Traces of the Indian College in Harvard Yard

Seventeenth-century plinth from 2009 Harvard Yard excavation.
Seventeenth-century plinth from the 2009 Harvard Yard excavation.

Students and Staff to Update Digging Veritas Exhibition

Excavations in Harvard Yard continued after the Digging Veritas exhibition opened in 2008. The 2009 dig uncovered traces of the Indian College.

Harvard archaeologists 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 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.

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.

Students and staff will make changes to the Digging Veritas: The Archaeology and History of the Indian College and Student Life at Colonial Harvard exhibition based on student analysis and conversations among students and stakeholders. The updates will include the 17th-century architectural elements and ceramics.

Read the Digging Veritas brochure

See the online exhibition.

See the related archaeological excavation in Harvard Yard.

See more items excavated in Harvard Yard.