Excavating Newly Discovered Ruins at America’s Biggest Shaker Settlement

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Coming This Summer From Our UK-based Friends DigVentures:

America’s Biggest Shaker Settlement To Be Unearthed With Help From Crowdfunders, US Military Veterans, and National Geographic

This summer, DigVentures is returning to Upstate New York on a double mission: to excavate newly discovered ruins at America’s biggest Shaker settlement, and to help launch a brand new archaeological program for US military veterans who are transitioning back into civilian life.

Mount Lebanon Shaker Village is one of America’s most important historic sites. For 160 years, it was the center of the most successful utopian communal society the country has ever seen.

Founded in 1787, the settlement had over 6,000 acres, 100 buildings and gave rise to a further 19 communities, from Maine to Kentucky. But, as the Shaker population declined in the early 20th century, the grounds were gradually sold to various private owners, including Darrow School, which continues to use some of the original buildings.

Today, the site is a National Historic Landmark, has its own museum, and has twice been recognized by the World Monuments Fund as one of the top 100 most significant endangered historic sites in the world.

And yet, archaeologically speaking, its ruins remain relatively unexplored. What might still survive below ground? How far did the settlement truly extend? And is it possible to recover new evidence that could plug gaps yet to be filled by historical sources? With a second season of excavation about to begin, ‘Digging Darrow’ will soon be providing the first systematic answers to those questions.

The discoveries so far

In 2017, DigVentures appealed to archaeology fans around the world to crowdfund the first large-scale excavation at the site. The response was phenomenal, and that summer we were able to begin our investigation.

Using LIDAR (laser scans from which archaeologists can produce 3D maps of entire landscapes) DigVentures quickly identified a series of previously unrecorded ruins hidden in the undergrowth, and by mapping the terrain, we were also able to produce the first clear picture of the site’s watershed. The Shakers had clearly chosen the locations of their buildings very carefully, and also instigated some impressive engineering works to make the landscape even more habitable and productive.

The village itself was divided into ‘Family’ groups, each with its own leadership, members, and commercial activities. From their workshops came such a constant stream of small improvements intended to make the working day more pleasant and efficient that they had a huge impact on the agricultural, industrial and institutional activities of their time. In fact, so prolific were their inventions – from condensed milk to the circular saw – their influence on American material culture is still visible today.

Among the ruins, we unearthed objects like inkpots, eyeglasses, cookware, medicine bottles, agricultural implements, and plenty more, providing remarkable insight to the lives of the Shakers who resided here. In fact, the discoveries so far indicate that with continued excavation, we’ll be able to produce a complete map of the settlement and use the archaeological evidence to examine the relationships between the different Family groups.

From May 22 to June 3 2018, DigVentures will be returning to conduct additional landscape surveys and open up a new area of excavation among the ruins that were only discovered last season. But that isn’t the dig’s only aim.

Using the past to help people in the present

This summer, DigVentures is launching a brand new initiative in partnership with American Veterans Archaeological Recovery, an organization dedicated to helping American military veterans transition back into civilian life.

For the first time ever, AVAR will run a specially-designed archaeology program for veterans on a DigVentures excavation site. This kind of program has already been tried and tested in the UK by Operation Nightingale, and found to be enormously successful in enabling veterans to learn new skills and make new friends, while doing something practical and challenging.

National Geographic has supported AVAR, and, to expand the project, we’re now inviting anyone who would like to support the effort to help us crowdfund this year’s excavation.

Be part of this year’s dig

Anyone who crowdfunds this year’s dig can choose to follow the team’s progress online, get a limited edition archaeology team t-shirt, or even join the excavation and make their own archaeological discoveries.

We’ve already shown that Mount Lebanon Shaker Village is one of America’s most important historic sites, and that the archaeology that survives on the Darrow campus is rich, but remains largely unexplored.

DigVentures be using the latest archaeological techniques, and providing the opportunity for any of our crowdfunders who are interested in archaeology to help us investigate this historic site and learn new skills alongside our veterans.

If you’re interested in digging with DigVentures, or in sponsoring opportunities for America’s service personnel, email hello@digventures.com or find out more about crowdfunding the project at digventures.com/projects/digging-darrow

~Maiya Pina-Dacier, DigVentures Head of Community

Maiya is Head of Community at DigVentures. She keeps the DigVentures community up to date with all the latest digs and archaeology news. She also reports on all the team’s discoveries live from the trenches, and can often be seen digging with a trowel in one hand and a Twitter feed in the other. Got a story? Just drop her a line on twitter @muckymaiya

Happy Trowels to you!

1 COMMENT

  1. Fascinating. Out of sight but not gone … my thanks to the many people who are involved in supporting the work, publicizing the work, reocrding the work and getting it on the web. Finally, what touched my heart is the inclusion of veterans and ‘citizens’ into archeology – a concept I learned of from ‘Time Team’ through AcornTV.

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