DIG IT! Archaeology at the Ipswich Museum

In the spring of 2011, the Ipswich Museum ran a successful after-school archaeology program called Dig It!  The program was funded by a generous partnership grant from Essex National Heritage Commission.  Dig It! focused on two aspects of Ipswich history not currently interpreted by the museum – the industrial history of the town and the history of the Bull Brook site.

Dig It! took place over six weeks, between April and June.  Activities included a parent open house, a tabletop exhibit using 17th and 18th century artifacts from an excavation in Ipswich, a town meeting featuring modern archaeological issues, an industrial history walking tour with Ipswich Middle School teacher Scott Jewell, and a visit to the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology.

Scott Jewell led Dig It! participants on a walking tour of the sites of shipyards, wharves, dams, and mills along the Ipswich River.  This tour, which the middle school students enjoyed despite a rainy day, utilized research on Ipswich’s industrial history compiled by Jewell and museum volunteer John Stump.

Bull Brook is one of the most important Paleoindian archaeological sites in the Northeast, and its excavation ahead of the bulldozers was a distinct accomplishment by local amateur archeologists.  In his 2009 American Antiquityarticle, Dr. Brian Robinson, one of the foremost experts on the Bull Brook site, outlines the monumental task that the “Bull Brook Boys” faced:“From the first day of excavation on May 3, 1952 . . . six of the excavators had 22 months to salvage one half of the [Paleoindian] settlement pattern from an area the size of two football fields . . . before it was destroyed.”  Many of the participants were surprised that such an important archaeological site was located in their own backyards.

Dig It! involved twenty Ipswich Middle School students, many of whom had not visitedthe museum before this program.  Throughout the program, the participants were engaged, curious, and invested in each of the activities.  Museum staff were consistently impressed with the participants’ level of engagement and intelligent interaction with each other and with the activities.  Hopefully, Dig It! helped these Ipswich youth better understand and appreciate the unique historical value of Bull Brook and the town’s industrial sites.

Many of the participants in Dig It! expressed interest in the museum repeating the program in 2012, either for themselves or for younger siblings.  The Museum hopes to be able to do so.  Check out our 2011 Dig It! photo album and stay tuned for future archaeology activities!

Ipswich Museum | 54 South Main Street | Ipswich, MA 01938 | Tel: 978.356.2811 |
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