Professional and amateur archaeologists set out to unearth what life was like for local women and children in the 1700s.
The Nathaniel Parsons House, an 18th-century home, is among Northampton’s oldest, and in early 2015 it was closed to the public pending major repairs. Before the heavy equipment arrived, Historic Northampton—our neighbors at Mass Humanities—surveyed the property and decided to lead a community archaeological dig under the supervision of archaeologist Dr. Linda Ziegenbein to research the area.
Thanks to a grant from Mass Humanities, participation in the dig was opened up to hundreds of schoolchildren. Hundreds more visitors stopped by or volunteered to assist with the dig during hours when the site was open to the public.
The results were fruitful. The researchers were able to determine facts of everyday life from the artifacts they found, such as that residents kept a trash heap near the house’s back door, that they ate meat from farm animals and very seldom ate aquatic animals from the nearby river, and even that their unwashed children likely contracted lice. All these findings and stories were documented in daily entries on Historic Northampton’s project blog.
The children loved digging, discovering history in the earth beneath their feet, and visits from the neighborhood cat. Digging Northampton exposed children and adults alike to the humanities, always an exciting prospect for Mass Humanities, and one that, this time, happened to occur in our own back yard.