Saturday, January 25, 2014

Finding Stuff

As I work cleaning up my new Mérida centro house I find myself resuming a life-long pastime.

I've always liked to pick up interesting objects I find. I started as a child collecting rocks, shells and fall leaves. I collected whenever the opportunity presented itself.

I learned that certain rock formations and stream beds in Interior Alaska are rich areas for fossils.  As I grew I also found that historic long-abandoned dumps and derelict buildings far out in the country were rich sources of Alaska mining-era relics, such as old bottles, kerosene lanterns, tools and hardware. 

These types of discoveries excited a childhood passion for history, archaeology and random collecting in which as an adult I still indulge occasionally. I always enjoy the anticipation of finding something interesting.

In Juneau, Alaska I bought a historic house in the downtown area. As I repaired and renovated, the yard, dirt crawlspace, attic and walls of the house produced boxes full of gold mining equipment, coins, keys, silverware, dishes, marbles and many other everyday objects that were discarded or lost during the early days of the city.

The next house I owned, in Mérida, relinquished a small statue, vintage bottles, kitchen discards and broken pottery as we dug and built there.

So now I've begun accumulating interesting objects found as I explore and clear out my new property. Some of what I find is trash, and goes into garbage bags for removal. Other material such as metal, stone and cement block is sorted into piles for reuse or recycling.

Then there is the "other" category. Pictured are three items I've put aside so far.

I found the ceramic cable insulator still mounted atop a rotten, wooden pole in the patio. Although not terribly old, it's of a type no longer employed, and the brown glaze is shiny and undamaged after decades  out in the tropical sun. Unless I find a better use, it will probably end up on my desk as a paperweight.

The hefty bronze spigot, called a llave in Spanish, was on one of the rainwater storage tanks in the patio. Although it's old, replacement washers for it are still available down at the tlapaleria in Santiago, and it ought to work perfectly. This antique is of a lot higher quality than one I might buy today. It's threaded for a garden hose and undoubtedly will be put back into service as I restore the house.

The third item is a mystery to me. It's a stone disc with a hole through its center, about the size and shape of a large doughnut. If I'd found this on an Alaska beach, I would assume it to be a fishing weight, of the sort threaded along the bottom of nets to keep them hanging vertically in the water. Had I found an object of this design made of wood or cork I would assume it to be a float for these same nets. However I found this item in my Yucatecan patio near one of the wells. It's formed of natural local stone, not cast of concrete. The green stain is due to mildew that formed on the side which was touching the ground.

I have no idea what this is. I will show it to some local friends to see if they can generate any ideas. Meanwhile, in my spare time I continue to work my way through the detritus in the patio. It's hot and dirty work, but interesting because it has the aspect of a childhood treasure hunt. I never know what I may turn up next.

Text and photos Copyright 2014 by Marc Olson


  1. I have two contradictory genes. The Pick It Up gene. And the Drop It gene. The former has predominated most of my life -- until I moved to Mexico. Now, I am doing my best to divest myself -- even of the fascinating things I pick up now and then. Maybe I can donate it to you when we next meet. Happy prospecting.

    1. Thanks for your generosity...I think I really need a donation of the Drop It gene. I really enjoy finding things, but jsut as you did, I got rid of tons of stuff when I moved to Mexico. I don't want to have to repeat that process again, or worse yet, leave a mess for someone to deal with.

    2. I forgot to mention that I really liked the photograph. The light. The arrangement. The framing. Nice stuff.

  2. You sound like you are having fun. Thanks for sharing your discoveries. It's almost as good as finding them myself. Maybe better, because I don't have to find a place to store them.

    1. OK, Debbie, you can discover vicariously through me, at least until Steve's donation takes effect. If it does. Perhaps what I need to start doing is collecting only images of the stuff I find. That way I can share my discoveries if I want to, look at them when I care to...and storage space for pictures is cheap.

  3. Item #3 is a discus, commonly thrown in track and field events. Everyone knows that!

    1. Of course, how silly of me. Never mind...

    2. Idem #3 could be a number of things: The working surface of a meal hand grinder, a bench grinder or and this is a reach because they are usually more doughnut shaped, the head of a war club.
      On finding cool stuff: I found a "time capsule" embedded in a void created when a bathroom was installed in 1932, in a 1898 vintage house that I own. It was a small bottle with a message and a list of names all in Finnish That same house, I found a number of the old glass medicine bottles in a back wall. They all had a ribbon tied onto their neck. Then I came on one with a dried bit of gunk inside and a long ribbon tied to it, long enough to reach the attic above, someone was hiding their stash down the wall. The label was dated 1902-drug addiction is nothing new.

    3. I saw a grinding wheel in Antigua Guatemala similar to yours a few weeks ago, it was not as weathered as yours as it was kept inside as a door stop. Same size and thickness as yours, the grinding groves in the Antigua piece were still visible.

  4. Well, everyone who knows me well knows I don't have the Drop It gene. I have pieces of driftwood, great rocks, seashells and pieces of broken cantera or soapstone as it is sometimes called. Oh and I failed to mention all the birdnests! Yup, I LOVE discovering things that no one wanted and I just go gaga over..........Happy sleuthing my friend.

  5. Marc, bet you a cup of coffee it's an old mill stone or grinding stone. I've seen small grinding stones that size.

    Finding treasures is always fun. My dog dug up an druggest bottle from the civil war era (unbroken) in the front lawn. She was a good dog that day.

    Enjoy your finds!

  6. Item three looks like it may have been part of a small grist mill. The other half may be laying around there some where.

    How old is your new house? That may give some clue to what that thing is.

    Robert Gill
    Phoenix, AZ

  7. I go with Melissa and Norm on this one, Marc. I have a magazine which shows a very large such grinder, from an old Spanish mill. The disk looks much like yours. Of course, your's is much smaller; but I imagine grinders came in all sizes.

    If I owned that, it'd probably be holding some dried flowers, or even a candle.

    (I'm kind of a "rock-a-holic" myself. One of my favorites--a piece of lava rock.)

  8. Enjoy your blog, especially your wonderful pictures and lovely house restoration details. Here's a link to my blog, just an FYI,

  9. What fantastic finds. I love discovering little treasures like these, too. Definitely have the Pick It Up gene.


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