When digging around an old house (both figuratively and literally), you never know what you’re going to find. And even when you find it, you still may not know what it is that you did find. When performing renovations on Servant House that involved excavating along the outside of the foundation so that I could replace rotted wood clapboards with aluminum flashing and protect the foundation’s sill, I came across several unexpected items. Among the items encountered were fragments of anthracite coal, which reveal that the property’s buildings were once heated by coal. Currently, fuel oil is the source of heat.
More unusual was a set of large bones that were unearthed. They were too large, I thought, to be from a family pet that was buried long ago. In fact, the bones appeared to have flat surfaces that could only have been created by a saw blade. Considering the size of the bones, a thought that came to my mind that I perhaps stumbled upon a 19th Century crime scene. Did some deranged killer once occupy the home? That thought was quickly quashed by my daughter, a bioarchaeology student at Temple University fresh off a semester of categorizing human bones in the University’s anthropology lab. She confirmed that they were not human bones and, therefore, the bones did not come from a murdered person. Rather, what I encountered is most likely the remains of a non-human animal that was butchered long ago for an evening meal.
The most mysterious of the items encountered was a slab of sandstone that was unearthed in the same location as the bones. The stone is rectangular in shape and approximately three feet in length. It is raised in the center and covered with grooves that form a cross-hatched pattern on the stone’s surface. This raised area tapers to both sides to a flat surface along the stone’s edge. This flat surface is also covered with grooves, albeit smaller than those occurring on the raised portion. Near one end of the stone the number “945” is etched into it. Finally, each end of the stone has a hole drilled horizontally into it as if to provide a means for pinning it into place. The purpose of this stone remains a mystery. Was it a tool? Was it an address marker as someone has suggested? Perhaps it was only intended to be a decorative paving stone used as part of a walkway between the property’s buildings. If anyone has seen anything like this or knows its purpose, I’d certainly like to know.