In Archaeological Field School, Students Discover Underground History of New Paltz

Archaeology Field School at Huguenot Street-5

The SUNY New Paltz Archaeological Field School, under the instruction of Associate Professor of Anthropology Joseph Diamond, has been a summer tradition at New Paltz’s Historic Huguenot Street district for nearly two decades.

On most clear weather days in July, students and community members donning old, dusty clothes, with shovels, brushes and magnifying glasses can be found on sites that afford opportunities to learn more about the European settlers who first came to the area in the 17th century, as well as the American Indian tribes who inhabited the region thousands of years prior to their arrival.

“The most informative way to find out about our ancestors is to investigate the places that they inhabited,” Diamond said. “The artifacts, in conjunction with house patterns, hearths, burials, and midden debris can be analyzed to determine time period, diet, social structure, technology, trade patterns and ultimately, how these elements of prehistoric and historic societies changed over time.”

Diamond, whose archaeological experience dates back more than 40 years, plans his class around lessons in excavation techniques and best practices in classification and analysis. He includes lab sessions that emphasize precision in cleaning, cataloguing and interpreting a day’s findings.

“It’s interesting going from the romantic concept of archaeology to the nitty-gritty, exacting process itself,” said Joe Bacci ’16 (Anthropology).

Many of the class’s man-made findings over the years are identifiable as household items most likely left behind by Huguenot settlers or contemporaneous Lenape tribes such as the Esopus and the Munsee. However, Diamond and his students have found a number of prehistoric pointed spearheads dating back as far as 5000 years, proof that there were people who called New Paltz home long before it bore that name.

Though the search for such a piece may take hours or days, the thrill of discovery motivates these groups of amateur archaeologists to keep working.

“It’s absolutely satisfying to make a find like this,” said Devin King ’15 (Anthropology), shortly after he extracted a shard of incised pottery measuring more than one inch across, which Diamond dated roughly to the early 16th century. “You may dig for a while without finding anything, start to feel your back and your knees hurt, but then you find something and get reinvigorated.”

Diamond has offered the class through New Paltz at Historic Huguenot Street since 1998, working primarily in a field across the street from Dubois Fort. In 2013, he secured permission to dig on the property of the Reformed Church of New Paltz, which itself is part of the history of the district, having been constructed in 1839.

The Archaeological Field School, which is open to all community members, provides a unique experience in practical research to students of anthropology. It also serves as a way for New Paltz residents to have fun learning about the Village’s history. More information is available online.

Creative Writing Students Find Inspiration on Historic Huguenot Street

Twenty-eight SUNY New Paltz students with a passion for creative writing participated in a Huguenot Streettour of Historic Huguenot Street (HHS), the National Historic Landmark District less than one mile from campus.

The tour was organized by Creative Writing Program Director Jan Schmidt and Professor Sarah Wyman, in hopes of helping their writing students feel connected to the local history and architecture preserved at HHS.

“We have an active community of student writers on campus who work with each other, support each other in and out of classes and are committed to honing their craft,” Schmidt said. “The tour of Historic Huguenot Street, workshop and reading is part of our larger effort to inspire our students’ writing and involve them in the wider world of the New Paltz community.”

“My favorite Creative Writing events are always the student and faculty readings, where writers share their new work,” Wyman added. “It was a delight to take our show on the road this spring, and present our micro-fictions, poems and stories fresh from the Historic Huguenot Street tour.”

Students had the opportunity to spend time surrounded by stone houses and accompanying structures dating as far back as the late 17th century, when Huguenots from France and southern Belgium fleeing religious persecution first arrived at the banks of the Wallkill River, in what is now New Paltz.

The tour was followed by a writing workshop and “Read-A-Loud” at which students, faculty and staff shared their poetry and prose in the 1799 Lefevre House.

A number of students expressed feeling moved and inspired by the immersive foray into village history.

“As I’ve grown older I’ve realized how much history is embedded in the Hudson Valley, especially in New Paltz,” said Jeffrey Seitz ’15 (English – Creative Writing). “Gaining a better comprehension of that history has fed directly into my own creativity.”

“It was like entering into another world,” said Carina Kohn ’17 (Psychology). “When you see that the things you know now were once very different, you can choose to try to enter that world and write about that, or to notice the ways in which the present and the past are connected.”

“To be in the places where founders of our little part of the state actually lived was a humbling experience,” said Tsahai Wright ’16 (English – Creative Writing). “As a writer, engaging in these types of activities gets the creative juices flowing.”

HHS is a frequent collaborator with the College for tours, arts events and a summer Archaeological Field School.

“It is important to us that the students of SUNY New Paltz see HHS not as a dusty old museum, but as a place where they can come to learn, grow and be creative,” said Kara Gaffken, HHS director of public programming. “Over and over again, the students from the College have taught and inspired us just as much as we hope to teach and inspire them. It is a fabulous relationship that we hope will continue for years to come.”

For more information about Historic Huguenot Street, please visit them online.