The Fiske Center’s upcoming excavation isn’t the first archaeological project to take place at the Tavern. In 1984, Roland Robbins conducted an excavation to locate the foundations of the Masonic Hall. While he did not identify these, he did collect documentary evidence related to the use of the hall and located two cellars under the hall’s assumed footprint: one was the cellar for a shop that was located on the first floor of the hall and the other he argued was a 17th-century structure. He also located a well and a cobble pathway. He collected some artifacts, and we’ll examine those as part of this project. The Munroe Tavern was one of Robbins’ last projects; two decades earlier he had excavated at the Hancock-Clarke House, another one of the Lexington Historical Society’s properties.
Robbins’ techniques were rather different from those that we use today. Robbins was mostly interested in identifying building foundations, so he excavated quickly. Today, we want to recover as many types of information as possible, so we record information about the soil layers, collect all types of artifacts, and take soil sample to recover seeds and other tiny remains. All of this means that work proceeds slowly and carefully. The most important information we collect is the association between artifacts and the types of deposit they are in; this is called context. Archaeological context includes a description of the soil, of the types of soil in the layers above and below, the precise location, and information on other of artifacts deposited at the same time.
If you’d like more information on Roland Robbins, you can read Donald Linebaugh’s biography of Robbins, The Man Who Found Thoreau (University of New Hampshire Press, 2004).