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Dig This!

by Elaine Weeks

Ever wonder if you might dig up something a little more interesting than the usual bulbs or worms in your garden? Just keep your eyes open!

Every fall for the last four years, Gil Morris has turned the ground over in the back yard garden of his house on Windermere and Catarqui. And every spring the soil has revealed its secrets.

"I leave the soil in big clumps when I get it ready for winter," explains Gil, "and by spring, the snow and rain have unearthed some pretty neat stuff."

treasure.jpgA trained archaeologist, Gil recognized that this "stuff" is actually some rather interesting artifacts. His first find was a glass stopper from an old whiskey bottle. Then he discovered little pottery chips and square headed iron nails.

Gil figures that part of his backyard is a "historic midden" or garbage pit used by the early occupants of his house. But he suspects the midden is even older.

"My house was built in 1917 but I've found some things that are much older so I'm pretty sure that this pit was used by the owners of an earlier property, most likely a farm."

Over four years, Gil's findings have filled seven small plastic bags, each containing a certain category of object. According to Morris, a clay pipe is the oldest piece in his collection.

"The pipe dates from the 1860's. Originally, it would have been ten inches long - if a guest wanted a smoke, the owner would break a piece off the end so he would have a clean mouthpiece."

Other bags contained clay marbles, fragments of turn-of-the-century pottery and china, shell buttons, coins and even a 1931 Walkerville dog tax tag."

"Dogs were a luxury item in the 30's so they were taxable," smiles Gil. "The marbles pre-date the glass variety and the buttons were probably made locally at the factory on Giles and Janette. You can still find the clam shells in the CN railyard field."

Gil may not know the names or ages of the previous owners of his collection, but one thing he's fairly certain of ­ they were very good recyclers.

"Inexpensive garbage collection and disposal is a relatively new thing," says Gil. "It used to be very expensive to have your garbage hauled away so most people either burned it or buried it."

Turning over one of the larger pieces of pottery, he adds, "Household goods tended to be costly or hard to come by so everything was used and reused as long as possible before it was finally thrown away. They also had to deal with a hundred times less garbage than we do and it was all virtually non-toxic so it didn't matter how it was disposed."

Gil is employed at the Ford Motor Co. but generally spends his summer holidays working on digs all over the world. Returning to his home in Walkerville, Gil can keep his archaeological skills sharp in his own backyard. His advice to people hoping to find buried treasures in their own yards: "Call (the gas company) before you dig!"

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