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Field Notes 1999 "Brooklyn's Eighteenth-Century Lott House"
July 23, 1999

Mysterious Pit
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.

Builder's Trench

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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 premises.

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.

Privy!
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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.

Discussion Questions:
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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© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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