ANTH 491: Archaeology of the Bishop's Cabin

Author: Tomás Gallareta Cervera

On Maps by India Glenn

As part of the final portfolio for the archaeological methods course, each student picks an aspect of the archaeological project to write a ten-page report. I chose to consider what early maps of Kenyon reveal about how the first members of the Kenyon community viewed the landscape around them.

Maps have always been an essential part of my landscape. Early 20th-century aviator Beryl Markham, speaks of how “a map says to you…without me, you are alone and lost”(Markham, 1942, 288). Out of nostalgia or pure necessity, on every drive from Kenyon to Boston, my mother shoves a road atlas onto my lap and asks me to find the fastest way around traffic. On my first days at
Kenyon, I bonded with my campus map because without it I felt “alone and lost”(Markham, 1942, 288).

My journey to unearth the early history of Kenyon and Knox County began with trips to the Special Archives of Kenyon. There, talented members of the archive pointed me toward early Kenyon recollections on the landscape and the physical maps which people used to navigate the Kenyon space. I came to understand that Kenyon maps often excluded the travel ways, landmarks, and homes of people not considered to be a part of the community, such as Native American groups in the area as well as early settlers in Mount Vernon. Settlers, who helped build the first structures of the college, resided at the bottom of the Kenyon Hill, yet no attempt on the part of Kenyon was made to include their presence in maps. Colonization of the Western frontier murdered and
displaced many Native American groups, but the presence of the “Munsee Delaware Indian Nation, the Shawnee Nation, the United Remnant Band of the Shawnee Nation and a branch of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma”

(Holt, 2019) for nearly 12,000 years does not disappear in a mere century.

I encourage everyone interested in knowing more to watch our class present their final research projects from 6:30-9:30pm in Tomsich 101!


Holt, G. (2019, December 12). College proposes native american land acknowledgements . The Kenyon Collegian. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from

Markham, B. (1942). West with the Night [Epub] (3rd ed.). Mysterious Press/ Open Road Integrated Media.

Smartphones are Enhancing Archeological Research and Bringing it to the Public in New Ways by Shanna Hart

Engaging the general public in archaeological pursuits has always been difficult. Some of the challenges include creating interest in the project, allowing access to the project in progress, and disseminating the findings once the field project has ended. New technology through smartphones is helping to bridge those gaps. How do you take a dig site that looks boring and slightly dangerous and make it more interesting to the public? You use interactive technology. 

In 2020 Apple launched the IPhone 12 Pro series with a LiDAR sensor integrated into the device. LiDAR stands for light detection and ranging. It is a technique that uses lasers and a receiver to detect and measure the distance to an object by bouncing the laser off the object. This video explains what LiDAR is and how it works on a smartphone. (embed)

The LiDAR technology is used with phone apps like the one we used, Scaniverse. The product of the app scan is then uploaded onto platforms like Sketchfab for the public to access. This video shows what it is like to use Scaniverse. (embed)

Here is an example from our archeological excavation site. This picture along with written documentation and measurements is the standard way to record an excavated pit.       

Combining this information with technology brings a whole new level of understanding and interest. (embed)

Taking the 3D models of the excavations and combining them with 3D models of artifacts on a website that gives context and background takes the viewer into the past in whole new ways. The Archeology Department in Boston, Massachusetts has already started utilizing these methods in their archeology projects “City Archaeology Program Brings the Past to Life with LiDAR.” The Boston project has a website, Facebook page and  Sketchfab collection of artifacts and architecture to help engage the public in their archeological pursuits.  

Artifact Spotlight: Glass Shards 

By: Safia Mohan

With the excavation coming to a close, we have begun to analyze the artifacts we collected out in the field in the lab. As we have organized these artifacts, it has become apparent that the most common type of object uncovered from the excavation is the glass shard. From just one level of Lot E we have excavated over 300 glass shards of varying sizes, shapes, thicknesses, transparency, and colors. During the first day of lab analysis, I took it upon myself to wash and photograph a few of these shards. Thankfully, Dr. Lindsay Bloch was present that day and was able to identify some of the more interesting pieces.

Most of the glass shards we found were window glass, identifiable due to their flatness and thickness. These pieces will not rock when placed on a flat surface and are usually a faint aqua in color. We also found pieces of burned/melted glass, which were often more challenging to identify but also tended to be window glass. The colored pieces of glass we saw in shades of green, blue, and brown were most likely from bottles. The large frosted-looking glass in Figure 1 (on the bottom right) is most likely from some kind of light fixture.

We suspect that the area we excavated ( lot E) was part of the “multi-purpose” building drawn next to Philander Chase’s cabin. This building would have likely been inhabited by some of the first students at Kenyon College. We also believe that our particular lot was in a hearth area that housed a fireplace. This would be supported by the melted glass we found. 

Figure 1: One hundred of the glass shards from the Bishop’s Cabin Site, Lot E.

To Tame the Land

He is destined to be a King. He rules over everything on the land called planet Dune. 

Iron Maiden, To Tame  Land (1983) 


In July of 2019, a group of friends and I, a foreigner from the Yucatán peninsula in México,  traveled to the Hocking Hills to holiday in what was described to me as a log cabin in the woods. My expectations were little more than glorified camping. The word “log cabin” actively created a setting in my head’s brain: rustic living in the woods with basic living facilities. I had questions that needed clarification upon arrival. The log cabin in the middle of the woods was massive and looked imposing on top of a hill. The front porch was massive, as big as the hallway in Pierce Hall (with the flags on top). Inside, it comprised two levels, equipped with multiple TVs, internet, a full kitchen, a living room, furniture, a “basement” with two rooms, a full bathroom, games, and quick access to a hot tub. I was experiencing a big culture shock.  I was confused, head stretching, beard clutching, feeling like an uncanny prank. I didn’t get it. 

Figure 1: Typical log cabin rental 

Let’s untangle this.

Log cabins in the us are a kind of Vernacular Architecture. For Oliver (2000), vernacular architecture means a building of people made by the people out of locally available materials. It does not refer to buildings designed and built by professional architects and builders. For W.M. Heath (1988), vernacular architecture is a craft whose value is not in style but in its capacity as cultural messaging.

Original American Log Cabins from the 19th century are crude, windowless, and chimney-less, built around logs without nails or sawn lumber (Hoagland 2020:16). Moreover, they have multiple meanings associated with the pioneer or settler way of life: a home in the wilderness, settling in a hostile environment and isolated surroundings with a mission to tame the land, and making a good living for themselves and their family (Hoagland 2018:13). Cabins represent the idea of mobility since they were a critical tool in the American expansion from the East to the West in the 19th century (Figure 1). Log cabins are created from the material that dominates the natural environment; they represent a transformation of the environment from the wilderness to a building, the uncivilized to the civilized, and some nothing to something. 

Figure 2: An original log cabin home built by the Swedish in Delaware during the 1700s.

Hence, the humble log cabin can be interpreted as a sort of folk origin story, one in which families can have a fresh start from nothing and construct a home from the land that “god gave them.” For example, we can see this origin myth adopted and used politically in Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace, a log cabin in Kentucky. The cabin is now a shrine in the middle of the woods where people can pilgrimage. The Center for Land Use Interpretation ( defines it as follows:

A Romanesque memorial, with 56 steps, one for each year of the president’s life, built on the location of his original birthplace cabin…Inside the structure is his birthplace cabin—which, however, is not really the actual birthplace cabin. The Lincoln family moved to another farm two years after he was born, and it is likely that the original log cabin was burned up for firewood by subsequent owners, probably in the 1830s.”    

Does it matter that it was the original cabin? No. That is the point of symbols and myth-building. It constructs an idea where people base their identity and create a community.    

Figure 3: Memorial to Abraham Lincoln’s birth cabin

Going back to my culture shock for a bit, the root of it has to do with, as a foreigner,  not being submerged into the log cabin ecosystem of meanings. Not raised in the US, my ideas and values of vernacular are very different and have other contexts and meanings. The Log Cabin is more than a holiday house infused with amenities. It’s an idea of how much people have accomplished from scratch. 

The log cabin is, by excellence, the vernacular architecture of the US. It is heavily rooted in the collective imagination as people tame the land and make something out of nothing. This idea, of course, has problems. There are some colonial, racial, religious, and other issues with this myth. The most obvious one is that people were here before the Europeans arrived, and the land was lived and modified many times by different Native American groups (who themselves have vernacular dwellings). The Log Cabin myth is only one of many stories people attach to a place. 

The Kenyon archaeological project has been digging an old dining hall made of logs from 1828 for about six weeks. Using vernacular architecture at the beginning of Kenyon College while massive stone buildings, such as Old Kenyon and Ross Hall, were constructed did not happen in a vacuum. It can be interpreted as settlers – pioneers taming the hill, transforming it from “nothing” into something. 


The blog’s title, “to tame the Land” is based on the 1983 Iron Maiden song of the same name. Believe it or not, the song is about Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi novel Dune. The novel is about resources, taming the land, and myth-building. It seemed appropriate.   


Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace Cabin Shrine. (2023). The Center of Land Use and Interpretation.

Asadpour, A. (2020). Defining The Concepts & Approaches In Vernacular Architecture Studies. National Academic Journal of Architecture, 7(2), 241–255.

Heath, K. W. (1988). Defining the Nature of Vernacular. Material Culture, 20((2/3)), 1–8.

Hoagland, A. K. (2018). Log Cabin: An American Icon. University of Virginia Press.

Oliver, P. (1996). Vernacular Studies: Objectives and Applications. Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, 8 (1), 12–12.

Iron Maiden (1983) To Tame a Land, A Piace of Mind, EMI. Youtube.  

An Unexpected Brick Deposit By Lucy Regnier-Kline

During our initial excavation planning, sub-operation G, the only unit not placed over a corner of our potential foundation, was thought to maybe be a doorway into the Bishop’s Cabin. Of course, this was only an educated guess based on GPR data, but what we found when we started digging was more complicated and surprising than we thought. Sub-op G is located on the north edge of the site, towards the center, as shown in Figure 1.

Instead of hitting flat stone, as a few other units did, we found a large deposit of brick. In particular, some of the brick was very burnt. A lot of the brick fell apart very easily, and was found along with charcoal and a white, powdery substance we assumed was mortar. As we dug deeper, we noticed that the deposit was mostly along the north side of the unit, but there was also a more burnt section in the southwest corner.

Toward the east side of the unit, we additionally found two large blocks of glazed brick. The bricks have a black, shiny coat painted on top of them, giving the bricks a smoother texture.

When looking at the vertical stratigraphy of our unit, we could see a line of mortar that separated our layers. Below the mortar is where the soil began to consist of a combination of dirt, brick, mortar, and charcoal, dispersed in almost all sections of the unit, but highly concentrated in certain areas.

The large amounts of burnt brick and charcoal may indicate that we are located above where a chimney or hearth may have been. The glazed brick could have been used for a few purposes, as it is both decorative and adds a layer of protection. The glaze can help prevent staining or damage to the bricks.

The brick industry in Ohio did not take off until the 1880s, about 60 years after the time period we are looking at with our research. This makes our large brick deposit particularly interesting, as brick would have been more difficult to produce in large quantities. The brick is also soft and crumbly, which is a sign of a longer, hand-made brick making process. Future lab analysis may help us determine exactly where these bricks came from. Hopefully, as we continue excavations in the coming weeks, a more distinct shape of the brick layout will become apparent, and we can determine what we are looking at within the spatial context of the Bishop’s Cabin.

Artifact Spotlight: Nails and Screws By Maya Vaccaro

For the past few weeks, we have been excavating 1×1 meter units along what we suspect is the perimeter of our structure’s foundation. My specific sub-operation, sub-op E, is towards the southeast of the site (Figure 1). Our current goal is to reach the foundation. We hypothesize that the floor of our structure consisted of wooden planks laid on top of flat stones. The wood may have decomposed, but the stone foundation would have remained mostly intact. Thus far, we have peeled back the lawn from our excavation unit and scraped and pick-axed our way through a layer of fill dirt and stones placed on top of our structure. Artifacts in the fill layer were sparse, but in recent weeks, we have hit a much higher density of artifacts, meaning we are closer to finding the stone foundation.

Figure 1. A rough diagram of our excavation site. The site is 15 x 20 meters. Foundation of the structure detected with ground-penetrating radar is shown in red. Sup-operation E is shown in white. Other sub-operations are not shown. The diagram is not to scale.

Among the most common artifacts we have been finding in our sub-operation are nails (Figure 2.). We have found a variety of shapes and sizes of nails used in our structure. There are three kinds of nails typically found in American building

Hand-wrought nails

This kind of nail is made by pouring iron into a mold and hand-hammering it into its final shape. It is characterized by a taper on all four sides and a wood-like grain (Wells 1998). This type of nail has been used for centuries and remained in frequent use until the late 19th century. In the 1820s and 30s, when our structure was most likely built, both cut and wrought nails were in frequent use (Nelson 1968). 

Cut nails

Cut Nails first appeared in the United States on a large scale after the Revolutionary War. There was a heavy overlap of hand-wrought and cut nails between 1790-1830. These nails were cut from one large, flat sheet of metal and can be distinguished from hand-wrought nails by their taper: only two sides of the nail are tapered, while the other two remain flat (Nelson 1968). 

Wire nails

These nails are most commonly used today. They have long, cylindrical bodies with a four-facet point. They are held by a gripping device and headed, then sheared. This gives them a distinctive gripper mark towards the head of the nail (Nelson 1968). 

Manufacturers of wire nails in the US started popping up in New York around the 1850s, but this variety of nail was not commonly used until the 1890s. Finding this kind of nail at our site would imply additions to the structure long after the initial construction in the 1820s (Nelson 1968). 

Figure 2. Sample of nails found at sub-operation E of Bishop’s Cabin archaeological excavation. The scale bar is in centimeters.

Along with an abundance of nails, we have also uncovered two screws (Figure 3.) and several metal balls and longer metal pieces, which I haven’t photographed (but am very excited about). Once we switch to the laboratory analysis phase of our investigation, we can clean and analyze our artifacts more closely. Although nail chronology is one way to date an archaeological site, using ceramics and glassware can give a more reliable sense of time (Wells 1998). It would still be useful to see if we can glean information on the time during which construction or renovation of the building occurred. Combining this information with documentary records could give us a sense of when and where these nails were being made. 

Regardless of what information we end up getting from them, the nails have been one of my favorite finds so far. Picturing them in the hands of workmen putting down planks two hundred years ago while holding them rusty and bent on Friday afternoons in 2023 makes me feel connected to the past in a way our other artifacts haven’t. 

Figure 3. Slot-headed screw found at sub-operation E of Bishop’s Cabin archaeological excavation. Scale is in centimeters.


Nelson, H. Lee

1968  Nail Chronology: As an Aid for Dating Old Buildings. History News Technical Leaflet,. Nashville, TN: American Association for State and Local History. pp 24-1.

Wells, Tom

1998  Nail Chronology: Technologically Derived Features. Historical Archaeology, Vol. 32, No. 2 , pp. 78-99 

The Transcendence of the Mundane. By Olivia Westley-Sherman

In the public imagination, the field of archaeology holds a notable amount of intrigue. Through American media such as the Indiana Jones franchise, many people view archaeology as the business of constantly unearthing mysteries and discovering groundbreaking artifacts. Picture classic scenes from this type of media in which the handsome, tough male protagonist comes across a priceless object. The ancient medallion, grail, or whatever it may be glows in his face. It’s somehow perfectly preserved in an upright position. Now, picture a large group of scholars quietly digging their trowels around rocks and occasionally mourning the loss of a worm they accidentally sliced in half. For the most part, that’s what archaeology really looks like, at least here at the Kenyon Archaeology Project. 

This is not to say that archaeology, as practiced in reality, isn’t exciting. I may be biased as an archaeology student, but I think there is just as much mystery and excitement in revealing the mundane parts of the lives of those who came before us. This past Friday’s excavations and the archaeological theory we read as a class bring this excitement to fruition. In Cynthia Robin’s 2020 article titled “Archaeology of Everyday Life,” she discusses how important understanding everyday life in history is to piecing together the broader values and practices of society at the time. Robin writes, “Daily activities can have a profound effect on how households, communities, and societies operate. People’s daily activities and interactions shape their social world and societies,” (Robin, 2020, p. 381). How humans live on the day-to-day scale is ultimately how humans live their lives. Thus, how the early people of Kenyon lived their everyday lives reveals how these people really lived in general, at least during their time at the institution. Artifacts relating to everyday life also remind us of our own humanity, and the fact that humans have always done human things. We’ve always had our trinkets and our tools, and through the practice of everyday archaeology, we can see aspects of the present in the past. 

The artifacts we found during this week’s excavations pair well with this notion of everyday life in archaeology. In my excavation partner and I’s unit, we found remnants of the mundane. We found ceramics with floral decorations, but our most exciting find was the engraved stem of a smoking pipe. While neither of these examples glowed in our faces or revealed some kind of groundbreaking mystery (we can’t all be Indiana Jones), they did something more important. They showed us what people were really doing at the time of Kenyon’s founding. It’s important to note, too, that we don’t know who these objects belonged to. The history of Kenyon is so caught up in the mythologizing of Philander Chase that it can be easy to lose sight of what the students and workers–the average people–were doing at this time. The Indiana Jones movies make it clear that the artifacts the protagonist finds are transcendent, but I think the exact same thing is true of the mundane artifacts we’ve found. Through the material past, even just a small piece of it, we can imagine what life really looked like for people in the past. The objects we find today were used by people who are long gone but who are embedded in the history of Kenyon. The pipe stem was once part of someone’s daily ritual. These artifacts belonged to real people, and some were even sentimental knick knacks that took on a transcendent quality in the mind of their owners. Upon closer inspection, we can now see that what looks like a mundane piece of trash can become a sublime window into the past. 

The Person Behind the Myth

Over the last two centuries quite a bit has remained the same as Kenyon has developed. The river still flows south on its winding path and pileated woodpeckers can still be heard, and occasionally seen, as they make their way about searching for bug infested trees. Quite a bit has also changed. To take just one example, on page 71 of George Franklin Smythe’s 1924 Kenyon College, Its First Century at the time of the colleges construction residents of Knox County believed that, “God was Bishop Chase’s Friend”, due to a series of fortunate events that helped Philander Chase along in the construction of his shining city upon a hill. More recently on page 25 of Will Bunch’s 2022 After the Ivory Tower Falls: how college broke the American Dream and Blew up Our Politics- and how to fix it, the author notes that some of the residents of Mt. Vernon refers to the residents of the hill as, “the God haters.”

I used this anecdote at the beginning of this blog post because I find it to be an amusing little tidbit of information, but in all seriousness one of the things that has changed on campus is our perception of our founding figure. When I visited campus for the first time, before walking to admissions I explored the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was my first experience on campus. In that church you can find a marble bust of, and quote on Chase. If you go to the post office you’ll see the mural of him on horseback surveying the land where he would build the school. We have all, of course, heard his famous quote of, “this will do.” It would not be an exaggeration to say that Mr. Chase is currently a quasi-mythical figure for the college. You can see this glorification at work within the previously mentioned Smythe book, and it seems that since the time of that book’s publication that the trend towards aggrandizement has continued.

The Kenyon Archaeological Project, is a historical archaeological project, and as such we have been using archival information and primary sources on the college’s founding to help inform our research process, and in the near future, to interpret our findings from the site. Currently the digital Kenyon website maintains a collection of 56 website pages that host the letters and journals of Philander Chase and his family. These documents are proving to be particularly useful for understanding what we are looking for underneath the campus grounds.

These writings are also informing some of the potential research questions that our findings can answer, to give just one brief example. Chase’s letters frequently allude to fund raising issues. The quality of goods found within the archeological assemblage can potentially give insight into how severe these issues were. Another potential outcome from this study is a better picture of how strictly Chases edicts were enacted. To Take another example, Chase frequently complained about the use of liquor. Similar projects on campus archaeology at Harvard university have revealed that high quantities of alcohol were consumed in the college’s early years despite the substance being banned. Perhaps something similar happened at Kenyon, and our excavations may reveal this. If we were to find something like that it would pose new questions regarding things like Chase’s true role at Kenyon.

With that Being said the Journals and letters also reveal interesting lesser known pieces of information about Philander Chase. To put it bluntly, Mr. Chase was a bit of a character, and not just by modern standards. In one letter dated 3-3-1825 Mr. Chase complains about a negative pamphlet written on his character on efforts in England. This was actually a recurring problem for Philander that occurred multiple times within the 1820’s. I thought it might be fun to share some of these historical anecdotes.

You can see the silliness of Mr. Chase’s life within the earliest letter we have from Mr. Chase, in which he details how he may be removed from Dartmouth after being accused of cutting off a fellow student’s hair during a religious service. He was later acquitted of this charge.

In another Incident, while the college was still being housed in Worthington Ohio, Mr. Chase complains in a 1822 letter to his son Philander Chase Jr. about how his students have formed a mini rebellion against their tutor, who they apparently disliked. Here I will use a little excerpt from the Bishop:

“They proceeded to raise a rebellion in the other students and succeeded so far as to get 11 names to a paper addressed to the Faculty dictating that the delinquents should not be punished and accusing the Tutor of Tyranny.”

Beyond these misadventures the Bishop was often prone to decrying perceived sins and vices within society, which led him to choose the remote location of Gambier for his school. In one letter written on, 1-25-1828, Chase writes to his wife describing how he tried using a story of a drunken worker in Gambier who died in an alcohol induced accident to attempt to educate the non religious.

There are numerous other examples of amusing stories that can be found within Chase’s letters, and it’s fun to juxtapose these tales against the dignified image we have of Chase today. These writings serve as an important reminder that history is always more complicated than we make it out to be. One of the benefits of archaeology is that through physical reminders of the past we can form a clearer picture of what happened. This is the aim of our studies.

-Ethan McCullough

The Image shown above is a diary entry and sketch done by Philander Chase in his 1824 diary, which largely details Chase’s travels to London in that year. The full diary can be found, along with the rest of Chase’s writings on the digital Kenyon Website

Figure 1: A diary entry and sketch done by Philander Chase in his 1824 diary, which largely details Chase’s travels to London in that year. The full diary can be found, along with the rest of Chase’s writings on the digital Kenyon Website