150-year-old rosary beads, remnants of a clay pipe and several iron nails have been found on the excavation site of a former pre-famine era Irish shanty town in Lowell, Massachusetts.
UMass Lowell and Queens University Belfast students are carrying out the excavations in St.Patrick’s parish set up by Irish immigrants in the 1830s
“People are definitely intrigued,” says Frank Talty, director of academic programs in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-director of the Center for Irish Partnerships.
“The Irish laborers who came to Lowell to help build the canals to power the mills left a lasting legacy in the city, and it’s fascinating to be able to piece together clues of their lives here,” he says.Dave McKean, archivist at St. Patrick’s, described the first few days of the project.
“Archaeology is a lot like an onion – there are layers upon layers. Each time you reach one, there is another underneath it. The students made detailed sketches of the two pits. They sprinkled water on top of the layers of soil to make color variations which help archaeologists assess what the land was used for. Looking for answers actually brought more questions. Was a foundation located? Is this coal? Does this mean there was a hearth here?”
McKean stated that antique maps are being adapted to new GPS technology to pinpoint locations, 19th century photos are helping the archaeologists identify different structures and their foundations and primary source documents are giving leads to new findings.
“There are new pieces to the jigsaw puzzle, but we’re still missing pieces,” says McKean.