Campus & Community

Deep into Harvard’s roots

3 min read

Students learn archaeology, Harvard history in hands-on class

With a song in the Wampanoag tongue of Harvard’s first Indian graduate, Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, representatives of area Native American communities bade Harvard archaeology students good digging Thursday (Sept. 10) as they resumed the search for Harvard’s roots beneath the Yard’s manicured lawn.

Representatives of Wampanoag and Nipmuck nations spoke at the opening ceremony that kicked off another autumn of digging for students taking the class “The Archaeology of Harvard Yard,” taught by Peabody Museum Director and Bowditch Professor of Central American and Mexican Archaeology and Ethnology William Fash, Associate Curators Diana Loren and Patricia Capone, and Senior Curatorial Assistant Christina Hodge.

The current dig site, located in front of Matthews Hall, is near the site of two of Harvard’s first buildings: a wooden structure known as the Old College, which stood from 1638 to 1679, and a brick building known as the Indian College, which stood from 1655 to 1698.

This year’s digging began this summer, during the Harvard Summer School version of the course. When the class completed, instructors simply covered the linked square holes, which reach several feet deep, instead of filling them in. This fall’s dig will expand on the summertime work.

“Once again we delve into the history of Harvard University, once again we delve into the history of European arrival in the New World, once again we delve into the history of the Native American peoples on whose land we live and work and to whom we owe a special thanks for the privilege of being here,” Fash said.

Bruce Curliss, a representative of the Nipmuck Nation, said students will be searching for both facts and reality: facts in the form of actual artifacts, and reality in determining life in the Yard at the time those artifacts were in use. Curliss said his own ancestor, a Nipmuck named James Printer, was also among the first Native Americans at Harvard. Printer ran the first printing press in North America; pieces of metal print type from his press were found during the 2007 dig.

Curliss said the early Native American students were motivated by similar desires as others who come to Harvard. They were driven by a sense of adventure and by a desire to know more about other people and cultures, Curliss said. The Harvard that prides itself today on having a varied, international community existed then, too, he said.

“You’re digging down to where that first happened here,” Curliss said. “I’m looking to you to tell a part of the story that I don’t know yet.”

Other speakers Wednesday included Shelly Lowe, the executive director of the Harvard University Native American Program, Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairwoman Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, Aquinnah Wampanoag Tribal Administrator Tobias Vanderhoop, who performed the ceremonial song, and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribal member Tiffany Smalley, a Harvard junior who took the Yard dig class when it was last offered, in 2007.

Vanderhoop said his song speaks about being prepared to walk a new path.

“It is a journey for them,” Vanderhoop said. “The findings they come up with will teach them and also teach us.”

Smalley said that Harvard has a way of opening doors and presenting opportunities, but not where one expects them. The Yard dig class, she said, presents similar surprises. She urged the students digging this fall to enjoy the class and the revelations it brings.

“Even if you don’t find what you seek, you’ll enjoy this class because no other lets you dig up the Yard,” Smalley said.