- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

ST. PETER, Minn. (AP) - Local residents setting up brightly lit holiday scenes on their lawns may be treading over colorful little glass treasures buried beneath their feet.

Three urban archaeologists spent recent Saturdays looking for the underground history in southern Minnesota towns. They look for sites where residences, when first built in the second half of the 19th century, did not have indoor plumbing or garbage collection.

Dave Vollmar and Charlie Farley were in Nicollet County Nov. 14 at an address where they believed items from the olden days could be uncovered. Objects made from blue, green, brown and clear glass are the treasures they seek at sites where early pioneers may have built outdoor privies or burned their trash.

“Our bottles, for the most part, are recovered from outhouse holes, but some (people) did bury stuff anywhere that was convenient,” Vollmar told The Free Press of Mankato (http://bit.ly/1Npx7m8 ).

These “bottle guys” research county and town records before they embark on day trips from their metro homes to dig. “Dirtologist” Joe Farley came up from Good Thunder to join his brother and Vollmar in the Nov. 14 hunt.

Shovels stay in the truck until property owners give their OK.

Daniel Archer of St. Peter received a few items after an excavation in his backyard last year. The Farleys and Vollmar respect homeowners’ property and personal boundaries and are willing to discuss their hobby before they begin to dig.

“They knocked at my door and asked permission first,” he said.

Vollmar finds out where utility lines run before he sticks a long metal rod into a mound of dirt. He’s learned to read by feel what lies beneath in the soft soil.

“This feels like Kennedy era,” he said when the probe indicated a change in soil layers along a fence line. The rod was coated in a reddish-brown dirt when it was pulled from the ground. Vollmar tested the site again, but no bottles were found.

After a consensus was taken, Vollmar and the Farleys moved on to probe another “point of interest.” A few hours later, they were working in a 4-by-6-foot wide, 6-foot-deep hole. At the bottom were several little medicine bottles embossed with the names of frontier drugstores.

Some of the artifacts unearthed were not intact. Not all were shiny and pretty. The Nicollet County dig revealed a soup bone and a curious glass shard. On its cracked surface, the words “Patent 1898” could be deciphered.

Charlie Farley paused during the dig to brush dirt off a rusted metal object. The sturdy steel nail was probably used on an original building at the site, he said.

Items that did not interest the trio were immediately reburied.

“We’ll leave it for another generation to find,” said Charlie Farley as he dropped the nail into the hole.

Joe Farley has narrowed the focus of the glass containers since his interest in the hobby was first sparked. He got hooked years ago, when a friend showed him a 1950s green bottle. Its red-and-white label read “Dr. Pepper 10, 2, 4.”

“I traded a bass lure for that bottle,” he said.

The sun was setting as the men got back into their truck to head home. They did not leave before the ground they disturbed was put back in order and they did not take all the objects they found.

“Usually, most of the things recovered are given to the owner of the property, if they want them,” Vollmar said.

The Nicollet County property owner “was tickled” with the little treasures handed over to him, Vollmar said in an email summarizing the Nov. 14 dig.

“As to the split, Charlie and I took three of them and the rest went to the owner of the property. There was an amber druggist (bottle) in the hole that none of us had seen before. … That’s why we do this,” Vollmar said.

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Information from: The Free Press, http://www.mankatofreepress.com

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