Early Period Camp Sites
It's hard to feel really Early Period (or Late Period for that matter) when unzipping your Sears tent and reaching in Coleman cooler for a Coke. Few things will ruin a well-though-out persona and costume like a mundane campsite. Let's explore some ideas to upgrade our 'Early Period-ness'. Many of these will depend on your persona and time period-you can go from Iron Age rustic to Byzantine opulence (or Iron age opulence!).
The tent: We'd all love to have a really period tent wouldn't we? But sometimes the old Sears is easier, more comfortable, and cheaper. So what can you do about it? You could make a cover for it. I've always thought a pop tent would make a good pseudo-yurt. Look for suitable, cheap, felt-looking blankets in white or brown and throw over it, being careful not to weight it down too much. Another alternative would be to make a cover by patching the blankets together to fit over the tent. This would cut down on weight. Use some cords stretched over the top to hold down the blankets and to make it look more yurt-like. (fig. 1) The Romans had some great tents that could be adapted as tent covers (see EP#5).
We made a similar cover for our mundane tent from lightweight material. Besides the fact that we didn't' have to waterproof it, the 'eaves' at each side hid a lit of unsightly stuff (fig. 2). Flaps and mosquito netting hide the tent underneath.
Norse tents are easy to construct and are very stable in high winds. Scaled-down versions are great for kids. Medieval Miscellanea (7006 Raleigh Rd. Annadale, VA 22003) has a simple pattern in their 'Pavilions' booklet.
If worse comes to worse, how about a circular fence or feed screening to hide the tent or maybe a screen constructed of old sheets or material decorated with designs appropriate to your persona and held up by poles? (fig. 3) The same sort of structures are great for keeping modern things hidden, even if you have a period tent.
The cooler: There are few substitutes for the cooler, especially in the summer, but it does look out of place. We spray-painted ours brown to cover up the day-glow blue color, and then made a fake fur throw to go over it. It doubles as a seat and doesn't detract from the surroundings. You could also construct a wooden box to fit around your cooler and disguise it as a trunk. If all else fails, you could hide it behind a screen or the tent.
Food containers: No matter how early I go, I still don't' like bugs in my food. Sheetrock (drywall) mud buckets (emptied and well-washed) or potato chip cans make some great storage devices, but look mundane. I spray-painted some plastic buckets brown, glued some colored Celtic knotwork patterns to them and gave that a couple of coats of polyurethane for waterproofing. They looked better, but still weren't what I wanted. Then I found some inexpensive baskets that would hold the containers. They looked great, but what about the lids? Sprayed brown they are hardly noticeable and you can always throw a skin or two over them. You can also make a wooden lid by cutting out a circle of wood to the same size as the top of the container. Drill two holes near the center, stain the wood and add a rope handle. The glue the circle of wood to the lid (fig. 4). If you really wanted to impress the natives with your wealth, you could glue some grain to the lid and make it look like a basket full of grain or whatever you wish. Another idea is to glue thin wooden slats around the sides of the container and then bind the slats on with rope to look like barrels or wooden buckets. (fig. 5)
What to cook on: Some people are just addicted to their Coleman stoves. I suggest they be kept out of sight. Ground fires are the most picturesque, but not all sites allow them. The arrangement in fig. 6 allows you to have a cauldron and a fire and still be in compliance with the rules. Bold an old charcoal grill to a metal tripod and hang a cauldron from the top. You can also use a low barbeque grill or cut the legs off a tall one. An iron kettle is a good thing to cook in. Research the correct shape for your persona or just pick one up form the local flea market. While you are there, look for period-looking cooking utensils. Below are some Roman and Byzantine shapes (fig. 7).
Carrying water: Get a small metal bucket and some wooden lath. Cut the lath into strips the same height as the bucket. Remove the bucket handle. Glue the lath strips to the sides of the bucket. You will have to shape the edges of some of the pieces to make them fit. Bind tightly with rope and secure the rope ends. Now replace the metal handle with a rope one (fig. 8).
Trash: Even the most period conscious individuals quake at the sight of a midden swarming with flies next to their place of habitation. There is no substitute for trash bags. You can hide them by making a trash-bag sized cloth bag in a dull color and placing the plastic trash bag inside.
What to put the clothes in: A few years ago you could pick up a cheap trunk for almost nothing, but times have changed. If you have an old trunk around, they make wonderful traveling companions. If not, you could build one. The Norse rowing bench makes a fine one and doubles as seating (fig. (). Or you can use containers like those described above for food.
Furs and such like: I like to have a lot of furs to throw around for look and comfort. I don't like real fur because it mildews in my closet and is difficult to clean with small children around, besides I can't afford it. I make mine out of fake fur. Get it on sale-no tiger, zebra or leopard please! Cut out in a vaguely animal shape and be sure to use a low dryer setting when cleaning or the fur will develop a strange and odd look when the ends of the hair melt. Many cultures used pillows. Cover with some appropriate material or fake fur.
Unsightly neighbors: Sometimes you have no choice, the guys next door just aren't interested in playing the game. Some large screens can keep you from being 'mundanized'. Sheets or large pieces of material (see above) can be suspended from ropes or other supports. Paint or appliqué them in some appropriate motif.
Other suggestions: Transfer foods to period containers before bringing them out to the table. Transfer drinks to period containers. Move your car out of sight or cover it. Try to find period-looking toys for your children to play with.
Now stand back and take a look at your camp. If anything looks modern, remove it or hide it. Now ENJOY yourself!
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