Colonial dishes discovered at the bottom of an old toilet

Rare pieces of pottery from the 18th century were recovered from the bottom of one of brick-lined pits of 12 toilets at the site of the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, USA.

Trove of colonial dishes (by Robert Hunter)

The dishes were among nearly 85000 artefacts that archaeologists from Commonwealth Heritage Group dug up at the site of the museum, from 2014 to 2016. The artefacts had been tossed into the toilets over three centuries. People tossed their refuse down the toilet as there was no public garbage collection. The shaft where these pots were found had been used by at least one of the old taverns that was located on the site at the corner of South Third and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia. Among the finds – beside pottery – are wig curlers, fan parts, beads, marbles, lead weights and shells.

Excavation of the toilets (by Sarah Jane Ruch & Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia)

The historic site was once home to an illegal back-alley tavern. Myriad cups and broken glassware were tossed into the loo, and reveal the handiwork of local Philadelphia potters. Some of the dishes are decorated with striking abstract patterns made using a technique known as “slip trailing,” in which liquid clay is poured onto the surface of a pot. Archaeologist Robert Hunter states that the dishes were likely made by one of the French or German potters operating in Philadelphia. The pottery was primarily used for decoration, though it may have occasionally been used for serving.

Restored 18th-century plate (by Robert Hunter)

(after Robert Hunter, Live Science, Sarah Jane Ruch & Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia)

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