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HOW I SPEND MY WEEKENDS February 25, 2012

Posted by Administrator in : Politics , trackback

My lovely and talented wife Cathy, as you may know, is an undergraduate in the archaeology program at Colorado State University, but it’s a very small department and she’s being treated more like a grad student, which in this case is a good thing.

She’s taken on a project to catalog some of the bewildering myriad of objects found in the privies of the “Vanoli block” in downtown Ouray, Colorado (the same town Ayn Rand used for Galt’s Gulch). This block is where the bars, dancehalls, and whorehouses were, all from about 1890 to 1910. The excrement is dry and no longer septic (so they say). Cathy ends up sick after an hour or two, every time she goes down to the lab. Gets to me a little, too, but it may just be psychosomatic with me.

I volunteered to help her by cataloguing the hundreds of firearms cartridges found there, and overall, it’s been extremely interesting, although why people put so much ammunition down the toilets is a mystery. With rare exceptions, everybody seems to have been shooting .22 Short, .32, and .38, some of the latter two in rimfire form. No .38 Special at all. I’ve found a bit of .41 Long Colt, maybe half a dozen .44-40s, and one .45 Colt. All of it both fired and unfired cases. I think I recall one .41 rimfire.

Shotshells are generally rotted to hell, 10 ga., 12 ga., and amazingly, some Sellier & Bellot _pinfire_ 16 gauge.

Riflewise, I’ve found .32-20, .30-30, and dozens of unfired .45-70. Winchester, Union Metallic Cartridge, and Remington headstamps, and a few others. But today I found a single spent .40-70 Sharps Straight, a cartridge I’d never seen or heard of before. It was made, among other things, for the 1895 Marlin, and was tragically underloaded, with bullets that were too heavy. These days, with decent brass (you could make it from .30-40 Krag or .303 British) it would give .38-55 or even .375 Winchester a run for the money.

The case was in great condition, the headstamp clear and sharp. Wish I could have brought it home. Wish I had a rifle chambered for it.

So now you see what gets me excited.

Pathetic, isn’t it?


1. al perez - February 26, 2012

Archaeology is so romantic. Actually a handy head is a decent evidence ditchery. also rimfire not that easy to reload. Seems like someone was on run after doing a “job” with the .45-70′s. Or it could be that they were sitting around too long and had to be pitched. We are talking outhouses and not flush toilets, right?

Wonder what other forensically interesting stuff team Smith is cataloging for Colorado State University?

2. R.D. Bartucci - February 26, 2012

“The excrement is dry and no longer septic (so they say). ”

Yeah? Who’s “they,” anyway? Unless human feces are properly composted (as the Clivus Multrum design is devised to do), I wouldn’t trust any assertion that the contents of those privies were “no longer septic.”

Mere dessication does NOT biologically inactivate spore-forming microorganisms. Offhand I don’t recall which pathogens should concern the people working on this project, but I would strongly recommend that people examining materials recovered from those honey pits not only glove, gown, and wear head coverings, but mask themselves as well. Might put a few culture media (different kinds) open in the lab area to see what’s floating around in the air.

Colorado State University has some guys teaching microbiology, right? Sounds like a good opportunity for them to do a bit of research on human-colonizing microflora prevalent in the area during the period in which these outhouses were in use, and most assuredly a publishable paper on proper precautions to be employed as S.O.P. by archeologists engaging in work on such relatively “young” middens and shit pits.

3. Charles Fuller - February 26, 2012

I recall how a few years ago I was on a construction company job site and a co-worker showed me where, off to the edge of the site, there were dozens of empty brass cartridge cases. Picking some of the cases up, I showed the co-worker how relative dating works in archaeology. The cases were all .40 S&W. That meant that despite their being deeply tarnished, they could not have been there prior to 1990, when the .40 S&W round was introduced.
Another datum put a limit on how recenty the cases could have been deposited. There had been a populated neighborhood just about 100 yards away for about three years. They would not have tolerated that much loud gunfire and so the cases had to predate the housing development’s occupation.
Might be that the reason for there having been no .38 Special in the privy deposits was because they became inactive prior to the introduction of the .38 Special round. I’d be curious as to if there were any of the .38 Special’s familial predecessors, .38 Short Colt and .38 Long Colt. (As quite distinct from .38 S&W.)
I suspect from your comments that we share a love for cartridge firearms from the brief period after the advent of metallic cartridges and prior to smokeless powder. I own two original rifles from that era. One is an 11.7MM Danish rolling block, the other an Italian 10.4MM Vetterli.
Last, archaeology has always been an interest of mine. One might say, “I really dig archaeology.”

4. al perez - February 26, 2012

Were shot shells brass or paper?

5. El Neil - February 26, 2012

All of the shotshells were — or had been — paper, Albert, all of them but one rotted away, leaving the head, a mixture of high brass and low brass, behind, usually with an undimpled primer. I was surprised not to see any all-brass shotshells.

I’d forgotten how huge 10 gauge is. It would be fun to have a pump or semiauto that used it, although I don’t know if they exist. The sawed-of side-by-side on the cover of Banderas’ _Desperado_ is almost certainly a 10.

The pinfires were all 16-gauge, made by Sellier & Bellot who are still in business. One head let me see how the pin relates to a little square patch of priming material in the center of the head. The only reasonably intact shell (splitting open on one side, with the shot column clearly visible) was one of these S&B 16s, mislabled as a “blasting fuse”.

.45/70 had been the official Army cartridge during the Indian Wars, and there were some that seemed to have no headstamp, which might have been military issue, although none with “inside priming”, an attempt to keep the “savages” from reloading the cases. Plains Indians _invented_ reloading.

Most of the .45-70 had headstamps we’d all recognize today: WRA Co., PETERS, Union Metallic Cartridge, etc. .45/70 became a geat favorite on the frontier because rifles in that chambering — worked-over Springfield .58s from the War Between the States — were being discontinued by the Army (although some showed up in the Spanish-American War) going for $2.97 in the Sears catalog.Today we call them “Trapdoor Springfields”. You should go look them up, the mechanics are very interesting, although I’d rather have a rolling block.

Yes, there were .32s and .38s in very short and somewhat less short version, some rimfire, some centerfire. I found one .38 S&W. The absolute absence of any .22s but Short, leads me to believe that they had gone into garter guns carried by the profesional ladies.

6. al perez - February 26, 2012

definite oldies. I actually remember the switch to plastic shot shells. I have been given to understand military used brass shells.
Think Mossberg made 10 ga. three round semi auto in late Seventies.

Hope you and Cathy paid attention to Richard’s protocal for privy archaeology. Leather jacket and fedora would have been cooler.

Stupid comment. Read Pallas back before I realized how fat my fingers were. When Emerson describes .45 automag sells as thick as his thumb I looked at my 12 ga. thumb and got scared, stayed scared until i made discovery how fat my fingers are.

7. El Neil - February 26, 2012

Unfortunately, the only sanitary protocol we followed was to glove up. Two by two, hands of blue — or black, in this case. I have a friend who’s a microbiologist. I’m gonna ask him for a culture dish to take down there, leave it open during one of our work sessions (Cathy’s there, now; I had to stay home) and then take it back to him to see what’s down there.

Mostly I worry about 100-year-old tuberculosis.

8. R.D. Bartucci - February 26, 2012

While *Mycobacterium tuberculosis* is a bug that tends to evoke concern, my own particular skeeve in considering exposure to accumulated human feces preserved by dessication in a relatively dry, high-altitude zone tends much more toward nervousness about the spore-forming pathogenic bacteria, particularly *Clostridium* and *Bacillus* species, the latter bunch including good old *B. anthracis*.

I am NOT a microbiologist, and I’m limited in terms of both education and training when it comes to the management of infectious diseases. The more exotic stuff (and this situation sure as hell qualifies as “exotic”) runs far beyond my prior experience even as a former U.S. Public Health Service medical officer way back when the first boatloads of HIV-infected Haitian immigrants were getting dumped on us.

With the understanding that Mr. & Mrs. Smith “have a friend who’s a microbiologist,” I strongly suggest that a phone call is in order to appraise this scientist of the situation and circumstances prevailing so he can have a little time to dig into the literature. I’m sure as hell not satisfied with what I’m getting out of my own personal library and what I’ve been able to pull from Pub Med Central, but it stands to reason that a professional microbiologist will have better access to pertinent information than would any country GP.

A single culture plate (typically blood agar, I guess) might not serve the purpose of picking up the types of bugs that could be expected to appear in such relatively antique biological materials. If memory serves, certain pathogenic fungi (f’rinstance) culture properly only on Sabouraud agar and similar special media.

I’d like to put paid to the possibility that there are things potentially more dangerous than still-combustible propellents in that dig site.

9. Ward Griffiths - February 26, 2012

100-year-old tuberculosis should be killable by just about any modern antibiotic. The TB strains that worry me are the newfangled resistant ones spreading in most prisons and all too many hospitals.

10. R.D. Bartucci - February 26, 2012

“100-year-old tuberculosis should be killable by just about any modern antibiotic.”

You’d tend to think that treatment-naive strains of pathogenic microorganisms WOULD be less resistant than those which have had the “benefit” of exposure to modern antimicrobial agents, but you’ve got to remember that before any chemotherapy gets started on such folks, you have to diagnose the damned disorder first.

Back in the three or four decades immediately following World War Two, screening for occult tuberculosis infection was widespread and aggressive, and as part of my USPHS duties I ran the regional outpatient TB clinic in my corner of the state, dispensing isoniazid, rifampin, ethambutal, and prophylactic supplemental pyridoxine to those diagnosed with the disorder.

This kind of attentiveness notwithstanding, we’d commonly discover individual cases of the White Plague hither and thither, with subsequent aggressive screening of household contacts turning up bunches of occult infections requiring prolonged courses of antimycobacterial chemotherapy.

As Number 10 among the Laws of the House of God goes: “If you don’t take a temperature, you can’t find a fever.”

Applying that principle to tuberculosis, it means that if you don’t screen pretty actively, you’re not going to diagnose an outbreak until you either luck out somehow (some contact is going to be a nurse or hospital tech, and will turn up with a positive PPD on annual screening, f’rinstance) or somebody presents with cavitary pulmonary tuberculosis, hacking up sputum full of red snappers.

These days, however, TB screening isn’t quite up to the levels of paranoia experienced in my youth, and therefore I don’t denigrate treatment-naive *M. tuberculosis* under any circumstances.

While antique strains of the bug aren’t – theoretically – as dangerous as are the more recently manifesting drug-resistant clades, ANY such infections offer prospects of pestilence much be avoided.

“Short-course” standard therapy takes a full six months at the very least, and I’d screen such patients scrupulously for recrudescence for at least a few years thereafter.

A few ounces of prevention are worth a boatload of cure, believe me.

11. al perez - February 27, 2012

Ask Commander Heinlein. BTW Just as old fogeys can be IDed by our smallpox vaccine scars, immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries have scars from TB vaccine. While not 100% effective (too many strains, some of which are covered by vaccine) it is a good start.

Not dying of TB is worth risk of autism to them I guess.

12. R.D. Bartucci - February 27, 2012

The only tuberculosis vaccination of which I’m aware is the old Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), and the reason why we don’t do it in these United States is because clinical efficacy in trials has always been *way* low.

As for “risk of autism,” there’s never been anything like that in the adverse events profile for BCG vaccination, and even though it’s not much employed in America, it’s perhaps the most widely used vaccination on the planet, with a generally good safety profile.

13. al perez - February 27, 2012

Statement about autism was made as criticism of those who won’t let go of lie even though it has been exposed as a fraud. They apparently have forgotten the regular outbreaks of childhood illnesses and their consequences.

GI’s going to 3rd World are vaccinated against TB.

14. Neale Osborn - February 28, 2012

On antique septic system problems, including dessicated feces (SHIT! I’m starting to pontificate and elucidate as our esteemed colleague Doc Dick does, instead of talkin’ like a dumb plummah!), might a person with one FUCK OF A LOT of experience in them sound off?

First, Ever hear of Hanta Virus? it comes from inhaling powdered (DRIED) rat feces. It is why we started wearing surgical masks when demo-ing abandoned sewer piping, even if dried out, in the process of renovating buildings, even ones abandoned for decades. OSHA rules.

Second- I can attest that infections are far more common of even minor scratches when dealing with antiquated feces. While living 4 blocks from Maha-Neilie, I was involved in removing a 40-year abandoned septic tank out in the ass-end of LaPorte. Despite the fact that I often got cuts at work, rarely cleaned them, and never got infections in them, I was COVERED in pus-laden cuts (I initially wrote “pussy”, but that didn’t scan right!!LOL) all over my hands the day after this one job. So did BOTH of my co-workers. Admittedly, it wasn’t an outhouse, but rather a steel and cement tank, it was dusty-dry inside.

THird- I can attest that being submerged up to your chest (DO NOT ASK) in an active septic tank didn’t cause any infections. Therefore, give me fresh shit over dessicated shit for healthy contact.

Fourth- I’m jealous that I can’t come by to lend a hand- it sounds fun despite the risks.

15. R.D. Bartucci - February 29, 2012

If I were a surgeon urologist (I’ve got a friend of mine who so qualifies), would I be a “Dick Doc” instead?

Never considered how my posting presentation might come across as “pontificate and elucidate,” but I suppose that’s how it tends to be received, doesn’t it?

I didn’t really begin learning to write until at the age of fourteen I was taught how to assemble a lab report, and that mode of expression (as opposed to anything the various ex-English majors tried to grind into me subsequently) became the basis for all subsequent composition on my part.

I suppose that’s going to be the case until I start DEcomposing. Oh, well.

Spend enough time crafting consultations, H&P’s, discharge summaries, disability reports, articles for medical journals, and the rest of that passive-voice, dependent-clause, technical-jargon stuff, and the habits of thought can only be expected to set like cured concrete aggregate.

Anent “fresh shit over dessicated shit,” I’d have to voice a contending opinion based both on personal experience (not only professional plumbers can recount getting “submerged up to your chest…in an active septic tank,” for having grown up in farm country where we did bloody everything in that line ourselves, I have myself many merry memories of wrestling household septic systems into functionality) as well as formal education and clinical practice.

There are all sorts of ways to render the solid and liquid residua of metabolism void (you should pardon the pun) of infectious hazard, and composting seems to Mother Nature’s own favorite method, adapted to purposeful human use ever since the race took up settled agriculture as the way to wring calories most efficiently from our environment.

The soil bacteria species are, by default, robust as all hell. They tend reliably to dominate the environment generally, displacing (as in “killing and eating”) other microorganisms, emphatically including almost all of those which we consider pathogenic.

(This is because the ability to resist the immune response of a host organism imposes upon any microorganism a thermodynamic “cost” which diminishes reproductive capacities relative to those of organisms in the environment generally, and outside a host’s body the disease-causing critters simply get overgrown by non-resistant clades of their own species or by members of other species with the same metabolic needs and capabilities. This also explains why antibiotic-resistant bacteria strains tend to die out whenever and wherever the use of man-made antibiotics is discontinued.)

The soil bacteria also tend to be organisms to which the human race has developed an evolved resistance (i.e., those among our ancestors who couldn’t live with “good, clean dirt” all over the place simply didn’t become *our* ancestors), so facilitating the soil bacteria species’ “kill and eat” proclivities via purposeful composting is a really good strategy.

But composting requires moisture. In relatively high-altitude, relatively dry climates, where dessication is the default result, the aerobic and anaerobic bacterial breakdown of pathogenic critters tends not to be carried out to maximum effect. Anybody reading here ever dealt with one of those barrel-type composting gadgets used by gardeners to turn grass clippings, leaves, and such more quickly into useful mulch? Gotta make sure that the contents get wet down from time to time – not much, but certainly some – or that kind of scheme not only doesn’t work as rapidly as desired but simply doesn’t work at all.

Thus my abstract concern about Mr. & Mrs. Smith’s examination of “the bewildering myriad of objects found in the privies of the “Vanoli block” in downtown Ouray, Colorado.”

Ceteris paribus, I’ve got to worry that composting didn’t get completed in those honey holes before their contents dried out.

As Mr. Osborn will no doubt attest, the history of civilization is literally the history of plumbing. Absent the Tiber to handle effluents and aqueducts to gather in fresh water, Rome (for example) simply wouldn’t have happened.

The threats posed by uncomposted dessicated human excrement – and in my juvenile years I had to work on long-decommissioned cesspools, too – are not to be dismissed, but they pale in comparison against those one must face when dealing with the active infectious agents that can be found among recent human eliminations.

Bear in mind not only the greater number of pathogens presenting a more massive inoculum by way of exposure to fresh human excreta but also the fact that – per Mr. Griffiths’ observation – what tend to be found in operating septic systems (and not as yet composted) are going to be critters which have been recently exposed to antimicrobial agents, including strains like “the newfangled resistant ones spreading in most prisons and all too many hospitals.”

16. Neale Osborn - February 29, 2012

Actually, RD, I like your style, It’s just not the way I usually talk (or at least write!!)

All I know about shit and infections is this- a new plumber gets a ton of infections on hands and arms for a couple weeks or months. MOST of us NEVER GET THEM AGAIN after that period, unless we retire, then plumb again several years later. My experience in chest deep was not, however, from work. I was 14, and walking to Granny’s house throughthe back way. Unbeknownst to me, my uncle the asshole instead of calling his brother the plumber, dug up Granny’s septic tank, then, when done, put a sheet of 1/2 inch plywood over the hole and covered it with dirt (to keep the board from blowing away) and went off to get a bag of cement. I saw a pile of dirt, walked to the center to pick up a neat rock, and then I was standing literally to my chest (armpits, actually) in septic waste. two hour later someone found me and helped me out. Two VERRRRRRY LOOOOOONG hours.

Last, being Doc Dick who specializes in urology would make you Dick Doc Dick.