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Introduction to Archaeology
and the Central Artery Project



Boston's Big Dig is the largest federally funded highway construction project in the United States. The project includes replacing the elevated Southeast Expressway (I-93) with an underground tunnel and constructing a third tunnel across Boston Harbor to Logan Airport. When completed, the Central Artery will be one of the most modern highway systems in the world, but in the archaeological sense it is a "Highway to the Past."

It may seem surprising that archaeology is a component of the "Big Dig." In fact, all federally sponsored construction projects must consider the effects they may have on archaeological sites. The Central Artery passes through several Boston neighborhoods and in a few places significant archaeological sites were in its path. That is how the Central Artery turned out to be a "highway to the past" as well as to the future.

In order to preserve the remains of these neighborhoods for future study and enjoyment, archaeologists excavated several significant sites. As archaeologists removed the layers of soil, they revealed more than 7,000 years of Boston's prehistory and history. As you stroll through the gallery you will explore four of Boston's neighborhoods: Charlestown, the North End, South Boston, and the area of Massachusetts Bay. The sites document the daily struggle to provide food, clothing, and shelter for the family, as well as the effort to find a little time for rest and recreation. Whether the excavations evoke images of Native Americans spending a fall afternoon on Spectacle Island, a Puritan learning to bowl, or a glass blower toiling in front of a hot furnace, each story provides a fascinating glimpse into the past. Through archaeology these unwritten stories come to life.

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