Digging Veritas

eyeglass lens and lice comb.

Digging Veritas: The Archaeology & History of the Indian College and Student Life at Colonial Harvard

We reflect here on the Harvard Yard Archaeology Project (HYAP)—a groundbreaking experiment in which Harvard students of today search for meaning in the material remains of Harvard students of the past. This ongoing archaeological project occurs in a larger collaborative context, as different groups come together to explore Harvard’s history. In 2007 and 2009, Harvard students, professors, and staff, leaders of local Native communities, preservation professionals, tourists, and other passersby visited our excavation site in Old Harvard Yard, sharing in the excitement of discovery and interpretation.

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HYAP's most recent work has centered on the Indian College. Harvard built the College under its 1650 charter, which committed the new institution “to the education of the English and Indian Youth of this Country.”

An interpretive dialogue developed between archival documents, historic maps, curated objects, personal interviews, and the artifacts we found. Together, these sources expose colonial Harvard as a landscape shaped by social and religious tensions that affected everything from the relationships between Native peoples and English settlers to the everyday routines of student life. Three themes rose to the forefront of our study: literacy and the Indian College; rule (breaking) and religion; and negotiations of social status. Who knew small fragments buried below ground could reveal so much?