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by Christopher Lindner

Germantown Sixth Graders visit the Parsonage. Photo by Jim Gibbons

The Germantown Archaeology Project unearths the vestiges of peoples’ activity from the mid-20th century back to ancient times. Bard College researchers have focused these last three years on the Palatines. They were farmers, vintners, and artisans who emigrated with their families from the Rhineland to the Hudson Valley in 1710. Constituting the largest mass influx into New York in colonial times, the Palatines settled on both sides of the Hudson at Germantown. Within a few years many moved into other parts of southern Columbia County and into Rhinebeck, a town named to evoke their homeland. Within a decade, some Palatines from Germantown relocated close to Lancaster near the Susquehanna, where they became the pioneer group of the Pennsylvania Germans, Deutsch, or “Dutch.” The archaeology project has concentrated on the Maple Avenue Parsonage in Germantown because it’s the earliest currently identifiable center of the community. There’s a parallel effort in Rhinebeck, where Bard has dug since 2003 at the Palatine Farmstead, on Route 9 just north of the Route 9G intersection.

The exciting discovery this second summer of excavation by the Bard Archaeology Field School, is an abandoned well at the Maple Avenue Parsonage. The 36-inch diameter well, lined with dry laid stone, goes down at least four feet. After its period of use, the well had been filled with stone and covered with eight inches of earth. Its burial may have taken place under ownership of the Parsonage by a Dutch-American physician in the 1830s and ‘40s or during the span it belonged to an African-American family, from 1847 through 1911. The earth above the well is exceptionally rich in ecofacts, the by-products of food consumption, such as animal bones and oyster shells, as well as numerous artifacts. A remarkable artifact excavated at the well is a mouth harp, also known as a Jew’s harp, a musical instrument of iron that makes a twanging sound.

The edge of a stone platform around the well had been uncovered in last summer’s Bard field school by a Germantown high school student. This spring, when the college students dug more in that area of the site, they began to see openings between buried stone slabs and were able to probe deeply down to water. Over the summer the students excavated more stone concentrations nearby that may represent the foundation of a building. They also found chipped stone artifacts from Native American visitors to the Parsonage, possibly from the 1700s when Palatine ministers occupied the house, a surprise because most of the Mohicans had left the valley by then.

The students also excavated closer to the heart of the 1710 “Queensbury camp” between North Germantown and the current village. They found artifacts that hint at the presence of the first Palatine settlement in America. The projected 2012 seasons of digging will focus on the well platform, the possible building foundation, as well as a continuation of exploratory testing at camp locations. Meanwhile, laboratory analysis is underway at the college, to identify and count all the finds from this year.

New historical archaeology panel at Germantown Parsonage, photo by J. Gibbons

Three new exhibits are now on display at the Parsonage. A large outdoor panel illustrates and explains Palatine history and archaeology, next to the monument that lists the names of the 1710 settlers in Germantown. Indoors, in the new education room you will find a cabinet of artifacts, identified and dated, as well as a traveling exhibit in the living room. For an online view of the exhibit, go to inside.bard.edu/archaeology. A mid-November event will celebrate the permanent installation of the outdoor panel. At the Bard library through November, you can see an exhibit on early Palatine artifacts from the Rhinebeck Farmstead dig.

Christopher Lindner is Director of the Bard Archaeology Field School, Archaeologist in Residence, and Visiting Professor of Archaeology at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson.

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