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Digging up the past in an outhouse

May 15, 2013 - For local archeologists, a century-old outhouse is a gold mine of historical treasure.

"People used to throw all kinds of things in there," said Richard Stamps, lead archeologist for the dig at the Ellis Farm on Dixie Highway in Springfield Township. "Now it's like a time capsule of what they were using at the time."

The dig, May 3-5, centered on a stone structure, once used as the outhouse for the farm.

The outhouse, also called a "privy," had to be located before it could be excavated.

"We used historic maps, and by carefully excavating, found an outline of the stone structure," said Stamps.

The a 5-by-5-foot work area was surrounded by an 18-inch-thick stone wall. The dig took place in three different levels.

"As we go down and reach a different level, the color of the soil changes," said Project Director Carol Egbo. "We found things in layers."

Egbo, who works as a social studies teacher at Waterford Schools, said items unearthed will be used in the district as a teaching too.

Diggers found old milk and beer bottles, ceramic pieces, pots, pans, old lantern parts and some strange things like old doll parts and some sort of hair. "We have also found about six or seven child size shoes," said Egbo.

Some of the ceramic and other pieces found were estimated to be from the 1840-1850's time period.

"A majority of the items we found were from 1900 to 1920," said Egbo.

Level 1 and 2 is estimated to be items disposed of from 1900-1920, but the date of level 3 items still has to be analyzed.

Pieces found will go through a process after being pulled from the ground. First they are categorized, then taken to a lab, washed with water and dated.

"Any leather found will go in the freezer," said Egbo. After the dig was finished, the artifacts were moved to a lab where they will be cleaned and organized.

Many items were broken, but volunteers will try to piece stuff together for upcoming exhibits.

"We will have to decide what will be displayed," said Egbo.

Items found during the dig will be displayed during the SCAMP Designer Show House from July 19-28, and then go on loan to Clarkston Area Historical Society for its "Clarkston's Hidden Treasures" exhibit in August.

The project was a collaborative effort between SCAMP, Oakland County Parks and Recreation, Waterford Schools and the Oakland County Historical Society.

Constructed around 1884, the Ellis Barn was moved to the Oakland County 4-H Grounds, and the Ellis House was preserved and moved to a subdivision behind its original location. According to Stamps, preserving history of the location is the reasons the dig took place.

"The property is going to be developed and we wanted to get in and find history before that happens," he said. "It's a wonderful joint cooperative effort."

Oakland County Parks wants to preserve a full picture of what went on at the Ellis Farm, he said.

"We already have good historical documents and maps, and there is also a lot of oral history," he said.

Staff writer
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