This summer, with funding from the Wenner Gren Foundation, I continued archaeological fieldwork at Estate Cane Garden begun in the summer of 2015.
We continued excavations in the midden area to the east of the hospital as well as continuing the shovel tests in the domestic quarters. Because the shovel tests from 2015 indicated that the area was very disturbed (probably from plowing and land clearing activities) it was more productive to do lots of shovel tests at close intervals than to open horizontal excavation units in hopes of finding intact deposits. After removing backfill from last year’s excavation units, we opened up 7 new units adjacent to last year’s. The goal of the summer was to finish excavating the midden we discovered during the last few weeks of excavations in 2015. We were expecting to find some kind of soil change indicating the edge of a pit or formal cut in which the artifacts were thrown, but we did not come across anything that would suggest an intentionally dug trash pit.
Instead, the artifact concentration is located in levels 3 and 4 of the units (15-25 cm below ground surface) and many of the artifacts are flat lying and are broken in situ. This would suggest that the artifacts were deposited on the ground surface, not in a pit or hole in the ground. Furthermore, because there were very few artifacts found in Unit 6, right in front of the doorway, this entrance area was intentionally being kept clear.
Discard patterns also tell us a lot about how people lived, what they ate and how they ate it, and how they treated their garbage. Archaeologists love trash. Archaeologists predominately study trash – things that were intentionally thrown away, discarded, or recycled until they are no longer functional.
The way in which garbage is treated, disposed of, and recycled tells us much about people’s views on sanitation, their ability to access new goods, and people’s propensity for re-using and recycling old goods. Especially in a setting where
people were housed because they were sick, injured, or generally unwell, sanitation practices are very informative. Germ theory in Europe didn’t come to the fore until the late 1800s, and even then wasn’t commonly excepted in the turn of the century. In addition, while public health and sanitation measures took hold in the early 1800s in most European countries, public health practices were based on humoral theories- i.e. the idea that airs and certain substances are either harmful or beneficial.
The individuals who were occupying the sick house did not have access to alternative methods of discarding trash, or the stuff that was being thrown away was not seen as immediately harmful. This is interesting because it contrasts with other methods of garbage disposal around the same time, mainly the disposal of garbage in privies or in formal trash pits.