BOSTON -- Archaeologists digging under historic Faneuil Hall this week said they unearthed a Colonial garbage dump, and its contents could provide valuable insight into the busy lives of early Americans.
The seven-week dig in the hall's basement uncovered tens of thousands of artifacts dating from the early 18th century. Most were surprisingly well preserved in the moist soil of the area near Boston Harbor.
But unlike most museum artifacts, which often are the former possessions of an era's wealthy and elite, the Faneuil Hall dig unearthed more everyday items discarded by both rich and poor.
There were wine bottles with corks still stuck in the top, a woman's comb, tobacco pipes, glassware and even a feather. Archaeologists giving reporters a tour of the dig also displayed the leather soles of a baby's shoes, wooden pegs used for curling powdered wigs, a musket ball and a clay marble.
"These items are in a way more democratic than the artifacts found in museums," said Steven Pendery, an archaeologist for the city. "The things people threw out tell us more about daily life. It has more of a neighborhood focus."
The neighborhood remains the heart of the city. Now, the area around Faneuil Hall is a shopping and business district.
Back then, the artifacts indicate, the area also was a bustling place, with craftsmen such as leather workers and glass blowers.
Animal bones and peach and watermelon pits indicated there was a busy marketplace, featuring butchers and grocers. And shards of European pottery and pieces of wooden ballast show the strength of the imports at the time.
Documents yield much information about pre-Revolutionary times. But sometimes merchants and producers kept poor records, in part to shield them from the prying British.
The artifacts might, for instance, reveal the ratio of imported goods to those produced locally, Pendery said.
"This tells us about the production of goods," Pendery said. "This was the belly of Boston, the first consumer society in that part of the world."
Faneuil Hall, built in 1742 by merchant Peter Faneuil, was a meeting place for Colonials organizing against the British.
The hall is being renovated. The dig, organized by city and state agencies and the National Park Service, is standard procedure for the renovation of such a historic site.
Archaeologists said the artifacts were probably discarded between 1700 and 1740, then covered up when the hall was built.
The artifacts will be cleaned and catalogued, and eventually exhibited in Boston.
The conditions at any exhibit will be a far cry from what the archaeologists had to put up with. When workers dug through the basement floor and hit the wet soil underneath, the air was filled with the marshy smell of decomposing organic matter.