Baker construction yields archaeological dig

by Michael Krauthamer | 7/19/01 5:00am

As construction crews repaired Baker Library's foundation last term, a more complete picture of 19th century Hanover life emerged amidst the rubble.

In a small-scale archaeological dig that yielded more than 100 artifacts, anthropology professors Deborah Nichols and Paul Goldstein worked to complement the written record of Hanover's past with such items as ceramic shards and bone fragments.

"We have the writings of Hanoverians during the eighteen hundreds," Goldstein said, but "these are generally [written by] well-to-do white people [and] are biased towards what the historian wants to convey."

The new artifacts, he said, have helped paint a more representative picture of the area's history.

Already the excavation team, which also includes research assistants, has deducted that the unearthed artifacts were from a trash pit in the backyard of a residence.

Yet it remains unclear if the residents of this house used the pit as a rubbish disposal area, or if these items accumulated in that location for some other reason. The ceramic items found from the pit were deposited over a small period of time, researchers concluded.

Much of the ceramic pottery, they learned, was imported from Strattfordshire, England -- a popular import at the time.

Ceramic artifacts can explain much about the class and race of its owners.

In the case of the Baker find, in which there is a substantial ceramic record, researchers can speculate on the class and taste of the individual household. Still, little is known about the social stratification that existed in Hanover between white residents and underrepresented residents such as French Americans, Native Americans and African-American slaves, Goldstein said.

In addition to ceramics, researchers discovered cattle bones in their excavation. Able to discern that the animals were butchered with an axe, Goldstein has inferred that a more "frontier" style of life existed in Hanover in the 19th century, at least among some of its residents.

At the time, the Hanover area was much different from today. In place of Baker Library was a small but thriving center of commerce, complete with blacksmith, tinsmith and saddler's shop. A tavern was located where Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity now stands.

The artifacts from the excavation are currently on display in the Anthropology Department, located on the fourth floor of Silsby Hall.