CONFESSIO PARS DUOBUS
Woods: When I first realized dimly that plastics were farby, I turned to wood. However, the woods chosen were often no less farby, up to and including plywood (laminated woods date to ancient Egypt and were used sporadically through the ages, though not apparently in the early middle ages, and what we view as modern plywood was patented in the nineteenth century but not regularly and popularly used until the Second World War). You can find a list of native and available woods in an earlier entry in this blog. Please note that in the case of such woods as larch, the wood was not native but was imported, either in a raw of, more likely, a finished form!
Fabrics: When I realized that double knits, nylon and danceskin tights were not at all period, I lit upon cotton. It was a natural fabric, right. It was only later that I realized that cotton was expensive and directed mainly toward the posh and the knowledge that cotton was virtually unknown and certainly unused during the early middle ages was not acquired until later. The knowledge that silk was even more expensive than the finest linen and used mainly as trims came along about at the same time, but the knowledge that raw silk was a byproduct that was usually thrown away even when silk became less expensive and that as a fabric it came to used only in the twentieth century was a very late piece of knowledge. To put it simply, wool and linen were the most popular fabrics—in that order—but not all colors and weaves were period. http://www.squidoo.com/medieval-fabrics-for-re-enacting. Linsey-Wolsey, a combination of linen and wool apparently was not created until the eighteenth century. This has been a very recent discovery on my part, and I am still not entirely convinced…
Shoes: Boots were de rigeur in my early days in “living history.” Black boots were the best. The boots had sewn-on soles, heels of varying sizes and ascended to at least mid-calf. Later, I realized that despite all preconceptions, Richard the Lion-Hearted probably did not wear Harley boots. But the shoes I bought mostly had nailed-on soles; I did buy an early pair of turnshoes, but the maker apologized for not being nailed. The ironic thing is that turnshoes were standard until the end of the fifteenth century, when welted shoes were introduced. I later learned that black leather was unknown and then that the height of shoes during our period was not much above the ankle and certainly not knee- or thigh-high as popular images and notions indicate. A good chart of shoe styles may be found in the YAT’s book on leatherworking.
Tents: Here I am not talking merely of the shapes of the tents—though I never really considered that until I became involved in American Revolution reenacting. After that, thinking on what was used for the tents—certainly not the blue plastic sheets that were everywhere!—I went on to want tens of cotton Sunforger canvas (unfortunately still preeminent since because of availability), flax canvas, wool and hemp canvas. The early discovery that the Norse A-tent was used as a sort of shipboard cabin was illuminating, as were the illustrations of tents being used to dry wet clothes on wash days in eighteenth-century camps! A very late and interesting discovery was that grommets—the brass or metal circles—were not invented until the eighteenth century, and earlier versions in which a brass ring was tied to the fabric with a rope around it, seems to have occurred no earlier than the fourteenth century. We have attempted to develop stitching—from sails for the most part—to substitute and should disguise the metal grommets with an overstitch of some sort (but sloth has delayed that; but eventually…”
Food: Foodstuffs and their preparation never entered into my mind, except when ham was preparing prepared in a kosher kitchen. Only later, reading medieval cookbooks—or rather, their modern redactions and interpretations, though that fact eluded me—I began to understand that there was a period and accurate way to prepare food. Later, I came to understand that certain foods—potatoes, tomatoes and hot peppers for example—were unknown by and not eaten by people in the era. Finding out what was available and eaten was more difficult, although through the efforts of Anne Hagen and others, the information has been gathered from archaeological investigations and became more readily available. So was the availability of “heirloom” vegetables, which still have to be selected through to see that they are period. There are still controversies, and there are still discoveries that I have made with far-ranging affects—I stopped watching the HBO series “Rome” when they dumped over a cart of bright orange carrots—so that this is still a very ongoing process!
Frequency: This is less a physical than an ordinal matter. In the early days, I was little concerned with any kind of or number of instances of provenance for an artifact or a practice. Finding a single provenance was generally unnecessary and unknown. Then, any unique incidence or artifact was enough to justify its appearance in many impressions. However, it was soon apparent that there had to be more than a single incidence of its use or appearance before it was deemed common enough to be legitimately portrayed in ordinary everyday living history. One member of the society to which I originally belonged announced that he preferred objects or practices that were unique because they are more important. In other words, he and others would rather be Roland or Lancelot rather than a common foot soldier of their retinue and certainly not a peasant laborer they might triumphantly ride past when returning to the castle to celebrate a success. As it is, I did not then and do not now want to The epic hero, and this is an approach with which I cannot agree and heartily condemn! Finding multiple incidents becomes paramount to the portrayal of everyday life in a different era. You do not want to deal with things like the Helgo Buddha but instead with things like the Þorr’s hammer. You want something that is seen everywhere that is common. In other words, three examples of the same type of physical artifact descriptions or of a period description—even if they were not identical, since this was the time before mass uniform reproduction—was required for its adaptation. A single artifact could be what Darrell Markewitz terms an “Aunt Martha,” a unique and unuseable object that one got from Aunt Martha and then placed into someone’s grave because ir was a white elephant to him! The rule of thumb developed in most living history—and which I readily adopted once I was exposed to it—was that there were at least two—and now three—separate, unrelated incidents of the artifact or practice had to be found before it was allowed on the line. As noted in Micel Folcland’s Newbie Handbook: “If you cannot provide at least three cases of primary documentation, reconsider the purchase of an article—at least to wear or to use at Regia event. Don’t choose an item because it looks period or because it’s cheap or even because an older member advises its purchase without providing documentation. Many vendors will provide documentation for what they sell; ask for it, and don’t buy from someone who wants to sell you something without being able to provide documentation.”
The examples listed above only touch the surface of the matter. There are many more subjects—metals, weapons, size of jewelry among them—that a good reenactor must consider if an accurate impression is planned.
Keep in mind that any opinion set forth by someone without proper provenance is simply that: An opinion. Perhaps a reenactorism or perhaps just reciting piece after piece of familiar, comforting trivia. For example, the tattoos which were found on Harold Godwinsson at Hastings were apparently invented in the1950s and which have been perpetuated by anyone wishing to justify the historical importance of tattooing
The moral of this essay then is that you should not assume that you know everything about. What are the areas with which you most conversant? These are the areas with which you must be most diligent and most skeptical. All new information might not be valid, but you must be able to analyze the information and not merely reject it as being in opposition to your dogmatic knowledge! Learn to qualify your statements by adding “in my experience” and “to my knowledge” or “from what I have read, experienced or seen” And at all times, in every situation, be willing, be able and in fact be excited to accept the possibility that you must change the matter about which you are so familiar! You mus be willing to amend it, to clarify it and bring new facts and interpretations to bear!
Sôþlîce. Þanc êow, Fæder