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No wonder they call it Pittsburgh.

No wonder they call it Pittsburgh

In 1982, excavations for the Pittsburgh subway uncovered a series of early 19th-century water wells containing bottles, pottery and foodstuffs. Scientists who recently analyzed organic material from four of the wells -- apparently built for private homes in the 1830s -- report finding nearly 100,000 pits and seeds from muskmelons, cucumbers, peaches, pumpkings, squash and similar foods. Protected from bacterial decay by immersion in water for more than a century, the organic throwaways appear remarkably well preserved, says Frances B. King, an archaeobotanist at the University of Pittsburgh.

In the early 1800s, this site had a large population of German settlers. However, King notes, an abundance of chick peas, fava beans, olives and figs in one of the wells points to a family of Mediterranean extraction or one wealthy enough to eat lots of imported foods -- a rarity in the American diet at the time. Extracted teeth found in the same well suggest that one family member might have been a dentist. she adds.

"We know that a certain ethnic group was living there, we know the names of the streets, so we don't have to reconstruct absolutely everything," King says. "A little information here can tie you in to a much bigger body of data."
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Title Annotation:excavations for a Pittsburgh subway uncover early 19th-century wells containing seeds and other artifacts
Author:Cowen, Ron
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 30, 1991
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