Do you want to know how to find privy holes? People often describe privy holes as the “crown jewel” of metal detecting. They’re also known as “sewer caps” or “gravel pits” when a concrete lid does not cover them.
You’ve probably heard of privy holes if you’re a metal detector hobbyist. They are holes in the ground dug for toilets. In this blog, I’ll educate you on identifying the signs of a privy hole so that when you’re metal detecting, you can increase your chances of finding one.
A privy hole is an indoor toilet built outside a building during historical times. The common practice was to dig a deep hole and line it with stone or brick so the pit could appropriately dispose of that waste in the ground. Construction sites and older neighborhoods in cities and towns are familiar places to see people digging privies. (Source)
You will find several types of privy holes if you know where to look for them. One type is called an outhouse or composting toilet, which is still used in some parts of the world today. (Source)
Another type is a pit toilet or dry toilet, which many Native American tribes used during the early 17th century until around the 1990s when these were replaced with modern flush toilets. (Source)
A privy hole is also known as a treasured hole or target-rich area. Privy holes often contained valuable items such as coins, jewelry, and even entire rooms full of antique furniture!
In other words, this can be considered an old trashcan. People used to throw items into the water or bury it near the beach. Still, these days, we don’t rely on that for disposing of our valuables because it could get very unsightly.
Many believe these treasures are still buried in their original place today; if only we knew where they were hidden! Don’t worry. It’s not a myth! Many metal detectorists find treasures in an old privy. (Source)
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Do you want to know how to find privy holes? It’s not as easy as you might think—especially if previous treasure hunters don’t leave any clues behind. But with the use of a metal detector, patience, and willingness to get dirty, it could be possible to get old privy.
According to Terry Kovel, a historian, one must follow a few rules to become a privy digger. (Source)
First, one must thoroughly research where the privy was initially built. Doing so will allow you to identify the exact locations of the structures. Also, find out whom the land belongs to before you proceed.
Likewise, one of the essential steps a person must take is to look for signs of a different color in the soil. You can do it by comparing the soil’s color with old maps.
Also, never dig alone, as walls can collapse. Group up with other metal detector enthusiasts to avoid getting hurt.
Metal Detecting Tip: Treasure hunting doesn’t mean making a mess, digging holes and destroying historic sites. Use some ethics and preserve history. Sharing pictures and documenting the location and researching the back story is the most important part of finding treasure. Read my article 👉 Metal Detecting Rules, Ethics and Laws
How to find privy holes Here’s how I do it.
After you get permission, start digging in the yard to see if you can find the spot where people dug the first privy. Most of the time, you’ll find holes in the ground that have formed over time. Most houses I’m looking for are in cities or small towns. I also look for signs of a privy around the property lines.
I always do some research before I start going door to door. I look at the houses I want to find and then find out when they were built—for instance, a house built in the 1850s, 1860s, or even the 1880s.
Look For Signs of Privy on the Property
People used to erect outhouses near the boundary of properties. Sometimes, these structures are relocated to new locations to accommodate row residences. There are no signs of a hollow or dip in the yard, which indicates that the land has gradually filled in.
Due to urinals in row houses, you’ll have to take extra time to inspect the yard thoroughly. You should also ensure there are no weak points in the area where the next one will be. Sometimes, outhouses are in areas that are not ideal for a bathroom.
When builders built the outhouse, people used a layer of clay, sand, and other common materials to cover the walls. Builders meant this layer to keep the smell away. Remember that people used the outhouse as much as they used the toilets at the time.
If you’d like more articles about metal detecting check out the links below.
- Metal Detecting Digging Tools – Tells you all about shovels, scoops and how to dig a plug.
- Where are the Best Places for a Beginner to Metal Detect? – Just like the title says, this article points the beginner to the highest probability places.
- Can You Metal Detect on BLM Land? – So many people have asked me about BLM detecting I had to write this article.
If you’ve got our location all picked out, and once you’ve got your detector and spade, get ready for digging! The primary tool used by the team that digs the privy is a probe. You use spring steel from the trunks of cars to make these.
You start the process by placing the probe in a likely location. If it’s hard to go down, it’s probably a privy hole. If you’re going to inspect the ground around where you started, you should stick the probe’s tip in the area where you started.
It isn’t as hard as it sounds, but you can do it. Most outhouses consist of stone and brick, and they’re easier to find than those made of wood. Also, solid walls make finding them incredibly easy.
Now, it’s time to dig the test hole. To do this, cut a square out of the grass and put it aside. Sift through the dirt while turning it around. Make sure you look for things like broken glass, coal, and bricks that could be from outside the area.
Most of the time, there are no signs of life’s leftovers in the area, but if you dig a little deeper, you can see signs of life’s scraps (old bottles, coins, jewelry, and marbles).
Metal Detecting Tip: After years of swinging my machine, I’ve come to realize find treasure is cool, but also having a conservation ethic is better. If you read just a little bit about the 1906 Antiquities Act you understand the idea of perseveration and conservation. Here’s a link. 👉 Antiquities Act U.S. Department of Interior
Now that you know how to find privy holes get ready to remove more fill. You can see coal, bones, nails, and ash. These components are visible to beginners.
You need to fill the pit or utilize drums. I recommend covering the hole with tarps made of plastic. With this approach, it is significantly simpler to insert the barrels, and there is no need for ground fill.
Then, it’s time to go through the layers until you reach the “use layer,” often known as the garbage layer. You’ll find the majority of the bottles stored in this area. Don’t worry. People used a cap to cover the opening of the outhouse back then so that the stench wouldn’t escape.
This coating of clay, sand, and ash had the dual function of extending the time the privy could be used and reducing the offensive odor.
However, remember that the outhouse was as popular as modern toilets. I’m saying, “be prepared for the smell.”
Here’s the Good Part
The good times will start soon after the shovels go away. You’ll have to remove the pit’s fill and capping. Small hand tools are also required to clear the pit.
It can take a long time to dig a bottle out of a commode, especially if it’s not done in time to prevent it from breaking. After carefully removing the bottle, you must dig into the surrounding area to get it free.
Since the base of the commode is made from materials that can be confused with rock or shale, it’s safe to assume that it’s a public restroom. The regulations for the base of the toilet seat vary depending on the region where it’s located.
You might feel the base of the bottle, and you must take out the used layer. It would be best if you then filled the void. It can be challenging, but it’s worth it in the end. Doing it on your own is usually faster than the filling procedure.
You can return to the pit weekly to ensure the fill has settled. Then, you can add some grass seed and topsoil to make the area completely hidden.
No matter what materials people used for the façade, a normal privy always included an open pit between three and six feet deep. The actual outhouse was often a rectangle measuring three to four feet long and standing seven feet tall. (Source)
Also, the number of family members and their ages determined how many holes were in the seat bench within the privy.
Privy holes are deep holes from before the invention of outhouses to dispose of human waste. Privy holes often contain old artifacts, like antique furniture and other valuables. Some privy holes are even so “target rich” that they’re also known as treasure holes!
I hope I have answered your question about how to find privy holes. These old toilets are gems to metal detectorists like myself in today’s world. You may keep in mind these valuable tips on how you can search old privies, and it’s enjoyable to do with good company!
- “Privy Digging.” Wikipedia. Accessed October 3, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privy_digging
- “Privy.” Wikipedia. Accessed October 4, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Privy
- “Toilet.” Wikipedia. Accessed October 4, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toilet
- Carlisle, John. “Treasure hunters privy to an outhouse’s buried secrets.” USA Today. May 19, 2015. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/05/19/outhouse-pit-treasures/27598927/