What do you find when you spend five days digging through hard New England soil in freezing conditions? For a four-member crew from The Public Archaeology Laboratory, Inc. (PAL), the answer is short and simple: one shotgun shell and one piece of broken glass, both of recent vintage.
The Public Archaeology Laboratory had been commissioned by the Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School District to conduct an archaeological survey of the site where the District plans to build a new high school.
“There’s no archeological significance here – no evidence that Native Americans used the land,” said Jennifer Banister, the project archeologist, on a 30-degree morning in late January. Finding something of significance “was definitely a possibility,” she said, given the site’s proximity to Battle Road, wetlands, and fresh water sources. There are several sites within a half-mile of the Minuteman property where archeologists have detected evidence of land use that pre-dates the arrival of Europeans, she said.
Banister’s team spent more than 150 hours digging “shovel test pits,” approximately 2 feet by 2 feet and 2 feet deep. They dug 90 test pits, spaced out across the area where the new high school will be built.
“There’s absolutely nothing here,” said crew member Colin Stevenson as he shoveled another load of soil and rock into a manually-operated screening device. The test pit, like many of the others, was filled with large rocks, hard clay soil, and roots from nearby trees.
Interestingly enough, the survey was not actually required by any government agency. Instead, it was ordered by Minuteman Superintendent Edward A. Bouquillon to ease any concerns about the site’s potential historical significance and to ease his own mind about building a school there.
“This area is rich in Revolutionary War history,” he said, shortly after learning that the archeological dig had come up empty. “I had no idea what we might find out there, but I’m glad we did this. It was the right thing to do.” The archeological survey cost the District $15,000, a mere fraction of the project’s $144.9 million total cost.
There was an educational benefit for
Minuteman students as well, Dr. Bouquillon said. Social studies teacher Tracey Sierra brought
her sophomore classes out to the archeological dig site where they saw the
direct connection between science and history and learned about additional
career pathways they didn’t know existed.
The students talked with the team from PAL and with Margie Coffin
Brown of the Minute Man National
“No artifacts were identified as part of the survey, which is a little surprising but I think it has a lot to do with the shallow ledge that covers most of the area,” said Senior Archeologist Holly Herbster, MA, RPA. “Our testing coverage was thorough and we targeted areas that were most likely for pre-contact as well as historic sites, so it appears this area just wasn’t utilized as neighboring areas were.”
“Although we did not find any archaeological materials that document Native American activity,” Ms. Herbster said, “that does not mean that Native people didn’t use the land within the project area. The presence of known sites in the areas that surround the project area suggests that people did in fact pass through and probably hunt and collect resources there. These activities simply did not leave behind traces that archaeologists can see today. The same can be said for the use of the project area historically. While we did not locate any artifacts, the presence of stone wall sections indicates that the area was likely part of a larger home or farmstead located nearby.”
Ms. Herbster said PAL will be recommending that no additional archaeological investigations are necessary. PAL will provide Minuteman with a formal written report within the next month.
PAL is located in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Its crews have done similar work throughout New England and the Northeast.
Team members reported that archeological digs sometimes unearth items that are of historical significance. Sometimes, as was the case at the Minuteman site, they come up with nothing at all.
In one recent instance, PAL helped document the discovery of a 19th century schooner buried deep in the mudflats in the Seaport district in South Boston. The shipwreck was found during excavation on a construction project: https://www.boston.gov/departments/archaeology/seaport-shipwreck
“That was me,” said Project Archeologist Jennifer Banister, with a smile on her face.
Minuteman is an award-winning regional high school that integrates robust academic and career & technical learning to deliver a revolutionary competitive advantage. The school serves a diverse student body with multiple learning styles, expanding opportunities for college and career success. As an accredited member of the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC), Minuteman challenges all students to aspire to their full potential, accelerate their learning, and achieve success in the 21st-century global community.
The District is planning to build a new high school on the Lincoln side of its property. Pending permitting by the Town of Lincoln, the District hopes to break ground this spring and open the new school to students in the fall of 2019.