Saturday, June 21, 2008

17th Century Contraband Found Under Harvard

Excavations under Harvard University, the world’s richest educational establishment, have revealed remains of the much smaller and infinitely poorer college that stood there in the 17th and 18th centuries. Among the finds have been building materials, domestic rubbish, and several pieces of lead printer’s type.

Harvard, founded in the reign of Charles I and named after John Harvard, a Cambridge graduate who left his books to the young college, is centred on Harvard Yard, a series of grassy quadrangles enclosed by red-brick buildings such as Massachusetts Hall, built in 1718 and the oldest surviving structure.

The conjectured location of the college at the southwest corner of Harvard Yard was surveyed using ground-penetrating radar, suggesting a high concentration of artefacts and a possible foundation. Excavations by students this autumn as part of an archaeology course showed, however, that this was debris from the construction of Matthews Hall in 1871. “No remnants of earlier Harvard remain here,” said Dr Christina Hodge, who directed this year’s Harvard Yard Archaeology Project.

Slightly farther east the team had better luck: a sheet of midden from the 18th and early 19th centuries, probably “an accumulation of general trash in an open space between buildings”, included redeposited 17th-century materials. Among them were five pieces of printer’s lead type.

Two were blanks for creating spaces, one was an “M” and the last consisted of an “H” and a full stop fused. “The Harvard printing presses, the first in the colonies, were housed in two known locations near the find spot, in the college president’s house and at the Indian College,” said Dr Hodge. “Harvard printed the first books in North America, including a Bible in the local Algonquian language.”

Roof tiles, glass and lead from leaded windows and domestic rubbish, including pottery, glass bottles, a pipe stem and animal bones, seem to date to around the time that the Old College and Indian College were dismantled at the end of the 17th century. One intriguing find was a fragment from an Iberian maiolica vessel, which “raises questions of illicit trade, as British colonists’ trade with countries other than England was heavily restricted”, Dr Hodge’s team conclude.

The location and number of outbuildings in 17th and 18th-century Harvard Yard is poorly known: locating the extent of the Old College is a high priority, to reconstruct the configuration of 17th-century Harvard in real space,” they report. The investigations will continue in 2009.

From here.

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