Moment of Indiana History

20th-Century Archaeology

One tends to think of archaeological excavation in the context of ancient Roman ruins, but there’s plenty to be learned from a dig in the backyard.

One tends to think of archaeological excavation in the context of ancient Roman ruins, but there’s plenty to be learned from a dig in the backyard.

Before regular trash collection became a municipal function during the 1940s in the US, city dwellers would routinely dispose of trash in the yard, especially in the outhouse, or the underground cistern.

As such, many historic sites are rich in buried treasure, even after the landmark has been razed.

Indiana Avenue was the main drag of Indianapolis’ African-American community at the turn of the century. Although the Madam Walker Theatre Center is the only remaining structure from that era in the avenue’s 600 block, an archaeological dig in an adjacent lot may reveal what demolished buildings can not.

The nation’s first self-made female millionaire, Madam C J Walker (born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 in Delta, Louisiana) moved her beauty products operation to the Circle City in 1910, establishing her residence and factory in the 600 block of Indiana Avenue.

Both buildings were demolished in the mid-1960s.

The excavation of the site where Walker’s home and factory stood will be undertaken during the summer of 2009 by upper-level Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis archaeology students under the direction of Paul Mullins.

Although Walker was affluent enough to have had her household refuse hauled away, and the tins that once contained her famous pomades and creams have probably disintegrated, the dig may unearth artifacts from the pioneering entrepreneur’s life and era, which may one day be housed in a history museum within the Walker Theatre Center.

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