Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


Springfield archaeology

The objects show below are archaeological artifacts. They were excavated from a privy vault behind Edwards Place (700 N. Fourth St.) that was in use in the 1830s and 1840s. “Privies” served both as outdoor toilets as well as repositories for household trash. The artifacts in this gallery were the personal possessions of people who lived at Edwards Place until they were broken and discarded during the 1830s and 1840s.

Archaeological artifacts represent an important source of information about the practices and lifestyles of the residents of early Illinois. They are critical complements to written records as well as to historic objects, furnishings, and architecture that survive above ground.

Heirloom objects such as furniture, wedding gowns, or silver survive above ground because they were cherished and often expensive. This can create to a skewed view of the past by leading us to believe that all the things that filled people’s homes were costly and heirloom-quality.

This was not the case. Just as today, people’s lives in the past were filled with ephemeral things that were used, sometimes broken, and ultimately discarded. These are the things uncovered in privies. They represent a “hidden” or unintentional record of the lives of the people who lived in this house.

Imagine what historians could learn about your life by looking in your trash.