The excavations in the backyards of the city's 19th century immigrants represent the first formal archaeological research to focus on Baltimore's early Irish settlement and labor force, a university release reported Friday.
"Behind the closed doors of their modest Baltimore homes, beyond the view of their bosses, these unskilled railroad workers maintained a rich social, religious and family life," University of Maryland archaeologist Stephen Brighton said.
The archaeological team excavated privies -- pits that served as a receptacle for family trash and waste -- and discovered writing slates used by young children to practice the alphabet, lead pencils, doll parts, toy tea cups and dinner plates, as well as a number of buttons.
"The children of these working class families were literate, or at the very least learning to read and write," Brighton said. "The children had at least some leisure or playtime -- even in an era when children from the working class were viewed as part of the family's economic structure and put out to work at an extremely young age."
"We're looking back at a period in American history well before child labor laws," Brighton said. "To have a large collection of toys from two working class sites illustrates that many children, at least for a time, were allowed to be children.
"We may take it for granted today, but in that era, there were few guarantees."