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Archaeologists Dig To Complete Revolutionary War History


Archaeologists in Massachusetts are making discoveries that could show a clearer picture of the first day of the American Revolutionary War, when BJ Leiderman began to write our theme music. They found evidence in Minute Man National Historical Park that could lead to a new understanding of one of the first battles. Fred Thys of member station WBUR in Boston takes us back in time.

FRED THYS, BYLINE: It's April 19, 1775, the beginning of the revolution. Captain John Parker and his men meet the British on the Lexington town green. Bob Morris explains.

BOB MORRIS: Five a.m., Captain Parker and his 77 guys encounter 700 British. Eight of his men are killed. Ten are wounded.

THYS: Morris is President of the Friends of Minute Man National Park. The group is paying for an archaeological exploration of the militia's next move, when the Americans decide to take the fight to the British.

MORRIS: They bury their dead, reassemble their men and make the decision to march after this force 10 times their size. And they encounter them on this hill.

THYS: The ambush that followed is known as Parker's Revenge. And archaeologist Meg Waters is trying to figure out exactly where it took place. Using ground-penetrating radar, she's made a significant discovery, buried musket balls.

MEG WATERS: So you can just picture a Lexington militia man standing there, accidentally dropping a ball 'cause he's being fired at by the British. So it's a really exciting - each ball that comes out of the ground is telling us a story.

THYS: Waters and her team believe they have found both colonial and British musket balls. She hopes the position of those musket balls will tell her where the minutemen fought the British. If you go down what is now known as the Battle Road between Concord and Lexington, as British soldiers did on that day, you'll see a granite outcrop. That's where Waters says Parker's Revenge was thought to have occurred.

WATERS: But, you know, the evidence points to something different.

THYS: And what Waters is finding moves the battle off the granite outcrop and places it near a local farmhouse.

WATERS: We've moved the battle 300 yards, perhaps, to the north.

THYS: The park wants to incorporate Waters' discoveries into how they explain the fight to visitors. On a tour of the site, Park Ranger Jim Hollister asks a group of middle schoolers to think about what it means to challenge the accepted version of history. He talks to the students from Haverhill, Mass. about how the archaeological finds are changing where the minutemen are believed to have fought.

JIM HOLLISTER: Maybe they were off in the woods. Maybe some were on the hill. We're not sure. But that's part of the investigation.

THYS: Seventh-grader Tyler Legare grasps the idea.

TYLER LEGARE: I think everything we know about history is incomplete.

THYS: Historians think the battle of Parker's Revenge took only minutes - a skirmish, really. And that's why Jim Kendrick, northeast regional archaeologist for the National Park Service, says it's hard to take the new evidence and present a clear story.

JIM KENDRICK: Finding an archaeological expression of something that might have taken 10 minutes, maybe, on an afternoon in 1775, that's a real challenge.

THYS: Ten minutes of action that's being reinterpreted 240 years later. For NPR News, I'm Fred Thys in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Fred Thys