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Organization to start new archaeological dig on Darrow School campus for Shaker artifacts

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    Maiya Pina-Dacier of DigVentures demonstrates with a pick axe the proper methods for digging at the organization’s 2017 dig at The Darrow School property.
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    DigVentures co-founder Lisa Westcott Wilkins, with brush, and co-founder Brendon Wilkins, right, lead a team of Darrow School alumni volunteers on a 2017 archaeological dig at the Center Family Wash House on the school’s property that was once part of an old Shaker community.
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    Artifacts found during a 2017 archaeological dig on the Darrow School’s property. Other uncovered artifacts include tools, bottles used to store herbal remedies produced by the Shakers, cookware, pottery shards, toys and mill stones.
May 21, 2018 11:06 pm

NEW LEBANON — Archaeologists will start its third excavation today on the grounds of the Darrow School, which was the site of one of the first Shaker communities in the state.

The organization previously searched for artifacts on the property, 110 Darrow Road, in 2013 and 2017. This year the dig site will be about the same size as previous years, said DigVentures Managing Director Lisa Westcott Wilkins, and will be on a location where an old Shaker house once stood.

“The Mount Lebanon site is very important to us,” Wilkins said. “We are very excited about this spot. It is important for us to have this opportunity to look back and investigate this old, very forward-thinking society.”

The Shakers were a religious society from the 18th century that had communities throughout the Northeast. They coveted simple utilitarian living and made innovations in governing and tools. The Shakers settled the Mount Lebanon location in the late 18th century.

“The site we are digging used to have a big building,” Wilkins said. “There is a huge ditch. The school here did not even know the building used to be there, but we searched through archives and found out about the building. We saw it through satellite photography. We are looking forward to seeing what we will find there.”

The project is financed through crowdfunding — funding a project or venture by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people via the internet.

This year’s goal was $13,424 — converted from English pounds — but support for the project exceeded the goal by about 17 percent.

The project also received a grant from the National Geographic Society to work with the charity American Veterans Archaeological Recovery, which helps combat veterans reintegrate into society through archaeological exercises that translate to everyday life.

“Archaeology is very mission- or task-based work,” Wilkins said. “It is a good program for veterans.”

The organization arrived at the school Monday to set up and the dig is scheduled to begin today and go until June 3. Digging is not the expensive part of the project, Wilkins said, but the analysis of what the organization finds will require about 60 percent of the funding.

Ninth and tenth grade students at the Darrow School will also participate in the dig as an educational opportunity, Darrow Director of Communications and Marketing Steve Ricci said.

“This is extremely important,” Ricci said. “A lot of people lived here for hundreds of years. In past years we uncovered lots of stuff. It is like a window into history.”

There is a lot of outside interest in this project this year, Ricci said, including National Geographic and Atlas Obscura, a franchise of tour guides, who will be recording the dig this year, as well as the Historic Albany Foundation.

“The students really like participating in the dig,” Ricci said. “We had a student who participated in the project in the past and she ended up going to college for archaeology. It is a great learning opportunity for students.”

Alumni and school staff can also participate, Ricci said.

“It is great to help kids understand how important the places around them are through history,” Wilkins said. “It is very special. They will see their place of school in a different way.”

The dig still has open spaces for people to join in, Wilkins said, and those who are interested can find out more on DigVentures’ website. The website will also have regular updates on the dig as it continues.