One of the curious frustrations in researching “Ingenious Mechanicks” was reading the reports from archaeologists who speculated on how woodworking tools were used or objects were made. It became obvious that some of these guys didn’t know the difference between a dovetail and a mortise. And hadn’t ever cut one.
Not all archeologists are like this.
Check out this fantastic article from the Archaeology.org site about the joinery in a 7,000-year-old well. Not only do they do normal stuff in the lab, but they try to remake the well with tools available at the time. And start with the tree.
“You have to handle things. By using stone tools ourselves, we can see what works and what doesn’t work,” says archaeologist Rengert Elburg. “Because from your writing desk you can’t say anything.”
I put it a bit more crudely in “Ingenious Mechanicks:”
“It’s not fair to our early ancestors to put words in their mouths. We don’t know how dry their wood was when they started to build their workbenches. Was it fresh from the tree? Dried for 20 years? Something in between?
“We can guess, which is what most people do. Or we can build a bunch of workbenches from woods in varying degrees of wetness and observe the results through several years. This second path is much more difficult than sitting naked in the dark at your computer keyboard – fingers covered in the dust of Cheetos – and pontificating online. But it’s the path I took.”
— Christopher Schwarz