Old, restored or renovated?
By Gery de Pierpont
50 clues to identify vestiges from the past
This handy guide will provide you with a series of key clues used by archaeologists to recognise the old parts of a building: how to interpret traces of ageing, wear and erosion? How to identify some of the most characteristic traditional construction techniques? For example, how to distinguish hand-blown glass, lime paint, ancient bricks, period windows and parquet, traditional masonry or tool marks.
In the scientific community, these initial observations are always corroborated by complementary analyses (decorative styles, written archives, ancient iconography, laboratory-dating, etc.), however, the indicators we share with you are already very precious. Particularly as regards recognising recent work and “fake-old” repairs carried out in the 19th and 20th centuries (so you don’t go into raptures over them as if they were older historical survivors … )
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Old, restored or renovated?
50 clues to indentify vestiges from the past
by Gery de Pierpont
110 pages, 132 pictures
PDF format (compatible with all supports and printable)
Table of Content page 1 / page 2
Become a heritage Hercule Poirot?
(Excerpt from the introduction)
But really, what is the point of spending time putting dates to an ancient bit of wall, indentifying the oldest timber in a wooden framework, or differentiating between a sculpture of another era and a recent copy? Quite simply, because it is a fascinating occupation that combines not only observation and a critical evaluation similar to that of a forensic investigation, but also because these genuine vestiges of the past are so evocative they can thrill the senses, and stir heart and soul. It is rather like being in a library and discovering the first edition of a work that has since become a classic tucked away at the back of the shelves – or recognizing from its bouquet, a premier cru wine hidden among some appellations village.
When taking an interest in culture and heritage, it is useful to acquire a basic knowledge in the chronological placing of certain historic decorative elements in order to understand how a construction’s components are articulated and fitted together. This allows you not only to ask the right questions, but also to avoid being taken for a philistine – although all of us, amateur enthusiasts and qualified experts alike, can get things wrong.
Timber frame infill
(Sample exerpt, from Chapter 5)
Found throughout almost all Europe, timber-frame or half-timbered houses were constructed with a wooden load-bearing framework whose spaces were traditionally filled with small clay bricks, either sun dried or fired, or partitioned with wattle and daub (a mixture of earth and straw or animal hair) reinforced by a latticework of small branches. Today, this material is more likely to be replaced by rubble or modern brick.
When handled well, packed earth is both resistant and insulating, but it has to be regularly maintained as it can disintegrate from the effects of sun, rain and ice, which is one of the reasons it is often given a protective coating of a white or coloured lime render. Sometimes the entire façade would be covered as it reduced the risk of fire. From the 19th century on, it became a common practice to completely disguise half-timbered buildings by adding false stone façades with mouldings and cornices.
The walls of half-timbered houses have a different sonority from those built with solid walls. One can tell if they are genuine, by their uneven surfaces, and also, half-timbered walls are warmer to the touch than those built with stone or concrete.
Half-timbering made a comeback towards the end of the 19th century, but the timber was now factory cut and much more standardised. Façades, more calculated, became monotonous. Very often the structural design was more for decoration than actual support and one can tell that the house is not being held up by its wooden armature, even when it is visible. Some half timbering is completely false and consists merely of wooden planks screwed into the wall, in the most unlikely places.
What is hidden behind false ceilings?
Many formerly high-ceilinged bedrooms are today fitted with false ceilings, which reduce the size of the room (and at the same time, the heating costs). False ceilings have the advantage of hiding electric cables, water pipes, ventilation ducts or air conditioning installations, and of course, spotlights! They are mostly of suspended plasterboard, but they can also be made of wood panels.
The problem with false ceilings is that they alter a room’s original proportions, which can suddenly become too low. You can tell if ceilings are recent by their flat, uniform surface, and the mouldings – which are being made increasingly from polyurethane. Sometimes a false ceiling is so low that one can no longer discern the tops of the windows.