The Fiske Center Blog

Weblog for the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Munroe Tavern: Roland Robbins’ Excavations


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.

More Information

 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).


  1. I was working this site (Munroe Tavern) with Roland Robbins back in 1982 (here I see 1984 mentioned). Anyone have photos of Roland working the site?
    I just got back from a long time overseas with army, and would like to find a photo of Roland and I working the site back then.

  2. Hi Jay,
    The Lexington Historical Society might have a few photos, but the other place you might check in the Thoreau Institute Library in Lincoln, MA. I think that most of Robbins’ papers, notes, and photos went there because of Robbins’ work at Thoreau’s house site.

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