Saturday, August 4, 2007

Garden Archaeology

If you dig around in your yard enough, you're going to find stuff. Probably nothing that you can sell for enough to pay off the mortgage, but odd, interesting stuff nonetheless. Your chances of finding things increase with the age of your house; but even if you live in a brand-new subdivision, there is always the possibility of unearthing arrowheads, old farm implements, or relics from some long ago battle. (The Battle of Guilford Courthouse was fought less than a mile from where I live, and homeowners in nearby neighborhoods (built in the 60s, 70s, and 80s) still occasionally turn up bullets, buttons, and other military artifacts.)

Finding things buried in the dirt is like touching a moment from the past that has been frozen in time. These discoveries connect us somehow with the lives of a home's previous owners. They always provoke questions.

Our house was built in 1965 on land that was once a large farm. (I complain about suburban sprawl whenever I pass the new subdivisions sprouting where corn grew just a few years ago, but we all live on what was once a wilderness and then a field.) My most interesting finds here have been the traces of an old garden, including a metal rose tag (which I cannot find anywhere to photograph for this post, so use your imagination.)

Yesterday I found two metal stubs just outside the laundry room door, exactly twenty feet apart. The first one was a mystery, but when I found the second one, I was pretty sure I knew what it was...clothesline posts! Clothes hung on a line between the posts would get direct afternoon sun for hours on end, perfect for drying clothes and now, perfect for growing Black-eyed Susans.

At our old house, built in 1954, we found a small brick patio at the back of the lot, a trowel blade, its wooden handle long since rotted, and numerous toy cars of 1970s and 80s vintage. The most curious find, though, was a 1957 wheat penny, buried in the front yard, about a foot from the curb, and nowhere near a sidewalk or path. In fact, it was a section of the yard that would hardly ever see any foot traffic unless, like me, you were planting something there.

While planting my flowers, I thought and thought about what someone could have been doing to lose a coin in that part of the yard. I was stumped. There was just no reason to be there with money. The day was hot, and I was thirsty, so I took a break from digging and went inside for a cold glass of lemonade...Lemonade...Lemonade??? A lemonade stand!

And you know, if I squinted my eyes just right and looked out the window, I could see a couple of kids, circa 1960, pouring lemonade and dropping their profits into a shoebox. The vision faded as quickly as it came, and as I drank my lemonade, I wondered about those kids, now in their fifties. Where are they, and do they still have fond memories, as I do, of that little house on Dublin Drive?

Found anything cool in your garden???


Catherine said...

Love your blog...and your post on garden archaeology~ finding treasures when you dig...we mostly find fossils~triolibites....but my husband owns a lot of acreage on a mountian not far from where we live~hunting camps for him and his dad and younger brother...there were old homesteads there from the mid 1800's -1960 or so...we have found so many interesting things...old shoes...lots of old bottles horse shoes..we have even found things in the creek...we have found old pieces of pottery and plates...lots of horeshoes..and items were not quite sure what they are..and they do make you ponder and ask questions...its great fun digging..never knowing what you will find...also I was born in 1965~not trying to give away my age..but ...enjoyed reading your posts and your blog...

Carolyn gail said...

Al Capone used to live in my neck of the woods and even though my house is over a hundred years old, I haven't found a thing of interest yet.

It was different when I was a young gal in Alabama. We used to dig up arrowheads and Indian artifacts all the time .

David in Greensboro NC said...

Welcome Catherine--always nice to have another 60s kid! (Me--1969). I just visited your blog-your photos are stunning!

Carolyn Gail--Al telling what you might dig up someday.

Thanks for visiting and stopping by to comment!

Carol said...

I found a fossil in my current back yard, but nothing else all that exciting. My lot was part of a farm before, so who knows? I know I do like digging and like the idea that I just might find something interesing buried somewhere in my yard. I have a post about it from last summer:

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

Heather said...

I had to laugh reading about your finds. We've found a bunch of stuff working our yard -- lipsticks, whole unbroken lightbulbs, radiator, rug, lobster shells, ancient milk bottles -- it was definitely used as a dump by someone. Our favorite find is described here in my first blog post back in June:

Colleen said...

I haven't found anything in my yard, but I keep hoping I will :-) I really enjoyed this post, especially you picturing the kids with a lemonade stand. I like that imagery :-)

BTW--thank you for your wonderful, wise words of support on my blog the other day. I really appreciate them.

David in Greensboro NC said...

Carol--Could you tell what kind of fossil it was? Bone, plant, etc? If there's one, I'll bet there are others down deep. Maybe you are living on top of a prime fossil site!

Heather--Your yard would be an urban archaeologist's dream. And how cool is that, finding an old path! I was looking at your photos and the houses in the background, trying to get a sense of your neighborhood's age (I'm guessing pre WWII? You've probably got all kinds of good stuff.

Colleen--keep an eye out when you're digging, and be sure to write about it when you find something interesting. (You're welcome--and I enjoy your writing very much.)