2013-11-14 / News

Salve Regina archaeology students dig up history at Godena Farm

By Ken Shane

Archaeology students from Salve Regina University, under the tutelage of professor Jon Marcoux, found broken glass and salt-glazed stoneware dating back more than 100 years at Godena Farm. 
Courtesy/Jon Marcoux Archaeology students from Salve Regina University, under the tutelage of professor Jon Marcoux, found broken glass and salt-glazed stoneware dating back more than 100 years at Godena Farm. Courtesy/Jon Marcoux It’s always been Conanicut Island Land Trust’s vision to turn Godena Farm into an outdoor classroom, and a lot of students are digging the latest project to take place there.

Fifteen years ago, Manuel Godena conveyed a conservation easement on his 23 acre Jamestown farm to the land trust. Ten years later, the group purchased the farm property outright from Godena’s children. Since then, land trust officials have been working to position the farm as an educational center for students of all ages, elementary school to the university level.

Jon Marcoux is an archaeology professor at Salve Regina. He has been a member of the faculty since January and he teaches the school’s program on historical preservation. The course gives a broad overview of preservation including architectural history, archaeology and museum studies.

Earlier this year, Marcoux reached out to Jim Turenne, secretary of the land trust, looking for property where he could conduct a hands-on class in archaeology. Marcoux said working in the field is ideal so he can show students that land has a cultural component that adds to its value.

“They were really forthcoming and said they wanted their property to be used as an educational resource,” Marcoux said. “It seemed to fit really well.”

For four Saturdays this fall, six students from Marcoux’s cultural resources management class came to Jamestown to explore the history of Godena Farm in an archaeological light. The professor said he wanted to use the property as a laboratory to teach his students basic techniques and field methods. For the visits, Marcoux created a simulation that paralleled the work that might be done on a real archaeology project.

“The biggest challenge for students coming out is having handson experience,” Marcoux said. “One of the things I wanted to do when I came to Salve was to offer students lots of hands-on experience. I thought about the places where this could be done.”

Given the limited time, the entire farm could not be explored. Instead, Marcoux had students begin working on the southeast corner of the property. A grid was established, followed by a series of tests – holes, about 2 feet in diameter and 16 feet apart, were dug. The soil from the holes was passed through screens in search of artifacts.

According to Marcoux, there were some artifacts found, mostly from the 19th century. He described them as trash, for the most part.

“We try to reconstruct the past by putting together the remains,” he said, “and what the remains are is usually trash.”

Among the artifacts were broken pieces of green and brown glass, as well as pressed glass. The pressed glass helped identify the pieces as being post-18th century since the molds to make that type didn’t exist before then. There were also pieces of salt-glazed stoneware from the 19th century, including the handle and lip of a vessel, and old nails.

“This historic stuff we’re finding is most likely associated with the house that’s just on the other side of the stone wall,” Marcoux said. “I imagine what we’re finding is garbage that was dumped over the wall in the 1800s.”

Another grid, further east, turned up some prehistoric remnants that included small pieces of stone from the creation of stone tools by Native Americans. There were a total of eight test holes dug in each of the two grids.

When the warm weather returns, Marcoux hopes to bring his class back to the farm to expand the grids. The expansion will continue until artifacts are no longer being turned up. That will indicate the edge of the archaeological site, known as delineation. Surveying equipment will then identify the limits of the site, and that information will be provided to the land trust for inclusion on their maps.

“It’s very unlike the archaeology that you see on TV where they’re opening up big areas with squares,” Marcoux said. “That usually comes much later. The first step is to determine whether there are archaeological sites present, and the size of those sites.”

While the work at Godena Farm obviously benefits the students, Turenne said the test results also provide valuable information to the land trust.

“We’re looking for any historic information that we can find to help the farm,” Turenne said.

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