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Brown University

12/06/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/06/2023 12:46

Digging into Providence’s past, Brown’s in-demand Archeology of College Hill course opens new site

Once they identified four promising site options - grassy areas on College Hill believed to contain below-ground structural remains of former buildings - a geophysics company conducted a ground penetrating radar survey on each to help determine which would work best for the course. The survey revealed which areas had most potential to yield intact archaeological deposits, and provided assurance that they were free of obstructions, such as gas and water lines.

Informed by the survey, Davis and Neiman determined the best option was a site by the List Art Building. Archival sources indicated that a house was first constructed there in the mid-1800s, with a record dating back to 1840 describing a 34-by-24-foot two-story wooden structure.

The instructors combed through census records and newspaper archives to learn more. They discovered that the house was later subdivided into apartments, and in the early 1900s it was home to a concert violinist and teacher who advertised lessons in the Brown Daily Herald student newspaper. In the late 1930s, it housed the now-inactive Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, and in the 1940s, it was owned by Armenian immigrant John Arakel Stone, who was referred to as the "official fitter of class jackets" for junior boys at Brown, Davis said. In 1961, the house was sold to the University, and it was ultimately torn down.

As students in Archeology of College Hill explore the new site, they are considering a range of research questions: What were the primary construction materials of the house? What types of objects did the inhabitants of the house buy and use? What does the archaeology at 58 College St. reveal about the early 20th-century immigrant experience?

With the end of the semester approaching, students have stopped digging and are now processing their finds. This year, after years of sorting work in the University's Rhode Island Hall, the course began using a laboratory space in Brown's Biomedical Center, which offers a larger and more secure area for cleaning, drying and analyzing artifacts.

The trenches have been sealed until next fall, when a new crew of archaeologists-in-training will continue the search.

"It's exciting to still have all this work ahead of us," Davis said. "Every time the course meets, we are making progress toward learning more about the history of the site."