Philadelphia Archaeologists Discover Hidden Treasures in 18th-Century Toilets
When archaeologists began exploring the future site of Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution, set to open in 2017, they expected to find a few artifacts from the area’s storied history dating as far back as the 1700s (when it was known as Carter’s Alley). They didn’t necessarily expect to find 300-year-old toilets, filled with everything people saw fit to trash over the past few centuries.
According to LiveScience, the 12 brick-lined privies turned up more than 82,000 artifacts dating to before the American Revolution. The conditions of a big poop vault happen to be ideal for preserving historic objects, since it coats them in a delightful slime of urine and feces, and in the age before municipal trash services, toilets served as refuse piles, too. (Archaeologists love such garbage heaps, or middens, as they're known in the field.)
Some of the valuable historical items recovered included clay pipe stems, printer’s type likely dating back to a destructive 1806 fire, a Jayne’s Expectorant bottle (made by Dr. David Jayne, who sold patent medicines and tonics on the block in the city’s first skyscraper), and the ceramic punch bowl above that bears the words “Success to the Triphena,” a reference to a merchant ship that carried protests of the Stamp Act to Britain in 1765.
Scholars could probably open an entire museum devoted to looking at Philadelphia's history through the centuries of poop-covered trash and discarded housewares found beneath the museum site. The site, which holds 26 historic lots, has been home over the years to tanneries, the fledgling Philadelphia Inquirer, Dr. Jayne's booming medical business, blacksmiths, paper manufacturers, and more.