Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Interpreting the Idiosyncrasies

Interpreting the idiosyncrasies of artifacts from antiquity is a tenuous art. It’s so easy to point to an awkward saw cut or a splice joint and, without firsthand knowledge, deduce that a tool slipped during the process or the maker ran out of “proper” materials. Sometimes joinery is executed in surprising ways and its elusive purpose doesn’t reveal itself to the casual observer. In fact, I think this is the way many history myths are born: Someone sees a peculiar characteristic of an artifact and they begin to imagine what it could mean.  They postulate, they suppose, and they presume but all of this is from a 21st century frame of reference. There are few people whose knowledge of early American life is extensive enough to be able to envisage life centuries ago even somewhat accurately. It’s that handful of people that will be the first to admit that, at the end of the day, we just don’t know.

It’s been illuminating to closely examine the frame in this house. There are so many curiosities we’ve puzzled over. Some things have become clearer as the layers are peeled away. Other things remain unexplainable. Perhaps at another time I will post here about the more peculiar matters in hopes that you readers can help. For now, though, I’ve gotta pack up my lunch and head out the door. It’s going to be another long day of old house archaeology. 


  1. Orlando Ridout V. Vernacular house historians miss his expertise. http://splicetoday.com/baltimore/the-passing-of-orlando-ridout-v-is-maryland-s-loss

  2. Hi Joshua.

    If you are referring to all the nails that seem to be too long, I know from my parents' summerhouse in Sweden that it was done that way so the free ends would rust and thereby effectively prevent the nails from being pulled out in case of heavy winds tearing in the slate shingles.


  3. Human beings have an innate habit to recognize patterns even when there are none.

  4. Everyone had a reason for doing what they did.