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interactive digs
Interactive Dig Brooklyn 1999-2001

Sharpen your trowel and enter Brooklyn's eighteenth-century Lott House. Uncover the buried past of a Dutch family living on the fringes of the burgeoning city that would become New York.

Q&A | Field Notes | Bulletin Board | Faunal Analysis | Oral Histories | Recipes | Primary Source Documents | Mystery Objects | Tools of the Trade | Stratigraphy Lesson | Caretaker's Journal | Student Journals

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Then and now... The once grand Lott House fell into disrepair after nearly a decade of neglect.

1720.
The Age of Reason.
Wigs are the rage.
Women's necklines dip scandalously.
There is no Declaration of Independence, no Constitution.
No Thomas Jefferson.
No Brooklyn Bridge.
Madonna is simply the mother of Jesus.
Railroads? Hah!
Blackbeard sails the stormy seas.
And more than one tree grows in Brooklyn.

There, in the Flatlands area, a well-to-do Dutch family by the name of Lott builds a modest home on their newly purchased farm: one room, with a low ceiling not because they are short, but to keep warm. In 300 years, that modest home grows into a 22-room manor, and all the time the same family calls the place home. In the 1980s, only one resident remains. When she dies, the ancestral home is empty for the first time since before World War I, before the Civil War, before the American Revolution. In eight years, the house that withstood 300 years of use is crumbling, and the land on which it stood has become a jungle. The land remains an archaeological goldmine, a microcosm of tremendous change over three centuries.

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The stone kitchen is no longer standing, but archaeologists recovered its foundations amid the brush.
(Historical photographs courtesy Armbruster Collection; modern images courtesy Brooklyn College)

Mission: Impossible? A debriefing
You enter the empty Lott House. You creep upstairs to the "Imelda Marcos Room," as it is now known. There, you find a dangling lightbulb and endless, meticulous ranks of shoes. Who left them here? Miss Ella Lott-Suydam, the house's last inhabitant? A family member taking inventory before concluding they were all the wrong size? A squatter with a penchant for heels and an compulsive streak? This is the back-drop to our detective story. You are the detective.

Now forget the shoes. They're there only to throw you off the trail of the real story. A story about a family that lived in the same house for nearly 300 years and freed their slaves two full decades before New York abolished slavery, in stark contrast to prevailing attitudes. If the Lotts were in the avant-garde of the abolitionist movement, did their philosophy affect the treatment of their servants and slaves? Who were these people? How did they live? For clues, archaeologists from Brooklyn College are digging through documents and have found themselves stymied. The Brooklyn Historical Society archives are closed: there's no getting in or out. What foul plan is this? Excavation is promising, but raises as many questions as it answers. We need you on the case. You have until June to immerse yourself in all things Lott before excavation begins. Should you choose to accept this mission, click here.

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Click here to get the lay of the land.
(© Alyssa Loorya)

On ARCHAEOLOGY's Virtual Dig:
  Keep up-to-the-minute on excavation with complete access to field notes.
  Argue for an additional trench by the back shed. Explain why you don't think a strange clay tube from the trench by the porch is a pipestem after all. Question methodology. Propose new lines of inquiry. When you contribute to our online bulletin board, you are in direct contact with the excavators.
  Meet an expert in faunal analysis who will discuss what animals the Lotts ate, what animals they raised, and how to tell the difference.
  Listen to an oral history as a member of the Lott family recalls the old family farm.
  Whip up Grandma Lott-Voorhees' oldest family recipes.
  Play detective as you search family wills, probates, deeds, and other sources to discover clues about the family's way of life.
  Interpret these mystery objects. We can only guess what these artifacts may once have been used for.
  Learn to handle the tools of the trade.
  Grab your trowel and enter our simulated test pit. Follow along with our trenchside stratigraphy lesson as the stone kitchen emerges.
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© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America
archive.archaeology.org/online/features/lott/
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