Harvard University digs up its Native American past

Something unusual is happening at Harvard University.

America's oldest institution of higher learning, founded way back in Puritan 1636, is rediscovering it's Indian heritage. The Boston Globe reports that in the middle of Harvard Yard, where students sun themselves on warm days, an archaeological dig is unearthing artifacts from the university's brick building where whites and Native Americans studied side by side.

It's a long forgotten fact that Harvard, the venerable Ivy League school of the elite, early in it's history welcomed the area's native inhabitants. It was an age when the future of the university and of New England was anything but certain.

In a rare precursor to our more modern notions of integration and multiculturalism, the university's 1650 charter laid out its mission as "the education of the English and Indian youths of this country, in knowledge and godliness."

Students working on the archaeological project, led by the school's Peabody Museum, are finding lots of small items, including pieces of a printing press that may have produced the first Bible printed in North America. It was a 1661 edition written in the Wampanoag dialect of the Algonquin language.

Coincidentally, one of the students working on the dig, Tiffany Lee Smalley, 18, of Martha's Vineyard, is -- the Globe writes -- the first Aquinnah Wampanoag admitted to Harvard as an undergraduate since the 1660's. She says the experience is bringing her closer to her ancestors.

Researchers hope to learn more about how the early English settlers interacted with the local Native American population.

Four hundred years ago, wampum -- beads of polished shell --were legal tender in New England. According to the Globe, Native students paid 1,900 beads for their tuition, while the equivalent sum for English settlers was 1 pound, 6 shillings, 8 pence in English currency.

Sadly, the link of multicultural scholarship was broken in 1675 when war broke out between the settlers and local inhabitants in the region. Many years passed before Native American students returned.

The Boston Globe article, with slide show, is located here.
(You may have to register on the site to get to the free page.)

For details on the archaeological project conducted by the Peabody Museum, here's the museum's newsletter page.

For more information on Harvard's history, see the Harvard web site.

The 1650 Harvard Charter is photographed here.

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