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What is an Iroquois longhouse?

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Quick Answer

An Iroquois longhouse was a traditional home for Native American tribes living in southern New England, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. A longhouse was constructed of wooden poles covered in bark that housed as many as 20 families simultaneously. A typical Iroquois longhouse ranged from 180 to 220 feet long, although some were nearly 400 feet in length.

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Full Answer

The Iroquois longhouse was the center of family life for the clan. An extended family of children, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins all lived in a longhouse. All of the relatives were related to the mother's side of the family. Each clan that lived in a village had its own longhouse.

An average Iroquois longhouse was 20 feet wide and 20 feet tall. Stiff trees were used to build vertical poles and bendable wood became the curved poles that supported the bark roof. Curved, green wood was lashed to stiff, vertical wood to connect the parts together.

The interior of an Iroquois longhouse was divided into 20-foot-long segments. Two families lived in each segment, and 10 feet of the space in between the families served as a common area. This central aisle was the cooking area, and a fire pit was located there. A hole above the fire pit allowed smoke to escape, and bark covered the hole in bad weather. In each compartment, families slept on cots about a foot off the ground. Shelving for storage of clothes and firewood surrounded the cot.

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