Digging for Treasure

Sometime this winter as I was putting my son down for a nap, there was a knock at the door. I caught only pieces of the conversation downstairs as my husband spoke with the fellows outside, “…yard…neighbor…hole,” but when I came down later Gary handed me a note. “These guys want to dig a big hole in our backyard and look for buried treasure,” he said. “Of course,” I thought. What else would they be talking about?

When I came back to check on them, the hole was already at least five feet deep.

Summer finally arrived, and the first warm weekend found me outside planting a new garden when a pick-up truck pulled up in front of our house. Three men climbed out and came strolling up the driveway, smiling and eager to meet me. “We talked to your husband this winter,” one said, “and we’re wondering if now might be a good time to dig that hole in your yard.” “Tell me more,” I replied, and after a bit of conversation, they explained that they wanted to excavate an area approximately 3ft by 3ft near the fence in the far back corner of our yard to look for old antique bottles and pottery that may have been buried years ago. Mark, Nathan and Brian, assured me that they would return our yard back to its original state when they were done and split any of the findings with us as well.

I agreed partly out of curiosity and partly because I’m an agreeable person but I headed back to the front yard to continue planting instead of sticking around to watch them dig. I imagined the guys might dig a shallow hole, two or three feet deep, but when I walked back to check on them half an hour

In the end, they found five antique bottles.

later, one of the three was standing in the bottom of the hole with only his head peeking out above ground. Twenty minutes later, the hole was six or seven feet deep and finally, they had begun to find bottles. In the end, they found five intact bottles, one that they kept and four that they left with us, and all estimated to be from the early 1900’s. True to their word, they filled in the hole and replaced the mulch on top of the area, leaving not even a dusting of soil upon the lawn to indicate where they had been.

Though I was surprised that there were antique bottles buried seven feet deep in our yard, I really shouldn’t have been. Humans have been burying things away underground for thousands of years. Mark explained that the back corner of our yard was probably where the privy was located before indoor plumbing was installed in our house. Most likely, however, someone had cleaned out the rest of the waste years ago, leaving only a few bottles and shards of ceramic behind. “What did they do with the garbage after they cleaned it out?” I asked. “Dumped it in the St. Croix River,” he replied, “Just like with everything else.”

This one came from a St. Paul drug store

We often think of rivers and lakes as vessels that retain a constant shape and size, but in reality, their edges and bottoms are ever changing as erosion carves away soil on the land and deposits new layers of sediment beneath the water. The St. Croix Watershed Research Station collects core samples from the bottom of the St. Croix River as a way to determine what the river used to be like years ago. The upper most layers of sediment reflect the river as we know it today, but just a few feet down lies a layer comprised almost entirely of sawdust from the St. Croix’s lumberjack days. This sawdust layer acts like a bookmark in a calendar, helping the researchers to determine the approximate age of other sediment layers they find. By examining these layers of sand and soil at the bottom of the river, the researchers can determine what kinds of plants, animals and microscopic organisms were present in the St. Croix during various times in its history. At the same time, the layers of sediment paint a picture of human history within the St. Croix Basin as well. Buried underground or at the bottom of the river, remnants of our past may be out of our sight and minds, but they’re never really truly gone.

If you’re interested in digging for treasure in your own backyard, give these fellows a call:

Mark Youngblood, White Bear Lake, 651-329-0815
Nathan Henning, Eau Claire, 715-559-5326
Brian Mann, Princeton, 763-856-4345

Learn more about the St. Croix Watershed Research Station at: www.smm.org/scwrs.