Thatching methods have traditionally been passed down from generation to generation, and numerous descriptions of the materials and methods used in Europe over the past three centuries survive in archives and early publications.
In some equatorial countries, thatch is the prevalent local material for roofs, and often walls. There are diverse building techniques from the ancient Hawaiian hale shelter made from the local ti leaves (Cordyline fruticosa), lauhala (Pandanus tectorius) or pili grass (Heteropogon contortus).
Palm leaves are also often used. For example, in Na Bure, Fiji, thatchers combine fan palm leave roofs with layered reed walls. Feathered palm leaf roofs are used in Dominica. Alang-alang (Imperata cylindrica) thatched roofs are used in Hawaii and Bali. In Southeast Asia, mangrove nipa palm leaves are used as thatched roof material known as attap dwelling. In Bali, Indonesia, the black fibres of Arenga pinnata called ijuk is also used as thatched roof materials, usually used in Balinese temple roof and meru towers. Sugar cane leaf roofs are used in Kikuyu tribal homes in Kenya.
Wild vegetation such as water reed (Phragmites australis), bulrush/cat tail (Typha spp.), broom (Cytisus scoparius), heather (Calluna vulgaris), and rushes (Juncus spp. and Schoenoplectus lacustris) was probably used to cover shelters and primitive dwellings in Europe in the late Palaeolithic period, but so far no direct archaeological evidence for this has been recovered. People probably began to use straw in the Neolithic period when they first grew cereals—but once again, no direct archaeological evidence of straw for thatching in Europe prior to the early medieval period survives.
Many indigenous people of the Americas, such as the former Maya civilization, Mesoamerica, the Inca empire, and the Triple Alliance (Aztec), lived in thatched buildings. It is common to spot thatched buildings in rural areas of the Yucatán Peninsula as well as many settlements in other parts of Latin America, which closely resemble the method of construction from distant ancestors. After the collapse of most extant American societies due to diseases introduced by Europeans, wars, enslavement, and genocide, the first Americans encountered by Europeans lived in structures roofed with bark or skin set in panels that could be added or removed for ventilation, heating, and cooling. Evidence of the many complex buildings with fiber-based roofing material was not rediscovered until the early 2000s. French and British settlers built temporary thatched dwellings with local vegetation as soon as they arrived in New France and New England, but covered more permanent houses with wooden shingles.