Bottle and Privy Digging

Bottle and Privy Digging

Bottle and privy digging are two side-hobbies that most metal detectorists rarely, if ever do. Most consider it a chore or waste of time. But in reality sifting a site is the most crucial way to determine the age and history of an area.

So what is a Privy?

priv·y; privē; noun: a toilet located in a small shed outside a house or other building; outhouse.

Guest Article: Donneybrook

Sifting out privies sometimes takes hundreds of hours of work, but the non-metallic artifacts missed by a detector allow the hours to slip away. What kind of a payoff might you expect from hunting a privy? In my personal experience of hunting a Second Seminole War US army encampment I’ve found everything from pipe stems, buttons and ceramics to even hardtack!


My best artifact actually came through sifting; a 1830s pipe bowl decorated by an ornate face. I’ve even found a silver half-dime through sifting! The detector should have picked it up, but I can only speculate it was too small and deep to have been caught by the metal detector.


Ceramics found through privy hunting are the easiest and most effective ways to date a site at which you might be hunting. Coins and buttons found by a detector can give us a general idea of when an area was inhabited, but it is hardly ever spot on.


When I first started excavation on a twelve foot privy at my Seminole War camp I had no idea what I had stumbled upon. After only one day of digging I had enough relics to begin piecing together the untold story of the area. I began using the maker’s marks on the backs of the ceramics to determine the age of these dishes. Within days I knew the site dated to the 1860s or earlier. Less than a year later I realized that it was a Second Seminole War camp and the soldiers were most likely stationed there in the summer of 1840. All thanks to privy digging.

Final Thoughts

Metal Detecing goes hand in hand with other hobbies such as bottle or privy digging. You never know what you will find, so if you find yourself getting frustrated or in a slump, you might try privy digging. Who knows, you might find that you enjoy it as much as you enjoy metal detecting. Although, we doubt that. 🙂

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