Treehouse ruins: the archaeology of kids' ruins

The Aardvarchaeology blog looks at the ruins of children's treehouses, which can often be found in wooded areas near residential areas. There's a big difference between the way that kids and adults abandon their sites -- children leave everything in situ, forgotten and frozen, while adults strip a site of everything that might be useful.

And the treehouse sites are hardly ever cleaned up. In fact, the children's parents often have only a vague notion of where the treehouse is. They may help to build it, but they don't feel responsible for it. It's out in the woods where only children and mushroom pickers see it: out of sight and out of mind. The mess there would never be tolerated in the back yard, just as most Westerners of today feel really uncomfortable in the stench and litter of Third World villages.

So the next time you come upon an abandoned treehouse site, you might give some thought to the fact that you're standing in the ruins of someone's childhood. The children who used the site no longer exist: they're grownups now, living somewhere else, disposing more rationally of their belongings. And some of them very probably have kids of their own now who are wheedling them to buy a few boards and a box of long nails, a rope ladder and some tarred roofing cardboard. And daddy -- can I please have your old drum kit / dough mixer / rollerskates? I'll take them out of your sight.

Link (via Neatorama)


  1. Probably far more than you think.

    I would never have imagined such a deep philosophical introspective based upon old tree-forts. Makes me wonder what people think of the myriad plywood platforms and scrap 2×4’s attached to various trees in the woods behind my childhood home.

  2. Thats so awesome. I lived just at the edge of city limits and we had a smattering of vacant lots, but my friends and I watched as what we considered OUR play areas became developed with houses. We thought like a war between us and the builders, because we would build forts and someone would buy the land and tear it down and put a house up. I was like 10/12 years old but we had the help of a eagle scout neighbor Doug who was 17 and we though he knew everthing. He showed us all kinds of ways to use materials and build structures. here is a list of our best forts:

    One was built into the side of a ditch with a secret trap door entrance, we could park our bicycles on the roof which helped camouflage and hid it from the neighborhood eric cartman type kid.

    Second one was totally underground we dug a 5’x 10 hole and roof was swiped plywood and 2×4’s same type of secret door. we put a layer of dirt and then grass and branches on most of the roof. It took us one whole summer to dig it but then we decided it was lame and too dark inside and tried turning it into a pond by removing the roof running my garden hose for 24+ hours… I caught hell for that.

    Third one: there was a house being built on a lot so they bulldozed some large elms and cottonwood trees and just left them in a huge pile in the wooded area behind the back yard. we built what we thought was close to a real house by scavenging enough plywood to make our first rectangular above ground structure. It had carpet and door and windows and even a small table with a lamp and huge radio shack police scanner which we would run multiple extension cords to the build sites power. We felt like it was our bandit hideout, thinking we would hear if the police were coming to kick us off the land and we could grab our lamp and radio and run like hell.this never happened.

    we built many others like tipi and yurt type ones we could relocate but never as big or permanent.

    our skills learning all this did pay off because around 13 t0 15yrs old my friends and I started building skate and bike ramps for ourselves then selling ones for profit.

    It’s funny to think all those hours we spent building things and all are gone now without a trace.

  3. When I see what my kids have done in the forest, it triggers memories of my childhood adventures. I hope they enjoy their little private spaces as much as I did!

  4. We bought our new house, the front acre (a square acre of woods) had a ruin very similar to the one in the photo — clearly something which used to be a scaffold for a much larger and higher-up piece that has since fallen. I haven’t the heart to remove it yet; I figure one day my girls (now 5 and 2) will be able to scavenge it for parts. Go Go Girl Treehouse Power!

  5. I grew up in the Southwest where the desert is, for the most part, devoid of forest and large trees. Next to my house was a large, abandoned army bombing range (which had been cleared of live ordnance) that had many large craters. So rather than build up, we built down – basically just covering the craters with palettes and brush. You could also use barbed wire if you were willing to drag it to your location. I remember seeing our abandoned sites for many years afterwards.

  6. Hmm. Reminds me of an exception from when I was a kid.

    Where I grew up was still far enough away from the city that there were plenty of wilderness/woodsy bits that no one wanted, including this great area along a creek, where the mixture of creek and big rocks sticking out of the ground had lead to a sparsely wooded area hidden behind more tightly grown trees and brush. It was great.

    And then one day workmen showed up. They didn’t clear for a house – instead, they set up a good, strong bridge over the creek, with big thick beams holding it up, and some picnic tables… some family did own the land, and decided to make this their private picnic spot, I guess. I think I may have met them once. They didn’t mind us playing around it when they weren’t there.

    And then.. I think after a year or two… they never came back. The bridge lasted for a while unmaintained, but we were too young to really know what to do – or to care, that was the adult’s thing – and so it slowly began to rot and fall apart, bit by bit, until by now I’m not sure I’d be able to find more than the remains of where the supports had been sunk.

    But while it lasted it was wonderful.

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