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I was privy to something down and dirty.
July 6, 2007 5:14 PM   Subscribe

Most people avoid outhouses, these people actively seek them out, and dig as far down into them as possible. Note: "as" link slightly patriotic slightly NSFW.
posted by Atreides (35 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Something nasty in the woodshed!
now to actually read the links
posted by Abiezer at 5:24 PM on July 6, 2007


That's pretty cool!
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 5:30 PM on July 6, 2007


I was prepared to be disgusted, but this was really quite cool.

Thanks.

(I clicked on the "as" link first because I couldn't resist something described as slightly patriotic slightly NSFW.)
posted by Sheppagus at 5:33 PM on July 6, 2007


I think we all want a post devoted to patriotic pin-ups.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 5:39 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Privy Digger.

Upon the crest of day, through dew that soaks the shoe,
The Privy Digger, probe in hand, is walking straight and true.
He probes a line from house to fence, marking by his stride.
While ghosts of privy users past do in the shadows hide.

Their footsteps long forgotten, even by the stone paved path,
That lies a century under time, 10 inches under grass.
The Privy Digger sees the signs invisible to most.
From squares of greener garden to the dip of old fence post.

The click and clack and tap of probe to his ears tell a tale,
That Mother Nature over time endeavored to make pale.
With all thoughts caught between two worlds a century apart,
He lives the now in body sound, the past lives in his heart.

Copyright 2000 Edwin G. Brater lll

posted by Burhanistan at 5:58 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


There's nothing like stupid goddamned collectors to fuck up a potential archaeological site. Jerkoffs like this are why the US needs some decent cultural heritage management laws.
posted by barnacles at 6:18 PM on July 6, 2007


barnacles, at least one of these guys (the "as" link above) seems to respect the science:

I record the information from each dig and personally maintain this information for possibility of future study and publication. We never trespass and always obtain permission to excavate.

We do not dig any site, which might at some time be considered worthy of a full-scale archaeological interest. We dig the average citizens privy.

posted by retronic at 6:28 PM on July 6, 2007


I was just digging a privy last week. We found bits of a boot, and two bottles. Last month they found a goddamn ice skate, those lucky bastards. And unlike some people, I can tell you the levels these things were in.

Retronic: I don't see any measuring equipment anywhere. Everything's at 'about 5 feet'. I'd bet he's not recording anything but what the objects are. Frankly, he could do worse...but wait, he is. He also teaches people to collect 'Indian artifacts'.

And can you say OSHA violation? God, we'd get our asses so kicked if we did anything like that.
posted by cobaltnine at 6:55 PM on July 6, 2007


I just knew digging up old outhouses would degenerate into a legal argument sooner or later.
posted by telstar at 6:57 PM on July 6, 2007


Okay, I apologize for my crankiness. That's what happens when you have 25 bags of iron scrap to process (which sucks, btw) from two days worth of test pits.

If he digs in 10 cm intervals and records things and publishes in Regional Not Peer Reviewed Historical Quarterly, I'd be happy.

But OSHA still won't. (It looks exactly like the 'don't' picture in one of my manuals.)
posted by cobaltnine at 7:02 PM on July 6, 2007


We do not dig any site, which might at some time be considered worthy of a full-scale archaeological interest. We dig the average citizens privy.

Oh, for the love of god, for at least the last fifty years a principle interest, maybe the principle interest of archaeologists has been "average citizens". If you're not an archaeologist, just leave this shit alone.
posted by Rumple at 7:36 PM on July 6, 2007


Oh, for the love of god, for at least the last fifty years a principle interest, maybe the principle interest of archaeologists has been "average citizens". If you're not an archaeologist, just leave this shit alone.

I don't know about you, Rumple, but I don't have many archaeologists knocking on my door to ask if they can dig up the house's old shitter.

That's like saying that unless I'm a geologist I shouldn't root around my yard for cool looking rocks.

Nobody else is going to do it, so why not them?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 8:06 PM on July 6, 2007


If you're not an archaeologist, just leave this shit alone.

What is an archaeologist going to find that is more important than the (seemingly) well-documented discoveries these collectors are making? That argument reeks of the sort of expert-privileging so prevalent in academia - as though a "trained" archaeologist has more of a "right" to that material than a collector, who may have as much experience dealing with these materials as any "real" archaeologist.
posted by casconed at 8:07 PM on July 6, 2007


If you're not an archaeologist, just leave this shit alone.

Leave the shitters alone, you mean?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:12 PM on July 6, 2007


Well, I can't speak for all archaeologists or all shitters, but I have dug up a few, and one thing that I found that I'm pretty sure these looters or Citrusfreak12 would miss were three tiny, fragile bones from a second trimester human foetus. Yes, down a privy. More interesting than a glass bottle? You decide.
posted by Rumple at 8:20 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Rumple, amen to that. An outhouse site I was involved with a couple months ago had great conditions, and we were able to recover small bits of 100+ year old newspaper. As you say about the fetal remains, they're things that these people would absolutely miss. Fascinating bits of local history, and doubtless some of the privvies these folks are looting have similar features that will be lost. For a bottle collection.
posted by barnacles at 8:45 PM on July 6, 2007


Here's my thinking: If an archaeologist is going to dig up the privy, cool. Go for it. But if nobody else is going to, let the collector. No sense in letting it all sit there undiscovered. Would it be "better" if a trained professional went through these sites? Yeah, I think it would. I'd rather have somebody dig it up than nobody at all, though.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:12 PM on July 6, 2007


The privy might still be interesting to an archaeologist 10,000 years from now, Citrusfreak12. We don't have to consume everything now, you know. Archaeologists take a long view of the future, as well as of the past.
posted by Rumple at 9:28 PM on July 6, 2007


10,000 years from now they just might be able to extract faintly recorded ambient sounds impressed in glass like those bottles.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:32 PM on July 6, 2007


Leave them in the ground. An arch may not be coming along to excavate it now, but maybe in 30 years they would. I'd rather have nobody dig it up than somebody who doesn't do it well.

And it arguably is better than a trained professional excavates these sites. With prehistoric sites it's undeniable that every bit of evidence we get increases what we know about those cultures. People seem to think that the opposite is true for historic sites. The fact of the matter is, however, that there's a lot of stuff about everyday life we have no idea about from even 100 years ago, and everytime an amateur rips into one of these holes there's no telling what information is lost.

Recently I attended a seminar in which an arch talked about work he had done in Sydney (I believe -- I'm not certain, though, don't quote me on that bit!). Part of the job involved the excavation of an old trash pit from a series of Jewish households, circa 1900. Interestingly, they found a lot of processed pig bone in and among the families' trash. Pig bone that an American looter like those in these posts would have just thrown away, but which was then used to rewrite some of the assimilation history of Jewish families in the area (it might not be kosher, but when it was plentiful and cheap, kosher lost out to the cold hard facts of needing food).

It's little tidbits like this -- minute details that combine to flesh out the whole of past human life and experience -- that are lost everytime sites get looted. It's a goddamned shame. And that's why if they're going to be ripped out by amateurs, I'd rather they just stay in the ground.
posted by barnacles at 9:38 PM on July 6, 2007


Good points. But the reality is that collectors are still going to come around and dig this stuff up. Either beat them to it or find a way to prevent them from doing it, I guess.

And regardless of whether or not these collectors are destroying the sites, I still think the whole thing is very cool.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 9:46 PM on July 6, 2007


Well CitrusFreak12, maybe you could help by speaking out against looting of archaeological sites. If it isn't too, you know, uncool.
posted by Rumple at 9:49 PM on July 6, 2007


How many years does it take before my refuse stops being mere trash and becomes a sacred historical relic that only the anointed academic can touch?
posted by bunnytricks at 9:51 PM on July 6, 2007


Rumple, I apologize if my original comment came off as snarktastic, which it probably did. The fact that you're coming across as consistently patronizing isn't doing much to make me want to discuss the issue with you. I know, I know, I'm part of the sorry hoi polloi who probably can't identify fetal bones in a privy, but Barnacles did a great job of putting "why digging the sites up is a bad thing" into perspective for me without being condescending, and it helped me better understand the issue.

My question is, if "looting" is such a problem with these sites, why hasn't something been done to prevent it? How would arch's know about such privies anyway? And, if they knew about said privys, what would they do with that knowledge if they weren't going to excavate the site in the near future?
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 10:02 PM on July 6, 2007


Totally fascinating. Barnacles, haven't a number of important finds been discovered by amateurs?
posted by rcavett at 10:03 PM on July 6, 2007


Listen, everybody, go bury all of your stuff in your yards right now. Some day, an archaeologist might be interested in it, and you wouldn't want to be guilty of impeding science, would you?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:06 PM on July 6, 2007


Wow, what a bunch of haters. I saw the antique bottle episode of Cash and Treasures and thought it was fascinating.
posted by O9scar at 10:11 PM on July 6, 2007


Great post, great links, great debate. Reminds me of Metafilter ca. 2000.
posted by Mapes at 10:30 PM on July 6, 2007


Well, I sat in many an outhouse as a child, in many a rural commune. Some of them, I'm sure, are still right where I left them 15 or 20 years ago, in the same great condition and being used by the same diehard off-the-grid hippies.

They're actually fine if they're spacious, well ventilated and frequently turned over / wood-chipped.

Many were beautiful, with stained glass windows or gooooovy painted murals. One had a constantly-evolving mural on its wall made of all the moths and insects that were found dead inside it.

Good times. (But at this point I'm pretty attached to my borgeouis planet-wrecking indoor plumbing.)
posted by allterrainbrain at 11:48 PM on July 6, 2007


Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa-ah!
posted by taosbat at 12:42 AM on July 7, 2007



How many years does it take before my refuse stops being mere trash and becomes a sacred historical relic that only the anointed academic can touch?


In the jurisdiction I live in bunnytricks, unless you crapped it out before 1846 AD on provincial land, or, you crapped it out on federal land before a rolling window of 50 years before the present, or, for some odd reason your crap is evidence for an aboriginal right, or, for some even more bizarre reason your crap contains human skeletal remains or could be considered as rock art, or, for an even more unfathomable reason yet, the Minister of the Crown responsible designates that specific sample of your crap to be an archaeological site irregardless of its age or ethnic origin, then, sadly, your crap can be touched by non-archaeologists with impunity.

Which doesn't mean it should be, of course.

Archaeologists know that not everything can be preserved. In fact, a bit of destruction is good, it makes way for new stuff, that will eventually get old. But the specific problem with looting and uncontrolled digging is:
- it is unnecessary destruction of the archaeological record, which is a non-renewable resource, but, more seriously,
- it creates and perpetuates a market for some of the goods found through this kind of digging, such as bottles and ceramics, and by creating such a market, it encourages further looting and a vicious circle of destruction, and,
- unlike many other sources of disturbance of the archaeological record, this kind of looting is specifically targeted at the richest kinds of archaeological sites.

There is a huge array of forces aligned to destroy archaeological sites, while there are relatively few forces that actively seek to conserve them, and archaeologists usually feel they have an ethical responsibility to advocate for preservation and against pointless destruction.

And yes, amateurs have made many fine discoveries, and the value of these discoveries is often proportional to the restraint they showed in not digging the whole damn thing up themselves.
posted by Rumple at 1:00 AM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]


And since it is limerick day on the filter:

There was a young fellow named Hyde,
Who fell down a privy and died.
His unfortunate brother
Then fell down another,
And now they're interred side by side.


in turd .... get it
posted by Rumple at 1:03 AM on July 7, 2007



The privy might still be interesting to an archaeologist 10,000 years from now, Citrusfreak12. We don't have to consume everything now, you know. Archaeologists take a long view of the future, as well as of the past.


I would normally be coming out swinging for the academics on any side of an argument, but this makes no sense to me, and seems to defeat the point. Hi, archaeologist of the future, we know you're watching us and we're going to deliberately change our behaviors to make your job a little easier. How is that valid?

Presumably one can tell if a site has been looted before; wouldn't the fact that there are groups of fanatic privy-diggers out there tell the archaeologists of the future something about the north american human circa 2000? Are we so self-conscious and into the navel-gazing that our bizarre hobby activities are less historically relevant than those of people 200 years ago? I mean, for example, doesn't the fact that there were tomb robbers in ancient Egypt, how they operated and what they stole, in itself tell us relevant things about the society they came from - how they viewed the dead, who was likely to rob, etc.?
posted by frobozz at 10:41 AM on July 7, 2007



- it creates and perpetuates a market for some of the goods found through this kind of digging, such as bottles and ceramics, and by creating such a market, it encourages further looting and a vicious circle of destruction, and,
- unlike many other sources of disturbance of the archaeological record, this kind of looting is specifically targeted at the richest kinds of archaeological sites.


This is the most important thing, to me. Sure, no big deal to pick up a point you find while ploughing, but if you celebrate it and make it a big deal, well...
It's not a big deal until it makes people greedy enough to start messing up sites that are being processed by scientists and research groups. And that's why some of the the native sites I've worked at have had to have guards at them on the overnight.

And yes, the market creates interest which is a good thing, but only to a point. You know what? People don't like archaeological sites. They don't see the importance of certain things versus others. Cool bottles? Cool. Tiny bone fragments? Hell, we miss them, and we're looking for them. And they're not cool. No one wants to display half a bowl, especially a lumpy one that doesn't look right when there's nicer looking stuff. But the very presence of that crappy bowl is potentially more important. The interest is good in general, but bad when it becomes too specific.

There's also issues of preservation. Less important with things like glass, but bone and metal, never mind paper or leather, are fragile. They're better off in the ground than on a shelf, unless you know what you're doing.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:22 AM on July 7, 2007


My question is, if "looting" is such a problem with these sites, why hasn't something been done to prevent it?

Archaeologists being unable to solve a problem doesn't mean there is no problem. Bottle collectors are as common as dirt, they work quietly in people's back yards with the permission of the property owners, and usually they aren't breaking any laws. Archaeologists don't have the time and budgets to stop or outrace stuff like this.

Education might help, like explaining, as above, that we don't have to dig everything up now, and that amateurs are cool only if they restrain themselves (find and report, don't find and tear everything up). But education (especially in places like this) probably just creates more amateur diggers ("Cool, dude! Why didn't I think of that!") who will cherry-pick the marketable collectibles and scatter the rest.

Presumably one can tell if a site has been looted before; wouldn't the fact that there are groups of fanatic privy-diggers out there tell the archaeologists of the future something about the north american human circa 2000?

The archaeologists of the future will know all about these bottle collectors through, for example, the preserved web pages that we are looking at here. But they will learn little or nothing from the places that were dug up except that someone was there before them and completely fucked up the context of anything that wasn't removed and sold at the flea market.

The coolest amateurs would find sites like this, report them to local historians or university archaeologists, and stop. They would volunteer to help the local university archaeologists dig local sites. Maybe they'd meticulously document everything nondestructively (maps of locations combined with local history to describe who lived there and when) and have the local historical society publish it. But then they wouldn't get to keep the bottles, and that's what they're really after.
posted by pracowity at 3:25 AM on July 9, 2007


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