When you think of Boston’s North End, you probably think of the Italian Americans who’ve lived there for generations—or maybe the gentrification that’s transformed the neighborhood ever since the Central Artery came down. But as an ongoing archaeological dig near Old North Church shows, there’s quite a bit more to the North End’s story.

The Washington Memorial Garden next to Old North Church is usually a sanctuary—a spot for quiet reflection in the heart of the city. Lately, though, it’s hummed with activity, as a team of volunteers led by city archaeologist Joe Bagley tries to bring a vanished North End back to life.

“The first group of people who showed up in the North End after the War of 1812 were young, working-class men from England," Bagley says. "So what we see is, right after the war, many of the properties went from being single-family ownership to being rental properties to multiple people."

"From about 1815 to about 1850, it's predominantly English people pouring into the country for a brand-new country that has a lot of job opportunities," Bagley adds. "Around 1850, you see Irish people start to come in after the potato famine—and it doesn’t switch to Italian until after 1900."

The first phase of the dig focused on a site where a three-story brick building stood from 1830 to 1930. It might have been a tenement for laborers and their families, or a single-family dwelling for more affluent residents.

As Bagley’s team seeks a more conclusive description of what the property in question was, they’re searching for clues in an unusual place.

“When we hit the outhouse, which I think is there, the neighborhood might know,” Bagley says. “Because the neighborhood might smell it. Even though they don’t have the bacteria living still in it, the smell is still there. So I feel bad for anyone riding with me on the train the day we dig in the privy.”

But 19th-century outhouses also served as de facto dumps for the kind of objects Bagley covets: everyday items that tell what life in the North End was like two centuries ago.

Take, for example, the small dice Bagley showed off to WGBH News, carved out of bone and marked with incredibly precise drilling.

“That could have been used for gambling in the backyard,” he suggests.

Also piquing Bagley’s interest: a piece of a pipe made from white clay and emblazoned with the initials “TD”—a maker’s mark that became ubiquitous over the course of the 19th century. Bagley thinks the pipe was used by an English or Irish laborer living on site.  

What he really hopes to unearth, though, are artifacts that can provide a sense of ordinary men and women's lives while also illuminating the North End’s ethnic ebbs and flows.

“If we can get stuff like a shamrock on an artifact, then we know we’re starting to talk about ethnicity, and we can really say something a little less generalized about the people living in the house,” Bagley says.

If all that sounds intriguing, Bagley is happy to put any would-be volunteers to work. The first installment of the dig wrapped up a day early. Now, Bagley will apply for an expanded excavation permit from the state—and new excavations could commence in July.

In the meantime, you can see what the dig’s already turned up at Instagram.com/bostonarchaeo.