Plymouth State University Students Unearth Campus Past: Archaeology Dig at Holmes House a ‘Hands On’ Lesson in History

October 2nd, 2013 by blyndes



Holmes House archival image

PLYMOUTH, N.H.– It’s early October, 1892, and the village of Plymouth N.H., is winding down after a busy fall day. As the autumn light fades and breeze turns cooler, a man steps out of the rear door of his house on Summer Street, walking toward an adjoining barn, and without breaking stride, he throws away a dish he had just broken in the kitchen. Just below him, the Main Street is quiet, except for the occasional clatter of horses’ hooves, while the dim yellow glow of kerosene lamps in the windows of neighboring houses provides a counterpoint to the gathering dusk. It’s a scene repeated countless times over dozens of decades in Plymouth; but that one act of discarding trash will ultimately produce an exciting and transformative moment for a Plymouth State University student. Now, nearly 120 years later, students in David Starbuck’s Intro to Archaeology class are digging behind the Holmes House–and Hannah Dutton’s eyes widen as her trowel delicately scoops up a tiny shard of a broken plate, seeing the light of day more than a century after it was thrown away.

“I really like feeling connected to history This came from a different time, a simpler time, and it hasn’t been touched since it was thrown away, which is really cool,” said Dutton. A first-year Anthropology major from Merrimack, N.H., Dutton says the dig is galvanizing her career choice.

“This makes me more excited and solidifies what I want to be doing–I definitely want to keep going with this in the future.”

PSU student Hannah Dutton displays a pottery shard she discovered at a class archaeology dig at Holmes House.

According to Professor Starbuck, Holmes House is three decades older than the first academic institution in Plymouth, and the grounds are a prime spot for unearthing artifacts of life before any modern conveniences, like rubbish collection.

“We’re digging on the east side of Holmes House, which has always been the backyard of the home and adjacent barn,” said Starbuck. “Right behind the rear doors of dwellings is where you find the most artifacts. There are nails from the house, pieces of pottery, buttons and buckles, tobacco pipes, pieces of butchered bone. For the folks who lived in the Holmes House in the 19th century, their lives are reflected all through their backyard in their trash, and the students are helping tell that story. Real archaeology starts with these basic skills in the field. This is real archaeology and it’s on their own campus. ”

Starbuck, a veteran archaeologist and renowned expert on French and Indian and Revolutionary War military sites in upstate New York, wanted to provide students easy access to an archaeological dig without travelling far from campus.

“We can walk out the side door of our classroom building and walk 150 feet and start digging,” noted Starbuck. “That’s an important principle; we want students to learn what archaeology is like and get that experience. They’re starting to become real archaeologists at a beginning level, but its many steps beyond sitting in a classroom. Not too many schools can do that. ”

The artifacts are stored and identified in a laboratory in Rounds Hall, and Starbuck is hopeful the items can eventually be catalogued and displayed to the public. Now in its fourth year, the Holmes House archaeological dig will continue for Starbuck and his students until cold weather forces them to stop.

For more information about this release, contact Bruce Lyndes, PSU Media Relations Mgr., (603) 535-2775 or

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