“When Fay went through the renovation in front of the Dining Room Building,” Dan remembers, “the crews dumped some of the dirt and rubble by the adventure course. That summer, I was walking by a pile and noticed a bottle.” It began there. That summer, Dan’s “digs” led to the tantalizing discovery of an inkwell, a plate, glass fragments, a mason jar, and another very old bottle. “It’s fascinating what was coming out of the ground in a site that has been inhabited since the 1720s at least.”
For Dan, these first finds were hints that there was much more to be discovered. Under a landscape rich in pre-colonial and colonial American history, the ground beneath campus started to give up its secrets and its stories.
Dan was hooked. “Every kid wants to dig in the dirt, and that’s what I’m doing!”
Growing up in New Hampshire with a father deeply interested in history, Dan has always associated time in nature with getting his hands dirty. He remembers visiting Civil War battlefields with his dad and exploring old logging roads, always fascinated by the rich and bizarre stories unlocked by exploration.
For Dan, archaeology is not about battles and famous sites and places; rather, it’s about daily life. He looks at the Dining Room Building today, one of the oldest buildings on campus, and has begun to see its past more clearly through the objects he has discovered. “It’s about families,” says Dan, “who have been living and working on these grounds for more than one and a half centuries.”
Just as he approaches texts in the classroom, Dan builds stories from details and context: “The perfume bottle I found makes me think about the wives of faculty members, or maybe a woman working in the dining hall, and to me, that is just as important as a pottery sherd.”
Currently Dan’s digs extend from the ropes course (where he finds old clay pigeons from the old shooting range) to the DCR field, and in all this space he has found a rich range of materials, including some pre-industrial pottery.
“What’s so important about history,” Dan reflects, “is that it is written. History is crafted, and it can be written and rewritten from multiple perspectives, but there is a permanence to the archaeological record...You have the stories, the memories, the history of Fay. The archaeological record provides a level of depth and personal connection.”
Anyone who has spoken with Dan or spent time with him in the classroom knows well that for him, personal connection is key to good teaching, good advising, being a good citizen, and being a supportive member of the community. With every new dig, he enriches his own understanding of the history of Fay’s campus and the people who have brought life to this landscape. Through his work, their stories stay alive, and the old continues to inform the new.