Last summer, archaeologists working in the central courtyard of Estonia’s Karksi Castle uncovered a 50-centimeter-thick layer of rich black dirt. As the researchers dug deeper, they realized they had discovered the remains of the castle’s first garbage pit. Preserved inside was a snapshot of what the first inhabitants of Karksi Castle—dozens of German knights and their servants—had eaten and discarded more than 800 years before.
The pit’s wet soil had preserved a wide variety of objects, such as hazelnuts, fish scales, animal bones, and hemp seeds, says archaeologist Heiki Valk of the University of Tartu in Estonia. But what surprised Valk most was what wasn’t in the garbage. “The early material is very strange—there’s absolutely no local pottery,” he says. “The colonists came with a lifestyle that didn’t fit the local environment at all. They were a little island, with everyday life just like it was in Germany.”