For Immediate Release
Harvard Archaeologists Find Traces
of 17th-Century Indian College in the Yard
(Cambridge, December 16, 2009) Harvard archaeologists have found the first architectural signs that may pinpoint the location of the 1655 Indian College, one of Harvard University’s earliest buildings.
“We found what we were hoping we might find,” said William L. Fash, Howells Director of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and Ethnology. “We believe it might be an original wall location for the Indian College.”
In the final days of the 2009 dig, Peabody Museum archaeologists and Archaeology of Harvard Yard students uncovered a 17th-century trench situated on the parcel of land where the Indian College stood. The trench was filled with stone, clay roof tile, and vast quantities of brick, including a special brick used as an architectural ornament that may have supported a column. The location, size, and structure of the trench, along with the materials found inside, indicate that it was once a wall foundation for a building—either part of the Indian College building or a closely related structure. (See the Harvard Gazette video about the discovery.)
The trench included other significant finds related to the Indian College: two pieces of 17th-century printing type, likely from the first printing press in British colonial America and housed in the Indian College, as well as several pieces of 17th-century ceramic. The large quantities of brick in the trench further tie the trench to the Indian College—Harvard’s first brick building. The ornamental brick points to an investment in architectural detail for the building.
“This is amazing and profound on many levels,” said Bruce Curliss (Nipmuc), a descendant of a Harvard Native student who worked the printing press. “I’m excited about the find for myself, the Nipmuc Community, and for the other Southern New England Native communities whose ancestors were and still are participants in this special project. This brings life to what we know only from stories and snippets of history.”
Shelly Lowe, Executive Director of the Harvard University Native American Program, is thrilled to hear about the recent findings. She said, “Learning new information pertaining to the era of the Indian College and its place in Harvard's history only supports our continued commitment to furthering teaching and research in this area.” The new finds are building anticipation for the next round of excavations in 2011, which are expected to clarify the attribution of the trench to the Indian College and its notable role in Harvard’s and colonial American history.
Students and staff will make changes to a related current exhibition about the archaeology of Harvard Yard at the Peabody Museum, Digging Veritas: The Archaeology and History of the Indian College and Student Life at Colonial Harvard. The student-curated exhibition explores how students lived at colonial Harvard, and the role of the Indian College in Harvard’s early years. “In the spring course, we will be updating the exhibit to include these significant finds,” said Diana Loren, Peabody Museum curator and one of the Archaeology of Harvard Yard Instructors. Senior Curatorial Assistant and Instructor Christina Hodge explained, “We’ll be adding selections based on student analysis and conversations among students and stakeholders. I expect the updates will include the 17th-century architectural elements and ceramics we just excavated.” The exhibition remains on view through January 2011.
About the Indian College
Harvard’s 1650 charter declared the college’s commitment to "the education of the English & Indian Youth of this Country in knowledge: and godlines" [sic] that resulted in the establishment of the Indian College. It was the first brick building in Harvard Yard, erected in 1655 and dismantled in 1698. During its lifetime, it housed Native American students from New England nations and the first printing press in the British colonies. Pieces of metal printing type excavated in 2007 were probably used in the press, which produced numerous books printed in the Algonquian language, including the 1663 Eliot Bible. "Archaeological finds connect us with the past in a direct, compelling way,” said Patricia Capone, associate curator at the Peabody Museum and an Archaeology of Harvard Yard instructor. “Here, there's an opportunity to reinvest ourselves and our community in the ongoing story of Harvard's Indian College."
The Wall Trench and Other Harvard Yard Discoveries
The excavation exposed the trench almost 5 feet below the grassy ground surface. The excavated trench measures nearly 3 feet wide by at least 12 feet long. It extends beyond the excavation linearly to the north and possibly corners to the west. The trench was dug into the natural 17th-century land surface and orange subsoil, and it was laid with foundation stones and other architectural material.
Previous excavations in the Yard by the students and others have yielded clues about early Harvard, its students, and the Indian College. Excavations in search of the Indian College began in 2005, the 350th anniversary of its founding. At that time, Archaeology of Harvard Yard students excavated behind Matthews and Massachusetts Halls. They found 17th-century artifacts, an 18th-century trash scatter and walkway, a 19th- and 20th-century coal ash dump, and a time capsule that student excavators deposited in 1985. A ground-penetrating radar survey in 2007 helped identify and locate concentrations of four centuries’ remains in front of Matthews Hall.
In 2007, students excavating there found 17th–19th-century artifacts including 17th-century metal printing type. Earlier in 2009 students unearthed 19th-century trash, including more printing type, oyster shells, test tubes, ceramics, glassware, and pencils (made of compressed clay).
About the Peabody Museum
The Peabody Museum is among the oldest archaeological and ethnographic museums in the world with one of the finest collections of human cultural history found anywhere. It is home to superb materials from Africa, ancient Europe, North America, Mesoamerica, Oceania, and South America in particular. In addition to its archaeological and ethnographic holdings, the Museum’s photographic archives, one of the largest of its kind, hold more than 500,000 historical photographs, dating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present and chronicling anthropology, archaeology, and world culture.
Hours and location: 9 A.M. to 5 P.M., seven days a week. The Museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for children, 3–18. Free with Harvard ID or Museum membership. The Museum is free to Massachusetts residents Sundays, 9 A.M. to noon, year round, and Wednesdays from 3 P.M. to 5 P.M. (September to May). Admission includes admission to the Harvard Museum of Natural History. For more information call 617-496-1027 or go online to: www.peabody.harvard.edu. The Peabody Museum is located at 11 Divinity Avenue in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Museum is a short walk from the Harvard Square MBTA station.