||Anthropology students dig for discoveries at the Willis Russell House
RELEASED: November 12, 2009
By Leigh Ivey
DANVILLE, KY—Centre College doesn't just claim to offer students "personal education."
And recently, one class experienced the promised "personal education" during an excavation at the Willis Russell House in Danville.
Working with representatives from the Kentucky Heritage Council, archaeologists and members of the Boyle County Landmark Trust, the students in Dr. Robyn Cutright's upper-level anthropology course took part in an archaeological survey of the site on which the 200-year-old house stands.
"It was a great experience," says Gray Hunter '11 of Ashland, Ky. "It's something that very few students have access to, and it's just another example of why liberal arts colleges like Centre are so great. I'm currently a junior with a financial economics major, and I can almost certainly guarantee that if I weren't at a liberal arts college, this experience wouldn't have been possible."
The site, which is preserved by the Landmark Trust, is believed to have been built by pioneer Captain Robert Craddock in the early 1800s.
Many believe that in 1836, Craddock bequeathed the home to his former slave, Willis Russell, who both lived in the house and transformed it into Danville's first African-American schoolhouse.
Centuries later, the site is of much interest to anthropolgists and other members of the local community. And collaborating with these groups for the excavation was an enjoyable experience for the Centre students.
"The most rewarding aspect of the dig was to see how genuinely interested the surrounding community was with what we were doing," Hunter says. "I worked at the site for a little more than two hours, and there were people from the community constantly coming and going, asking questions and interacting with the students and other community members."
Although this is the first time the area around the house has been excavated, Cutright says that "based on the results, we hope to be able to expand the project and do some more excavation around the house in the future."
These results include many interesting discoveries: during the dig, the workers unearthed teeth, nails, animal bones, ceramic pieces dating from the 1830s to 1860s and even a harmonica.
"I really enjoyed watching students learn how to dig, record excavation data and identify different artifacts," Cutright says. "It was great to see them get more confident with their technique and start asking interesting questions about what we were finding and why."
Though on average the group dug holes that reached a depth of about one foot, Hunter explains that "our first hole showed several changes in stratigraphy that kept us digging. I believe we got almost three feet deep and had another eight inches or so to go before we hit the lowest level of clay. I'm not really sure what significance this is, but I thought it was extremely interesting, especially since we found two whole bricks while digging. The teeth in the front yard were also a great find."
Another interesting discovery was a small metal plaque or pin from the Case Threshing Machine company, "which was founded in Racine, Wisc., in the 1840s and continues to operate today," Cutright says. "One of the students was able to use his iPhone to look up the company as we were excavating, so we were able to obtain information almost instantaneously—amazing!"
If the decision is made to launch a more extensive excavation, Cutright plans to "incorporate analysis and cataloguing of the artifacts we found into my Kentucky Archaeology class this CentreTerm, and based on this analysis, we'll identify promising areas for future excavation. There's definitely potential for future involvement by Centre students as well as the rest of the Danville community in this project."
Have comments, suggestions, or story ideas? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with your feedback.
- end -
Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Consumers Digest ranks Centre No. 1 in educational value among all U.S. liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
For news archives go to http://www.centre.edu/web/news/newsarchive.html.
600 W. Walnut Street
Danville, KY 40422