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

Category: Site Diary (Page 1 of 4)

Providence Buildings: The Athenaeum

Lena Milton

Scholarship and Stone: A Social and Architectural History of the Providence Athenaeum

“The object of this institution…is to provide the means for the universal diffusion of knowledge, of knowledge in its most extensive signification, among the citizens of Providence.”[i] Thus spoke Francis Wayland, president of Brown University and co-founder of the Providence Athenaeum, at the library’s founding on July 11, 1838. The demographics of library patrons and the city of Providence itself have changed since the 19th century, as has the library’s physical construction. However, all of the modifications made to the Athenaeum’s architecture since its founding reflect the library’s primary goal of dispersing knowledge to the people of Providence.

The story of the Athenaeum begins before the building itself, with the creation of the Providence Library Company in 1753. The company was started by elite families of New England, most notably Stephen Hopkins, member of the Rhode Island General Assembly, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a primary figure speaking against England preceding the American Revolution.[ii] The original collection imported from London, though modest, housed classics such as Homer’s Odyssey and More’s Utopia.[iii] By the 1820s, Providence had experienced a shift from trading to a mercantile economy, hugely expanding and diversifying the city.[iv] A new emphasis was placed on education in the 1830s, and a public high school was founded in 1838. In keeping with this theme of providing opportunities for self-improvement to a larger audience, the library expanded its collection as well as the diversity of proprietors of the library, which now included Irish and French, as well as merchants and craftsmen.[v] On January 25, 1836, the Providence Library Company officially merged with a preexisting competing library, the Providence Athenaeum, to form the modern day library.[vi]

The most significant advancement made by the Athenaeum was the acquisition of a grant to build a house for their ever-expanding collection. On March 9, 1836, Providence businessman and philanthropist Moses Brown Ives offered a plot of land and a donation on the condition that his donation was matched by subscriptions.[vii] Thus began the construction of the building on Benefit Street that houses the modern day Athenaeum. William Strickland, an architect from Philadelphia, was hired to design the building.

The Athenaeum, constructed primarily of large granite blocks, was built in Classic Greek style. The entrance boasts two Doric columns and a prominent pediment above the double doors, with a centered set of steps leading up, as can be seen in Strickland’s plans (Figure 1). The façade, as well as the interior of the building, is entirely symmetrical. This simple yet impressive architectural design is clearly influenced by neoclassical styles popular in America in the mid-19th century. Reminiscent of Classical buildings of antiquity, the building harkens back to Athens itself, a connection that was not an accident. According to the Athenaeum’s Annual Report, the purpose of the library was to provide “the choicest moral and intellectual influence” to “all classes” of Providence inhabitants.[viii] In fact, the board of the Athenaeum boasted, “There is no other mode in which access to so much knowledge and to such varied resources of intellectual gratification and improvement can be obtained at so cheap a rate.”[ix] Influenced by Providence’s growing focus on expanding education, the goals of the Athenaeum were very much in line with values of democracy and a celebration of morality and knowledge for which Athens was famed. The explicitly Roman name, the Athenaeum, as opposed to merely a “library,” also draws connections to the Greek and Roman Empires. This Classical building imparts upon library patrons that it is an important place dedicated to the pursuit of learning even before they have entered the building. To great fanfare, the building was officially dedicated on July 11, 1838.[x]

Figure 1 William Strickland, Providence Athenaeum, front elevation with first floor, upper floor and basement floor plans, 1836, 49.6 x 35.6 cm, Brown Digital Repository, accessed October 12, 2016, https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:703764/

Figure 1
William Strickland, Providence Athenaeum, front elevation with first floor, upper floor and basement floor plans, 1836, 49.6 x 35.6 cm, Brown Digital Repository, accessed October 12, 2016, https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:703764/

Any reconstructive changes of the building over the years were made only when the Athenaeum could afford the funding, whether through a donation or through a prosperous season. During the decade after founding, the library ran into problems that required expensive changes to be made to the building. The shelves overflowed, the ceiling was unsupported, and the roof, made of zinc rather than more expensive tin, leaked. After receiving a significant donation from merchant Cyrus Butler, the library found funding to perform these reconstructions. The Seventeenth Annual Report describes the changes made, including a new heating system, a reconstruction of the basement including creating a new reading room and more shelving, and new cast iron pillars to hold up the ceiling. [xi] More changes were made immediately following the Civil War, as Rhode Island’s economy was booming. In 1862, tables were added on the first floor and cupboards were added to better protect books from humidity. In 1873, a donation from Anna Richmond was used to build a Gothic granite fountain outside, still existing today, which says, “Come here everyone that thirsteth.” However, it took much longer to connect Pawtuxet water to the fountain, as is lamented upon in the annual report from 1873.[xii] The fountain can be seen on the left in a 1906 photograph of the building (Figure 2). Even without water, the fountain added Gothic glamour to the otherwise simple neoclassical design, and represents the nationwide shift in American fashion from neoclassical to more intricately decorated Gothic styles.

Figure 2 Athenaeum, Providence, R.I., 1906, glass negative, 8 x 10 in., Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, accessed October 13, 2016, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994012189/PP/

Figure 2
Athenaeum, Providence, R.I., 1906, glass negative, 8 x 10 in., Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, accessed October 13, 2016, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/det1994012189/PP/

In the following century, changes to the building were made primarily in order to create more space for the library collection and to draw in new, younger readers. This focus on children and their place in society was in keeping with the Progressive Era concern with child welfare and nurturing child development.[xiii] In 1911, plans were begun to expand the lower level and to create a children’s room. Norman Isham, a prominent Federalist and Greek style architect, designed the expansion in 1914.[xiv] The Athenaeum’s other major construction project in the 20th century, designed by William Platner, was completed in 1978. The project has been described as a continuation of Isham’s addition, as it merely consisted of expanding the Athenaeum to the house next-door. (See Figure 3 for location of house in relation to the Athenaeum). The addition, which officially opened in 1979, included the Sayles Gorham Children’s Library, as well as a lecture room and a rare books section.

Figure 3 Insurance Maps of Providence, Rhode Island V. 2, 1899, 64 x 55 cm, Sanborn-Perris Map Co, Brown Digital Repository, accessed October 12, 2016, https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:213294/

Figure 3
Insurance Maps of Providence, Rhode Island V. 2, 1899, 64 x 55 cm, Sanborn-Perris Map Co, Brown Digital Repository, accessed October 12, 2016, https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:213294/

These three sections of the Platner addition are indicative of the varied role the Athenaeum plays in the Providence community today. The Athenaeum is much more than a library; as intended by its founders, it is a place that brings the community together through a love of learning, whether through children’s education, lectures, research or simply relaxing in the reading room. Nearly every expansion and construction project since the Athenaeum’s founding has centered around allowing the community to better access the “treasures of human thought,” as Francis Wayland phrased it, housed within.[xv]




[i] Francis Wayland, A Discourse, Delivered at the Opening of the Providence Athenaeum, (Providence: Knowles, Vose and Company, 1838), 4-5.

[ii] Jane Lancaster, Inquire Within: A Social History of the Providence Athenaeum Since 1753, (Providence: Providence Athenaeum, 2003), 8.

[iii] Ibid, 12.

[iv] Ibid, 37.

[v] Ibid, 48.

[vi] Ibid, 44.

[vii] Ibid, 49.

[viii] Providence Athenaeum, 14th Annual Report (Providence: Providence Athenaeum, 1848), 13-14, quoted in Jane Lancaster, Inquire Within: A Social History of the Providence Athenaeum Since 1753, (Providence: Providence Athenaeum, 2003), 40.

[ix] Providence Athenaeum, 31st Annual Director’s Report (Providence: Knowles, Anthony and Co. Printers, 1866), 9, accessed October 13, 2016, https://archive.org/details/annualreport2640prov.

[x] Ibid, 57

[xi] Ibid, 84.

[xii] Providence Athenaeum, 38th Annual Director’s Report (Providence: Knowles, Anthony and Co. Printers, 1866), 6, accessed October 13, 2016, https://archive.org/details/annualreport2640prov.

[xiii] Greer Martin, Children in Progressive-Era America, (Digital Public Library of America, September 2015), accessed October 13, 2016, http://dp.la/exhibitions/exhibits/show/children-progressive-era.

[xiv] Lancaster, 132.

[xv] Wayland, 9.



Lancaster, Jane. Inquire Within: A Social History of the Providence Athenaeum Since 1753. Providence, RI: Providence Athenaeum, 2003.

Martin, Greer. Children in Progressive-Era America. Digital Public Library of America. September 2015. http://dp.la/exhibitions/exhibits/show/children-progressive-era.

Providence Athenaeum. Collection of Annual Director Reports. Providence: Providence Athenaeum, 1861-1874. Accessed October 13, 2016. https://archive.org/details/annualreport2640prov.

Wayland, Francis. A Discourse, Delivered at the Opening of the Providence Athenaeum. Providence: Knowles, Vose and Company, 1838.





Object Biography: A Year in the Life of Brown’s Mutable Mace

Theo Koda

Blunt and brutal, the mace is traditionally seen as a weapon of war. But in other contexts it can be seen as a symbol of authority—perhaps through its original association with conquest. Brown University’s mace falls into this second category (Mitchell 1993). An intricate piece wrought in gold and brass, the mace weighs over twenty pounds and is 44 inches long (Simmons 2015; Brown University Website; Mitchell 1993). The mace is covered in script and symbols. At the top is a double urn—topped by a double eagle and ball. On the urn is the seal of the university surrounded by laurel leaves. The head of the mace itself depicts the coat of arms of both Great Britain and the United States, the seal of the Colony of Rhode Island, the seal of the State of Rhode Island, and two older seals that once represented Brown (Mitchell 1993; Simmons 2015). The staff is adorned with scallops and a ribbon with the names of former presidents and chancellors inscribed upon it (Mitchell 1993). The form of the object alone clearly indicates that this object is heavily laden with meaning. However, “objects become invested with meaning through the social interactions they are caught up in. These meanings change and are renegotiated through the life of an object” (Gosden and Marshall 1999: 170). Thus, the true scope of meanings for this mace cannot be understood without an appreciation of its wider contexts. This particular object is only brought out on certain occasions—inauguration, convocation, commencement, and anniversaries (Simmons 2015). An examination of such critical points in the life of this mace will reveal a portion of its mutable meanings.


Figure 1: The Head of Brown University’s Mace

            There is one singular moment that all things share—the point of creation. For this mace this occurred in 1928 (Mitchell 1993). At the time Brown was finally establishing itself as University with clout—becoming ever wealthier and more powerful (Simmons 2015). It had become an institution worthy of a material symbol of authority. The mace was commissioned by Mrs. George St. John Sheffield, designed by Robert Hall, modeled by Hugo Carlborg, and manufactured by the Gorham Company. Mrs. Sheffield subsequently gave it to the university (Mitchell 1993). This moment is crucial as, “gifts always maintain some link to the person or people who first made them and the people who have subsequently transacted them” (Gosden and Marshall 1999: 173). Through the giving of the mace Mrs. Sheffield permanently intertwined herself, and all who had a hand in its creation, with the biography of the mace. Through the inclusion of Brown’s past seals, presidents, chancellors, and national affiliations the mace acts as a material representation of what Brown was. Therefore the creators are not simply intertwined with some ceremonial object. Rather, they are linked with Brown and all its history—a history within which they have cemented themselves through the gifting of the mace. The mace acts as a symbol of their newfound material connection to the university. After this initial moment of creation and transition the mace entered into the role it has held since—as part of Brown’s ensemble of ceremonial regalia. As part of this assemblage it emerges to act and be acted upon for only a few occasions (Brown University Website).

The first of these is the inauguration of a new university president. At this event the president is presented with all their new regalia—although they do not hold on to the mace for long (Brown University Website). It is important to remember that the president may be a complete newcomer to Brown at this point. Gosden and Marshall claim that the fame of objects and the renown of people are mutually creating so that, “objects gain value through links to powerful people and an individual’s standing is enhanced through possession of well-known objects” (Gosden and Marshall 1999: 170). As part of Brown’s ceremonial regalia the mace would accrue the symbolic authority of all who carried and commanded its use in the past. Possession by the new president would immediately enhance their authority. The President’s first decision in their newfound position of authority is to determine who will have the honor of bearing the mace—it must be a faculty member who is also a Brown alumnus or alumna (Brown University Website). Just as they will assist in the determination of Brown’s path for the duration of their position they determine the path of the mace. As the mace is a representation of Brown and its history this first decision becomes a symbolic representation of the authority of the president over Brown. Following this ceremony the mace is put away until the mace is ready to welcome a new cohort of students through Brown’s doors.

This takes place at convocation. The mace is carried in procession—held by the mace-bearer at the fore of the presidential party (Simmons 2015). In this context it serves once more to establish authority. It highlights the upper levels of Brown’s hierarchy for new students. Visually stunning, the mace provides material evidence of who will serve as the leaders of the new cohort. Its position at the head of the procession of newcomers gives it a new meaning unique to the new students. It becomes a guide to this new strange place. It welcomes them to Brown and gives them direction. From the perspective of these students the symbols adorning the mace are likely completely alien, although they may become more familiar as they spend more time within Brown’s social sphere. But to the unexposed mind these unfamiliar symbols act as a representation of knowledge that will be gained through their attendance of the university. For many of these students this is the only time they will see the mace for a period of four years.

At the end of this period the mace reenters their lives at the commencement ceremony. In the interim these students seldom, if ever, see the mace as it is only brought out each year for convocation and commencement (Simmons 2015). This sequestration may serve to heighten the impact the mace has on this particular audience. It first appeared to guide them into the strange and new social sphere, and now it has emerged once again, but this time it leads them back out into the world. Kopytoff argues that singularization does not guarantee sacralization (Kopytoff 1986: 74). But this mace is not only a singular object to these students. It has had a role in two of the largest rituals in their lives. Through this association the mace becomes a sacred artifact. To these students the mace has become not just a symbol of authority, or a material representation of Brown’s history; it has become a marker of transitory periods in their lives. At the first transition it welcomes them, but at the second it takes on a slightly modified role. Certainly the mace still leads them for a period, but after exiting the Van Wickle gates the presidential party—regalia and all—pulls to the side and begins to applaud (Simmons 2015; Brown University Website). What once were distant leaders glimpsed only at the head of the procession are now visible to each student as they pass by and receive praise. The students are no longer followers, but new leaders who deserve acknowledgment. The mace thus indicates to these new graduates all they have accomplished in their time at Brown. In addition the graduates impart new meaning on the mace, as they become part of the history it represents.

These last two ceremonies illustrated the regular yearly lifecycle of the mace. But there are more irregular, sporadic ceremonies that center around it. One such ceremony can be found in Simmons’ final ritual of Brown—the anniversary (Simmons 2015). At Brown’s 250th anniversary the mace was put on display for an entire year in the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology’s exhibit “In Deo Speramus” (Simmons 2015). It was displayed with other symbols and ceremonial regalia. In this context it is no longer a direct symbol of authority. Nor is it a symbol of transition. Instead of being paraded and passed the mace is shut away in a display case. It becomes an object of scrutiny for all who attend the exhibit. Each year the mace accrues new meaning as more and more events and people are entwined with the history it represents. The display provides a time for reflection on all this history. It is consistently evolving as a repository of scholarly knowledge that can only truly be disseminated through frozen moments like this exhibit.

The mace’s biography is thus constructed of a repeating cycle of ceremonies interspersed with singular moments—like its creation and display. It has been shown that this lifecycle does not endow the mace with one singular meaning. Instead, a myriad of meanings are constructed based on the context of the mace’s use, and its relationships to those involved. After all, “biography is relational and an object biography is comprised of the sum of the relationships that constitute it” (Joy 2009: 552). This is not to say, however, that this biography is complete. Each year new relationships to this object are formed, and others modified. In addition, this biography focused on the more internal mutable meanings of the object. To those outside Brown’s social sphere the object certainly holds other meanings. When it comes to the biography of an active artifact it seems there will always be other positions to consider.

Works Cited

Brown University Mace. In Brown Univeristy: Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Accessed October 30, 2016. www.brown.edu/research/facilities/haffenreffer-museum.

Gosden, Chris, and Yvonne Marshall. “The Cultural Biography of Objects.” World Archaeology 31, no. 02 (October 1999): 169-78.

“History of Brown’s Commencement.” Brown Univeristy. Accessed October 27, 2016. www.brown.edu.

“In Deo Speramus.” Address, Curator’s Tour of “In Deo Speramus”, Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Providence, October 26, 2016. June 09, 2015.

“Inauguration Traditions.” Brown Univeristy. Accessed October 27, 2016. www.brown.edu.

Joy, Jody. “Reinvigorating Object Biography: Reproducing the Drama of Object Lives.” World Archaeology 41, no. 4 (2009): 540-56.

Kopytoff, Igor. “The Cultural Biography of Things: Commoditization as Process.” In The Social Life of Things, edited by Arjun Appadurai. Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Mitchell, Martha. “Mace.” Encyclopedia Brunoniana. Brown University Library, 1993.

Week 12: Data Entry

Theo Koda

The weather has finally turned, and for the past few weeks we have been processing our finds from the Moses Brown Site in the carriage house. We began by carefully cleaning the artifacts with a wet or dry toothbrush depending on the material we were dealing with. We did this over the course of two class periods while simultaneously noting any interesting details that were uncovered during the cleaning process. Throughout the process it was critical that the finds remained with their respective lots and contexts in order to facilitate accurate analysis in the coming weeks.

Today, 11/28/16, we started with a clean slate. Everything was brushed, dried, and placed into a fresh, clearly labeled context bag. The time was ripe for data entry—a tedious, but crucial step. Each of us brought our laptops and we inputted the data into a shared Google spreadsheet. We recorded the site name, date of excavation, excavators’ initials, recorder’s initials, trench, context, lot, total number of artifacts in the bag, number of artifacts of a specific type, any special finds, any joins found between finds, and any general notes.


The class looks over the newly inputted data for any mistakes.

Each person had their own bag and inputted their own data. Great care was taken to prevent an accidental mix-up with a neighbor’s bag—an incident that would have ultimately skewed our data and would impair the accuracy of our analysis. Overall, the digitization of our finds did not take long. However, after everything was inputted several errors were discovered. Some bags were mislabeled with missing dates, excavators, and incorrect trench numbers. These mistakes were resolved through a collaborative effort. We each examined our excavation diaries, and together were able to locate the information that would otherwise have been lost. This experience provided a perfect example of why we recorded our daily experiences on an archaeological excavation.

Once the data was recorded the spreadsheet was organized into two sections—one for each trench. Each section progressed from the earliest date of excavation to the latest. This enabled us to see how occurrences of specific types of finds varied based on depth in each trench. It will be a great help as we start to analyze and interpret our data. In addition the digitization of this data will enable any future researchers to quickly access and examine our finds. Although the process may not have been riveting, its importance is undeniable.

Processing Finds and Learning About Ceramics

Sean Briody ’19

We began our second day of processing finds in the lab – though this time, we had electricity! (Thank you, Brown facilities department.) We were able to make significant progress cleaning our objects, and finished cleaning all with about 40 minutes left in the class. After a thorough cleaning, we were able to connect many of the pieces as parts of a whole. For instance, a piece of plastic in one trench had broken off at some point from a piece of plastic we had recovered in the other trench and we were able to match them together. The same could be said for two pieces of ceramic found in the same trench.

In addition, there was a great abundance of “nice rocks,” (in the words of one student) because at the time of digging it was uncertain whether or not they were important. They don’t appear to be significant to our digs. However, there were many objects that were cleaned in order to determine what they were. I dry-brushed what I originally thought was just a rock, but after cleaning it was revealed to be a metal bolt; heavily covered in rust and dirt. Cleaning also uncovered potential cut marks on a rib bone, in addition to revealing that some pieces of slate that had been dug up were most likely roofing shingles.

Following the final cleaning, our class welcomed grad student Jessica Nelson as our special guest. She gave an insightful and informative presentation on the different types of ceramics throughout history, and what they look like once excavated. She also brought some examples of each different type from her own collections and from the Anthropology Department. It was extraordinarily helpful to examine them up close.

All in all, it was a successful day, and next week we will be able to further assess and draw our final conclusions regarding the digs.

Drawing Lesson: Week 10

Alok Panray

The dig progresses and we do too. Today, Monday 11/7 aside from digging and screening dirt and taking notes we also started to learn to make archaeological sketches. This involved a lot of planning and measuring.

Danielle and I sat ourselves in the MB4 trench with the grueling task of sketching the complex mosaic of rocks into a 20cm x 20cm makeshift grid sketched with ruler and pencil into a copybook. I was measuring. She was sketching. 

We laid out two measuring tapes spanning out the north side and the west side of the trench. The idea was to give the easting (number of cm away from the west edge of the trench) and the southing (number of cm away from the north end of the trench). This allowed us to use a Cartesian coordinate system to communicate the position of everything in our trench with each other.

I was to give her all the important points that she would need to sketch the contents of the trench. “Important” refers to the minimum number of points that would allow the sketcher to form a polygon on the paper that roughly corresponds to the shapes of the features in the trench which include rocks and bricks. The information was conveyed in the form of Cartesian coordinates. I would find a point, tell her which point it was and give the coordinates to it. This would allow her to place a point on the axes and eventually play connect-the-dots to fill in a 2D layout of what we saw in the trench.

The experience was overall instructive as a glimpse into what field archaeology really looks like in a professional setting. I would imagine that on many sites, the emphasis on sketching is a lot stronger than it was in our project. Hence it is a very important skill to practice and develop. The most important thing I take away from the lesson is that consistency is extremely important. The fact that we did not switch roles meant that we did keep some level of consistency on how the points were measured and how they were sketched.

Halloween Digging

Lena Milton

Today, we had a spooky time excavating at the Moses Brown site on October 31, or Halloween. Although we didn’t find any skeletons, we still had a very productive day, and the weather was perfect for digging. Both the trenches were a little messy today, with soil moved around the surface, considering it rained for most of the day yesterday. In both trenches, we have started to reach a new, yellower soil that has more clay in it. Trench MB4, which had Sean, Alok and Sasha working in it today, was trying to reach a new context (Context 4) by digging down to the clay soil in all areas of the trench. Similarly, trench MB3 was also trying to uncover the yellow soil more uniformly.


Before talking about today’s excavation, I’ll give a brief history of excavations in both trenches so far. In MB4, we dug down 10 cm. and then started context 2, where almost immediately we hit a soil change when the dirt got very gravelly. Then, we created a new context, context 3, which is where we began today. MB3 went down two contexts and then created context 3 when the dirt became mottled yellow and dark brown (2.5Y 7/8 and 10YR 3/2 respectively, according to the Munsell Soil Color Chart).

I worked in MB3 today, where so far we have uncovered a few larger rocks on the north side of the trench. We began by simply scraping a top layer of dirt off to get rid of any soil changes due to the rain. After that, we spent most of the class period uncovering yellow dirt. We found a large nail, about 8 cm long, where we think the corner of the house should be if our GPR-based (Ground penetrating radar) trench placement is correct, as well as two more large nails along the north wall. (See nails next to slate in the picture below). We’ve also found a lot of brick pieces in that area as well. After a while, it became apparent that the northern side of the trench is very clearly dark brown dirt and rocky, while the rest of the trench showed the yellow dirt. It’s unclear what this division is coming from, but it did prompt us to close out context 3 in order to create two new ones, context 4 and 5, the northern side with brown dirt, and the rest of the trench with yellow dirt.


In the picture below, you can see five of the artifacts found today in MB3. The thin reddish piece in the upper left is brick, as is the squarish piece to the right. To the right of that is a piece of coal. Under that is some sort of rock that we think may be asphalt, but are unsure, and last, the bottom left is a large piece of flat slate.


I’m very curious to uncover more of these large rocks, and to figure out why we may be seeing this split between the dark and light dirt in MB3. All in all, it was a productive day, and as we have very little time left to dig, we’re hoping to continue getting deeper next week.


2016 field update

Moses Brown Week 5, 10/24/16 
Danielle Morshead
Today is our fifth week digging on the Moses Brown site. There are 6 of us in the class, which is titled “Archaeology of College Hill.” We started out our first couple digs learning to use trowels and picks, which we use to work our way through the dirt. Trowels are better for gently scraping away at a layer, while picks are useful when a large amount of dirt needs to be moved in a short amount of time. We use dust pans to scoop up the dirt into buckets. We then “screen” the dirt by shaking it over a wire grate, which separates out the dirt from the solid objects (mostly rocks, sticks, and dirt clots). This way, we won’t miss any artifacts that may have been scooped up among the dirt piles.
 The site we are excavating is on the Moses Brown school’s campus. It is located on the Northeast corner of the intersection at Lloyd ave and Hope street. We know that there was a house on the property that existed from 1885 until about 1940. We want to find out more about the people who lived there and we hope to do so by uncovering their past via artifacts and features that they may have left behind.
Our goal for today’s dig was to “move a lot of dirt.” We are trying to get through context 2, which is at a depth of roughly 10cm to 20cm. Context one was just below the topsoil, from 0cm to 10cm. We determine the change in context either from the change in depth from decimeter to decimeter or else if there is a change in soil characteristics. We judge the soil characteristics by the amount of rocks, the color, and the consistency. We determine the color of the soil using the Munsell Soil Color Chart, while we determine the soil type by wetting it and testing its content for clay, loam, and sand. We also track our progress through the different contexts by measuring the depth of the pit in comparison to a fixed point using a line level. The pit I was working on today, MB4 (Moses Brown 4), went down to roughly 20cm-24cm.
Today some of the artifacts and objects of significance we uncovered included a few brick pieces, lots of slate, a piece of vessel glass, window glass, some metal fragments, and coal. In the MB3 pit, there are lots of large stones that may be paving stones from the old house. In the past couple weeks we have found a pipe stem, a piece of bone, a few ceramic sherds, glass shards, many nail and metal fragments, and lots of modern refuse including a spider man action figure head, wrappers, and styrofoam.
By the end of today’s dig we are nearing the end of context 2, and potentially will open context 3 next week. We noticed some soil color changes in MB3, which suggests we are reaching a new layer of soil. Stay updated to see what happens next!
Danielle Morshead

Finds Processing in the Carriage House

After we finished digging at Moses Brown, we started to process the materials we had unearthed. We traded the two trenches for the indoor comforts of the Carriage House. The first step in processing the materials was cleaning. We brushed away layers of dirt from our objects with toothbrushes. We put a great deal of thought into what objects would be cleaned with water and what would be dry brushed.

Off the bat we knew that the metal objects were to be dry brushed. Some of the other items were a little trickier to clean. For example, there were a couple of fragments of shell from one of the trenches. We tried to clean it gently with water, but even this was too harsh for the delicate fragments and it began to chip. I was surprised to find that we could use water to clean the charcoal pieces without it disintegrating.

The pottery was by far the coolest to clean.  The dirt gave way to a smooth, polished surface. Without the dirt, we could see even more detail in the transfer printed white ware’s designs. Up close, we could make out the hundreds of dots that depicted the floral motifs. After we cleaned the objects, we set them out to dry in carefully labeled racks.

In the second week of cleaning tragedy struck. Someone in the class (let’s just blame it on Josiah Carberry) left two metal fragments unattended and they got separated from their labeled bag. Now we essentially know nothing about these scraps. Catie and Eve referred to them as the “sherd of shame.” While we all felt like the third grader who killed the class hermit crab, it was a great reminder about how important it is to focus 100% when interacting with artifacts in any way.

In our Carriage House sections we also learned about object photography. Kathryn Howley, a post-doc in Egyptology, gave us an in depth talk about photography in archaeology. There were several cameras for us to play with and we photographed a few of the objects. While many of us had used a camera, we had never done this type of photography. It was awesome!

We spent our last section in The Carriage House taking dimensions and cataloguing our objects.  We hope that future Archaeology of College Hill classes can use the materials we found at Moses Brown in their research!

Charlotte Tisch ’17

Drawing Stratigraphy

Time to draw some stratigraphy! This week in the field, we were yet again blessed with outstanding weather that allowed us to stay warm and keep the trenches well lit for our drawing purposes. We originally intended to work for half the period then wash more artifacts from our dig but the light allowed us to work for the entire time! I was in trench 1 with both Lucas and Emma, and we had the difficult task of drawing the stratigraphy of our somewhat confusing cross section.

Essentially, a stratigraphy drawing is an illustration of the differences in soil that accumulate over time. As time passes, soil changes or new sediment is introduced, leaving layers of differing content. These differences can range from changes in color, texture, or material found, to more complex indicators like pollen or chemical molecules that might need the assistance of devices. We can do a lot with this stratigraphic data, but primarily it is hoped that we can use it to both date what we found within the layers and also make inferences to what might have been happening during that period of time.

Unlike Trench 2, we were tasked with a complicated, but interesting, soil change matrix. [Editor’s note: a friendly rivalry has developed between the trenches. All assertions herein are the author’s own.] Trench 2 followed the textbook example of appearing like a seven layer cake, with each soil layer being relatively flat and in order. Trench 1’s stratigraphy was less orderly, with rock inclusions and rogue layers abounding throughout.

We started off by first looking at the wall of the trench we were about to draw and picking out the important layers that needed to be rendered on our graphing paper. After deciding on what layers to draw, we used our trowel to mark the layers themselves. After this, we lined up the tape measure along the side of the wall and corresponded each 10 centimeters along the wall to a point along the marked line. All in all, we had 20 points along the 2 meter long wall for each layer. It was actually surprisingly tiring! We had to squat in the trench without hurting the wall while also keeping the measurements accurate. Once we got to the rock inclusions and the strange layer in the middle, we certainly were feeling exhausted!

Trench MB 1 stratigraphy drawing

A drawing of the stratigraphy from Trench MB 1, by Emma, Lucas, and Axel

After corresponding each point along its respective layer, 6 in total, we looked at our drawing, and I realized how I was both impressed by how different the soil can be from layer to layer and also frustrated because this illustration served as a reminder that our trench was difficult to dig in for a reason! I soon came to realize though that this frustration I was feeling was somewhat unwarranted. Of corse we were not able to dig as much as we might have wanted to keep our data as pure as possible, but what was told to me multiple times over the corse of the dig finally started to resonate. These complicate layers have their own stories to tell, and that in itself is exciting! Sure, the ceramic sherds and metal pieces have their place in our digs, but they should not necessarily play a bigger role in our discussions just because they can be washed and held in our hands! I am really interested to see what we can gather from this soil, because to the untrained eye, it might be just dirt, but something tells me that we are going to find out a lot more about earth underneath our feet.

Axel Getz ’18

The Final Week of Digging

This week was our last week digging. Spirits were high and the weather was warm, but everyone was sad for digging to end. Our final passes did not yield any signs of house structures, although there was plenty of evidence for life at the corner of Lloyd and Hope. Because it was the last day, everyone was especially focused at efficiently (and correctly) moving a lot of soil in order to see what was below.

Our digs thus far did not reveal any visible evidence of house structures, so rather than excavate the entire trench we dug sondages in order to go deeper. Sondages are narrow deep trenches within the larger used to evaluate site stratigraphy deeper in the trench. Our sondages were 50 cm wide and went lengthwise north to south in the trenches. The sondages didn’t reveal any new stratigraphic units in the soils. In MB 2, the soil were slightly darker with depth, but were likely part of the same context. MB #1 had a large number of large rocks concentrated in their sondage, which could be archaeologically significant and indicate either a wall or backfill. As it goes with discoveries made on the last day, we may never know.

Axel and Maggie working in MB #1. The concentration of rocks in the MB#1 sondage is seen here

Axel and Maggie working in MB #1. The concentration of rocks in the MB#1 sondage is seen here

Despite no changes in stratigraphy, we did find multiple artifacts in MB #2. These included multiple pieces of white ceramics, as well as glass, slag, and a rusty nail! A lot of the ceramic pieces were small enough to go straight through the sieve, meaning some pieces were probably missed in our excavations. We also must consider the processes that created such intensely worn ceramics. Questions like this are an essential component of archaeological analysis, and were discussed in class. In his book, Excavation, Steve Roskams states that total excavation of a site is impossible, and the best way to fully understand and study a site is through interdisciplinary archaeological study. For our site, I think soil micromorphology has a lot of potential to show us interesting changes in the soils with depth.


Lucas and Julia were excited to find artifacts while sieving!

Lucas and Julia were excited to find artifacts while sieving!

Daylight-savings time meant we finished under the light of a nearby streetlamp. Everyone was sad for the digging to come to an end. This was an awesome experience for learning field archaeology methods. All the wonderful members of the class (instructors especially!) made the dig a positive educational experience.

We will return to the trenches to finalize our stratigraphic sketches of the site and fill in the trenches, but next week we start in the lab and will more closely examine the artifacts we collected. What will they show? Check back soon to find out!


Roskams, Steve. Excavation. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 2001. 32-33. Print.


Ned Willig ’16
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