North Yarmouth Academy students dig history

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YARMOUTH — North Yarmouth Academy eighth-grade students have been digging for history, but not in textbooks.

As part of a fall project, the students, along with history teacher David Echeverria and NYA archivist Jay Robbins, have been working to uncover the original school building on Main Street and discover some of the school’s 200-year history.

“We’re hoping to find some artifacts that can tell us about the people that went to NYA,” Echeverria said. “It’s cool because it brings (the students) outside the classroom and they realize they’re piecing together NYA history.”

The original building, which is somewhere between Academy Hall and Main Street, was moved to the corner of Bridge Street in 1848. The move left the basement of the building, which was subsequently filled in with trash and covered over, Robbins said. 

In the process of digging, students excavated about 30, 1-meter by 1/2-meter areas of about 10 inches in depth and uncovered an array of items, ranging from pieces of clay smoking pipes and old pharmacy bottles to fishing weights and slate pencils.

Some of the items, such as nails and other hardware, provide clues for the students to date the items based on what kind of building materials were used at the time, Robbins said.

“They get a thrill out of finding anything, whatever it is, they just love finding stuff,” he said. “I think they were really impressed with all the stuff they found. It makes them think about the ground they walk on and the history beneath it.”

Once the items are cleaned, students will work in groups to find out what the items could have been used for. The goal is to better understand the history of NYA, Echeverria said.

“As we analyze the artifacts, we get a feel for how old these things really are,” he said.

Aside from getting to move the class outdoors and bypass the dress code for the day, Echeverria said the project makes the students problem-solve in ways they wouldn’t be able to in a traditional classroom setting.

“Reading a textbook us tells them the story,” he said. “With this, they have some of the clues to the puzzle, but not everything. It gets them thinking in a different way than they normally would in class.”

It’s not just about finding historic items from the school’s history either, Echeverria said, newer items can be just as instructive.

For example, he said, the students found a 1995 dime during one of their digs. They started asking questions and researching what was happening on campus during that time period. They discovered a tree was removed from the area in 1996 and concluded the dime was likely dropped by someone during the removal.

Another goal of the project was to find the foundation edge of the original building to be able to plan for digging in the future, which could be a significantly larger project than the first dig, Robbins said.

Although the digging portion of the project is coming to an end due to winter weather setting in, the students will continue to clean and catalog items they found through the end of the semester. Students next fall will continue the dig, which coincides with NYA’s bicentennial in 2014. 

Although none of the items found during the dig are of significant value, Robbins said once they are cleaned and analyzed, they could go on display or possibly be used in art pieces.

Will Graff can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @W_C_Graff.

Sidebar Elements

North Yarmouth Academy students Henry Quesada, center, and Greyson Cohen, right, examine an artifact with NYA archivist Jay Robbins during an archaeological dig this fall along Main Street in Yarmouth. The students are excavating the area where the original school building once stood for a class project in coordination with NYA’s bicentennial.

Chunks of clay, brick, glass and other fragments are some of the items found during several archaeological digs on Main Street this fall by North Yarmouth Academy eighth-grade students. The dig is in and around where the original school building stood until 1848 and coincides with NYA’s bicentennial.