the castle tower roofs.

May21 (4) Modifying the triangle to ten spaces with four on the base and three on each side (3-4-3) gives the famous Egyptian pyramid triangle.  This was used for roofs, bridge bracing and even the plumb bob level of the Middle Ages.  This is the roof angle that has been used on the Visitor Center at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.

May21 (8) A right angle (90 degrees), which is so valuable as a poor man’s square can be made with the 13-knot rope easily.  It is 3-4-5 spaces.  This crates a right triangle.  With the right angle triangle, they created square doors, tables, shutters and windows.  Ship builders could have true perpendicular thwarts and masts.  The buildings at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, such as the blacksmith shop, carpenter shop and stable/barn were laid out with this triangle and are, therefore, square in the corners.  The beams for the elevation of the pit saw near the carpenter shop were cut perfectly using the 13-knot rope as well.

The laborers of the Middle Ages were primitive but skilled, industrious and clever.  We often underestimate them.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Medieval Stone: Quarry to Castle

May14 (3)On tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress many guests have asked about the quarry and if it is big enough to provide all the rocks for the castle and how the stone is quarried and carried to the castle site.

A first look at the wall of limestone at the quarry shows how beautiful the Arkansas grey-white stone looks.  This is because May5 (17)the limestone has magnesium and is actually called dolostone.  It  is a hard limestone that is perfect for the castle.  It does mean a  lot of extra work for the blacksmith to keep the chisels sharp and make the metal wedges for the quarrymen.  A first look also makes the quarry seem small because the castle project is so big.  It takes a lot of stone to build a castle, but using techniques from 1226, the rocks are not needed all at once and there is no worry about running out of rocks in the Ozarks. 

The committee of French Medieval historians who are the authenticators for the castle authorized in the beginning (in 2009) the use modern drills and explosives under United States specifications to open the quarry.  That can be seen in the drill holes which are large Sept2 (34)and far apart.  In the Medieval to drill the holes, the quarrymen used a metal star bit, like a long chisel drill, which was struck with a mallet, turned, then struck again.  This bit was as thick as a man’s thumb - not 2-½” across like a modern drill.  Also, in the Middle Ages the drill holes would be one “hand” (4”) apart.  The holes could be either filled with water to freeze over the winter, or filled with packed dry wood then watered for expansion, or split away with wedges pounded into the fissures.  The historians’ authorization saved a year’s work just on preparations in the quarry.

May14 (8) The large blocks of stone that were initially loosened from the cliff side were broken into slabs approximately one “span” (6-8”) thick.  This was done by following the sedimentary lines of natural weakness in the stone.  First, wedges were driven into the cracks and then metal rods were used to complete the break.  Those slabs were then turned into usable and moveable stone for the castle wall.  The largest were used for the first lintel stones over doors as well as the anchor stones in the wall.  Large stones continue to be used as the anchor stones as well as the rough stones for the stone carvers to turn  into specialty pieces around the doors and arrow loops.  The slabs are also split into face stones for the castle using a French tool called a “chase masse”, a Medieval French stone cutting tool which looks like a hammer but is not.  One side is placed against the rock and the other side is then struck with a hammer.  This causes a series of shock waves to go through the rock and split it.

May4 (36) The rocks that are man-sized, which means the size one man can lift,  are loaded into a large wheeled horse cart for transport to the castle.  Larger stones are rolled onto a wooden sled and then dragged where needed by the horse and carter.  All this takes teamwork between the quarrymen, masons, stone carvers, carter and, of course, the horse. 

May4 (34) Once the stone is at the wall, the workers at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, like those of the Middle Ages, have the choice of using the Roman tread wheel crane to lift the stone or the use of ramps.  Even though the crane is amazing and will be necessary in the future as the walls get taller, ramps are preferred by the men because if a rope breaks the consequences are much less if the big stone is on a ramp.  The ramps are also much easier to move to where they are needed.  The large stones are a lot of work to move and downright scary to fingers and toes, but make the castle stronger and are worth the extra effort and danger. 

Once on the wall the various sized stones are arranged by May14 (12)the masons for the proper alignment.  It looks like a jigsaw puzzle.  Their skills are impressive.  They have to be aware of the shape, strength and interlocking connections of each stone.  They use some as face stones that show to the outside, some as anchor stones that show but also reach into the wall to tie it together, and some as fill and leveling stones.  When they have it all set up, they still have to come back and mortar it together.  They must be sure the wall is not only level on top, but plumb on both the inside and the outside.  That means that each stone had to first be split from the quarry cliff wall, then split into a slab, then broken into a usable stone, then lifted into the wagon or sled, then hauled and lifted out, then lifted or dragged up to the top of the wall and finally available for the mason to move into place, arrange or rearrange and then

Monday, May 2, 2011

Medieval Roof Tiles

Although the Ozark Medieval Fortress is in the process oMarch31 (4)f building walls, many guests are intrigued by the prospect of the work necessary for the future roofs.  Maybe this is because last year and this year have been rainy, but it may be because even a first look at the painting of the 2030 completed castle makes the roof seem like a daunting job.  It is.  This is not just because of the 12,000 tile that will have to be made by the potter, it is also because of the wooden framework the carpenters will have to build.  That framework will be on top of the 45 to 70-foot high stone tower walls. It will be steep, dangerous and will require meticulous measurements to keep the rows of tile straight.

April10Too (4)Fired clay roof tiles were well established as the standard castle roof in Medieval France.  They go back to the ancient Greeks who used tile in an “S” shape.  Clay tiles were expensive but fireproof, so a better choice than thatch.  The Romans also used clay tile and the French word for tile, “tuile” came from the Latin “tegula” meaning roof tile.  The Romans used an arched tile curved by the potters over their leg or a log. 

Clay tiles are heavy and, therefore, the stone walls of Greek temples, Roman buildings and Medieval castles were necessary for the strength needed to support them. 

The Medieval French style of tile is flat, or April10Too (3)“beaver tail” shingle.  This is the kind being made at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.  The clay is placed in a mold and the potter fashions a “hook” at the top which will grasp the board of the framework.  Pictured is a tile in such a form as well as a photograph of fired, finished roof tile on a sample section of roof framework.  They are not nailed.  There are no holes for rope to lash them to each other or the framework.  There will be no glue.  Their own weight and interlocking design will keep them in place.  The roof, of course, will seem steep by modern standards and cannot be walked on. 

Roofing companies still use authentic clay tiles and imitations because clay roof tiles create a quality, fireproof roof.  They are not common, however, because of their cost.  Still, it is good to remember that although the hand made tiles were a lot of work, they have lasted in the weather of Europe for hundreds of years.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Medieval Paper Making

The tour at the Ozark Medieval Fortress our first year of 2010 only mentioned the significance of paper making to the Medieval world, but in 2011 we are adding a paper making factory and have a complete model of a water wheel powered paper making factory of the Middle Ages.  As a guide, I think this is very worthwhile.  We tend to forget the importance of the little things in our lives.  Paper was as important an innovation during the Medieval as smart phones have been to us. 

April27 (1)bThis development at the Ozark Medieval Fortress is the result of the efforts of Jean Marc Mirat.  In fact, he is one of the founding investors and man, together with his wife Solange, who invited the French to come to Arkansas with this project.  Pictured is Jean Marc with the detailed historical model of the Medieval paper factory that he meticulously built.  This is the type of living history that is a valued aspect of the Ozark Medieval Fortress.

April27 (28) In Europe before the Middle Ages and the introduction of paper, documents were on parchment, which is thin animal skin.  That made it expensive and time consuming and manuscripts are rare.  With the coming of paper, historians have the benefit of a much more complete look at life in the Medieval.  Instead of an occasional legal or religious document, there are thousands of surviving papers from the Middle Ages.  This includes financial legers, correspondence, poems, literary writings, instructions on such common things as the way to best spread manure and even love letters. 

April27 (17) Papermaking began in China and spread to the East.  It came to Europe in the 10th Century through the Muslim world.  This early paper was made from crushed linen rags.  The first confirmed paper in Western Europe was a deed dated 1102 in Sicily.  Papermaking spread from Italy to Burgundy to France and then England.  One of the earliest paper factories was in the Herault district of France in 1189.

Paper started out as being crushed linen rags, but tApril27 (15)he Europeans found that it was more practical to crush bark or wood pulp.  The fibers are mashed into a vat of water to form a slurry like a vanilla milk shake.  The pulp is transferred from the vats to flat molds made of a wooden frame and a fine screen.  A press is used to flatten the fibers, cause them to stick together like felt and drain moisture.  As the sheets dry they can be placed in stacks with felt between or they can be directly hung to dry like clothes on a line.  This sounds like a very involved process, but once the equipment is in place and running, it can be very efficient.  It was definitely an improvement over processing parchment animal skin!

April27 (18)In addition to the details of the paper making itself, it is important to consider the resulting impact on life in the Middle Ages.  We now have email, cell phones and texting, but the people of the Medieval witnessed the beginning of the widespread written word .  Remember, however, that it was still handwritten.  The movable Gutenberg press did not appear until 1451, late in the Middle Ages.  The addition of a papermaking factory is an exciting expansion at the Ozark Medieval Fortress.