Campus News

Archaeology Students Search for Bowdoin's Original Chapel

Story posted November 07, 2001

If you walked across the Quad the afternoon of Friday, November 2, you might have seen a large rectangular section of land near Maine Hall cleared of leaves, roped off, and marked with stakes. A dozen or so students could be seen at various times pushing an apparatus that resembled a scooter with an antenna, and huddling around a small screen hooked up by thick wires.

The students, and Professor Scott MacEachern, were on an archaeological expedition. With the help of Ground Penetrating Radar and an Induction Meter, they were in search of traces of Bowdoin's original chapel. That wood frame chapel stood (approximately) on an area at the right angle between Massachusetts Hall and Maine Hall. It was torn down sometime in the second decade of the 1800s.

Using the radar equipment, the students in MacEachern's Essentials of Archaeology class (Anthropology 202) were "excavating without digging." It was hoped that the equipment would pick up traces of a stone foundation, stone footings, steam pipes, or anything that might have been a part of the original chapel.

Meg Watters, applications specialist with Geophysical Survey Systems, Inc., in Salem, N.H., was on hand working with the class. Watters (who happens to be the daughter of John Watters Jr. '60), a geophysical specialist, assisted the class in the use of the radar equipment, and the interpretation of the results. After three hours of information gathering, the group returned to the classroom with Watters to process the data.

The output is not easy to interpret. However, the equipment did detect "structures" of some sort below ground, though it is unclear what those structures are. They might be pipes, according to MacEachern, though whether they are part of the old chapel is unknown. They could be part of an unrelated system of drains.

Watters has taken the gathered data back to Salem for further processing. This type of work requires much interpretation, MacEachern explains.

While time did not allow on Friday, a class may at some future time investigate a second campus site, behind Russwurm. That group would be looking for any evidence to support the belief that the building was at one time part of the Underground Railroad (like an underground pit that might have been a living space or a privy).

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