Michigan Historical Artifact Recovery Team 

Preserving the Past for Future Generations
Below are a few of the more than 1,000 digs sites that we have worked on in more than 25 years. About one site a year ends up yielding items that are of significant historical importance. One such site, yielded numerous items that were unbroken and of interest to our project. That particular site was more than 6' below the current ground surface level due to a downtown block being dug out around 1890 and the dirt being added to the subject site where the large pit was found and excavated.

The photo is of a cistern  that was more than 100 feet from the residence that was used as the first hospital in the area. The condition of the cistern was excellent and the walls were still very solid. After assessing that it was safe to enter, I was able to dig out about 4ft of fill and recovered about a dozen items, two of which were added to the long term collection. The remaining items were cleaned, conserved and given to the owner of the property. He and his wife are very interested and involved in the local Historical Society. I only wish we had found more items on this historic property in the downtown district.

My favorite, most rewarding dig was on a site that I had visited many  times over a 20+ year span. A dear friend in the excavating business called me one afternoon saying that he had uncovered a bunch of ash and broken glass, wondering if I wanted to come take a look. "TAKE A LOOK?, YOU BET I DID...  I politely excused myself from the meeting I was in, drove the speed limit,OK not quite the speed limit, but safely. Immediately, upon arrival, I noticed a large debris field of ash and glass, just as he stated. The bad news was that we only had that evening to recover any items of interest. I called the one person that I knew could help go through the debris in the given timeline, recovering everything possible without additional breakage. The two of us worked into the night managing to recover a large number of items. The pit was 8 feet deep, 8 feet long and 6 feet wide. It took nearly 2 weeks to sort through all the items and assemble the pieces. I will attach some additional photos in the near future of a few of the most historically significant items.

This photo is of my fellow digging buddy scott after a historical dig in the in the city of  Ypsilanti. He had been to this particular site on a number of occassions and not been able to locate any potential dig locations. Today was our lucky day as we spent about 4 hours excavating a large outhouse pit containing more than 50 unbroken objects, allowing both of us to add several items to our collections that neither of us had seen prior to this event. It will always be a memorable day for me. Thanks Scott for letting me be part of this great day. I haven't seen Scott in a while and miss him. We are both very passionate about history. He is both knowledgable and fun to be with while hunting to find historical dig sites. All my best to ya... Joseph

This early Greek Revival Home was one of the earlier settlements where we have searched many hours in order to find just two trash pits. A large addition was put on the back of the home where the oldest pits would most likely have been located, therefore, the pits we found dated circa 1880-1900. We still were able to find several neat items and restored a few for the homeowner's. They were very surprised of the things we were able to recover, so, we gave them a Thunder Mug(unbroken) and the flow blue plate pictured below that we cleaned and put back together. We were able to research and identify the pictured plate as follows: Manufactured by Thomas Reed in Newport Ohio between 1850-1865. Reed made the plate blank with embossed decoration, then sent it to England for decoration and polychrome finsihing. The Blue Decoration was done by Thomas Ford & Company in Hanley England as reflected by the T.F.&Co. mark on the back. The pattern is known as "Excelsior", registered in England on June 10,1854. We also found several other pieces of plates and cups, of which we were able to restore 3 examples for study. Someday, we may find the older trash pits on this historic property, next to the railroad line. We will keep you posted, should we be able to recover more history that was once lost, but now is found. Thanks again to the owner's who were so gracious and even made us some homemade blueberry bread, it was delicious. My son asked me if we could come eat your great cooking everyday. I politely explained to him that we should be thankful for what we did not expect, yet received anyway. I also explained that their kindness was, in part, why we were working so hard to restore the items and give back to a awesome family who appreciates history.
The photos below are of the misc. shards & Chamber Pot found 5-16-09

June 25, 26 & 28th 2009 Chelsea's 175th Anniversary Downtown Historical Dig. We excavated 3 pits in 3 days and here are the results:
DON'T TRY THIS UNLESS YOU ARE EXTREMELY FIT PHYSICALLY & Especially in 90+ degree heat. Wheeewh it was HOT!!!!!!
Joseph, Branden & Dan worked in the extreme heat with approximately 40 interested patrons on June 25th, 2009 from 8-3pm digging one pit measuring 4' wide x 6' long x 5 1/2' deep finding numerous discarded utilitarian items from the late 1800's to early 1900's. Although the age was not quite as old as we had hoped, Joseph did find one item that had him immediately get out of the pit and head for a soft tooth brush and some soapy water. It was a beer bottle just like one he had dug broken, more than 20 years ago, and it was intact. Several unembossed medicines, broken plates, cups and other broken bottles were recovered. We will try to assemble all items where we have the majority of the pieces for our historical society display. This particular pit had a high water table, which was most likely the cause of such a high percentage of broken items being found.

Joseph holding the bottle that made his day in the 94 degree heat, embossed Herman Hardinghaus/Northern Brewery/Ann Arbor, Mich. It survived wedged in a corner surounded by the remnants of a metal pail.

Branden points to what appears to be the 1st whole medicine bottle found in the pit, which he proceeded to properly remove without breaking just moments later. Great Job B......

Dan, who has helped me with digs for many years, got in the pit and found some ironstone pieces and a few unembossed medicine bottles. Thanks Dan for your awesome help and unselfish, caring way. Love ya...
June 26th, 2009- Pit #2 excavated- This was a very odd one indeed. We were confident this one would yield some early items of historical importance and when the test hole was opened, the shards were dating circa 1860-1875. OK, lets continue, so we did and the next thing to come out about 2' further down was a Ball Mason jar dating from the 1920's. Wow, how did that happen. The pit was not a outhouse, but rather a trash pit where items were dumped for nearly 70 years and then periodically cleaned out and moved to a more appropriate dumping location. There were some bottle parts in the bottom from the pontil era and bits and pieces of plates trapped in the clay that were indeed early, but nothing of any age was whole and unbroken. We were able to recover a few neat items for study including a Clark's Patent Lamp Font, One doll head, and a Demitasse cup. Several medicines and one cone ink were given to the owner(s) of the property for their display & enjoyment. We plan to restore and place on display the other items in the Chelsea Area Historical Society in the near future.

The above two photos show the items that were recovered whole from Pit #2 on June 26,2009. This pit was cleaned out during its' usage period and very little was found complete and numerous parts of items were found incomplete. The lamp font was wedged in the floor of the pit and probably was too difficult to dip out, therefore, we recovered it. The top photo shows the same font, prior to cleaning. The 2nd photo shows the lamp font, partially cleaned. We will continue the process and put this item on display in the local Museum, for your enjoyment, as well.
June 28th, 2009- Pit #3 - We arrived on site to begin the process of laying out the tarps, removing the surface sod and opening up the 3'x3' test hole. Within minutes, we were finding small shards of pottery & stoneware items dating circa 1860-1880. This was promising as the date of the items near the top of the pit generally indicate when the pit was closed and no longer in use. We continued to remove the top fill or capped layer down to 28" below current grade at which point we found the 1st of many artifacts dating primarily from the 1870's. In total we recovered 22 intact bottles, 3 ironstone cups, 12 buttons, two doll heads and one small bennington marble. This particular pit was stone lined, measuring 5'x5'x4' and used for approximately 25 years. Unfortunately, a sewer line was installed many years ago and it went right through the western 1/2 of the pit, wiping out many artifacts that would have otherwise been complete. We are in the process of cleaning and restoring numerous other items that were bronken and will post photos of those items once the restoration process has been completed. All of these items will be on display at The Chelsea Area Historical Society Museum for study and discussion. Be sure to stop in and see the items on display and to learn more about our pioneer settlers in Southeastern Michigan. 

The above photo shows the detail of how carefully the stones were laid, forming well made, straight walls, forming a pit measuring 5'x5'x4'.

The above photo was taken near the bottom of the debris layer, just prior to finishing the sifting and beginning to replace the soil & sod.

The above photo shows all of the ironstone & yelloware shards found. We are in the process of cleaning and restoring them for display in the Chelsea Area Historical Society Musuem on Main Street in Chelsea, MI.

The above items were recovered on 6-28-2009 from the Stone Lined outhouse pit described above. The cobalt bottle top shown was a whole bottle that was broken when the sewer line was installed. This pit, like most, was regularily dipped/cleaned out as we did not find any arms or legs for the two doll heads found wedged in the bottom corner. We are hopeful to find the earliest pits on this site in the future and will keep you posted.

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