Archeologists Go Digging in Paul Revere's Neighbor's Shithouse

Finds from the dig. Photo via AP Images.
Finds from the dig. Photo via AP Images.

Volunteers for the City of Boston Archaeological Program are currently rooting around in what they think was Paul Revere’s neighbor’s outhouse. This has afforded the presumably delighted staff of the Associated Press the opportunity to make some incredible puns, such as “Flush with artifacts?” and “No. 1 if by land, No. 2 if by sea?”


The AP reports on the new dig, saying they’re already “pulling fragments of pottery, bottles and a tobacco pipe from the bricked yard of the Pierce-Hichborn House in the heart of Boston’s North End.”

“Paul Revere might well have come over here for dinner and used the bathroom,” Boston city archeologist Joe Bagley told the AP. “He had 12 kids in his own little house next door. It’s easy to imagine they didn’t stay cramped up in there all the time.” Forget dinner—get 12 kids in one house and you’re liable to find yourself routinely begging your neighbor to borrow his privy just for 15 minutes of time to yourself, bowel movement or no.

The find is exciting because toilets, much like garbage dumps, tend to be a total treasure trove for archeologists. Before the advent of finicky flush technology, you could toss anything you wanted to get rid of down the privy. Broken plate? Toss it! Shoes torn past repair? Jug with a busted lip? Bones leftover from dinner? Into the hole it goes, like a poop-smeared present for the delighted historians of the future. Even fossilized poop, if they find it, could reveal fascinating info about the diet of colonial-era Bostonians.

“For us, it’s an opportunity to get at a source of information that’s literally buried underground,” said Nina Zannieri of the Paul Revere Memorial Association

Outhouses: the gift that keeps on giving.

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This is a thing; people used to routinely throw trash in the outhouse.

I participated in a dig excavating the enlisted men’s latrine at Fort Malden (over the river from Detroit, in southern Ontario). A 26 holer, circa 1812 We found buttons, pipes, even a chicken hawk skeleton with one shot through the skull; someone was a sharpshooter.

Two of us were “voluntold” that we were going to excavate the officer’s latrine, and we would be going down to the levels where anaerobic bacteria live, like cholera, which can live anaerobically for about 200 years. We had to wear hazmat suits, weren’t allowed to touch our faces, had to eat and wash separately from everyone else,, and had to undergo a rudimentary decontamination at the end each shift.