Students, faculty, and Native American tribal representatives gathered in soggy Harvard Yard Thursday to officially open the fall archaeology season, during which students will get a taste of fieldwork even as they help to illuminate Harvard’s roots.
The gathering occurred near Matthews Hall, where archaeology faculty members have led students in digs for the past several years. The excavations seek the remains of Harvard’s Indian College, one of the University’s earliest buildings. The Indian College initially housed a group of Indian students who were admitted to fulfill Harvard’s charter, which dedicated the institution to the education of colonial and Indian youth alike.
The class, “Archaeology of Harvard Yard,” builds on the work of Summer School students who began to dig in July and continued into August. Class instructors hope to reach a feature uncovered when the College class was last offered in 2009 that appears to be a foundation trench for the Indian school. This fall’s class is taught by lecturers on anthropology Diana Loren and Patricia Capone, both associate curators at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and by senior curatorial assistant Christina Hodge.
During the ceremony, held outdoors near the dig site under gray skies after days of rain, Freshman Dean Tom Dingman wished students luck as they toiled in work that he said will help members of the Harvard community to understand themselves better. Elizabeth Solomon, assistant director of academic affairs and fellowship programs at the Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the Massachuset at Ponkapoag tribe, told students that the items they recover are part of a larger story, whose gaps they will help fill in, but which will remain incomplete.
Both Solomon and Shelly Lowe, executive director of the Harvard University Native American Program, reminded students that they were digging on land that belonged to native peoples — the Massachuset specifically — before Harvard ever existed.
“It’s not just a Harvard story; you’re telling a tribal story,” Lowe said, adding that if one has to tell a story, digging a big hole in Harvard Yard that people have to walk around isn’t a bad way to do so.
The semester’s digging began with a ceremonial push of a shovel by senior Tia Ray, who took the class in 2009, and by Anastasia Walhovd, a junior archaeology concentrator taking the class for the first time.