An archaeological dig is underway at Westport Town Farm – led by Dr. David B. Landon, Associate Director at Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at UMass Boston.
The Trustees recently started renovating the south wing of the farmhouse at Westport Town Farm. We have worked with the Westport Historical Commission to plan the renovation in a manner that's sensitive to the historic fabric of the house. As the renovation entails excavation around the house, we thought this provided a great opportunity to conduct an archaeological investigation to find out more about the property's past. The dig started earlier this week, and we were lucky enough to pull Dr. Landon away for a bit to find out more about the project and his work. Here's what he had to say:
How did this project at Westport Town Farm come about?
The preservation work at the Town Farm will involve some excavation around the foundation, so our major goal is to make certain that there are no important buried archaeological deposits that will be disturbed by the work. We have worked with The Trustees before on similar projects and enjoy collaborating with your organization because we share a strong preservation ethic.
What are you hoping to find here?
Every time we dig around historic houses we always find artifacts relating to the past use of the house and the ways people shaped the landscape. We expect this to be similar, with materials related to past house construction and remodeling, and the daily activities of life on the Poor Farm. We could also find past “utilities” such as a cistern for storing water or a privy (outhouse).
Can you briefly describe what will be happening at the Westport Town Farm dig?
The digging is only one small part of the project. We've already begun to carry our background research, collect historic documents, and map the site. In addition, my colleague, Dr. John Steinberg, conducted a conductivity survey of the area we will be testing. We expect the digging phase to be short – perhaps a week’s work with a crew of six to eight people – unless we find something dramatic!
What’s the most interesting dig that you’ve ever been involved in?
I actually like digging into our modern cities. Recently I've had the opportunity to work on several excavations in downtown Boston – at Faneuil Hall and at the African Meeting House on Beacon Hill. Digging in cities is very complex, and therefore fun and interesting.
Have you travelled abroad for a dig?
Although I often work around the New England region, I've had the opportunity to work on digs in France, Iceland, and several islands in the Caribbean.
What’s the most amazing thing you’ve found on a dig?
By far the most amazing discovery was finding human burials. This was at an abandoned medieval monastery in France that dated to about 1100-1300. One of the graves we found included an elaborate carved stone coffin and must have been made for a leader of the monastery.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found on a dig?
In the recent excavation at Faneuil Hall, we found a child’s toy made from a flattened lead musket ball. The flat disk had two holes in the middle and was strung on a string and spun to make a whizzing noise. It was engraved with the name “Thomas Apthorp.” The Apthorps were one of Boston’s most prominent merchant families in early-18th century Boston, and Thomas’s father had a warehouse nearby. Somehow poor Thomas lost his toy and we found it some 250 years later. Weird, but also very exciting!
Published April 12, 2012
Let us know what you think!