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An archaeological dig is underway in a Boston neighborhood at one of the few remaining colonial governors’ mansions in the country.

Located at 33 Shirley St. in Roxbury, the Shirley-Eustis House dates back to the 1740s. It was originally built as a summer home for William Shirley, the royal governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and was later occupied by another governor, William Eustis.

Joe Bagley, the archaeologist for the city, is leading a team of volunteers on the dig to uncover new insights into what life was like in this part of Roxbury in the 18th and 19th century.

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Since the dig began Oct. 1, they set up a “pop-up archaeology lab” in a carriage house on the property and unearthed several interesting artifacts, including clothespins, marbles, broken glass, ceramics, a piece of a toy doll, and uranium glass.

Boston archeologist Joe Bagley showed some of the objects found at the house so far, including ceramic and bones.
Boston archeologist Joe Bagley showed some of the objects found at the house so far, including ceramic and bones. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

The uranium-tinted glass dates back to the Victorian Era and was “probably the base of an oil lamp,” according to Bagley. “It has a really neat yellow-green tinge to it.” The glass gained popularity in the 19th century.

One of the goals of the dig was to find the original foundation of the mansion, which was moved approximately 60 feet to make way for a road in 1867.

They also hope to find a privy on the site.

On Tuesday Bagley and his team were expanding a test trench near the site of a shed-like structure that once stood on the property. The structure, which was photographed in the 19th century, is no longer there, but traces of it may remain underground.

“We’re hoping it’s a privy,” said Bagley. “That would be way more interesting than a shed.”

To archaeologists, privies are like gold mines, because they can hold a treasure trove of well-preserved artifacts. That’s because outhouses were often used as trash receptacles, and they were usually left undisturbed (for understandable reasons) for long periods of time. The contents of old outhouses can show not only what people ate at the time, but also what they threw away.

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Volunteers Elizabeth Proctor (right) and Tim Riordanm (left) worked under the eye of City of Boston Archaeologist Joe Bagley.
Volunteers Elizabeth Proctor (right) and Tim Riordanm (left) worked under the eye of City of Boston Archaeologist Joe Bagley. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

“We get a really unedited version of history from people’s trash,” said Bagley.

Bagley said the contents of a 19th-century privy could cast light on a lesser known piece of history at the site. The lives of the two governors who once resided at the mansion — William Shirley and William Eustis — are well-documented, but others who resided at the site have stories that have yet to be told, he said.

“We want to fill in the gaps,” he said.

Bagley said the dig could wrap up as early as this week, as they are only looking to document the locations of any significant archeological sites on the property, such as the privy.

The public is invited to visit the archaeological dig site from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through the duration of the dig. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/BostonArchaeo and www.shirleyeustishouse.org.


Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.