As the saying goes, one man's trash is a future archaeologist's treasure.
Archaeologist Joseph Bagley unearthed a treasure trove of artifacts from a dig at the Old North Church in Boston's North End neighborhood this week, which he says help tell a story of the "everyday Bostonians" who have become lost to history.
The artifacts, including items like ceramic pottery, children's toys and a clay tobacco pipe with a shamrock design, showed a snapshot of English, Irish, Jewish and Italian immigrant life in the mid- to late-1800s, according to the city.
"I'm excited to see the rich history of this historic neighborhood come to life through these artifacts," said Mayor Marty Walsh in a statement. "We've explored privies in the North End before, but not one that captures a complete snapshot of the immigrant story. This is an exciting discovery that offers a real-life glimpse into our past."
Bagley made the discoveries in what he described as "one of the best privies unearthed in Boston." A privy, a statement from the city explained, is a toilet or waste disposal area that often holds many artifacts.
Wooden clothes pins, animal bone, religious figurines, medicine bottles and more were found during the dig.
"The main takeaway here is that history is more than just what's been written down," Bagley said in a statement. "Lots of personal stories just get lost to time. Archaeology is one of the best ways to reveal those stories, and bring them back from the past. The people who lived in this house did not have the economic means to really be part of the group who were recorded in Boston's history."
The City of Boston and the Old North Church Foundation, which reached out to the City's Archaeology Program, collaborated on the dig ahead of a new project for the Washington Garden.
The Old North Church Foundation and the Beacon Hill Garden Club are reconstructing the garden. The new design will include 18th century plantings and a large "glass-and-water feature" etchde with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "Paul Revere's Ride."
"Joe's research gives us a much better sense of the rich history of our neighborhood and is invaluable as the Old North Foundation prepares to restore the campus in time for Old North's 300th birthday in 2023," said Rev. Stephen T. Ayres of the Old North Church in a statement. "We can't wait until Joe returns this winter to conduct a new dig in the tombs beneath the church."