May 3, 2004
Purdue anthropologist leads volunteers in 1920s Sears House dig
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. A Purdue University professor is leading amateur archaeologists back to the early 20th century during a local excavation on May 17-21.
Deborah Rotman and three students from Purdue's archaeology field school will guide about 20 local volunteers in excavating a house site at 2114 N. Ninth St. The home, which is being donated by the city of Lafayette, was constructed in 1921 from a kit sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. After the excavation, which is being conducted as part of The Museum at Prophetstown programming, the city plans to move the house to the museum, which features a Woodland Native American Village, Wabash Valley Living History farm and a prairie. This will be the museum's first original Sears House.
"Archaeology excites people about the past and provides them hands-on contact with history," says Rotman, who specializes in anthropology, the holistic study of human cultures, past and present. "Through these volunteers' participation, we hope they will learn about the importance of preservation. Archaeology is not about Indiana Jones. It's about exploring and understanding the past."
Sears sold more than 75,000 home kits in the United States between 1908 and 1940, Rotman says. The kits included more than 30,000 pieces and were shipped by train to future homeowners.
"Historical archaeologists are just beginning to understand life in these formative years of the 20th century," says Rotman, who studies the transformation of 19th and 20th century landscapes in Tippecanoe County. "This house was built during the Roaring Twenties, followed by The Great Depression. It was a time marked by women's suffrage, prohibition and a new, developing consumer culture. Through this excavation, we hope to learn about what kinds of consumer goods this working family purchased during this time, as well as if they supported prohibition or women's suffrage."
Even the smallest details unearthed in the excavation could provide useful information for the historically accurate restoration of the Sears House at the museum, Rotman says. For example, if pieces of dishes are found, then the exact pattern used by the homeowners can be determined and included in the home's furnishings.
"The museum is always looking for more information about the 1920s," says Cindy Bedell, director of education at The Museum of Prophetstown. "By using local resources at Purdue, the museum has a great opportunity to know more details about the history of this house."
Patti Garrett, project manager for community development in the city of Lafayette, says the Sears House Project is the first of its kind for Lafayette.
"Several homes in Lafayette were made from Sears' kits, partly because of easy access to the railroad." Garrett says. "We believe the house was built in 1921 as a rental home for a local family that owned a greenhouse and nursery on the site. In the later part of the century, the home was transformed into offices, and the building has been vacant for the past two years."
All cultural materials recovered from the site will be analyzed at Purdue's anthropology laboratory. Anthropology students and graduate students who have completed Purdue's archaeological field school will assist with supervising the site surveying, mapping, excavating and laboratory procedures, such as classifying and cataloging artifacts.
Members of The Museum at Prophetstown can volunteer for the excavation by attending a May 15 training session. Interested members and volunteers should contact the museum at (765) 567-4700 by May 14. The public can watch the excavation from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 17-21.
Rotman's work is funded by the dean's office in the School of Liberal Arts and the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
Purdue's archaeological field school also will excavate the Wea View Schoolhouse (No. 8) in Wabash Township in Tippecanoe County as part of school's annual dig. On June 21, the field school will host Project Archaeology, a three-day workshop for teachers organized by the Indiana State Museum.
The anthropology program, in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, has more than 100 undergraduate majors and about 18 graduate students. Anthropologists at Purdue work at field sites in Europe, Mexico, Central America, Southeast Asia, Africa and the United States studying economic and political anthropology, semiotics and non-verbal language, primatology, conservation and development, religion, gender, and sexuality. Purdue anthropology offers a archaeology field school every summer for students to work at a dig. In 2003 the field school excavated an unexplored Middle Woodland period mound site in Dearborn County.
Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723, email@example.com
Sources: Deborah Rotman, (765) 494-4683, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cindy Bedell, (765) 567-4700, email@example.com
Aimee Jacobsen, director for community development in the city of Lafayette, (765) 807-1090
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; firstname.lastname@example.org
A publication-quality photo is available at http://news.uns.purdue.edu/images/+2004/rotman-dig.jpg