Digging Darrow

Darrow is home to the ruins of America's biggest Shaker settlement. We've been investigating the rise and fall of their remarkable attempt to build a new utopia

123.9% Funded
£12,390.00 Pledged
£10,000 Goal

Hello America! This summer, DigVentures is heading to the beautiful Berkshire mountains in New York State – and we want YOU to join us!

We’re on a double mission: to crowdfund the scientific excavation of the biggest Shaker settlement in the USA, and to help launch a brand new initiative supporting American military veterans (AVAR) as they transition to civilian life through participation in archaeological fieldwork. And National Geographic is on board too!

Darrow, located on Mount Lebanon, New York, is home to the biggest Shaker settlement in America. In 1966, the site was named a National Historic Landmark, and in 2004 and 2006 it was recognized by the World Monuments Fund in as one of the top 100 most significant endangered historic sites in the world. The land was sold to Darrow School in 1937, who have been carefully guarding the site ever since.

In 2017, DigVentures launched our first crowdfunded excavation in America. With help from an impressive crowd of supporters, we began mapping the full extent of the village. We used laser scans to locate previously unknown ruins, and excavated one of the buildings, proving that even more crucial evidence lies just beneath the surface at this gorgeous site.

The crowdfunders who dug alongside us unearthed dozens of fascinating objects, including ink pots, eyeglasses, cookware, bottles, agricultural implements, and more, giving remarkable insights into the lives of the Shakers who settled and lived on the site. With such strong results, we now need to head back to the site and dig even deeper into the past. This time, our aim is to excavate some of the previously unknown ruins, and to ground-truth some of the other mysterious features revealed by the laser scans.

What are the strange humps and bumps? How were the buildings used? Located just next to the oldest house on the site, which pre-dates the Shakers, these could be clues to the site’s earliest inhabitants – or the very first things built by the Shakers themselves.

Why The Shakers?

The Shakers arrived in America in the 1700s, and in 1787 established themselves on Mount Lebanon. They soon became one of America’s wealthiest and most rapidly expanding new groups.

But it didn’t all start like that. Originating in Liverpool, north west England, the group were fleeing persecution, and decided to follow their founder Mother Ann Lee to a place where they believed they would be free to live as they chose.

Mount Lebanon became 
their first and largest settlement in the United States, and the spiritual centre of Shaker society. They believed in racial equality, female leadership and the swift adoption of technological innovation – and they were extremely successful.

With numbers swelling, plenty of food, and communities working together to build huge meeting houses, the Shakers took great strides forward and created very profitable endeavours, from agriculture to pharmaceuticals. Many of their innovations, such as their distinctive architecture, sleek furniture, wheel-driven washing machines and mail order business models, live on in American culture today.

But their incredible success didn’t last. Numbers started dwindling and the settlement shrank. As one of the most famous attempts to build a new utopian society, their story – and the beautiful historic site they left behind – is a unique opportunity to understand what drove them, what contributed to their decline, and what this says about the development of the young United States of America itself. Our new archaeological investigation provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really dig deep and reason with the evidence.

Why American Veterans Archaeological Recovery?

Taking part in archaeological fieldwork is a powerful experience. It’s methodical, structured and generates teamwork and camaraderie. American Veterans Archaeological Recovery (AVAR) is an organization dedicated to helping American military veterans with disabilities transition to civilian life through participation in archaeological excavations. It will take the project to a whole new level of significance.

DigVentures will help AVAR cofounders, veterans Stephen Humphreys and Mark Reed, train serving soldiers from Fort Drum in Jefferson County, New York, and local veterans in transferable skills. Teamwork and social activities will also deliver mental and physical well-being benefits, and we very much look forward to exploring how the training and pastoral care aspects of archaeology can provide positive, measurable change for people.

Crowdfund the dig

Love archaeology? Believe in supporting veterans transitioning back into civilian life? Want to discover New York’s incredible past? As a crowdfunder, you can choose to join the excavation dig alongside our team, or get hands-on with the artefacts in the on-site Finds Room, or sit back and simply help sponsor our work with the veterans.

If you can’t make it to site, you can still be part of the dig – we’ll send you daily updates from the excavation, including videos, digital models of our discoveries, and live access to our excavation data.

Our fieldschool program is accredited by the UK’s Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA), and since 2012 has trained people from all over the world in archaeological field skills and techniques.

Join us as we reach back into history to learn more about the people of the past – while helping our veterans in the present!

As one of the most famous attempts to build a new utopian society, the story  of the Shakers – and the beautiful historic site they left behind – is a unique opportunity to understand what drove them, what contributed to their decline, and what this says about the development of the young United States of America itself.

When their community began to decline in the early 20th century, the land was gradually sold to various private owners, including Darrow School, which took ownership in 1932. As the only school in the United States located on the site of an historic Shaker village, Darrow have been careful custodians of the site, and have even incorporated one of the Shakers’ core maxims, ‘Hands To Work’, into their ethos and syllabus.

Mount Lebanon was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and was recognized by the World Monuments Fund in both 2004 and 2006 as one of the 100 most significant endangered historic sites in the world.

The Shaker legacy is still visible in American culture today. From the very beginning, their society was filled driven by progressive ideals and a desire to build a new utopia. Only a continued excavation can help us understand the story of the Mount Lebanon Shakers and the important historic site they left behind at Darrow.

There are many established Shaker scholars, facilities and resources in the region, including the Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon and the Hancock Shaker Village, and our dig is intended to spark new research collaborations as well as make it possible for anyone who wants to learn more about the Shakers to join us on our mission.

What happens if we don't quite reach our crowdfunding target?

We’ve set the crowdfunding goal to match the level of excavation and analysis we think the site deserves. Obviously, the closer we get the better, but we won’t abandon the dig if we don’t make it – this archaeology is too good to miss!

So, even if we don’t make it, we’ll stick to our guns and do the dig anyway – we’d just scale down the size of the excavation to suite.

For example, we’d excavate a smaller area and send fewer artefacts off for scientific analysis (that’s the expensive bit!), but the dig would still happen and you’d still be part of our team.

That being said, we’re confident we’ll reach our goal because we know there’s incredible archaeology waiting to be found and people like YOU are willing to help us prove it!

What happens once I make my contribution?

PLEASE NOTE: We will be communicating with you using whichever email address you enter for your purchase. If you haven’t heard from us, please check your junk or spam folder.

As soon as you make a contribution to the campaign, you’ll get a payment confirmation.

We’ll then follow up with a welcome email thanking you for your contribution, and (where relevant) requesting a little bit more information about things like preferred dig dates, or details for your chosen reward, like t-shirt sizes etc.

You’ll need to reply to this welcome email as soon as you can to make sure we have all the details we need to get you booked in.

If you’re digging with us, we will send you an Info Pack with more information about the site, what to bring and joining instructions closer to the time.

If you need to book travel and accommodation, we’ve provided some hints and tips in the following FAQs.

If you have any other questions in the meantime, get in touch! You can reach us on hello@digventures.com, or 0333 011 3990

When will I get my goodies?

If you join the crowdfund before 14th December 2018, we’ll send your goodies (like t-shirts and chocolate artefacts) in time for Christmas.

If you join the crowdfund after that, we’ll send them in May at the start of the 2018 field season.

You’ll then start getting all your digital goodies (like videos updates and virtual artefacts) as soon as the dig begins!

Which days can I dig with you?

The dig runs from Tuesday 22nd May – Sunday 3rd June 2018.

We will have a day off on Monday 28th May.

You can start your dig experience on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday.

Which days can I join you in the lab?

If you don’t want to dig, but do want to help out in the Finds Lab, you can join us in the second week of the dig:

  • Tuesday 29th June – Sunday 3rd June 2018

You can start your lab experience on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday.

Where is it?

It’s in the grounds of Darrow School, Mount Lebanon, New York. We’ll send you more information once you’ve signed up!

What about travel and accommodation?

Darrow School is located in New Lebanon, NY, just on the border with Massachusetts. Darrow Road, marked by Darrow’s sign, turns off Route 20, seven miles west of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The campus is approximately 30 miles east of Albany, NY, and 10 miles west of Pittsfield, MA. It is 150 miles north of New York City, and 150 miles west of Boston.

There are a variety of public transportation options that will bring you close to the campus, if you do not have your own transportation. Uber has also brought people to the campus.

Address: 110 Darrow Rd, New Lebanon, NY 12125, USA

Airports: Albany International Airport is approximately 45 minutes by car from Darrow. Hartford’s Bradley International Airport is approximately 1 hour, 20 min. For international and long flights, JFK, LaGuardia, Newark, and Logan Airport in Boston are all approximately 2 ½-3 hours from campus. Pittsfield, MA, has a regional private airport for small airplanes and jets.

Amtrak train service: There are stations in both Pittsfield, MA, (serving the New England region) and Albany, NY, (serving Hudson/NY region)

Bus Service: Peter Pan, Greyhound, Bonanza, and other bus lines serve Pittsfield, MA, and the Albany area. We recommend traveling to the Pittsfield area if you are coming via bus.

Further travel info from Pittsfield: www.newenglandtravelplanner.com/go/ma/berkshires/pittsfield/trans/index.html

Where to Stay

There are plenty of options for accommodation. However, you should make sure to find somewhere to stay as soon as possible – although this dig will be at the beginning of the tourist season in the Berkshires, accommodations will fill up quickly.

The following is a brief selection of BnBs and hotels, however if none of these suit your tastes or budget, please feel free to book wherever you will be most comfortable. Airbnb (www.airbnb.com) is also a good place to look as there are many offered in the area.

Inn at Shaker Mill Farm

Shaker Mill Inn

Hitchcock House B&B

Shaker Meadows B&B

Red Lion Inn

Best Western Berkshire Hills Inn & Suites

Crowne Plaza Pittsfield

Hilton Garden Inn Lenox-Pittsfield (Please use Darrow corporate id #3066222 for a 20% discount)

Hotel on North


Cherry Plain State Park (also has cottages and cabins)

Woodland Hills

Can I come and visit even if I'm not digging?

Anyone can come and visit! If you’ve supported the dig and give us a heads up, we might even be able to squeeze you onto one of our VIP tours.

What if I have done archaeology before, or am an archaeology student?

We are the only field school officially accredited by the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists in the UK.

We also offer a special discount rate for students – just look for the ‘Student’ benefit level.

Is there anything else I should know?

If you’re digging with us, we’ll send you more specific joining instructions closer to the time.

If you have any other questions in the meantime, get in touch! You can reach us on hello@digventures.com, or 0333 011 3990

What if I've booked to come, but can't make it in the end?

We can either transfer your dig days to another excavation, or you can bequeath them to someone else… go on, pass on the archaeology love!

What if the weather is terrible?

Archaeology isn’t only outdoors! If the weather’s truly terrible, we can head to the archaeology lab to work on the finds… cleaning, examining and identifying the things we’ve found so far.

Who else is supporting you?

This dig is entirely supported by crowdfunding, with some love from Darrow School thrown in too!

How else can I help?

Crowdfunding isn’t the only way you can help. Even just sharing our campaign on social media could introduce us to someone else who wants to support the dig!

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Archaeology / In Your Hands