I just want to post a final conclusion about archaeology and its importance:
During my first few weeks of digging, I often wondered to myself what the end-goal of archaeological excavations is. To find out that somebody lived here? To tell people what kind of goods we found at a site? To be able to say where a fireplace was or where a midden was? Ultimately, is it only self-serving, or does it serve a larger purpose? I wondered that last question both in terms of actual meaning and in terms of how archaeologists acquired funding: what is the meaning that this excavation gives the archaeologist and his/her community, and what is the meaning of the excavation that the archaeologist “sells” to potential funders? Over the course of one long day at the muddy, jungle-ish Hart site, I had a conversation with archaeologist Mark Tweedy about this question. Mark is a great guy- a genuine, thoughtful, welcoming individual who cares about what he does. He is profoundly intelligent and experienced, and, not by coincidence, he is the one who I was paired with during my first day digging shovel test pits in the snow in March. I posed the question to him in the morning, and every few hours he’d look up from the quiet solitude of his pit and share a new thought with me about why archaeology is so important. The conclusion reached that day is that archaeology often (and especially in the case of the kind of work we were doing) gives voice to the marginalized individuals and groups of both the past and present. That idea has stuck with me ever since. Here we were, surrounded by the ornate homes and perfectly landscaped lawns and gardens of a wealthy white community on Long Island’s north shore, digging in an muddy, overgrown patch of marsh for the remnants of the black people who, once upon a time, lived here. The black people who, once upon a time, characterized this area and its economy, culture, and identity. What we were doing was not just looking for the orientation of a house in relation to a walkway or a midden; we were reclaiming the hidden narrative of an elided, marginalized group so that that narrative could be brought back to life and told to future generations, giving proper attention to the true history of this one, isolated community, and also to the true history of our nation at large. And it isn’t only about history, either. Mark pointed out that the small but significant African-American population that still lives in Setauket finds this work and knowledge extremely important to their sense of community, culture, and identity. I’ll leave you with that!