As I now have worked for several days on the outhouse archaeology exhibit panels, the history and technique behind outhouse archaeology is much more complicated than I originally would have thought. To begin with, many of the outhouse archaeology articles I have read talk about urban outhouse dig sites, particularly in areas of the Northeast like Boston, New York, etc. Since this is a rural outhouse and the actual Mahaffie outhouses have not been found, I have had to write several hypothetical reproduction bullet points. One of the big problems is that because the outhouses have never been found, we have no artifacts from an outhouse dig site. Instead, I am using a diverse handful of surface finds- artifacts found at ground surface without need of digging- and this has proved to be interesting.
My goal is to try and frame these artifacts in a manner that will reflect the diverse groups of travelers on the stagecoach stop as well as the regular farmhouse inhabitants and friends or visitors. So far I have chosen several that I believe give a solid representation of the various outhouse users. My favorites are a brooch and a piece of white ceramic doll hair. These objects represent a mother or woman and a child as well as their relationship with the outhouse building. I have written a paragraph dedicated to discussing the difficulties women would have had with their hoop skirt fashions already. But one also has to take into consideration the daunting task of potty-training toddlers in an outhouse. As mentioned before, the Mahaffie reproduction is a two-seater: the space would be very tight with a toddler and a mother standing inside the outhouse. If the outhouse were a one-seater, there would not be enough room for both the child and the mother in the outhouse at the same time! Remember all of this is suggesting that there is only one child in need of being potty trained but as children were born rather close together in the mid-1800s, one can almost be assured that there were multiple toddlers running around who needed to be potty trained!
Other artifacts I chose were a mammal bone, a button, a belt buckle, several pieces of bottle glass, and a small piece of blue pottery. These represent the everyday life, and in the case of the mammal bone, death that was commonplace on the American prairie back in the mid-1800s. The decision of which artifacts to use was pretty easy compared to the actual writing of the panels. As of now, I am still in the drafting phase, but I had to write a small paper before summarizing each paragraph of the paper into one sentence. After that, I had to use a readability search engine that scanned each sentence for an approximate reading level. Needless to say, as an English major, it felt very counterintuitive. I finally shaved down all the panel paragraphs and am now in the process of editing and adding several more on to include details like the ones listed above. Combining outhouses and archaeology was a bit odd at the beginning of this project but when one delves into the research, it is quite fascinating. Archaeologists use a variety of techniques to uncover information about a given dig site and for them, outhouses are a wealth of information. Soil analysis tells us about land, weather, and human movements as well as the approximate date of said movements. Flotation is a straining process that allows small artifacts like seeds, bones, and plant and animal remains to float to the top of the soil. All in all, these techniques allow us to further our study of history and to tweak our interpretation of history, which is the end goal for all of us in the field, historians, and archaeologists alike.