Since few of us are living on land where no human foot has tread before us, being a gardener is also often an opportunity to practice a little backyard archaeology. Usually, this sort of archaeology is disappointing around here. I can’t tell you how many garbage cans we must have filled with broken glass, rusted metal, buried pieces of carpet, melted plastic, 1970s beer cans, and other horrible crap. We have uncovered no less than six sunken burn barrels. Wait a few hundred years and archaeologists will call these middens and get pretty excited about combing through the trash. But, since the requisite time has not passed, we call them garbage dumps and treat them accordingly.
When we moved here, we found a concrete stem wall in the middle of the garden. A neighbor told us that it was poured for a well house that was never built, as the well came up dry. It made a handy place to put our compost pile. Since we have been filling new raised beds the past week or two, we have totally emptied the compost pile and even dug into the original soil below, as it has been somewhat enriched. As I kept digging, it became apparent that this is more than just a stem wall. I think that our neighbor was misinformed and that this may once have been a dug well with concrete walls. It just keeps going down.
A few days ago, we hit some canning jars and took them out to clean them up. They came out pretty nicely; they were the old style with glass lids. They aren’t something that you would use for canning these days, as the compression style lids don’t maintain a seal very well, but they can certainly be used for storing dry goods, fats and oils, or as refrigerator containers. There are plenty of uses for canning jars other than canning.
Today, I found more. Pretty soon, I was hitting one with every shovel full of dirt. It seems that there are a ton of them between 2 and 3 feet down. Who knows how long they have been down there? They are a mix of the older style compression type and the newer style metal lid type. Some are clear and some are blue. They are Ball, Kerr, and Atlas brands. So, why did someone fill this old well with perfectly good canning jars? I would understand if they had used it as a general garbage pit, but so far I have only found glassware, almost all of which is unbroken (and what is broken is freshly done by my shovel.)
Our goslings found the whole endeavor pretty interesting and lined up along the edge of the well to give me advice as I dug. Eventually, spectating proved insufficient and some of them jumped in to get a closer look. Unfortunately, like most dispensers of well-intentioned advice, the goslings turned out to be pretty useless when it came time to actually do the work, so I sent them off to tell the ducks how to hunt for bugs instead. That didn’t go much better as our fully grown ducks are terrified of the goslings and all ran away to sulk in their house when the gosling mob descended upon them.
All told, I pulled out 47 intact jars and I scraped the shovel on glass enough times to know that there are still more down there. They are a welcome find; particularly the older glass lid types, as they fit well with what little decorative style that we bother to employ. It will take a while to clean them up as many are rust stained, but there is no rush and we may just let the rain work on them for a while. The few that we have given a cursory cleaning look pretty good.