The following is an excerpt from the Spring 2019 Issue of American Archaeology Magazine

By Elaine K. Howley

COVER IMAGE: The excavators have recovered numerous pipes. This white clay pipe with a partially broken stem dates to the eighteenth century.  | Credit:  President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, PM# 992-9-10/100212

On a crisp, sun-streaked November day last year, hundreds of people were coming and going across Harvard Yard—the grassy, quadrangle of America’s first institution of higher learning. Harvard College, which was named for its first benefactor, minister John Harvard, was established in 1636 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the center of the Old Yard, which was the original campusbut now forms the western section of Harvard Yard, a group of about twenty students armed with trowels, brushes, and sifting screens were participating in the Harvard Yard Archaeology Project (HYAP), a long-term effort to uncover remnants of the earliest days of Harvard College.

Jamie Ostmann  watches as Laura Lu  places a board across a trench at the end of a day of excavating. The board is used to support a tarp that will cover the trench. | Credit: Bruce T. Martin
Kyle Sanok (left) and Rachel Freed (right) examine the tin-glazed earthenware sherds that they excavated. | Credit: Bruce T. Martin
This fragment of a bone comb dates to the seventeenth century. It’s one of roughly 14,000 artifacts recovered during the project. | Credit:  President and Fellows of Harvard College, Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, PM# 987-22-10/100151

“In the seventeenth century, Harvard had four initial buildings,” said Diana D. Loren,  a curator at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, who directs the HYAP along with fellow Peabody Museum curator Patricia Capone. Two buildings were purchased from local landowners: Peyntree House, which was built in 1633 by William Peyntree, was Harvard’s first building. Goffe College (the term “college” was then used to name buildings) was purchased in 1651 from Edward Goffe. Both buildings provided living quarters, classroom space, dining halls, and most everything else the college’s students and staff needed. The other two, the Old College and the Indian College, were built in 1639 and 1655, respectively.

Harvard College struggled financially during its first years. To continue its educational mission in the American colonies, Harvard requested funds from the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in New England (SPGNE), which was located in England. The society granted the funds with the stipulation that Harvard offer a program for Native American students. This was written into Harvard’s 1650 charter, which dedicated the institution to “the education of the English and Indian youth of this country, in knowledge and godliness.” In furtherance of this goal, Harvard welcomed promising young leaders from nearby Native American tribes who resided in the Indian College. Harvard employed religious education—it converted Native Americans to Puritanism—in an attempt to colonize them. The English believed that converting the Natives to Christianity was for the benefit of all.


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