Archaeology in the Garden

I’ve found arrowheads in our gardens, but most of the time when I find discarded human artifacts they’re of much more recent origin.  It’s common for me to find plowpoints, muleshoes, bits of broken glass or pottery, old rusty nails, lumps of coal, and other such stuff. Some of it is stuff that one might expect to sometimes find in a long-used field.  Other times the stuff is evidence that the land wasn’t always used as a field.

Today while hoeing the broccoli here’s what I found.


That’s fairly normal in that garden.

I don’t know if my family left behind more debris than the typical farmers over the last couple hundred years.  I’ve wondered about that.  My working assumption has been that, yeah, they probably did.

This past weekend we attended a Food, Farming and Faith conference at the Duke Divinity School.  It was great to spend a couple of days in the company of some of the folks who inspire us in what we do.  I’ll have more to say about that on another day.

One of the highlights of the conference was our visit to Anatoth Community Garden. It is a beautiful place, with an inspiring history and mission.  I was like a kid in a candy store, of course, checking out their crops and techniques, and paying particularly close attention to their soil.

Near the end of our visit, I was bending over one of their beds, which was being prepped for planting.  And there, in that special garden, something caught my attention that made me smile.  What I noticed would have been missed by most folks, but White Flint has trained my eyes.

There, in the newly prepped soil at Anatoth, I saw a piece of an old brick and a rusty nail.

It reminded me of home.


13 comments on “Archaeology in the Garden

  1. Bob Braxton says:

    rusty / nail old / brick piece


  2. Big Steve says:

    i have been doing a fair amount of excavating on my CT property and find old bottles,cans, and building materials from decades ago. I look for arrowheads, but doubt if i would recognize one even if found. I am creating a long culvert stone by stone and am amazed at the diversity of geological output in a small space. The eons these rocks have spent on what i laughably call my property is humbling.


    • Bill says:

      I love that last sentence. You are so right. After we’re gone how much time will pass before we’re completely forgotten? A couple of generations, tops? Great observation bro.


  3. El Guapo says:

    Boy, if I had a dollar ofr every item I found while hoeing the brocolli…it would mean that I was someone else entirely.


    • Bill says:

      I hear ya. No doubt there are things that are regular parts of your life that would seem completely alien in mine as well. Part of our mission is to help folks appreciate that there isn’t anything bizarre about something like hoeing broccoli. After all, you gotta keep the weeds out of it.


  4. The interesting thing about archaeological finds is that really, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Someone in Greece once told me that everywhere we walked in her country, we would be walking on artifacts – there have been people living there so long, and they are muliple layers of “stuff” all over the country. There is a village on top of what we think of as ancient Corinth, but underneath ancient Corinth is Mycenean culture. Before that…you get it. It’s the same here in North America, just that the people of this continent had less permanent “structure” – what they have left behind we don’t always recognize as an object – as mentioned above, arrowheads are difficult to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s a humbling thought, that so many people have been on this spot before me.


    • Bill says:

      Well said and so true. I love finding arrowheads and wondering about their history. I should have mentioned in the post that I do find tools from the native people as well (not just arrowheads), especially in the field behind our house. I’ve been putting them in a pile near our garage. They fascinate me. Maybe hundreds of years from now some gardener will find something from our time here. We’re all just temporary caretakers of our little slice of creation. As Steve says above, calling it “our property” is laughable.


  5. Fox says:

    I always love hearing about the bits of history found in yards and gardens. It’s a constant reminder of just how connected to the past we truly are.


  6. Love this post. So much history in these day-to-day tools. The middens of the Anasazi have long fascinated me. The stories contained within them, the hands that touched them … on some pottery sherds you can see the imprint of their fingers left behind as they formed the pot … I am absolutely awe struck by this fact. I sometimes feel a deep communion with those who came before.


  7. shoreacres says:

    When I was in South Texas, the farmers were plowing land that once was underwater, and amazing things emerged. I was especially fond of the Spanish anchor.

    Up at the place in the Hill Country, there was a cooking mound by the creek. There were chips, arrowheads and tools like scrapers all over the place. There were (still are) chert nodules all over the top of the ridge, and my suspicion is that the tool-makers enjoyed sitting around the kitchen, working. We didn’t dig, but after every heavy rain we’d go out for a look, to see what had been unearthed as another layer of soil got washed away. It was terrifically interesting.


    • Bill says:

      Today in one of our gardens I found a marble. I remember it from when I was a boy. It’s likely that I’m the one who lost it there. In a different garden I found one of the heavy stones that the natives used for making tools. Quite a number of generations (and cultures) span those two discoveries.

      I’m still hoping to turn up the missing Confederate gold. I think our farm would have been a logical place for them to stash it.

      But for now I’ll have to settle for marbles and prehistoric stone tools.


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