Field Notes 1999
"Brooklyn's Eighteenth-Century Lott House"
July 23, 1999
In N32.5 W7, near the west field shell midden we found a large pit packed
with a fill of early twentieth-century garbage. The pit reaches a depth of
about two meters. Generally, large pits are not dug so close as this one to the house and front yard. Ever hopeful of finding a
well, we crossed our fingers once again. Alas, we hit the water table at
the two meter mark.
The Sand Pit
Our pit, which slopes away from the house, has revealed a large cast-iron
pipe. The pipe may be either a cesspit feeder pipe (channeling water or waste) or a link to the city's
sewer system. Strangely, no one is quite sure whether the house is
connected to the city's sewage system. The city cannot find the relevant
records. The pipe seems to lead beneath the present-day garage, and we'd wager there is a cesspit under there. The sand pit is surrounded by the same mica schist rock used for the
foundation of the stone kitchen (unearthed in 1998). Family lore has it
there was a bathroom in the house long before city water entered the house
in 1927, suggesting there was indeed once a cesspit. Strangely, we recovered no artifacts from around this pipe. Fill
usually contains some cultural material.
|We found lighter soil immediately next to the 1720s foundation and knew we'd uncovered the builder's trench. In this photograph, the foundation wall is straight ahead; the lighter soil of the builder's trench can be seen on the scarp to the right. (Courtesy Brooklyn College)|
We've been trying to determine when the lean-to section of the house was
constructed, and trench N38 E22.5, where the flagstone path emerged last
week, is positioned against the foundation, bisecting one meter of the
1800s foundation and following one meter along the foundation of the
lean-to. The restoration architects believed the construction of the
lean-to was contemporaneous with that of the 1720s wing, but the
foundations show that the 1800s section underlies the lean-to. This
does not mean, however, that the lean-to was not part of the 1720s house;
it could have been moved to its present location from an earlier site on
The foundation of the lean-to is composed of thin, unmortared field stones
while that of the 1800s section is made up of thick, mortared river rocks
and New Jersey brown sandstone. The foundation to the 1800s house extends
down almost two meters while the foundation of the lean-to extends only
about half a meter. We've even encountered (in profile) the builder's
trench for the lean-to--evidence of the period of construction that has
remained all too elusive along the foundation walls of the 1800s house.
Artifacts include mid-nineteenth-century bottles and whiteware ceramics.
|Students excavate the privy and artifacts emerge. The soil that appears grainy has a heavy concentration of seeds. Though the seeds need to be analyzed for a positive identification, they look like berry seeds, possibly raspberries. Click here for more photos of the privy and its contents. (Courtesy Brooklyn College)|
In the area of the three paths, approximately two meters below surface, we
finally found the remains of a privy. It appears that the paths may have
led to it, confirming our earliest hopes! Of course, following tradition
(not to mention Murphy's Law), the privy remained hidden until the last day
of the field school. We'll make time for further work on this feature in
August, extending the trench a bit farther, but the privy seems to run
along the property line, so the rest of the privy is in the backyard of the
neighbor! What we've got is a wood-lined square box with a sandy bottom. A
preliminary look at the artifacts coming out the privy places them in the
mid-nineteenth century, but we'll see whether closer analysis in the lab
bears out those early conclusions. One student was so happy about the find
and the quantity of materials emerging from it that she broke down in tears
of joy. It made for a great picture! One of the most spectacular finds in
the privy was a salt-glazed stoneware smoking pipe in perfect condition!
We've also noted lots of chamber pots, cut glass, drinking glasses, and
buttons. Click here to read student accounts of the privy's discovery
What might have been the use for this mysterious pit?
Why would people have thrown chamber pots into a privy?
The official field school is out for the summer, but we will press on. Next week, we'll return to the lab for a closer look at these exciting
discoveries. We'll be back in the field in August with a handful of
volunteers (four or five, not the 20 we've been lucky enough to have
these past two months.) Check here in two weeks for the latest update.
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