Tuesday, June 30, 2009

About the Fairbanks House

From the Fairbanks House website:

"The Oldest Timber Frame House

The Fairbanks House is believed to be the oldest surviving timber frame house in North America. It was built for a family of Puritan immigrants from Yorkshire in England, Jonathan and Grace Fairebanke and their six children. Dendrochonology (tree ring dating) has confirmed a construction date of the late 1630s-early 1640s. The house was passed down to succeeding generations of the family until the early twentieth century. In all, eight generations of the Fairbanks family lived in the house. Through the Fairbanks Family in America, Inc., the extended Fairbanks family still owns the property. Over the years, the original portion of the house was extended with additions as the family's needs changed and as the fashions of the times dictated. The current east and west wings were added in the early nineteenth century."

For more on the history of the Fairbanks House and how you can get involved in the curation of one of America's earliest treasures, check out the Fairbanks House website.

Before the fun begins...

As this is our inaugural post, I thought I'd offer some insight into what we've been working on this summer and what our plans are for the Fairbanks excavations.

The first component of the project was to acquire and assess the artifacts that were excavated from around the house foundation in the 1970s as part of two conservation projects. Many of these artifacts were still sitting in their original bags, which had grown old and dusty over the course of 30 years of neglect. Some of the bags contained finds that hadn't even been washed! For the past four weeks, I've been working in the lab with a number of intrepid undergraduate and graduate volunteers from BU and other Boston-area institutions to wash and catalog these archives. Although we made a sizable dent in the finds recovered in 1973-1974, there is still a lot of work to be done in the lab before the collections can be properly analyzed. Much of this additional work is planned to take place in the Fall.

In addition to the lab work required by the artifacts from previous excavations, we will soon have a fresh load of artifacts to be washed/cataloged/analyzed. Beginning next Monday, July 6, we will be heading out into the field for our first season at the Fairbanks House! Our excavations this summer will move away from the immediate area of the house to other spots on the Fairbanks House property. We have targeted three locations for excavation. First, we will excavate a number of small test-pits in the area just west of the existing driveway. Our purpose here is to investigate whether or not the space would be suitable for an expansion of the existing driveway. Our second target is roughly 15m north of the house. This location was determined by a 2003 geophysical survey that discovered a possible buried living surface (i.e., the floor of a small outbuilding) on that spot. Lastly, we will be placing some test-pits approximately 8m south of the eastern portion of the house. This area was chosen because, after examining some old photographs of the site, a small shed was seen that is no longer standing. Our hope is that we will find some evidence of its existence and original function.

Planned excavation map for 2009 season -- small red squares are test pits,
building circled in orange to the north is the Fairbanks House (c. 1641) and the
building circled in orange to the south is the curator's house (c. early 20th century)

This summer's excavations will be carried out by myself along with a collection of volunteers ranging from high school, college, and graduate students to retirees and everything in between. Without their help, this dig would not be the exciting project that it is!

With the record-setting rains of June, we hope that July and August will bring sunny skies and fertile archaeology! Check back for periodic updates from our first season of excavations at the Fairbanks House...