University of Southern Indiana

Archaeological Field School uncovers "long-lost dorm"

Archaeological Field School uncovers "long-lost dorm"

6/16/2014 | University Communications
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Students in the University of Southern Indiana’s Archaeological Field School uncovered artifacts from the Harmony Society’s “long-lost dorm” over the last six weeks in New Harmony, Indiana.

The Archaeological Field School is a six-credit summer course designed to give students experience in archaeological field methods through participation in a site excavation. Students learn basic excavation techniques, mapping and artifact identification.

This summer, eight USI students and two University of Evansville students were enrolled in the class, which excavated the Harmony Society’s Community House No. 1, built in 1817 and torn down in 1858 for reasons unknown.

The building served as one of four large dormitories to house the single men and women of the celibate Harmony Society, a religious utopian group from Germany. Only two still stand, according to Dr. Michael Strezewski, associate professor of anthropology, who leads the field school. “There is a lot of history on this spot, and it’s never really been investigated,” he said.

Community House No. 2 was recently restored and is on Historic New Harmony’s walking tour. No. 3 was torn down in 1960. The fourth dormitory became Thrall’s Opera House.

Strezewski used survey maps created in 1824 by William Pickering to identify the location of the dormitory, which stood next to the current site of the Working Men’s Institute. Measuring approximately 40 by 70 feet, it served as a dwelling for Robert Dale Owen and David Dale Owen after Robert Owen, their father, purchased the community from the Harmonists in 1825.

The dormitory was the site of David Dale Owen’s first geology lab in New Harmony. He went on to become state geologist for Indiana and performed surveys throughout the Midwest. Strezewski hoped to find evidence of the lab such as an unusual rock at the site, and was rewarded when a student found a chunk of lead in the dorm’s cellar in the final days of the field school. “This doesn’t belong here,” Strezewski said, holding the weighty rock in his hand.

The dormitory had many lives before it was torn down, also serving as a boarding house and a theatre.

The fact that nothing was ever built on top of the site allowed it to stay untouched and well-preserved for 150 years. Sifting the soil, students found animal bones, pottery, glass, fish scales, stoneware, buttons, straight pins, and decorated redware. “The remains of daily life,” Strezewski said.

All of the artifacts date to before the Civil War era, but hold no particular monetary value. “The real value of the stuff we find is the story you can tell about it – the story you can piece together about the past and figure out how people lived.”

New Harmony is familiar territory for the field school. Previously it has been held at the site of the Harmonist pottery kiln by the Lenz House and at Community House No. 2. Last year, students worked at Fort Ouiatenon near West Lafayette, Indiana. 

USI began offering a bachelor's degree program in anthropology in 2013.

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Photo Credit: USI Photo Services

USI student Rachel Eickhoff works in the excavated cellar of Community House No. 1. Eickhoff found a piece of lead that may be evidence of David Dale Owen's geology lab.

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