BY DONNA RHODES
PLYMOUTH — “Half the world likes to make things change, and the other half likes to discover,” said Plymouth State University professor David Starbuck as he watched an ongoing archeological dig on the PSU campus.
And what his students are discovering is a bit of Plymouth’s past as they uncover shards of pottery, glass, pipe, chains and other items hidden in the layers of dirt they have sifted through over the past four years.
The location for the dig is the grounds around Holmes House, a former residence from the 1830’s, which is adjacent to Rounds Hall.
“This is the oldest house on campus. It’s right beside our lab at Rounds, so students are able to come over here whenever they can and take part in the dig,” he said.
Starbuck himself has vast experience in the field of archeology, and has participated in many notable digs around the country. A few years ago, he said he noticed that archeological digs on campuses were becoming much more common, and he agreed that it was a great way to give students some real experience in the field of archeology.
“Practicality is one reason to do a campus dig because it’s hard to get a van and transport students to sites around the state,” said Starbuck.
The second reason he cited was that digging around older locations on an ever-changing college campus allows students the opportunity to gain knowledge about the history of their own school.
“It’s better than memorizing data,” Starbuck said, “because by digging, it may sound corny, but history comes alive.”
Sophomore Cindy Wade said she took Intro to Archeology with Starbuck last year, and has a real interest in the subject. Besides Holmes House, she also worked with state archeologists on other digs in Jefferson and Randolph.
“This is a good spot, though, because it’s on campus, but it’s isolated, so it hasn’t been damaged,” she said.
In fact, many of the students currently sifting through the history of Holmes House have already moved on from Starbuck’s class. The interest in archeology that he instilled in them, however, has stayed with them and they wanted to continue their participation in the campus dig.
Each day, anywhere from two to 25 students can be found with trowels, brushes, and other delicate tools in hand as they pick their way through the layers of soil. Over the past few years, most of the trenches they dug were located in the back yard of the old house, but this year, they have moved in closer to the foundation.
“In those days, people threw things out the back door, and there was usually a builder’s trench around the foundation where they packed a lot of trash as they worked on the house,” Starbuck pointed out.
And there beside the old stone foundation, students are now finding more remnants of the past.
Wade explained that when an unusual item is found, they carefully map where it was located in their pit, along with how deep into the soil it was discovered. All of those facts can become clues to uncover the age or purpose of each item.
“When we find an artifact in place, we map it so we can see its placement in the ground in relation to other items we discover,” she said.
As each layer is carefully scraped away, the dirt is then carried by bucket to a screened sifter. There, objects they may not have previously noticed are revealed as the soil drops below.
While they work, the students oftentimes find themselves engrossed in interesting and stimulating conversations about the past and life in Plymouth in the 1800’s. Many confessed that they also find the process of sifting through the history of Holmes House relaxing, interesting and a good way to relieve the stress of college.
It is not likely that the students will find Spanish gold or a pharaoh’s ring deep in the grounds of PSU. But, there is one thing they are all certain to take away and that’s a deeper appreciation of the history of their campus and a greater understanding of life in the Town of Plymouth over the past 180 years.