Digging Veritas

Excavation notebooks showing sample pages, 2007 season
HYAP 2007, Sept. 26–Nov. 21. Units H700–738 Harvard Yard, west & south of Matthews Hall. Depth: 0.0 to 1.66 meters below ground surface. Artifacts include pipe stems, ceramics, bricks, bottle glass, animal bones, print type....

The Archaeology & History of the Indian College and Student Life at Colonial Harvard 

We reflect here on the Harvard Yard Archaeology Project (HYAP)—a groundbreaking experiment in which Harvard students of today search for meaning in the material remains of Harvard students of the past. This ongoing archaeological project occurs in a larger collaborative context, as different groups come together to explore Harvard’s history. In 2007 and 2009, Harvard students, professors, and staff, leaders of local Native communities, preservation professionals, tourists, and other passersby visited our excavation site in Old Harvard Yard, sharing in the excitement of discovery and interpretation.

HYAP's most recent work has centered on the Indian College. Harvard built the College under its 1650 charter, which committed the new institution “to the education of the English and Indian Youth of this Country.”

An interpretive dialogue developed between archival documents, historic maps, curated objects, personal interviews, and the artifacts we found. Together, these sources expose colonial Harvard as a landscape shaped by social and religious tensions that affected everything from the relationships between Native peoples and English settlers to the everyday routines of student life. Three themes rose to the forefront of our study: literacy and the Indian College; rule (breaking) and religion; and negotiations of social status. Who knew small fragments buried below ground could reveal so much?