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home : opinions :   May 24, 2016

2/27/2013 10:07:00 AM
Column: Digging the past

Shannon Crawley-Serpette

With spring around the corner, I’m anxiously awaiting the discovery of a new spot to use my metal detector. Last spring and summer, my dad and I found the old outhouse area on the property of his 1868 house.
Spurred on by my occasional success throughout his front, side and back yards — like the ring we found in front of his house and the three 1875 and 1876 German coins soldered together we found behind his garage — Dad had asked me to try to locate the old outhouse.
Never having dug in the remains of an outhouse before, I questioned why anyone would want to do such a thing. Once Dad explained to me that it wasn’t as gross as it might sound, he told me the general location he believed it was in. I went to work, finding an area directly behind the house that had enough promising hits to be a possibility.  The excavation continued for weeks, agitating my mother and likely perplexing my dad’s neighbors who might have thought we were burying bodies back there. But the backbreaking work paid off.
Here’s some of the highlights from our dig site:
-Old glass syringes: The metal portion of the syringes were literally disintegrating as we tried to unscrew the top. For obvious reasons, I was very careful not to accidentally poke myself with one.
-An old ceramic candle holder: The great thing about metal detecting in a spot like an old outhouse is that you don’t only find metal. You never know what you’ll pluck from the earth. As my dad and I slowly unearthed this candle holder, we had no idea what it was going to be until it was fully out of the hole. The top of the holder is broken off, but the rest of it is in good shape. There’s no identifying marks on the bottom and I’ve been unable to figure out how old it is. On the front, three women are reading a book.
-A sterling silver pocket knife: I’m guessing it belonged to a woman, based on the size of it.
-Arrowheads: While sifting through the loose dirt we had uncovered, my dad found a couple of arrowheads. Not knowing much about arrowheads, I have no idea how old they are.
-Chicken bones: I had no idea what these slender items I was holding could be. As I showed them to my dad, he started laughing and informed me they were obviously chicken bones. I screamed like a five-year-old girl and threw the bones as fast as I could. In retrospect, I don’t know why holding chicken bones bothered me so much, like I haven’t sent hundreds of chickens to an early grave, courtesy of KFC.
-Animal jawbone: I picked up this object and started painstakingly chipping away at the caked-on dirt so I could identify what I was holding. By this point, I had found numerous chicken bones so when I concluded I was holding the jawbone of a fairly large animal, I took it like a man. My sister, however, who happened to be walking by, screamed and ran into the house so she didn’t have to look at it.
-Clay marble: I had no idea what this was, but my dad was pretty excited by this find. Before this, I hadn’t even known that clay marbles existed because all I’d ever had were glass ones.
-Mysterious powder: At one point, I started uncovering a strange light blue powder. Convinced I was going to succumb to some rare toxic illness caused by the powder, I stayed away from the dig site for a day. But curiosity won out and I returned the next day. I’m still not sure what it was. I did find an old tube of toothpaste nearby, but that could have been a coincidence.
-Unbroken bottles: Every time I saw curved glass, I had to slow my digging down and carefully chip away the dirt surrounding the glass. Some of the bottles would already be broken, but we pulled out over a dozen fully intact. The most interesting were the ones with writing on them. Here’s a few with writing we found - Dr. D. Jayne’s Tonic Vermifuge, this type was supposedly advertised at least as early as 1840; Rawleigh’s Trade Mark; one that said Lavoris, Minneapolis; and Pinex.
If anyone reading this has their own metal detecting finds they’d like to share, I’m working on a story about metal detecting that will run this spring. For possible inclusion in this story, please email me at and let me know what you’ve uncovered.

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