You never know what a spade of dirt will turn up. A couple of news stories from Central Iowa show two opposite results of that simple act.
In one story, a couple bought some beautiful rural land with the intention of placing their dream home in the idyllic setting. Until they discovered the land was actually a former landfill, that is. In the second story, an archaeological dig is in process at a site where farmworkers once lived.
In the first case, the discarded items of modern life are trash; in the second case similar items are viewed as treasures. When does trash become treasure? Using these two examples, the answer is after about 100 years, apparently. The landfill is about 40 years old while the farmhouse site is estimated at about 140 years old.
Whether the shards of glass, bottle caps and showerhead that have turned up so far at the farmhouse site are truly treasures is for someone else to decide, but I know that if I were to turn up similar items at a site where my family had lived there would be no doubt. Those of us who are interested in family history grasp any available thread to our past, even if it means using our imaginations to fill in the gaps.
One of the farmhouse areas being explored is where the privy was located. Outhouse sites are often so artifact-rich that a whole subculture of enthusiastic outhouse diggers has developed. It’s not just amateurs who are interested, either.
Scientists this week reported that coprolites (fossilized feces) discovered in an Oregon cave show that humans lived in North America more than 14,000 years ago, adding 1,000 years to the continent’s human evolutionary chain.
Re-examine where your family has lived. Are there any sites worth excavating?