Basement Archaeology

One of the advantages of riding my bike indoors (on a stationary magnetic trainer) is that I get to look around the basement a bit more closely. Since we moved into this house in 2011, we’ve been trying to sort out its architectural phases. Fortunately, the house has only seen one major addition (but the changes to the interior space of the house are substantially more complicated).

Like many homes in Grand Forks, it received an addition on the back (west) of the house probably with indoor plumbing. The original back wall of the house then became the plumbing wall with both the upstairs and downstairs bathroom (both of uncertain date) being located just to the interior of the original back wall of the house. 


This photograph from around 1900 shows the addition with a drain pipe or a piece of moulding just beyond the second window on the side visible above marking the west wall of the original house.

Looking at the beams used in the new addition, I couldn’t help but notice a few loose nails. So after wiggling a few of them (and noticing that they were not in structurally sensitive places), I decided that I should remove one for closer examination. After reading around a bit on the internets, I was able to identify and date this nail with some confidence. 

Here it is:


What we have here is, if I’m not mistaken, an iron, grain-in-line, face-pinched, cut nail. The crack running along the face is clearly visible as is the nicely pinched face.



The head on this nail is slightly smashed, but is square and consistent with the pinched-face.  The nail type would dates easily to the 19th century with the massive crack along the face suggesting – according to Tom Wells 1998 typology – an earlier rather than later date for this type.

Nail Head

These are the most common nails of this period and while the cracked face makes me wonder a bit, they are nevertheless consistent with the late 19th century date for the addition to our house. As my wife sagely observed, a nail dating to a decade or two earlier than the addition may simple indicate the use of older construction materials available at hand or the relatively outdated supply available in a small, rural community in the new state of North Dakota.

While I’ll never say its fun to own an old house, these little archaeological project do make a blustery, snowy, and cold March morning more interesting. 

Do let me know if you can either refine my chronology of this nail or tell me that I’m hopeless and should stick to Early Christian basilicas.


  1. vincentoreilly March 4, 2014 at 8:16 am

    Dear inquiring mind:
    If you just stuck with early Christian basilicas you’d be a bore.
    You’re not a bore.


  2. Vince,

    Thanks!! I do what I can!



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