Bones, ceramic and brick: uncovering Hamline’s 1890s

Hamline’s anthropology department hosted the first of two public digs through the archaeology class during the Homecoming and Alumni week festivities.

Anika Besst, Guest Reporter

The 2×2 burn pit dug by the students of 3130, Excavating Hamline’s History. (Sena Ross)

Below the beautifully-kept grass and landscaping of Hamline lie the remnants of an 1890s privy and burn pit. 

Once part of the 830 Simpson house, these sites are now being explored in “Anthropology 3130/: Excavating Hamline’s History,” and, lucky for students, some remains (while decomposed, in the case of the privy), sit preserved under layers and layers of fill ready to be found. 

Students joined Anthropology Department Chair Brian Hoffman Sept. 24 for the first of two community digs this fall focused on connecting the Hamline university and neighboring communities to the history of the site. 

“I think the [Homecoming] event itself brought in a nice mix of Hamline alumni and Hamline students. And then because we got it posted on Facebook, we managed to get quite a good turnout from the neighborhood,” Hoffman said. “I was really happy with all the kids that showed up. It seemed like everything went really well.”

The dig is part of the Hamline Village History Project which has dug at the 830 Simpson site for about six years. The house stood where the Peace and Tranquility garden can currently be found behind Bush Memorial Library and next to East Hall. 830 Simpson was the home that stood before the White House, or the Hamline President’s home, that was removed in 2014. 

Hamline’s anthropology department has offered this course with a LEAP credit where students get to use archaeology and anthropology practices for uncovering this area and making connections about who and what the people who lived there did. 

Sena Ross

The Sept. 24 event included students digging in both units, the burn pit and the privy, students screening dirt, teaching how to draw grid sketching and students explaining bones that have been found by the department at other sites across the state. 

“It was nice that other people were able to learn with us,” senior Sarah Wood, who was helping at the dig, said.  

Alumni and members of the surrounding neighborhood came to the public dig, with the youngest being a two-year-old Hamline-Midway resident who enjoyed finding a worm while helping Wood and other students dig. 

During the dig students found pieces of ceramic, glass and brick. All of which will be cleaned and put into the database.

“I enjoyed interacting with the community, and the kids were fun to teach,” senior Carter Viner said. 

Sena Ross

Eva Larson, a member of class ‘22, who studied anthropology and is now an archaeologist, was excited to attend the dig and see the work the class is doing. Larson was in field school at this site during her time at Hamline. 

“Being back on campus for the event was surreal because, just a year ago, that was me digging in the pit, trowel and brush in hand. One minute you’re learning the difference between natural rock and what people have left behind, and the next you’re out in the ‘real world’ doing fieldwork professionally,” Larson said. “It makes me so happy to see current students connecting with it in the way I and my fellow archaeology alumni have. Not only that, but it’s also always great to see the community get involved.” 

For years, this course has connected with the Hamine Elementary to teach students about archaeology through lessons and practice on the university campus. This is something the class looks forward to doing in person again. 

All are welcome for the public digs, with no archaeology experience needed. 

“We’ve had sometimes people come from Stillwater or something like that, just because there’s very few opportunities to visit an archaeological site and participate in doing the digs. I think that’s always a big draw for some people,” Hoffman said. 

For more information on the next public dig on Oct. 8 at 10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. at this site, contact Hamline’s Anthropology department at


*Reporting conducted by a member of Anthropology 3130.