Objects Chucked Down A 300-Year-Old Toilet Give A Timeline Of American History


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

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Sarah Jane Ruch/Museum of the American Revolution

You never know, items you flush down your toilet could help out an archaeologist in 300 years.

Researchers have come across an archaeological haven in some 300-year-old toilets, found beneath the building site of the soon-to-be Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.


The multiple artifacts were discovered beneath a series of 12 privies, essentially walled toilets, which were built in the 1700s. The dig was completed in late-October last year but it has taken the archeologists months of cleaning, piecing together, and entering the finds into a computer database.

So far they think the excavation has yielded more than 82,000 artifacts that detail the story of Philadelphia before, during, and after the American Revolution. Many of these objects are thought to have been chucked down the toilet, since this was a common way to dispose of garbage before modern sanitation and public services. 

The wealth of objects found almost gives a complete timeline throughout the material history of Philadelphia. The earliest artifacts are relics from leather tanneries, known to be one of Philly’s founding industries. They also found broken cups from an illegal tavern run during the American War of Independence, and the foundations of Philadelphia's first skyscraper, completed in 1850.

Archaeologists digging around the former toilet at the site of the future Museum of the American Revolution. Sarah Jane Ruch/Museum of the American Revolution.


Among the most exciting discoveries was a punch bowl with the words “Success to the Triphena” across it. As the museum explains, the “Triphena” was the name of a ship that sailed across the Atlantic. This has led the researchers to believe the bowl was produced by potters in Liverpool, England, just as much of the 18th-century pottery in America was. 

The artifacts have a rather gruesome secret to the success of their well-preserved state, though. Live Science reports that the centuries of pee and poop created a gooey coating around the artifacts, which has actually helped preserve them.

"It doesn't smell like fresh human waste, thank goodness, but it does have a characteristic smell," Rebecca Yamin, the lead archaeologist, told Live Science.

Tankards and wine bottles from an old tavern, circa 1730. Sarah Jane Ruch/Museum of the American Revolution


You can see more photographs and read more about the find on the museum’s Tumblr blogThe new Museum of the American Revolution is set to open on April 19, 2017.

[H/T: Live Science]


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