“Digging and more digging had turned the cramped backyard of a centuries-old North End home into a hole-pocked jumble of back-filled earth that most tourists passed without a glance on their way to Old North Church.
But this blemish behind the 18th-century Clough House proved to be a blessing for archaeologists, who say their dirty work this spring unearthed a rarely found time capsule from the neighborhood’s early days.
“This whole backyard was a trash dump,” city archaeologist Joseph Bagley said, smiling as he walked gingerly around the site. “And back in the day, I think the backyard would have been just disgusting.”
In other words, perfect.
During two weeks of digging, Bagley and a crew of volunteers collected tens of thousands of items from the 1700’s. The haul included long-ago leftovers of everyday life: animal bones, doll parts, and uncounted chips and fragments of dishes and cups that archaeologists hope will reveal more about how Bostonians lived as a bustling city sprang up around them.
“They literally would have just thrown these out the window,” Bagley said of a time when the backyard served as a personal landfill. “This will tell a lot about what people were eating, what toys they were using, and what else was going in the backyard.”
The dig also will give archaeologists the rare chance to study a North End site untouched by development. From its beginnings as a pasture, this tiny plot of earth at 21 Unity St. has never been built upon, Bagley said.
“It’s incredible because the North End is so tightly developed,” Bagley said. “But this little spot has never been developed — ever.””
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