Digging Darrow

30th May - 11th June 2017

Catch up on everything we found on our first crowdfunded dig in the USA! We had two weeks in upstate New York to investigate the remains of the most important Shaker settlement in America.

106% Funded
/
£6,840.00 Pledged
/
£6,450 Goal
106%

DigVentures’ first ever dig in the USA was a huge success: a great team of Venturers, some fantastic discoveries, a beautiful site, and the most wonderful weather an archaeologist could ask for!

In 2017, hundreds of people joined in with our crowdfunded dig as we excavated the remains of the biggest Shaker settlement in America. And this was just the beginning – we’re already making plans to return and continue the excavation in 2018, so keep your eyes peeled for more information.

In the meantime, you can find out more about the dig, the people who joined us, and what we found, by using the Digital Dig Team links below.

 

The Shakers are one of the most intriguing social and religious movements in American history. Established in the 1700’s near Liverpool in north west England, the group set sail for America soon after forming to escape persecution for their ‘heretical and dangerous’ beliefs.

Led by the charismatic Ann Lee, the Shakers established a community on Mount Lebanon in 1787 which became 
the largest in the United States, and the spiritual centre of Shaker society; a society who from the very beginning believed in racial equality, female leadership and technological innovation.

Nestled between the Berkshire Hills and Taconic Mountains in idyllic Columbia County, New York State, Mount Lebanon is now home to Darrow School, an independent college preparatory school, who have been the conscientious caretakers of the many Shaker buildings, artefacts and landscape features that still exist on their campus.

In 2013, DigVentures helped a small group of students do a trial excavation of the ruins of one of the settlement’s original houses. Together we proved the truth of historical claims that it was destroyed by a fire, and that it was still full of original Shaker artefacts. And there’s plenty more to find!

Darrow School has now embarked on a mission to dig even deeper into its unique history, and to create new educational opportunities for Darrow students, Shaker scholars and history-lovers all over the world.

Digging Darrow is planned as a five-year project stitching together scholars, existing resources and new research to explore these fascinating American social innovators. The 2017 season will be an essential first step in laying the foundation for the longer excavations to come. We are so excited about what the future holds for this exciting work!

Together, over the next five years we will make important discoveries about this enigmatic community, whose innovations and material culture still provide inspiration for architects and designers around the world today.

The Shakers are internationally recognised for their handcrafted objects, furniture and architecture, and the clean, simple designs which embody their spiritual beliefs. Recent studies, however, have challenged the enduring and popular image of Shaker simplicity, to reveal a complex and often fractious history.

As the Shaker community declined in population in the early 20th century, the Mount Lebanon site was gradually sold to various private owners, including Darrow School, which took ownership in 1932. 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.

It is also home to the Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon whose collections and scholarship, built up over the last 50 years, will contribute to the foundations of the project’s desk-based research. Additionally, Hancock Shaker Village, a living history museum devoted to Shaker life, is just a short drive away.

As one of the most intriguing social and religious movements in American history, new archaeological investigation provides a significant opportunity to further understand this group as well as the period when the United States of America was emerging as a newly-formed nation.

Darrow is the only school in the United States located on the site of an historic Shaker village. The school’s mission to dig even deeper into the unique history of its campus, and incorporate this activity as an essential part of their project-based curriculum, will be the only hands-on program of its kind available to high school students in the United States. Understanding the archaeological resource, and what it tells us about the Shakers, is fundamental to this exciting new phase of learning.

There are many established Shaker scholars, facilities and resources in the region, and the dig is intended to spark new research collaboration and increase the profile of Shaker studies.

This dig will be an essential first step towards a full-blown interdisciplinary archaeological investigation that will take place over five years. We can’t wait to see what we find!

 

In 2013, DigVentures completed a targeted excavation of the ruins of the Center Family Wash House on the campus of Darrow School. This year, we expanded the project to take stock of both the above- and below-ground archaeology, and to establish targets for more fieldwork in future seasons.

The excavation took place over two weeks in June 2017, during which we:

  • Began mapping the enitre Shaker village. Their spatial architecture was unique, and we want to examine how it defined Shaker identities, reinforced their beliefs and brought Shaker ideology into being
  • Looked for other demolished structures such factories, workshops, millponds, culverts, aqueducts, and spillways. We’ll look at how their experimentation with new technology and industrial innovation changed their landscape
  • Did plenty of excavation. We will expand the area of excavation that we started in 2013 to investigate industrial and domestic structures, and gather the evidence we need to learn more about the Shakers through their material culture
  • We’ll now use everything to start exploring four big research themes. These will include: utopian dreams, industrial landscapes, and the role of work in the Shaker spiritual experience, reflected in their famous aphorism, ‘hands to work and hearts to god’

To carry out our excavation, analyse everything we find, and make the results available online, we raised £6,450/$8,000 in order to:

  • Plan the dig. There are some (fairly complicated) logistics involved!
  • Pay for all the ‘aftercare’. Excavation is just the tip of the iceberg! It’s the analysis, reporting and artefact conservation that happens afterwards that is the most time-consuming and expensive part of any archaeological research project.
  • Hire enough archaeologists to make this a public dig that’s fun to join in with. We’ll make sure there’s plenty of dig team staff and expertise to ensure everyone has a truly insightful archaeological experience
  • Write up all the results and make sure that everything we find also exists online. We think all of our data should be free and easy to access
  • Keep you all up to date before, during and after the dig. It doesn’t start and end with excavation. We’ll be publishing videos, live streams, virtual artefacts and blogs so that you can follow the whole process from start to finish

DigVentures believes that archaeologists can carry out internationally important research while bringing as many people on this journey with us as possible, and making the thrill of discovery available to everyone.

With a location that combines significant amounts of archaeological remains with many Shaker structures still in use, this field school will provide students with training in the practical skills involved in the archaeological fieldwork as well as a unique opportunity to learn about heritage interpretation, historic buildings and site management, public engagement and community archaeology.

Darrow, on Mount Lebanon, is the site of the first Shaker settlement in America

Some of their buildings still survive, but there’s plenty more to be discovered below ground…

It’s a beautiful place to be – by day, and by night!

The Shakers are renowned for their minimalist aesthetics and handmade objects, which still inspire modernist architects and designers today.

They had plenty of amazing ideas too – they believed in female leadership, racial equality and the power of technological innovation!

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