Digging Darrow

This listing expired on June 3, 2018. Please contact for any updated information.

Location: Darrow, New Lebanon, NY, US

Season: May 22, 2018 to June 3, 2018

Application Deadline: June 3, 2018

Deadline Type: Rolling


Program Type:
Field school, Volunteer

RPA Certified:

Endorsed field-school with the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA)

Project Director:
Brendon Wilkins MCIfA MIAI

Project Description:

Mount Lebanon is the biggest Shaker settlement in America. Hidden in the undergrowth are the remains of a community who once attempted to build a new utopia. You can help explore it.

The Shakers are one of America’s most intriguing social and religious movements. Starting out the 1700’s near Liverpool in north west England, the group soon fled persecution, following their founder Mother Ann Lee towards a place where they would be free to live as they chose.

Arriving in America, in 1787 they established a community on Mount Lebanon (New York State) which became 
the largest in the United States, and the spiritual centre of Shaker society: a society who from the very beginning believed in racial equality, female leadership and the swift adoption of technological innovation. But their incredible success didn’t last. Numbers started dwindling and the settlement shrank. By 1937, the last piece of land had been sold to Darrow School and Mount Lebanon Shaker Village ceased to exist. What happened?

In 2017, DigVentures launched our first crowdfunded excavation in the USA. With help from a wonderful crowd of supporters, we began mapping the full extent of the village, located  previously unknown ruins, and found that even more crucial evidence lies just beneath the surface of the gorgeous Darrow School campus. Our partnership with the school has taken great leaps forward, and the archaeological evidence we are collecting will now form part of the school’s core curriculum for new students; what better way can there possibly be to learn about the place where you live and learn than to come face-to-face with its past?

In 2018, our job is expand the excavations across previously undiscovered ruins, and to ground-truth mysterious features in the landscape discovered by our 3D digital landscape survey. What are these humps and bumps? And what were the buildings used for? Located just next to the oldest house on the campus, which pre-dates the Shakers, these could be clues to the site’s earliest inhabitants – or the very first things built by the Shakers themselves.

There are many established Shaker scholars, facilities and resources in the region, including the Shaker Museum Mount Lebanon and the Hancock Shaker Village, and our dig is intended to spark new research collaborations as well as make it possible for anyone who wants to learn more about the Shakers to join us on our mission. We plan to:

  • Map out the enitre Shaker village. Their spatial architecture was unique, and we want to examine how it defined Shaker identities, reinforced their beliefs and brought Shaker ideology into being
  • Look for other demolished structures such factories, workshops, millponds, culverts, aqueducts, and spillways. We’ll look at how their experimentation with new technology and industrial innovation changed their landscape
  • Do plenty of excavation. We will expand the area of excavation that we started in 2013 to investigate industrial and domestic structures, and gather the evidence we need to learn more about the Shakers through their material culture
  • Use everything we find to continue exploring four big research themes. These include: utopian dreams, industrial landscapes, and the role of work in the Shaker spiritual experience, reflected in their famous aphorism, ‘hands to work and hearts to god’

Period(s) of Occupation: Historic Shaker settlement

Mount Lebanon was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and was recognized by the World Monuments Fund in both 2004 and 2006 as one of the 100 most significant endangered historic sites in the world. As one of the most famous attempts to build a new utopian society, the story of the Shaker community at Darrow – and of the beautiful historic site they left behind – is a unique opportunity to understand what drove them, what contributed to their decline, and what this says about the development of the young United States of America itself. Our new archaeological investigation provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really dig deep and reason with the evidence.

Project Size: 25-49 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 1 Day

Minimum Age: 17

Experience Required: None

Room and Board Arrangements:
Participants will need to organise their own accomodaiton, but there are plenty of options locally. Some suggestions can be found on the project website FAQs page. Cost: Various options depending on length of stay from $219 for the day to $831 for the week. Student rates are also available - one week for students is $558.

Contact Information:

Manda Forster

DigVentures Ltd, The Workshop ,Victoria Yard, 26 Newgate

Barnard Castle

County Durham

DL12 8NG

United Kingdom

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