How Were They Built?
The structure of an Iroquois longhouse is made of posts (often from cedar trees) placed in holes dug into the ground. After vertical posts were in place, horizontal poles were attached, making a sort of grid. Other branches were bent to create the traditional curved roof. Strips of bark were braided together like a rope and used to tie all of these parts together. They were then covered with large sheets of elm bark, also tied or lashed together.
Most of the materials were harvested from what is known as a second growth forest. These are created when an older forest is destroyed by fire or when tree trunks are girdled.
They were usually 180-220 feet in length, though a couple have been uncovered that were longer than a football field or city block. Length was determined by the size of the clan that would inhabit the home. They were almost always 20 feet high and 20 feet wide. Rounded ends often served as storage areas. The only doors to the buildings were found in the two ends and were covered by skins in the winter. Later longhouses became shorter, as smaller extended families lived within them.
Running the entire length of the longhouse was a corridor that measured about ten feet wide. Two families would occupy a sort of apartment about twenty feet in length, with one family on either side of that aisle. These areas were used for family storage and as sleeping quarters. In the common area of the aisle was a fire for cooking and heat. Smoke could escape through a hole in the ceiling. These holes could be adjusted depending on the weather. They also served as skylights to bring in a bit of light as there were no windows.
Insulation on the walls came from furs and mats. These were also used to make the sleeping benches more comfortable.
To protect the property, a fence known as a palisade was built out of posts and poles along the perimeter.
To create the longhouse, the Iroquois used stone axes to cut down trees and to cut and shape the logs. A tool known as an adz is similar in shape to a hoe but made like an ax. It was used to pare rough surfaces. They also used small knives made of flint for cutting, chisels made of deer antlers to dig holes, and bone tools as awls for piercing bark.