23 November 2014


     Sometime last year the back yard of my home in Virginia was 'probed.'  
     Nineteenth century bottle diggers seek out old houses (mine's about 1835) whose owners will allow them to probe the back yard with long metal......probes, in an effort to locate the house's original privy, or outhouse. (In nineteenth-century Richmond, bathrooms hadn't come indoors.)
     So 'privy probers' stick long metal spikes into the ground and listen for the sound of glass or pottery garbage, because the privy was usually where both household and human waste ended up. 
     The day those guys were in my back yard I took lots of pictures and sent some pictures and a brief write-up to a local news feed; because I was fascinated at the process and at the bottles and pottery shards that came out of the hole, all of which were given to me.  Some of the people who read and commented on story were appalled that I would actually let these priceless artifacts be harvested from a hundred-year-old outhouse by people who weren't professional archaeologists.  I hope they don't learn about this.  An earlier blog post here tells how to ripen bananas by burying green ones in a hole in the ground and leaving them for a few days.  
     Well, we dug a hole in the ground recently to hasten the ripening of a bunch of bananas, and came up with these three pottery shards.

     According to long-time residents of the area, these are fragments of bowls or cups  "...made by Indians..." and "...That stuff's been in the ground for at least three hundred years..."  Nobody I talked to knew anything else and I'm not sure they even knew that.  But I do know it's been well over a hundred years since anybody lived at False Bluff.  
     I have learned recently, thanks to Bluefields native Herman Downs, who now lives in Florida and whose head seems to contain a fully stocked library, that in 2003 Nicaraguan and Spanish archaeologists found remains of really old ruins near Kukra Hill - which is right outside False Bluff's back door.  
     And I mean really old!
      "...evidence of a poorly known, complex civilization that existed in the tropical forest just before the Maya began to dominate regions to the north" according to archaeologist Ermengol Gassiot from the University of Barcelona.  Gassiot also said  "Usually scientists say that the conditions in tropical forests are not suitable for the development of social and political complexity, but here we have a tropical forest (society) with great social complexity, and well before the Maya."  
     The first sign of habitation in the area dates to about 1500 BC with major construction having begun at about 750 BC.  The society came to an end about AD 400.  Living along the Caribbean coast these people might have been both fishermen and traders.  John Hoopes of the University of Kansas speculates that inhabitants were probably ancestors of the Rama Indians who still live in the area (Rama Cay is in Bluefields Bay).  
 Upside down?

Right side up?

     So going through all the information Herman provided was good, and it was educational; but it didn't help me reduce the possible times during which the bowls and cups were made or the possible group of people who made them. 

     In fact the information widened the spectrum considerably....and pieces like this, or bigger, or smaller, come out of the ground just about every time we dig a hole to plant a tree or an electric pole...or unripe bananas.