alternate Views

Unearthing Mary Lyon's New England
Student Archaeologists Consider the Way We Were


eneath the soil trod by current students, remnants of Mary Lyon's Mount Holyoke slumber. Last fall, rectangular trenches grew behind Mary Lyon Hall during the fieldwork portion of visiting assistant professor of anthropology Patricia Mangan's course, Archaeology of Mary Lyon's New England. Her sixteen students excavated behind what was once the Mount Holyoke Seminary building. "It's a unique opportunity for students to actually excavate such a rich site on their own campus," Mangan says.

Students got a crash course on archaeological theory and excavation methods, then hit the dirt to try out their new skills. After only two days of digging and sifting through the soil for artifacts, students had turned up handmade nails, bricks, and fragments of china in popular nineteenth-century patterns.

Archaeology Students

Archaeology students uncovered lots of
campus dirt fall semester, and their spadework revealed much about Mary Lyon's New England.

Further digging revealed a fieldstone and brick walkway that Mangan theorizes went through a botanic garden planted by early botany professor Lydia Shattuck in the 1860s or 1870s. Diggers also uncovered pieces of many clay pipes-suggesting that students indulged in tobacco-and a brick-and-stone foundation that may be the shaft of an artesian well known to have been in the vicinity. And clues about what earlier Mount Holyoke women ate can be detected in the oyster shells and bones from cows, horses, pigs, sheep, and goats found along with pottery, glass, and metal objects in the "kitchen midden" (garbage dump).

Once items are unearthed, they're recorded, labeled, and bagged for later analysis. The ultimate goal, Mangan says, is to learn "what the artifacts say about the folks who used and ultimately deposited them. We're after the relationship between material culture and people's behavior."

Digging stopped when the ground froze, but there's surely lots more to be found. "There were three hundred women living here by the time the Seminary Building burned in 1896, and that many people produced a lot of refuse," Mangan says. "And some of what was destroyed in the fire probably was dumped out back."

More fragments of clay pipes (left) were found than College workers would have used, implying that some nineteenth-century students liked to take a puff now and again.

[ Previous | Top