Old Fraternity Unearthed

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One hundred years ago, fraternity brothers were distinguished "cup drinkers"-unlike the unrefined "can drinkers" of today.

This is one of the many findings UC Berkeley assistant professor Laurie Wilkie and her class of archaeology students, who have excavated the university's first fraternity.

Wilkie has been leading the "Not-So-Ancient Greeks" archaeological field school, which ends today. She and 32 students-30 of whom are from UC Berkeley-have spent the beginning of their summer exploring the former courtyard of the first Zeta Psi building, located on College Avenue.

The excavators found illuminating details of how the Zeta Psi brothers, who organized the first fraternity west of the Mississippi River in 1876, lived their lives.

Among the major discoveries the class has made are wooden floor planks engraved with the names of members of pledge classes dating back to 1884, Wilkie says.

Matt Hammond, a current member of Zeta Psi and one of the students participating in the field school, says his fraternity still continues this tradition today, but now they use free-standing wooden boards instead of floor panels.

He says he hopes his fraternity will recover the planks and display them in the current house.

The original house was built in 1876, Wilkie says, and the class unearthed part of its foundation. The first house was lifted off of its foundation and moved to the back of the lot, but it burned down in a 1946 fire that killed a UC Berkeley student, she says.

The second house, which today houses the university's Archaeological Research Facility, was built in 1911 after the first house was moved, she says.

Other artifacts discovered by the class show that the fraternity brothers were "good eaters," especially the members of the original house, Wilkie says.

Meals consisted of T-bone steaks, lamb chops and game animals, which they probably hunted themselves, as evidenced by the many bullet casings the class has found, she says.

Hammond, who is a senior majoring in anthropology, says he got involved in the class when Wilkie came to one of his lectures to tell students about the field school.

"She didn't say (at the time) which fraternity would be excavated, but it sounded like a good way to get some units," he says.

He says he tells his brothers about the things the class discovers, and he is also in touch with the fraternity's national organization.

"(The class) makes me more aware of what kinds of artifacts we're producing today," he says.

The university made the fraternity houses move off campus in 1957, Hammond says, although the house was supposed to be moved to a new site. Instead, the university kept the house and built the fraternity a new one.

He says the floor boards with the carved-out names were flipped over when the campus took over the building, so the engravings have been hidden since then.

"Fraternities have this 'Animal House' stereotype, but they were actually developed for young men from the upper class for education in society and business," Wilkie says. "They were very well-bred and genteel."

The Greek connoisseurs even found ways to distinguish their drinking practices.

Wilkie says the fraternity's members preferred drinking their beer from cups rather than from bottles. She describes a photograph, now in the Bancroft Library, of several early-1890s Zeta Psi brothers sitting around, surrounded by bottles, with German beer steins in hand.

Hammond says that today he and his brothers usually drink beer from cans.

Wilkie says the photograph showing the young men drinking beer from cups, rather than bottles, shows how civilized the fraternity members were, unlike archaeologists, who she says are definitely "bottle drinkers."


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