Explore Cannonballs, Shipwrecks, and More at Boston’s Newly Renamed Mary C. Beaudry Community Archaeology Center
Formerly the City Archaeology Lab, it now honors the late beloved BU professor
A nondescript building about 20 minutes from the BU campus holds the remnants of a 19th-century shipwreck, cannonballs from the American Revolution, and 2,000-year-old Native American arrowheads. These treasures and a million more are meticulously categorized and stored inside the City of Boston’s Archaeology Lab, which recently reopened to the public after a three-year renovation.
The lab, housed in the city of Boston Archival Center in West Roxbury, also underwent a name change: it is now the Mary C. Beaudry Community Archaeology Center, renamed in honor of a longtime Boston University professor who died in 2020. Mary Beaudry, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of archaeology and of anthropology, was involved in some of the city’s most important archaeological finds, including digs and analysis of objects found at the Paul Revere House in the North End, the Central Artery/Tunnel Project, and the Boston Common.
“We’re so thrilled to honor Mary in this way,” said Joe Bagley (CAS’06), City of Boston Archaeologist and a former student of Beaudry’s, at the center’s reopening in late October. “We hope that the work we do here continues her legacy of celebrating underrepresented peoples and really being the voice of the voiceless.” Attending the opening were 30 or so of Beaudry’s colleagues, friends, and students, who later toured the new 4,000-square-foot facility. Earlier in the day, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and other politicians celebrated the reopening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Beaudry taught at BU for 40 years, where she helped create the University’s archaeology department, and was described in her obituary as a scholar “committed to revealing unwritten lives,” including those of people of color and women. She mentored and influenced generations of students (and also taught in Metropolitan College’s Gastronomy Program), many who are now professors and professional archaeologists across the country, working at sites like Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology and the National Park Service, and teaching at colleges and universities around the world. For this, she has been called the grandmother of current-day archaeologists.
The Boston City Archaeology Lab was founded four decades ago to preserve artifacts recovered from hundreds of archaeological sites. Today, the lab has four full-time staffers, half with BU connections: Bagley and lab manager Sarah Keklak (CAS’09, GRS’13). Beaudry left a portion of her estate and her extensive archaeological library to Boston’s Archaeology Lab, Bagley said, but regardless of those gifts, plans had been in motion to name the center after her once the team learned she’d died.
Those visiting the lab can explore highlights from the city’s hundreds of known archaeological sites: recovered cannonballs from the American Revolution, pieces of a tin-glazed earthenware chamber pot, a 19th-century medicinal bottle (often filled with alcohol or today’s “heavily controlled substances,” the archaeologists say), and Native American pottery. Not on display, but available to view by appointment, are items as varied as a recovered ship hull from a 19th-century shipwreck discovered in the Seaport in 2016 and wooden pipes that ran underneath the city of Boston in the 17th century.
One of the lab’s recent accomplishments is its digital archaeological project, a National Endowment for the Humanities–funded database that archived more than 200,000 artifacts from the Paul Revere House, the Boston Common, Brook Farm, the Endicott Street Brothel, and Faneuil Hall. Many of these items have accompanying 3D images that can be viewed online or printed on a 3D printer at home or in the lab.
Rev. Mariama White-Hammond (STH’17), chief of environment, energy, and open space for the city of Boston, also addressed the group at the opening ceremony. “We hope that all of this amazing history which has been saved and is being cataloged and has been put online, starts to animate classrooms and dinners and conversations around the city,” she said. White-Hammond challenged visitors to think, reflect, and struggle with the themes and questions introduced by some of the artifacts.
One recent reflection occurred when the team analyzed artifacts found during two digs at Faneuil Hall, conducted in 1990 and 2010. Boston built Faneuil Hall in 1742 with funds from Peter Faneuil, who profited from the sale of enslaved people. Legalized enslavement in Boston existed for nearly 150 years. Boston’s city archaeology team helped create an exhibit about the city’s role in slavery, which includes stories, documents, and objects.
“This is about celebrating Boston’s history, but also complicating Boston’s history, about being honest about places where we’ve gotten it wrong, about stories that have been suppressed, about stories that sometimes will help us see who we are in ways that we are in love with it, in ways that are a challenge,” White-Hammond said.
Bagley said the new center will continue his team’s mission of celebrating the legacy of underrepresented peoples and being the voice of the voiceless. Beaudry cared deeply about these things and imparted them to her students, who continue to mourn her loss.
“She followed our careers and really uplifted us,” Bagley said. “She would pull us aside at a conference just to see how we were doing. She was one of the most respected people in archaeology, but never hesitated to speak to people around her and make friends. And we’re thrilled to honor Mary in this way.”
Visit the Mary C. Beaudry Community Archaeology Center, on the first floor of the City of Boston Archival Center, 201 Rivermoor St., West Roxbury, year-round during regular business hours. Individual tours are available for researchers; to schedule, email email@example.com.