For the last 8 years we have begun the Spring with an archaeological dig in our garden. This serves a dual purpose. It gets the children interested in history and it gets the vegetable patch dug over fairly painlessly!
Parts of our house date back to 1680 and it has had many incarnations. Back in 17-something it was a peruke makers, perukes being wigs which were de rigueur for your noggin back then. When we removed plaster in our sitting room we found the walls were stuffed not with the traditional horsehair but with human hair which, presumably, was what they had lying around at the time. Recycling 18th century style! Some of my friends find this disturbing but I love that the house has been a home for such a long time and that we are just its latest occupants. I gave birth to Bonus Boy in a birthing pool just in front of that particular wall!
We finally got round to removing the green deep pile carpet in the sitting room two years ago (I did think about offering it to the local football club as astro turf; horrible thing). The sitting room had been two storage rooms for the shop at the front and then, for a while, it was an alehouse before becoming storage again. Consequently it was at two different levels with a step in the middle. When the carpet came up we discovered that the bottom end of the room was boards and joists over a small stone cellar but that at the top end of the room the boards were laid directly on the earth. Huge quantities of this earth would need to come out in order to level the room, CUE ANOTHER ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG!
With a little coerced child labour and some help from some strong blokes many bucketfuls of rich top soil were dumped in the garden. The kids found some fantastic things which they washed carefully a la Time Team and displayed for family to see. Most of the finds were alcohol related, there has been enormous variety in bottle top technology over the last 350 years. They also found small animal bones, some coins dating to 1930 and best of all a bone on wood domino.
The garden finds have mostly been an enormous number of pieces of broken pot and old clay pipe stems (we have yet to find a pipe bowl to add to our collection), nails, screws and bits of glass. We have recently found a number of Playmobil people dropped in years gone by by members of the Thinly Spread clan which has caused amusement and inspired a long conversation about what makes archaeology, how most of it is rubbish and what future occupants of the house will conclude about us. (Probably that we were very messy!)
Lots of people locally have memories of the house. I really like that it was a bookshop for a while, the boys like that it was a model shop and the peruke makers always appeals. However, best of all, when it was an ale house a monkey lived here! This is in living memory and I have had older people stopping me to tell me about him!
I like to think we are continuing tradition and that we have now peopled our house with 4 little (and not so little) monkeys!
So, have you found archaeological rubbish in your garden? If not, why not use a little child labour, let them dig and see what they find!