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

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Belongings Research (Tomaquag Museum)

By Adam Savat and Sam Kimball

We’re Adam Savat and Sam Kimball, and we have partnered with the Tomaquag Museum, which is dedicated to showcasing Narragansett culture, to curate a new stone tools (lithics) display at the museum. Our goal is to develop an exhibit that explores not only these Belongings, but also the ways in which they are deeply interwoven with the lives of the humans who created and used them. We will also be assisting the museum by cataloging a portion of their vast collection of Belongings.

The current stone tool display case.

We have been working with the experts at the Tomaquag Museum to better understand the ways in which these lithics are embedded within the lifeways of the Narragansett and other Eastern Woodlands Indigenous peoples. They have given us the opportunity to work with the Belongings in person, and to observe how visitors to the museum interact with them. This has been critical in understanding how to best understand these Belongings, and how we can communicate that information with the public.

For the display, we have selected a handful of Belongings that we feel best showcase the dynamic nature of stone tools. It will foreground the processes of creation and reuse by showing a flint knapper’s “tool chest”: a sheet of leather for protection, a hammer stone for taking off large flakes, and an antler for finer details, like serration and notching. These tools were used to create stone tools, and to give broken tools a second life by turning them into new, different tools; a knife with a broken tip could turn into a scraper, for example.

A small selection of the stone tool collection, including an ax with an intact handle.

In addition, we will be incorporating Belongings that are intact and relatively modern, including a stone ax with an intact handle. This will help visitors more clearly envision how these tools may have been used. It will also make clear that although the stone parts survive more often in the archaeological record, they were often just one part of a larger tool. We will also be including a non-lithic item into the display: a bronze-tipped arrow. We hope that this demonstrates that even with the adoption of new materials, there was a continuity of form and function; we bring attention to the wide, flat shape of the bronze arrowhead, which mimics earlier stone arrowheads.

Creating an Educational Module for North Burial Ground

By Maansi Gupta and Megan Zhang

For our project, we are making an educational module for Providence Public School District (PPSD) middle school students about the North Burial Ground (NBG). NBG is an incredibly old and incredibly large cemetery, encompassing almost 110 acres (1) and doubling as the city of Providence’s largest public green space. The first recorded burial was Samuel Whipple’s in 1711 (2). People from all walks of life have been buried here over the centuries, and a key part of NBG’s mission today is to ensure that it remains an affordable and accessible burial option for Providence families. As such, NBG serves as an excellent example of the intersection of the past and the present that is easily accessible to students in the city.

Our module has two goals: 1) to bring attention to the underrepresented histories of Providence, especially those of women and people of color, and 2) to help students understand how everyday archaeology and history can be applied to their own lives. We felt that this mission would be best accomplished in two parts: a tour and a scavenger hunt. The tour focuses on the people buried within NBG while the scavenger hunt highlights other exciting features of the landscape. 

To accomplish our goals, we began with a simple tour of NBG with Annalisa Heppner, our main contact at NBG. She showed us notable markers in the graveyard including headstone motifs, natural processes of decomposition visible on various gravestones, and the classical architecture that some of the deceased and their families used to commemorate the dead. This was a valuable opportunity for us to explore both the physical formation of the burial ground, as well as the ways in which history can be seen today.

An example of natural decomposition in the graveyard – at some point, the headstone fell over, and over time, grass and dirt began to build up over it, partially burying it. We hope to include and highlight such processes through our scavenger hunt.

With some context behind us, we then researched people to include on our tour. This has been quite challenging because of our interest in focusing on lesser-told stories. As with any project working with this lens, it has been somewhat difficult to find primary and secondary sources regarding the folks we would most like to highlight. Their narratives are difficult to locate in the archives due to illiteracy, socioeconomic inequality, and RI’s dark history of slavery. We dove into several sources from NBG itself, a project about NBG by Rhode Island College students, autobiographies written by notable people buried in the graveyard, and records from the Rhode Island Historical Society. Finally, after much digging, we compiled a list of about ten individuals who we ultimately chose to highlight on our tour. We are currently working on designing our scavenger hunt and testing the module. 

Three headstones of individuals we are including on our tour: Edward Bannister, Annie Smith Peck, and Sarah Helen Whitman.

It was incredibly interesting to learn how Providence as it was in the 1800s is still connected to the Providence of today. For example, many of the houses that notable figures lived in are still standing today, such as Edward Bannister and Roger Williams’ houses. There are also buildings in today’s Providence which are connected to people of the past who are now buried in NBG, like Market House, the Providence Arcade, and Butler Hospital. It was exciting to read accounts from the 1800s and be able to pinpoint exactly where locations like Power St. and Williams St. are. A lot of research time was spent on Google Maps trying to locate houses and buildings either by name or description (for example, on the corner of Olney St. and North Main St.).

One major challenge that came about during this project was trying to schedule a tour with a PPSD middle school class. Unfortunately, possible dates almost always conflicted with PPSD’s spring break or RICAS testing dates. If this project were to be enhanced or incorporated by another program in a more permanent way, it would be advantageous to be aware of these possible conflicts and begin planning with PPSD months in advance. We are resolving this issue by inviting university students to attend our module; however, the module will still be designed with a younger audience in mind as we hope that it can be used in the future.

Sources: 

  1. City of Providence. “North Burial Ground.” https://www.providenceri.gov/providence-parks/north-burial-ground/
  2. City of Providence. 1897. North Burial Ground Records

Latino Places that Matter | Rhode Island (Rhode Island Latino Arts)

By Darci Johnson and Julia Park

We are so excited to announce our new project for Rhode Island Latino Arts (RILA), a virtual map that will be used for walking tours of Rhode Island’s most important and iconic Latino landmarks. These landmarks exist on or near Broad Street, in Providence’s historically Latino neighborhood, as well as in Blackstone Valley in Cranston. This map will provide photographs and small details on each location, along with an address and a pinned point on the map. Each location will link to the RILA website for further information, videos, interviews, and more. Our goals for this project are to work with Marta V. Martinez, the executive director and founder of RILA, to incorporate the most important locations and information for these landmarks. With feedback from Marta, we have worked to make the website readable for the general population, and have only included the most pertinent information on each location, allowing readers to easily click to the website for further information if they desire. We have also added an introduction and a timeline to better inform the map and its locations.

In preparation for our project, Marta took us on a Barrio Tour of Broad Street. We were able to experience the walking tour ourselves and get a better idea of how the virtual map should be integrated into the tour. To create the map, we used the Story Maps function of the software ArcGIS. As it was both our first times creating a virtual map, we were able to learn not only how to use ArcGIS but also its capabilities and limitations.

A challenge we’ve encountered while creating this virtual map was shaping it as a resource that could be built upon for future RILA projects. However, knowing that this map could be used for a future goal such as an app makes this project especially exciting. We are also excited at the prospect of making this project interactive with the public, and accessible for those who may want to tour on their own, rather than a guided tour through RILA. This will help broaden the scope of the mission of RILA and Nuestras Raices RI.

Here is an example of how the site looks, with our first location, Fefa’s market.

You can read more about RILA here: http://www.rilatinoarts.org, and more about the Latino Places that Matter project here: http://www.nuestrasraicesri.org.

Preserving and Connecting to the History and Culture of RI’s Industrial Arts (The Steel Yard)

By Jasper Clayton and Olivia Golubowski

Hi everyone! We’re Jasper and Olivia, and for our ARCH 1170: Community Archaeology in Providence and Beyond final project, we’re working on Stories From the Steel Yard: An Exploration of the Steel Yard’s Found Material Culture. Our project is a collaboration with the Steel Yard, an industrial arts collective located at 27 Sims Ave in Providence, RI. The Steel Yard currently offers a wealth of artistic programming, including courses and residencies in arts such as welding, blacksmithing, jewelry-making, and ceramics, and is located on the former property of Providence Steel & Iron Company’s manufacturing facilities. During renovations to the site, a wide array of artifacts ranging from glass bottles to animal bones were recovered. Our project focuses on analyzing and interpreting these artifacts in order to create a more comprehensive history of the site, and to illustrate the continuity in its use over time.

Images of some of the Steel Yard’s collection of objects: ceramics, glass bottles, bones, and a shell.

So far, the bulk of our work for the project has consisted of artifact cleaning, cataloging, and analysis. Cleaning is perhaps the simplest, but also the most time-consuming portion of the process– each artifact needs to be carefully hand-cleaned to take off layers of dust and dirt and to make any unique features more easily visible. For ceramics, like a broken teacup, or glass, like an old bottle, cleaning can be done just with water and a toothbrush, whereas for any metal objects, like nails, a wire brush is used to scrape off the outer layers of rust without damaging the metal underneath. Once everything is cleaned, we can catalog our artifacts by taking pictures of each object and recording some basic biographical information (for example, color, size, whether the object is complete or fragmentary, if there’s any writing/images on the object, etc). This is the information we use when conducting research to discover any additional information about our artifacts. Our goal is for this information to act as a baseline so that further research of these artifacts and their placement within the history of the Steel Yard or larger Providence can be easily accessible.

Take for example the small jar below, which is just one of many intact vessels in the Steel Yard’s collection. The photos below show the jar after thorough scrubbing with water and a toothbrush, at which point the writing around the neck of the jar, reading “MELLIN’S FOOD FREE SAMPLE” is clearly visible. After recording this and much more information for this artifact, we began our research with a simple Google Search for Mellin’s Food– and in this case, it was very easy to find out just what this jar was once used for. Only a bit of research led us to many similar Mellin’s Food Free Sample jars and digging further brought us to the history of Mellin’s Food Company, a Boston-based company that produced formula-like food for infants from 1866 onwards. The 1904 advertisement below even openly advertises the free sample policy of Mellin’s Food. While in this case, finding our artifact’s origin wasn’t too difficult, there are definitely still questions– not the least among them being what a free sample jar for baby food is doing at an industrial production site! Puzzling over questions like these and attempting to forge possible explanations (perhaps a family in the area requested a sample for their baby, and then re-purposed the jar for Dad to take to work at Providence Steel & Iron?) is one of the most intriguing and creative aspects of archaeology.

Left: Mellin’s Food Free Sample jar. Right: 1904 Mellin’s Food Company advertisement.

Many other of the jars and bottles in the Steel Yard feature other engravings and writings referencing production within Providence. Bottles feature inscriptions such as “UNION BOTTLE CO. 43-45 ARTHUR AVE PROVIDENCE RI”, “W.C. Viall QUALITY PRODUCTS EAST PROVIDENCE R.I. ” and “SCOTT’S EMULSION COD LIVER OIL,” the latter still being manufactured today. Other objects and bottles possess features such as rounded bottoms (to maintain carbonation) characteristics now considered obsolete due to modern manufacturing technologies. These many inscriptions, labelings, and advertisements will greatly aid in further investigation of the objects in the Steel Yards collection. 

Our hope is that we will be able to further build upon this research to further contextualize these objects constructing a history of people moving through the Steel Yard and surrounding area. We hope to make this information available so that others may have access to these fascinating objects either through digital or in-person format, such as an exhibit during the fall of 2022. These objects display the multi-faceted and interesting history of the Steel Yard; we hope that through our cataloging and examination we can display it effectively through the variety and captivating aspects of its material culture.

You can check out the Steel Yard’s website to see some of the amazing work they do: https://www.thesteelyard.org/