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Associated Press
University of Southern Indiana archaeology student Zane Dunlap, bottom, removes dirt from what was once a hand-dug trench used in 1817 in the historic New Harmony site.

Students get field skills at New Harmony site

Excavating settlers’ dormitory for college summer program

– The remains of a nearly 200-year-old building – one of the first constructed in New Harmony – are being unearthed and studied this summer by a group of archaeology students enrolled in the University of Southern Indiana’s Archaeological Field School.

Led by Michael Strezewski, an assistant professor of anthropology at USI, they are excavating what’s left of the Harmonist settlers’ “Dormitory No. 1,” one of the first structures raised in the historic, utopian community.

“This was where unmarried members of the society lived,” Strezewski said Thursday afternoon, standing in the yard behind the Working Men’s Institute where the class found the dormitory’s remains. He motioned toward the square units where he and his students are excavating.

Dormitory No. 1 “was torn down in 1858,” he said. “Because it was torn down so early, we don’t know a lot about how it was constructed.”

But they’re beginning to learn.

The excavation has unearthed the limestone foundation of the dormitory’s sleeping area, a space that appears to be a cellar, and the entryway to a detached kitchen.

“They salvaged every little bit of usable building material from this building when they tore it down,” Strezewski told the Evansville Courier & Press.

That doesn’t leave a lot for the class to find, but they are still gaining useful information from the dig, including the layout of the building and the method the historic community used to construct it.

Strezewski pointed toward a more than 6-foot-deep excavation unit where the class had unearthed the “workers trench” the Harmonists dug to lay the building’s foundation.

“The Harmonists were industrious little buggers,” he said.

The Harmonists were a group of separatists from the German Lutheran Church who moved to Indiana and built the town of New Harmony in 1814. They were a communal society deeply rooted in their faith. According to their beliefs, the Harmonists lived celibate lifestyles. Married couples with children who joined the society lived in matching houses as brother and sister, while single people lived in communal dormitories.

“Seeing how it used to be is fascinating,” said Zane Dunlap, a senior anthropology major at USI, who is taking the summer field school course.

The course is unique in that there is no classwork, aside from an introduction on the first day, and no tests or homework. The students are graded entirely on their work at the site. And what the students learn at the dig is essentially on-the-job training if they attempt to work on a future archaeological excavation, Strezewski said.

“The first day I was more (timid),” said Brianne Harrell, a senior University of Evansville student, who is also taking the USI Archaeological Field School course. “Now, we just come in the morning and get right to work.”

The Field School’s excavation will be open to the public 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Strezewski will be on site to talk about the dig and show some of the artifacts the class has uncovered. The site is in the yard behind the Working Men’s Institute, off Tavern Street.