By Carlos Lu
Phase two of the Washington Memorial Garden Archaeological Dig is well under way under the auspice of City Archaeologist Joseph Bagley. Joe and his crew have been hard at work excavating what was originally thought to be a “cistern” but now the feature’s identity is less certain. Instead the archaeologists have unearthed more questions and possibilities about the life of late 19th century North Enders.
Archaeology is like doing detective work of the past. It’s a speculative process where, based on the physical remains, the story of what happened at a particular site is pieced together. During the excavation process the timeline of events is not clear, and a new find can upturn the entirety of earlier assumptions. This is what happened here at Old North Church when Joe and his crew discovered the remains of the property wall of Unity Court 1 and Unity Court 2 further south of where they expected it to be. With this new revelation, the identity of the large, circular feature previously called a “cistern” is in doubt, as the feature is now right up against the property line. That’s hardly the place where the central water collection for a building should be. Further putting this in doubt is the discovery of another large, clay-lined feature on the western side of the site. This feature could actually be a large communal cistern for the surrounding homes, including Unity Court 1 and Unity Court 2, implying a neighborhood plumbing system; such a discovery would relegate the previous “cistern” to a privy possibly.
While Joe and his crew continue to search for answers with regards to the plumbing of Unity Court 1 and Unity Court 2, they have found some solid items to identify. Highlights include pencil lead and an inkwell made in London, which implies the inhabitants of the homes at Unity Court could read and write! Animal bones were also found, either sheep or pig, giving us some insight into what the occupants ate. Other goods include the remains of a green glass bowl or bottle with a shamrock design and a German style chamber pot. Such finds offer further proof of America’s “melting pot” reputation; in the late 1800s, you could buy inkwells from England, bottles from Ireland, and chamber pots from Germany!
Feature: The term archaeologists use to classify any large discovery that cannot be moved
Cistern: A tank meant to store water
Privy: A bathroom!