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The Dwarves of Zanzibar (no, not the real place I just liked the name) have long lived within the Great Red Desert among its mountains and arid plains.

But I've noticed one issue with burrowing in the desert especially a large sink hole design I planned for my dwarves (their settlements would be designed like a sink hole with a large opening for light and stairs that wind down the hole to its surface. The houses would be built on the (cliff?) sides of the hole). This hole would probably fill up with sand rather quickly as the sands start pouring into the hole or gradually over time as the wind moves sand into the hole.

How could my dwarves prevent their beloved hovels from filling up with sand? Bonus: a method that finds a use for the sand caught would be nice.

Note:

although they are dwarves these sink hole settlements would be comparable to villages so nothing too crazy or expensive.

Dwarves have access to hide from camel's, goats, etc as well as stone, a small amount of wood (due to parts of their desert being brush and having a few scrappy trees), and lots of twine and rope.

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    $\begingroup$ Use dragon mucus to cement the sand into place as floors, walls, and ceilings. Or maybe elf offal. $\endgroup$ – user535733 May 17 at 14:41
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    $\begingroup$ @user535733 the dragon mucous works pretty well because I plan bed my dwarves to have decent relations with dragons $\endgroup$ – Celestial Dragon Emperor May 17 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ Remember that most deserts are not all that sandy. For instance, the US Great Basin. While there are some sandy spots, e.g. blm.gov/visit/sand-mountain-recreation-area there are many more that are not. including this atlasobscura.com/places/lunar-crater which would be a pretty good "sinkhole" for your dwarves. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 17 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ Digging in sand is no more safe (or successful) than digging in water. Digging holes, tunnels, caves, etc., requires strong solid materials to hold the desired shape (even just a simple hole will quickly fill in and become, at best, a sand pit) and to prevent undesirable intrusions (more sand, water, etc.). If the material being excavated is not solid/strong enough to provide this, then you need to either strengthen it (cement, etc.) or bring in other materials that will do the job. Only options I can think of. $\endgroup$ – RBarryYoung May 18 at 17:56

11 Answers 11

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Build an elevated surface structure. Many ancient middle eastern civilizations built their houses with doors on top of the buildings to prevent invaders from getting in, but this also helps prevent sand from getting in too. Ideally, the dwarves will build the entrance at the top of a natural hill or ridgeline. This has many benefits including keeping more sand out, making your entrance more defensible, and if this ridge-line is near a water source, they could use this elevation difference to help build a well that won't risk overflowing and flooding their homes.

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    $\begingroup$ If they're anything like the dwarves from Dwarf Fortress, they can still manage to flood their homes. Only it'll be with magma. $\endgroup$ – Spitemaster May 17 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ Conveniently, the well will also provide a natural source of evaporative cooling, which is important in a desert. $\endgroup$ – Kevin May 18 at 1:38
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What you need is a shovel.

Or more specifically lots of shovels, lots of dwarves with shovels for that matter.

What you've described is very similar to an ant's nest and any footage of ants will show you that cleaning out and clearing the entrances is a full time job. Any time the wind blows it blows sand down the hole, then along come the ants and clear it out again. It's not a solvable problem any more than keeping your house clean is a solvable problem, it's just on the list of chores and that much harder a job because you're in a desert without a door.

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Even human villages need maintenance to not be covered by dust. See what happens to abandoned cities: they end buried in relatively short time.

So, what your dwarves need is just continuous and constant maintenance service.

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Glass and/or Lava

The Dwarves of Zanzibar dig just like any other dwarf to find valuable gems and ores. In addition to this, they have exceptional forging abilities. To compare DoZ with any other dwarf is like looking at night and day. Mountain dwarves are dirty and dank looking. DoZ are bedazzled in shimmering light from the glass weapons and armor they create.

Optionally, if the top of the hole is small enough, they could even use the glass to stop up the top of the hole. Otherwise, Lava:

If the top of the hole is too big because you are describing a the sinkhole looking variety (e.g. Sarlacc-looking like Return of the Jedi), you could have the bottom of the sinkhole be lava that eats up anything thrown into it. Any sand that falls on the doorstep of a DoZ is just swept down toward the center until it falls into the lava. The same lava is used for heating the forges for their other endeavors.

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    $\begingroup$ I sort of like the idea of dwarves on the first floor sweeping sand down onto the porch of their downstairs neighbors, who annoyingly then sweep it down again, and so on... $\endgroup$ – Sam Weaver May 19 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ I was going to answer 'make glass out of sand and use the glass as sand barriers'', but you beat me to it. You don't even need lava for heat; once you have some glass, you can make giant glass lenses/mirrors and use solar heat to melt sand (assuming your dorfs can tolerate the horrible outside and light). $\endgroup$ – Mark Ripley May 19 at 4:28
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking lava at the bottom of the pit would be the way to go too. $\endgroup$ – Swiss Frank May 20 at 4:38
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Active use of Dune Forming.

https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/dune/

Dunes form behind obstacles where the sand isnt blown away as fast. The dwarves create a range of hide fences around their hole, preferably several layers of it. This causes Dunes to form around their hole and reduces the amount of sand that will blow into the hole.

The dwarves now need less maintenance in the form of shoveling sand up and out of their hole. After a while a Dune will get too big, or the wind will change and blow sand from the existing Dunes into the hole. So the dwarves will keep an eye on the size and distance of the Dunes. Dunes close to the hole get relocated when they are still small, larger Dunes farther away will be relocated later as their sand will still be partially caught by the Dunes closer to the hole.

Relocation will happen to an at the time downwind section, where the sand is placed on large tapestries of animal hide. The wind is allowed to flap the hides, launching the sand on top in the air and causing it to fly away faster.

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Combine general village maintenance with improving defences and an entertainment form for the kids:

After a storm, everyone sweeps up the sand that has gathered near their homes, and begins dumping it into one of two carts that are connected by a rope around a pulley at the top of the basin.

Kids run up to the top, pile into the other cart till they outweigh the load of sand, and ride to the bottom. Sand gets dumped around the outer rim of the village, and forms dunes that are difficult to climb.


If the village has access to a coal mine, then some of the sand may become a source of glass. They just sweep it into bins in the village as it blows in, rather than lugging it from outside.


If the village has access to clays and other materials from mines going under the desert, then the sand might become part of bricks or rammed earth and be used to increase defensive walls or expand buildings.

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Well, as others said they just need to clean it up. This can be helped by designing the "sink hole" such that entrances inside are under an overhang and any gardening is bit off the walls and elevated. This way much of the sand will gather in the area at the bottom near the walls. If you keep that area clear collection should be easy. You can also collect sand pre-emptively from the top and probably should.

What to do with the sand and dust? Rammed earth is my suggestion. Just compact the collected sand and dust around the "sink hole" and the opening the sand needs to penetrate to cause problems will gradually be elevated. As nosajimiki notes in his answer this will vastly reduce the amount of dirt falling down. It will also create a natural fortress that with erosion will blend into the terrain without attracting trouble. If necessary you can just create "fake" towers around the inhabited ones to act as decoys but the amount of holes and towers should multiply organically over time.

This kind of fortress is fairly useful. It will keep random intruders out and few raiders in the desert carry siege equipment. And if you choose an area where little water is available for invaders while your underground "holes" have secure supply your defensive position will be fairly good. Especially if you can figure out a way to collapse any "sink holes" that get assaulted and can evacuate underground.

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Solar chimney.

http://vortexengine.ca/AVE_FAQ-solar-chimney.shtml

Solar collectors surrounding the entrance heat the air. This is funneled down into the dwelling and then allowed to rise up through the entrance. The result is a strong wind from below which blows back any sand trying to fall in.

This works at night because movement of air from collectors is not passive but controlled according to need. The dwarves allow pressure to build up in the collectors and release it gradually such that it can sustain the wind overnight.

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Dampen the sand to let you dig out the habitat you want then bring in your friendly dragon. The dragon flames the sand and fuses it into glass giving you a stable structure.

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What if on their delving deep, they found a gigantic crystal and it was big enough to form a roof for the sinkhole?

I also had the idea that at the bottom of the sinkhole would be a river of lava, melting any sand that came down. (Another poster beat me to that.)

I also had the idea that there's a cave below that's more or less boundless and couldn't be filled even in millions of years.

And of course you can have the cave, with the lava river.

And you can do the giant cave with the huge round crystal, which perhaps focuses sun's rays down into the cave and lights it? Further crystal games could give them a blinding/heating weapon. (I think ancient Greeks tried something like this with mirrors to blind an attacking navy.)

The real question is that with all that fun stuff below, why are they hanging out near the surface?

A more boring answer is that perhaps they've simply got a magic spell that can control sand that they use once a week to clean. The same spell could make a giant sand golem too, that isn't affected by hand-sized weaponry (any more than a sword or hammer would leave a mark on a sand dune).

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Dwarves are masters of the mining and construction. They simply apply some dwarven engineering to each grain of sand to give them small uneven edges which let them grip onto each other ( similar to moon sand ).

This way the sand won't slip into their caves and remain in place, but act very similar to sand when you step or walk or interact with it.

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