Why a Boston Archaeologist Has Made It His Mission to Dig Up Old Outhouses and 'Unedited History'
Bagley, who lives in Boston, said many historical archeologists love outhouses or what some call “privies.”
Boston's City Archaeologist Joseph Bagley said there is a lot that people’s trash can teach us, and he’s discovered a great deal through investigating centuries-old outhouses. It's what he calls an “unedited history.”
“It's the stuff that people nobody thought would come and dig up in 100, 200, 300 years,” Bagley told Inside Edition Digital.
Bagley, who lives in Boston, said many historical archeologists love outhouses, or what some call “privies.”
“They tend to be dug pretty deep, so that means that a lot can happen in places like cities, where I am in Boston, and those sites can be well preserved,” Bagley said. “We tend to get the stories of everyday life, and sometimes the secrets of everyday life, hidden in the privies. And when we find those, we are able to piece together some of the more mundane, but more interesting parts of the story of the past.“
Bagley said the privies tend to be in backyards far away from houses because they smell terribly, specifically in the summer months. He added that the process of digging them up can take days.
“We take tons of notes, tons of photographs, and every artifact that we find is carefully recorded as to exactly where we find it in the ground,” Bagley said.
While he said the process can be gross, it’s not always so.
"We just did a dig in January on a privy, and it was so cold that we couldn't smell anything. It's not often until we get back into our lab and we start washing off the artifacts with some warm water that we can start to get a whiff of what this used to be,” Bagley said. “But the good news is that a lot of the contents of these privies have been composting for so long, it's not any worse than if you had a compost pile in your yard.”
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