Unearthing History in Waltham

By Ibby Caputo   |   Friday, June 15, 2012
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June 18, 2012

WALTHAM, Mass. — Cairo has its pyramids. Rome has its ruins. But it’s not necessary to go so far away to see history unearthed. In fact, one archeological dig is only a bus ride away from Boston.
On a warm and breezy June day, archeology students crowd around their outdoor classroom: two rectangular trenches on the historic Gore Estate in Waltham. Sweaty and covered in dirt, they methodically dig into the ground, paying attention to every bit of debris.
Archeologist Dave Landon teaches a summer course that gives UMass students hands-on experience unearthing historical remains.
“We love projects like this because it really does kind of go straight at this misconception that archeology is always far away,” Landon says.
This summer’s underground target: a greenhouse built by the seventh governor of Massachusetts, Christopher Gore. It’s part of an innovative agricultural movement that took place in New England in the early 1800s. Co-teacher Christa Beranek says the students are likely to find a variety of artifacts under layers of soil.
“Probably down there there’s greenhouse structure, there’s destruction debris from taking apart the building, lots of brick and stone and mortar and remnants of things from the greenhouse, lots and lots of glass, planting pots, nails,” she says.
Technology provides clues
In the month before the class started, Landon and his team spent days mapping out the area using electromagnetic radiation. It’s an off-the-shelf technology used in an innovative way. And it spared Landon’s students from the arduous hit-or-miss process of figuring out where to dig.
Just as planes navigate by radar, sending waves out into the atmosphere, the electromagnetic detection machine sends microwaves into the earth. When they hit a rock or a patch of clay, they bounce back.
Using historical maps as a general guide, the precision of this data helps target the exact location of hidden structures. But the archeologist’s goal is to form a cohesive narrative about the past, and that can’t occur until what’s underground is unearthed.
Today’s big find
While some students dig, others sift through dirt as if looking for gold. They mostly find pieces of ceramic and glass, but every so often, something unexpected turns up. The big find so far today? The base of a flat-bottomed drinking glass, which, it seems, was used as a tool. The broken edges have been chipped in the same way a flint stone is chipped into an arrowhead.
Volunteer Phil Cook says the process of digging and sifting can be a little mind-numbing, but it is totally worth it when you find something unexpected.
“You're out here for 8 hours a day, especially in the heat,” Cook says. “Your eyes kind of widen when you see it sticking out of the ground and you really don’t know what it is at first.”
An understanding of history gives context to the dig, but some artifacts — like the broken base of the tumbler — yield more questions than answers.
“Someone was here making a tool out of broken glass,” Landon explains. “Why would there be this handmade tool here when they really had the ability to buy any tools they wanted for this greenhouse?”
Landon says a lot of times artifacts like these found in New England are associated with Native and African Americans. “So who exactly is working here and what kind of skill set are they bringing?”
The dig's next phase
The answers to the past will not come quickly. This portion of the excavation will round up at the end of June. Then the UMass team will spend a few months analyzing the artifacts before beginning the next phase of excavation at the same site in October.
“We’re going to use every bit of evidence we can get — any kind of historical evidence, or artifactual evidence, or archeological evidence — to try and understand, try and imagine the greenhouse when it was in use and people were moving in and out of it,” says Landon.
The story promises to slowly unfold. And right here in New England an archeological adventure is underway.

College Is Still Worth It, Says MIT President

By Cristina Quinn & John Hockenberry   |   Friday, June 15, 2012
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June 15, 2012

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — MIT's president is addressing the high cost of a college education. On the WGBH coproduction The Takeaway, Susan Hockfield said that despite shaky employment figures, the chances of finding employment with a college degree are significantly greater than with only a high school diploma.

If cost is an issue, she said there were avenues students and families should consider.

"For a family that is deeply concerned about the cost of college education, I would offer two important directions to pursue. The first is that public universities in almost every state are outstanding and can offer an outstanding education. Education is largely the responsibility of the student, so a well-motivated student can get an education at any one of the public universities in America," she said.
Hockfield added that most people don’t know about the financial support private universities provide.
"Here at MIT, Harvard, at Yale, Stanford, Princeton, we admit students in a need-blind application process. We don’t consider a family’s ability to pay for an education when we review who comes to MIT," she said. "We decide on which students are prepared to make the best use of MIT’s resources. We make it financially possible for every one of those students to come to MIT. If you’re a family with an annual income of $75,000 a year, we cover all of your tuition costs, and in some cases, more."

> > EXTRA: John Hockenberry of The Takeaway reflects on the value of college in his family.

Governor Objects to UMass Tuition Increase

By Sarah Birnbaum   |   Wednesday, June 6, 2012
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June 6, 2012

BOSTON — The University of Massachusetts Board of Trustees approved a 5 percent hike in student fees on June 6 over the objections of Gov. Deval Patrick.
In-state student fees will go up by about $580 next year, making annual tuition and fees $12,481. That doesn't include room and board, which is about $10,000 at UMass Amherst. The hike comes on top of increases in student fees over the past 10 years.
It left UMass Amherst student Steve Donahue wondering how he'd afford it all.
“How am I going to do this? I’m really anxious," he said. "I’m in college now. My sister's starting college next year. My family has to cover the fees for both of us.”
At the State House, Patrick voiced his opposition. “It’s a crummy time to ask students to pay more. The economy is tough; their prospects after graduation are uncertain.”
He said the university system had to do a better job managing its money so students don’t have to pay the price.
In a press release, university officials blamed the hikes on a steady decline in the proportion of education costs the state has shouldered over the past decade — from 61 percent in 2003 to an estimated 43 percent next year. They've agreed to freeze student fees for the next 2 years at the new rate if the legislature agrees to bring the state's commitment up to 50 percent of the burden.
The board of trustees took swift action on the fee hike — proposing it at a Dartmouth campus meeting Tuesday night and ratifying it first thing the next morning. University officials did not return calls for comment.

Xconomy Report: Counting on 'Big Data'

By Gregory T. Huang, Editor, Xconomy Boston   |   Friday, June 1, 2012
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June 1, 2012

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Can Massachusetts own the emerging field of “big data”? That’s a buzz phrase for systems that make sense of huge amounts of information generated in markets like telecom, retail and social media. This week, Gov. Deval Patrick announced a new initiative that includes forming a big-data industry consortium, creating a matching-grant program for universities and supporting a tech-community space called HackReduce in Cambridge. Intel is also committing $12.5 million to support big-data research at MIT. This could all help revitalize the state’s tech economy — as long as big data doesn’t collapse under the weight of its own hype.

In other innovation news …

Vertex Pharmaceuticals revealed it had mistakenly overstated the benefit of an experimental treatment for cystic fibrosis when reporting on a clinical trial in early May. Vertex stock took a 21 percent tumble on the news but has since made up some of that ground.

Our deal of the week goes to GreenBytes, a data storage company in R.I. that raised $12 million in a round led by Al Gore’s venture firm, Generation Investment Management.

And finally, the startup accelerator MassChallenge has named 125 finalists for its third annual program in Boston, choosing from more than 1,200 applicants. It remains to be seen how many of the eventual winners will end up working on … big data.

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The weekly roundup of business, technology and life science news from our partners at airs every Friday on 89.7 Boston Public Radio.

Teacher of the Year Questions School Funding

By Anne Mostue   |   Wednesday, May 30, 2012
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May 31, 2012

Kathleen Turner
Teacher Kathleen Turner at the WGBH studios. (Annie Shreffler/WGBH)

BOSTON — The newly appointed Massachusetts Teacher of the Year is about to spend 12 months traveling the state, making speeches and conducting workshops, in addition to teaching. And she's already voiced concern for the wide variations in funding for public schools from town to town.
Kathleen Turner teaches French at Sharon High School. She said the demographic makeup of her town is always changing.

Read More

Local School for the Blind Celebrates Doc Watson's Life

By Cristina Quinn   |   Wednesday, May 30, 2012
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May 30, 2012

doc watson

Doc Watson performs at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on May 1, 2009. (Rick Diamond/Staff/Getty Images Entertainment)

BOSTON — Legendary guitar musician Doc Watson passed away Tuesday at the age of 89. Watson, who lost his sight when he was a baby, was an inspiration to many musicians, but particularly those in the blind community. And his music resonates with one local institution — the Perkins School for the Blind.

"There’s that list of famous blind musicians that we all know and love and Doc Watson is definitely one of them,” said Robert Hair, education director of the Perkins Lower School. Wednesday morning, the school paid tribute to Watson by playing his music and talking about his accomplishments.

“Blind kids in particular, I think, really do enjoy music and gravitate towards it," Hair said. "And of course having role models like Doc Watson and Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles is really meaningful to these kids. So when they hear something like Doc Watson with this sort of soulful folk picking on the guitar and singing, it really says something to the kids and they really can get into that.”

Hair added that although they are fortunate to be able to listen to a recording of Doc Watson any time, the musician will be missed.

About the Authors
Sarah Birnbaum
Sarah Birnbaum is WGBH News' State House reporter. Send her a news tip.


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