Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Visualizing the Mikveh

The Strawbery Banke archaeology department has a great group of volunteers, many of whom were on site daily during this summer's excavation of the mikveh at the Pecunies House.  They volunteer year round in the lab, where they help clean, catalog, and analyze the artifacts we recovered.  One of our volunteers also happens to be a talented artist. Some readers may know him from his New Hampshire Archaeology Month event in 2013, in which he taught participants to draw artifacts.  After our excavation ended this summer, Kent worked on illustrating the mikveh as it might have looked 100 years ago.  


Our excavation revealed the dimensions of the floor of the mikveh (4' x 5'6"), and after consulting with Ronnie Pecunies, the mid-20th century inhabitant of the house, he confirmed that one would enter the mikveh through a door on the ground floor.  Using the Historical American Building Survey photo of the front of the house along with the HABS measurements of the foundation footprint, we calculated that the ground floor was 3' above the current ground surface.  The mikveh floor was at 2' below ground surface, which means the whole mikveh was about 5' deep.



To the south of the mikveh floor, there is a cistern-like structure that we interpreted as the mikveh's bor, or the reservoir where rainwater was collected for filling the mikveh.  Since the last photo we posted of the bor back in July, we had expanded our excavation block slightly to the east, on Ronnie's urging, "that's where the stairs were!"  We didn't find the stairs - presumably they were torn down along with the walls of the mikveh when the house was demolished in the 1960s - but we did find that the bor was built all along the entire southern wall of the mikveh.  Evidently the stairs were built over the bor, and they, like the bor itself, would have been 1'6" wide, making the length and the width of the finished mikveh a square 5'6" at the top. 
Kent's drawing gives us an interpretation of the mikveh as a finished bath, that one would have entered through a doorway. He included a window that we spotted in a historic photo of the back of the house.  He added the seven steps typical of mikvehs.  A hole in the wall below these stairs would have allowed rainwater from the bor to flow into the mikveh.  It turns out that this mikveh would have held over 900 gallons of water!  It is exciting to see how the combination of research and imagination come together in a useful product like this drawing.  Thanks Kent!
Has anyone ever seen a mikveh that looked like this one?  Have you ever used artwork to visualize archaeological interpretations?

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