ANTH 491: Archaeology of the Bishop's Cabin

Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 2)

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!

Bibliography

Holt, G. (2019, December 12). College proposes native american land acknowledgements . The Kenyon Collegian. Retrieved December 13, 2023, from https://kenyoncollegian.com/news/2019/12/college-proposes-native-american-land-acknowledgements/.

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.  https://youtu.be/FOxxqVzDaaA?feature=shared (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. https://youtu.be/ELXLFMjLOx8?feature=shared (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.  https://skfb.ly/oOsEL (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.

A Journey into Artifact Analysis with Dr. Lindsay Bloch by Lucy Farnham

In the realm of archaeology, the study of artifacts serves as a key to unlocking the mysteries of ancient civilizations. Recently, we had the privilege of being visited by Dr. Lindsay Bloch, founder of Tempered Archaeological Services, LLC. Dr. Bloch, a seasoned archaeologist and anthropologist, has dedicated her career to unraveling the secrets embedded in artifacts.

Dr. Bloch helped us to understand our artifacts beyond their archaeological context. There are several different types of ceramics scattered throughout the site, and learning how to differentiate between each artifact is a valuable tool to understanding those who were at this site before us. In this site were many decorated ceramic sherds. Dr. Bloch showed us how to differentiate between a hand painted piece and a transfer printed piece. Below is an image of a sherd from Subop I, lot 4. This sherd is transfer printed, which is exemplified through the meticulous design aspects of the piece. One key aspect of transfer printed pieces is the uniformity of line work, which is present in this piece. Each line is configured little dots, which is a tell-tale sign of a transfer print. In a hand painted piece, the brushstrokes are visible, and lines are continuous and irregular, a detail which is absent from this artifact.

Transfer printed ceramic sherd from dining hall excavations.

This artifact is an example of the attempt to recreate Chinese porcelain, a highly coveted ceramic at the time in which we are working. Chinese porcelain often had intricate, hand painted designs. This artifact shows how European manufacturers tried to mimic this style by placing intricate designs, often in blue, onto a white ceramic meant to mimic original Chinese porcelain. However, it was more cost-effective for them to mechanize the creation of these pieces so workers not skilled in ceramic painting could create the ceramics at a higher volume. Dr. Bloch explained this concept and showed us genuine Chinese porcelain, which features brushstrokes that show the hand painted details by the high skilled artisans that created each piece. A ceramic of this nature imitates the decorative, highly desired Chinese porcelain tableware to satisfy the high demand of the time.

Overall, Dr. Bloch introduced highly valuable techniques of understanding the artifacts which we excavated. From differentiating between pearlware and whiteware to understanding the design differences between different styles of the time, she helped us to determine precious information about our artifacts. She illuminated the meticulous process of uncovering the stories hidden within artifacts and provided a glimpse into the thrilling world of archaeological discovery. Dr. Bloch’s expertise, combined with her passion for the subject, was extremely appreciated by all, and will prove useful for the coming weeks of our laboratory analysis.



Artifact Spotlight: A sponge-printed whiteware sherd by Lana Stone

This week, our readings centered around the idea of object biographies, that overall aim to tell the story of an artifact, from its production to deposition within an archaeological site. Considering material culture in its different stages of production, consumption and use can help archeologists to build an understanding of the relationship between humans and objects (Gosden et al., 2010). As humans and objects gather time, move and change, they transform, and the relationship between the object and humans becomes intertwined (Gosden et al., 2010).

As we wrap up our excavations at the Bishop’s Cabin site, our class has begun to examine several types of ceramic artifacts ranging in size, complexity, quality and material that may provide insight into the early years of Kenyon. Among a variety of ceramics, this post aims to build an object biography of one of our largest ceramic pieces: a whiteware sherd with blue sponge patterns. This object was imbedded against a rock, found on the northward wall of the cabin. Due to the shape of the sherd, it may have been a piece of a plate or platter, and is about 6 cm in length.

Sponge-printed whiteware from the dining hall excavations.

The state of Ohio was established in the year 1803, and many citizens and immigrants pushed towards the westward expansion of the US. The state of Ohio was seen as a frontier that could be “conquered” or “tamed”, and the soil was promising for aspiring farmers. This made the West, and specifically Ohio, appealing to those looking for new land to occupy. The first students would have arrived from the college’s previous location in Worthington in 1828, where the first buildings would have been rustic, like the cabin at the Bishop’s Cabin site. Therefore, this sherd would have arrived and been deposited after the year 1828. In terms of where these early ceramic materials at Kenyon were being manufactured, it is unsure whether these ceramics would have been manufactured in the United States or imported from Europe, where they were originally created. The underlying material of this ceramic, is called White earthenware. White earthenwares had been developed throughout Europe, including England, France, Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland (Maggetti, 2010). This genre of ceramic was mass-produced between the years of 1750 and 1900 (Maggetti, 2010).  White earthenwares became the “porcelain of the poor man”, and replaced more expensive, traditional forms of ceramic (Maggetti, 2010). Its probable that these ceramic techniques would have spread into the United States during this time as well. Considering the mass-production and cheap material, it is entirely possible that White earthenwares were being produced in the Midwest.

Sponge-printed whiteware as it was found embedded on a rock

In terms of the design, the blue patterns would have been applied using a sponge technique. Spongeware would have been a relatively cheap form of decoration, and been produced between the years of 1840-1940 (Henderson, 1999). The sponge patterns would have been applied either before or after firing, and could range from non-uniform patterns like the sherd above, or specific floral designs (Tennis, 1997). We have found several sherds at the Bishop’s cabin site with organized floral patterns, and it’s possible that these sherds could have been made with similar techniques.

Overall, the ceramics found at the Bishop Cabin’s site can help us to understand possible the commercial, industrial, and economic systems during the college’s early years, just a short time after the state’s establishment in 1803. Similarly, these object biographies provide us with cultural knowledge. As we attempt to discover the function of one of the first buildings at Kenyon, ceramics like these can help with identifications of the building as a multifunctional dining hall, residence or academic building. Furthermore, our class will continue to conduct research and built object biographies of artifacts to help us understand social, cultural and economic systems occurring in Kenyon’s earliest years.

Works Cited

Gosden & Marshall (1999) The cultural biography of objects, World Archaeology, 31:2,169-178, DOI: 10.1080/00438243.1999.9980439

Henderson, Z. “Archaeological investigations.” Culna 1999.54 (1999): 07-09.

Maggetti M. Archaeometric Analyses of European 18th–20th Century White Earthenware—A Review. Minerals. 2018; 8(7):269. https://doi.org/10.3390/min8070269

Tennis, Cynthia L. “Ceramic Patterns and Variations.” Archaeology at the Alamodome: Investigations of a San Antonio Neighborhood in Transition: 1.

Middle Path- Kenyon’s Landscape By Sophia Procops

1959 Map of Kenyon and Gambier showing Middle Path.

Looking down Middle Path in any direction you can see buildings framed by the trees, and right now they are turning the vibrant colors of autumn. Beginning at the south end of Middle Path at Old Kenyon, the 2/3 mile walk north to Bexley Hall is full of life with students walking to and from class, talking with professors, reading on benches, and making sure to walk on the same side of the “Gates of Hell.”

Middle Path has been around since the early days of Kenyon and has always been a defining feature of life in Gambier, Ohio. In examining maps starting with one from the institution’s centennial in 1924, based on campus in the 1820s/30s, Middle Path remains an important center point. Each building is strategically placed along it. A good way to examine the importance of this path is through an archaeological perspective– and in this case, through landscape archaeology. As explained by American anthropologists Wendy Ashmore and Chelsea Blackmore (2008), human involvement is what distinguishes landscape from the environment. Landscapes are environments that humans have adapted to suit their own needs: they use the environment to create and bring new life.

So, when examining Kenyon’s campus, one must understand that the environment in which Philander Chase chose to build has remained more or less the same over time. Features such as the Kokosing River have remained. However, since the mid-19th century, Kenyon has built into the hill creating the school and landscape we know today. Natural features, such as the early beginnings of Middle Path, have been used to lay out the campus.

In Smythe’s history of Kenyon (1924), he emphasizes that Chase intentionally chose Gambier as his place to settle due to its isolated location. It would become a seminary removed from the sin and corruption of the outside world. The earliest buildings on campus (the ones we have been excavating) were intended to be temporary until a more permanent structure could be established. These original buildings were not made of stable materials–wood compared to the stone of Old Kenyon. When Old Kenyon burnt down in 1949, it had been a symbol of the south end of Middle Path for over 100 years, so it was rebuilt as a reminder of the first permanent building on campus.

Middle Path also connects the rest of the buildings on campus. Every building comes from a runoff of the main, central path. At Kenyon, departments are not given a sectioned-off area. While there may be some small groupings such as the English cottages, most departments are not always in the same building, and classrooms become cross-disciplinary. Physics classrooms can be used for history and law classrooms for math.

Kenyon was intentionally placed in this environment, and in that, each building established forms the dynamic and lively landscape we live in today.

References Cited

2008 Ashmore, Wendy, and Chelsea Blackmore. Landscape Archaeology. Encyclopedia of Archaeology, vol. 2, p. 1578.

1924 Smythe, George. Kenyon College, Its First Century. Kenyon College.

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) 

Vignette: 

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 (https://clui.org/ludb/site/abraham-lincolns-birthplace-cabin-shrine) 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. 

PostScript. 

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.   

Bibliography: 

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.

References:

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. 

« Older posts
css.php