Archaeology in Your Backyard

BottlesI’m a curious person. Mix that curiosity with an interest in history and you have someone who’ll walk through knee-deep water and shoulder-high thorn bushes to get to an abandoned cemetery. Finding names and dates and tracing family lines is only half the pleasure of researching my family tree. The other half is learning about life the way it was before I was born.

Last summer I found a sample of that life buried beneath composting leaves and rotting tree branches in our backyard. It was adjacent to the pile of stones we had discovered in the woods. Although the farmer who had originally owned the property had removed the rocks from the planting field, I wanted to haul them out and use them to build a wall.

As we dug out the rocks, we uncovered old items scattered across the forest floor. Bottles, household objects and miscellaneous things that had been discarded in what was once the garbage pit.

Garbage dumps were common in rural areas years ago, and it was not unusual for folks to fill-in old wells with trash from around their property. However, the garbage dumps of yesterday aren’t like the ones of today because only things that were truly unusable went into them. That amounted to very little even for a large family.

Less garbage was produced years ago because people bought less and products were purchased in containers that could be reused or burnt in the wood stove. Possessions were used until they wore out and were thrown away only when another use couldn’t be found for them. Food scraps were non-existent because there wasn’t an abundance of food and because scraps were either composted or fed to the livestock.

Our backyard garbage pit didn’t contain garbage such as product packaging and plastic; it held items once thought to be boring to their owners but were now unique, such as a dark brown Javex bottle and a chrome fender from an old car. Several days were spent excavating the site for artefacts. Many unbroken pieces were recovered and cleaned. Incredibly, not many of the bottles were broken though they must have been thrown over the bank or dumped in the woods.

Armed with the names on the bottles and descriptions, we searched the Internet for more information. We discovered the Javex company began in 1919, and the amber-coloured glass protected the contents from light. The shape of the bottle we found was produced in the 1940s and 1950s. Our bottle had survived without a chip for more than sixty years.

Bottles from local companies that have disappeared from shelves, such as Chapman’s Beverages (Truro, NS) and Hi-Cap Beverages, were also found. This got me reminiscing about other companies I remembered from childhood such Pop Shop where recycling bottles was the natural thing to do.

My children and I learned a lot about the past from the backyard garbage dump. It was a history lesson that couldn’t be matched in any classroom.


2 thoughts on “Archaeology in Your Backyard

    • Jeanette, thank you for visiting and leaving a comment. Our ancestors are more resilient than most these days. We were talking about that just yesterday. We decided that people who work physically demanding jobs–which our ancestors would have keeping the farm running–were better able to survive; they were tougher. I agree. We are terrible wasters today.

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