Archaeology at the Jason Russell House

October is Massachusetts Archaeology Month! The Arlington Historical Society is celebrating in this space by revisiting the Jason Russell House’s own experience with archaeological excavations. Visitors often ask if any archaeological digs have taken place at the Jason Russell House. The answer is yes! Nearly thirty years ago, in March 1985, a team of archaeologists and volunteers led by Mark Boulding opened a series of test pits outside the front door and under the floorboards of the kitchen.

Stratigraphy, or the layers of deposits in the ground that archaeologists uncover and study, is seldom neat; but at the Jason Russell House, it was particularly messy. After weeks of careful excavation, it became clear that the stratigraphy was too jumbled to reveal any meaningful context that would help discern anything about activity at the house in any given period of time.

The dig was not useless, however. It generated interest in local history and gave students and volunteers a chance to excavate. Furthermore, archaeologists were able to confirm past assertions that the house had been moved to its current location from elsewhere on the property, although it was impossible to determine the original location. Finally, the artifacts that came out of the ground are now interesting teaching tools that provide a small window into the Jason Russell House property over time.

What came out of the ground during the dig? Archaeologists unearthed many artifacts from the early 20th century as well as the 19th and possibly the 18th centuries. I’ll be describing several artifact categories in this space throughout this month, so stay tuned.


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