Archaeology: Garbage Gives an Insight into Long Ago Lives of Villagers

Article excerpt

Archaeologist Robert Mazrim crumbled the clots of sod in his right hand, pinching delicate bits of pottery and glass between his thumb and forefinger before sifting the dirt through a table-shaped strainer.

As he pushed the large clumps in delicate circular motions, his colleague - archaeologist Dennis Naglich - shoveled more soil into the metal sieve.

It was a sticky-hot morning, and a curious band of teen-agers from Elgin straggled over to view a small glass-enclosed display of previously unearthed artifacts: green and blue-edged shards of English china, the squat base of a tea cup, a whiskey flask, amber-colored French gunflint, several rusty nails, a couple of pig's teeth, window glass, and the bottom of a drinking tumbler - pale blue and jagged.

"Hi! We're digging," Mazrim explained to the boys as they strained to see into three excavation pits beneath a gray and white striped tent. "These were holes dug in the 1830s where people living here may have once thrown their garbage. But now we call that garbage `artifacts."'

Indeed, such chipped and dirt-cloaked remains of once ordinary cast-offs will offer scholars yet another glimpse into the everyday lives of settlers inhabiting the village of New Salem. Sponsored by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the New Salem Lincoln League, the archaeological dig at Lincoln's New Salem State Historical Site is expected to continue through late July.

Mazrim and Naglich's findings will finally prove to researchers where at least two additional cabins - perhaps early versions of rental houses - were once situated.

"We've spent the last few weeks studying the back yard," said Mazrim, wearing a cotton hat and mud-caked sneakers with holes in the toes. "Now we're going to go look for the house."

A commercial-industrial community which flourished from 1830 to 1840, the village was founded as a real-estate venture by James Rutledge and John Cameron, two entrepreneurs who constructed a saw and grist mill on the land.

Realizing that customers often had to travel long distances and wait a day for their lumber and grain, the two divided the property into lots that they sold for $10 a piece.

The pioneer village is significant because Abraham Lincoln lived there from 1831 to 1837. …