Time Machine!

James Deetz is considered a father of historical archaeology in North America, and his widely-read In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life emphasized the importance of common objects in interpreting the past. Grand structures and fabulous trinkets may seem most interesting at face value, and they certainly provide important information about our history. However, the objects used in everyday contexts allow insight to the uncelebrated lives of the vast majority of former populations. There are relatively few contemporaneous written accounts that illuminate the lives of the marginalized, like the poor, women, and ethnic groups. This is where objects can help us understand how common people really lived, day-to-day.

Deetz said that diving into an old garbage pile ('midden' in archaeo-speak) was the closest he'd ever get to a time machine. Photo: Plymouth Historical Assoc.

We’re unsure of the precise year our house was built; when we moved in, I did some research at the Registry of Deeds and could only determine that the house existed in the 1890s. Before that record, the trail went cold (although that doesn’t mean much!) We’ve been finding clues through archival material from Memorial University’s Digital Archive Initiative, like the map delineating the area affected by the fire of 1846. Narratives of the Great Fire of 1892 don’t make it clear if our street was affected, but a newspaper notes thta a shopkeeper left shopless relocated his store to our street immediately following the disaster. We can therefore conclude that our street was spared in both fires. There’s so much left to learn, but it’s always exciting to flesh out a little bit more of the story!

Below are photos of some of our favourite artifacts we’ve found throughout the house and backyard (surface finds only!) Each piece adds to the way we understand our house, neighbourhood, and city.

Stamped wallpaper revealed in middle floor bathroom.

Some "English Made" wallpaper, in thatched pattern. Note the linen applied directly to the tongue-and-groove walls, from former wall coverings.

More linen applied to walls.

Each time it rains, ceramic sherds (archaeo-speak again) appear on the surface of our yard. These are a small sample, but a future post will delve into the many ware types and patterns found.

I love this piece, featuring a lady in what was probably a pastoral scene (see the sheep?)

The blue pooling in creases helps to identify these base sherds as pearlware.

We've found countless glass sherds of every type in the backyard, but very few few full bottles. This one is definitely the Koolest (dad joke!)

We're not sure of the story behind this old horseshoe, but it's been nailed to the ancient basement door. It's a common folk belief that hanging a horseshoe with the ends upward is good luck, while the reverse causes the luck to run out of the ends. I doubt we'll change it's orientation!

"Every grain, pure cane": Royal Acadia Sugar Company (Halifax) crate board, circa 1915. This was used to repair a small section of wall on the middle floor.

Victorian sash windows required weights hidden within window frames to operate. We've found a number of the weights in the backyard.

A pair of men's long underwear was tied around the cast iron plumbing pipe. A Newfoundland saying to describe something being broken is "the arse is out of 'er!" , and the arse is definitely out of these pants.

Three of four metal grommets survived, but the buttons had been removed. I've washed 400 year old Basque underwear in the conservation lab, and somehow touching this grosses me out more. Maybe because they're only ~100 years old?

The tag on the rear of the pants; can you make out the label? 'Sanitar...'?

When the laminate flooring is pulled up throughout the rest of the house, it’s likely we’ll have to replace a couple boards; who knows what we could find beneath, since coins often slipped through cracks between boards. We’ve also uncovered a 4’x4’x6′ space somewhere in our house, but we have to keep a few secrets!

We’ll share more of our collection of found oddities in a Halloween post about our creepy basement.

We’d love to hear about the weird and wonderful objects you’ve uncovered around your house and property! Here’s a great article about uncovering treasures that help to tell the story of a house.


Leave a comment

Filed under Newfoundland+Labrador, Photos, St. John's

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s