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Boston Archaeology Program Announces Completion of NEH-Funded Digital Archaeology Project

Including 210,147 artifacts from the Paul Revere House, Boston Common, Brook Farm, 27-29 Endicott Street Brothel, Lathrop Place, and Faneuil Hall.

BOSTON - July 18, 2022 - In March 2019, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded the City of Boston Archaeology Program a $350,000 Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant to re-process, re-catalog, digitally photograph and place online in a database the complete archaeological assemblages excavated from five important Boston historical sites. Most of these collections were excavated by archaeologists in the 1970s and 1980s and were not fully cataloged, making them difficult to study.  With this project, the collections are fully documented and anyone from anywhere in the world can see these collections online or study them in person at the City Archaeology Program.

The team hired by grant funds as well as volunteers have worked for years to individually identify and catalog each artifact for the first time, and then create a digital online artifact image database using new digitization tools including 3D imagery and automation software. Each collection now has a dedicated website on the Archaeology Program’s page, which includes links to their full catalogs, online images, and 3D scans.  

In 1983, archaeologists surveyed the yard of the ca. 1680 Paul Revere House. In 2010 and 2011, they surveyed 5 and 6 Lathrop Place, two 1835 row houses on what was once the backyard of the Revere house property. The Revere House collection contained 13,765 artifacts, mostly from the house’s 19th century privy when the house was used as a saloon, boarding house, and private home for the Wilkie family. Excavations under 5 and 6 Lathrop Place, directly behind the Revere House, documented 11,785 artifacts from the 17th-19th century use of the rear of the Revere property.

In the early 1990s, archaeologists excavating ahead of the Central Artery Project (Big Dig) uncovered the privy of a mid-19th century brothel containing 7,977 artifacts. The brothel was located at 27-29 Endicott Street in the North End. It was not known for decades that this privy was associated with a brothel until research and analysis by Dr. Jade Luiz revealed the true nature of the collection, including numerous artifacts associated with Victorian-era sex work.  

Multiple surveys on Boston Common in the 1980s and 1990s revealed the complex and layered history of the Common. The 68,525 artifacts from these surveys reveal a diverse history including thousands of years of continual presence of Massachusett Native people, early colonial sites, Revolutionary War encampments, Victorian outdoor activities, and recent protests. 

Archaeologists carried out several surveys at Brook Farm in the 1990s documenting over 98,413 artifacts spanning 5,000 years of history at the Landmark-designated property. These artifacts document the use of the farm by Massachusett Native people, early colonial farmers, 19th century transcendentalist utopian seekers, Civil War soldiers, orphans, and school children.

The 2010 excavations at Faneuil Hall recovered 9,682 artifacts, mostly from the early 18th century, which will be included in a Community Preservation Act grant-funded exhibition at Faneuil Hall on Boston’s role in slavery to be opened in 2023.

As part of the grant project, the project team created a dedicated webpage on Boston.gov for each project site. On these web pages, anyone can read about the story of the site’s history, the archaeology done at the site, view the complete catalog of all artifacts recovered at the site, and view complete artifact images of every artifact included in the project, and links to the site’s online exhibits.

Each site also has a dedicated online exhibit. The Boston Common exhibit serves as the main content for the Boston Common webpage. The A Tale of Two Privies exhibit explores the stories of the Endicott Street brothel and Revere House privies.  The Commonwealth Museum hosts an online exhibit titled Brook Farm: Unearthing Hidden Histories, written by Madison Vlass. Finally, the Faneuil Hall collection will be included in the upcoming slavery exhibit at Faneuil Hall.  

It is the goal of this project to make the collections accessible to the public online, allowing researchers, teachers, and the curious full access to the archaeological components of these important historic places. 

The team faced numerous challenges, most of which resulted from the beginning of shutdowns related to the outbreak of COVID-19, just months into the planned two-year project. Adjustments to the project included the transition of planned exhibits at various museums and walking tours into online exhibits.

Project lead and City Archaeologist Joe Bagley stated “I’m incredibly impressed by the work of archaeologists Nadia Kline and Lauryn Sharp as well as the work of our advisory board and many UMass Boston graduate students and assistants who contributed thousands of hours of work in making these collections accessible for the first time.”

Currently the City’s archaeology team is working on a IMLS grant-funded project to digitize early 17th century archaeological sites including the 1638-1655 Garrett House site in Charlestown ahead of the celebrations of Boston’s 400th anniversary.
The City of Boston Archaeology Program celebrates Boston’s diverse history through preservation, excavation, and community engagement. Questions or comments about the project or program can be emailed to archaeology@boston.gov

 

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