Celebrating the history and archaeology of Brown University and Providence, Rhode Island

Month: October 2014

Everybody digs!

Autumn is upon us, and we’ll be continuing a yearly tradition of College Hill excavations over Brown’s Family Weekend. Excavations this year will run on Saturday, October 25th, from 10am-2pm, at our Quiet Green trenches. We’re surrounded by a conspicuous fence, so you can’t miss us! This is a great chance for members of the public to come out and see what we’ve been up to, pick up a trowel, or help with sifting for artefacts.

All the details about Archaeology Day and Family Weekend events at the Joukowsky Institute are on the AIA Naragansett blog. You can also read more about our Archaeology Day excavations last year in the Site Diary.

Makana Tavares ’17: Sayles Memorial Hall

Some Brown students may know it as the site of the annual Midnight Halloween Organ Concert, others may recognize it as the home of the Concentration Fair, and yet still others may identify it as the building in which, this past spring, Emma Watson received her degree. The building in question is of course, Sayles Hall. A mainstay on campus since 1881, Sayles stands in stately fashion on the eastern perimeter of the Main Green, directly across from University Hall and abutted by Salomon and Wilson halls on the north and south, respectively.

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Week 3 – Excavations

In trench 5, we cleared out context 1 (the topsoil) entirely this week!  It was quite a job – lots of sweeping.  The yellowish hard clay described last week spanned all of the trench, and clearing off the soil thoroughly enough that we could see it everywhere took a good portion of last week’s excavation and all of this week’s.  Trench 6 has also been coming down onto the clay in places, but owing in some part to the absolutely absurd amount of roots over there, it’s taken them longer to clear it thoroughly.

This week was a bit frustrating – it feels like we’re waiting to find something interesting, the few scattered nifty artifacts notwithstanding.  Starting with tomorrow’s excavation, I’m hopeful that trench 5  will start to encounter evidence of the path to the President’s House.  This being my first excavation, I’m not quite sure what to look for, but the notion of uncovering something that was placed there deliberately, instead of just small objects accidentally lost on the grass is really exciting!

I’m starting to appreciate the level of detail in the Roskams text we’ve been reading [Excavation, by Steve Roskams].  I was surprised at how easy it is to get frustrated with the work when we haven’t agreed on an at least somewhat-systematic method of excavation.  I found that sweeping all the dirt back from one side of the trench towards the other was most effective, as it’s more efficient to pick up large amounts of dirt in the dustpans at a time.  But if someone else was trying to excavate around a large rock, or was troweling more carefully to try to find the boundary between contexts in a certain spot, my technique just ended up getting in their way.  Once Catie [our TA] jumped in and gave some suggestions about the right order in which to do things, it got a lot easier.

Topsoil removed in trench 5, with the clay showing all across

Topsoil removed in trench 5, with the clay showing all across

Harpo Jaeger ‘14.5

Class in the Archives

Our in-class time this week was spent on a fascinating fieldtrip just across the street to the John Hay Library. Recently renovated and re-opened, they Hay not only boasts stunning new workspace and reading rooms for students, but it also houses the university’s archives and special collections.

The students are hard at work on their first project for the semester. They have all selected buildings on campus, and are using the extensive archives at their disposal to research the history and lives of these buildings. When and how did they come to be constructed? What existed before they were built? How many different functions have the buildings had, and have they had changing roles within the Brown community?  These are questions we ask about any structure we might excavate, but they are just as important for those that are still standing. Some of Brown’s oldest buildings have led particularly diverse lives, and their histories are recorded in everything from receipts for building materials to poetry written by the students who lived and studied in them. The archives hold a number of other materials as well–published books, personal and administrative letters, purchase and construction records, issues of Brown Alumni Monthly and student publications, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, maps, blueprints, elevations of buildings–the list goes on. Fair warning, however–we quickly discovered that once you start poring over some of these, it’s hard to cut yourself off!

As Brown’s campus has expanded over its 250 year history, many buildings have come and gone. A number of these can still be appreciated in the archives today, not just for their beauty, but also for their historical and architectural value. Unfortunately, no hint of their presence remains to be seen on campus, and our whole group was surprised to see what had come and gone, even in the last 50 years. We encourage everyone to take advantage of the wonderful resources available at the Hay–appointments to see materials must be made by request, but the staff are both extremely knowledgeable and more than happy to help.

Details about the Hay, including a list of their collections, is available here

For further history and a guide to special collections, click here

(Photo courtesy of Brown University http://library.brown.edu/about/hay/Hay-768px.jpg)