BOSTON — Workers digging at the Paul Revere house in Boston’s historic North End neighborhood believe they may have found an archaeological jackpot that could give them a unique window into history — the Revere family outhouse, CBS Boston reports.
The possible privy site was discovered Monday, and diggers were attempting to open it up Tuesday to investigate.
City archaeologist Joe Bagley told WBZ that a find like this is important because people back in the colonial era threw a lot of stuff in their privies — stuff that could give insight into their lives.
“You’d fill it up with you-know-what, and then also your household waste, because everyone threw their trash out into that,” Bagley said. “We’re hoping to find the individuals’ waste themselves, which, we can get seeds from what they were eating, we can find parasites, find out what their health was, but then everything else that they threw out from their house.”
He said the team found a 4-by-6-foot brick rectangle — too small to be the foundation for a house or a shed.
“Typically what you would do is you would dig a big pit, you’d line it with bricks,” Bagley said. “You typically would also line it with clay, because you didn’t want the contents to leach into your well.”
But the only way to confirm the true nature of the find was to dig into the potentially gross contents.
“We love finding privies,” said Bagley. “We think we have one. The only way to find out is to dig down into it and see if it has that nightsoil-that kind of smelly, dark soils which are now composted and not that bad, but they might have a stench still, a little bit.”
The archaeological team already found the handle to a German-made beer stein from the 1700s, as well as pieces of coal.
“If we start finding thousands of artifacts, then we really know we’re in a really important feature,” Bagley said.
Bagley said that there was a law in place in Boston starting in 1650 mandating that every household dig their privy at least 6 feet deep — but that doesn’t mean everyone followed the law.
“I expect that, at most, we’ll have to go down that full six feet,” Bagley said. “I hope it’s six feet deep, because that gives us the best opportunity to find a lot of things from multiple families.”
The home has been a fixture in the North End since around 1711.