The Fiske Center Blog

Weblog for the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

August 19, 2015
by Fiske Center
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A Fragment of a Grave Marker

This post is part of the Further Research series (see here). Research identifying the possible carver of this gravestone was conducted by Alexandra Crowder, a graduate student in the MA program in Historical Archaeology.

Gravestone fragment from EU3

Gravestone fragment from EU3


Rubbing of the fragment.

Rubbing of the fragment.


During the 2014 excavations on Burial Hill in Plymouth, a fragment of a carved slate gravestone was recovered from the fill layers of EU3, deposits associated with the destruction of stable buildings last owned by Zenas F. Leach, demolished between 1884 and 1885. The fragment was found in context 33, located approximately 77-120 centimeters below the ground surface and on a steeply sloped section of Burial Hill. Context 33 was interpreted as a fill layer of silty sand, and contained historic ceramics, architectural material, and industrial slag. The fragment appears to be gray slate with a green-tinge, and has several hand-carved designs on it. It is approximately 5 cm in length and 2.5 cm in width. The carvings on the stone consist of at least two swirls, two parallel lines forming some sort of border, and an unknown carved decoration. Based on the curved nature of the parallel lines, it is likely that the fragment is from the top, arched portion of a gravestone.
New England is well known for its gravestone designs. Well-documented and widely studied, gravestones in the region are recognized for their changing iconography over time. Studies by scholars have identified three main images present on gravestones: the deaths head, cherub, and willow & urn. The occurrence of these images appear to follow seriation patterns over time, which scholars have linked to changes in religion and attitudes about death (Baugher and Veit 2014: 7-8, Deetz 1996: 93-95). While there is noted variation between different carvers and local aesthetics, the three images were the main source of gravestone iconography (Deetz 1996: 95-96).
Drawings of the death’s head, cherub, and willow & urn gravestone iconography. (Image from NMSC Archaeology Lab).

Drawings of the death’s head, cherub, and willow & urn gravestone iconography. (Image from NMSC Archaeology Lab).


Of the 2,269 gravestones on Burial Hill, approximately 1,400 are slate, sandstone, or schist. These stones were the primary materials used for headstones until 1820, when granite and marble became more popular. The slate headstones are especially well documented, and over 950 of them were most likely carved locally. Many can be attributed to a specific carver (Berg and Friedberg 2012: 5, 17). Studies have shown that most New England gravestone carvers worked within small geographic areas and had distinctive styles (Deetz 1996: 91). Plymouth gravestones are well known for a complex stylistic evolution due to the area’s isolation as well as unique derivations of the death’s head motif (Deetz 1996: 108). This evolution is clearly visible in the stones present at Burial Hill and makes associating certain gravestones with specific carvers possible.

Examining different gravestone iconography and carving styles present in Burial Hill and the general region indicates that the gravestone fragment may have been part of a “Medusa”-style carving. A derivation of the death’s head motif, the Medusa motif is known for a face with wild, wavy or curly hair. Developed by Ebenezer Soule, the Medusa style follows its own evolution of imagery over time (Deetz 1996: 111). The gravestone fragment most likely came from an iteration that had curly hair (as opposed to wavy) and a border between the figure and the top of the headstone. According to James Deetz’s sequencing of Plymouth gravestones, this version was one that Soule produced in the early to middle portion of his career (Deetz 1996: 111).

Photograph of a Medusa style carved gravestone similar to the recovered fragment. The headstone belongs to Benjamin Cortiss of Halifax, and is dated 1756. (Image from the American Antiquarian Society, Farber Gravestone Collection.

Photograph of a Medusa style carved gravestone similar to the recovered fragment. The headstone belongs to Benjamin Cortiss of Halifax, and is dated 1756. (Image from the American Antiquarian Society, Farber Gravestone Collection.


Ebenezer Soule was a well-documented carver from Plympton, MA. Grave carving was often a family business and his five sons are listed as working with him (Eriquez, 2009: 36). Born in 1710, he completed most of his gravestone carvings from 1740-1772. Besides his Medusa style, Soule was known for often using local green slate (Eriquez 2009: 36). The majority of the fully developed Medusa carvings with spiral elements date from the 1750s-1760s (Deetz and Dethlefsen 1994: 35).
If the recovered gravestone fragment was a Medusa figure carved by Ebenezer Soule, it is possible to place a date range on when the original gravestone was sited in the cemetery. Examples of Soule’s gravestones can be seen throughout southeast Massachusetts, primarily in the Cape Cod area. There are at least two examples of Soule’s gravestone carving in the Medusa style present in Plymouth: the headstones of Joshua Bramhall (1763) and Ruth Turner (1755) (American Antiquarian Society). Neither of these two examples exactly match the gravestone fragment, however they show the likelihood that there are more Soule carvings present in the area. The Burial Hill National Register nomination form identifies the Hannah Cooper stone (d. 1763) as a Medusa style stone from the Soule family and the Perez Tilson stone (d. 1767) as a stone carved by Ebenezer Soule Sr. (Berg and Friedberg 2012: 7) The widespread nature of Soule’s work illustrates the extensive trade networks that would have made him successful as a carver and possibly allowed him to carve stones full time, instead of as they were needed.
Determining the motif on the recovered fragment helps situate it in its original context and may assist with determining whom the original stone belonged to in the future, if it is still extant. However, the stone was found a ways away from its original location and buried under several feet of sandy fill. This presents a unique opportunity for the gravestone fragment to not only provide information about the stone it came from, but also explain how it ended up where it was excavated. The sloped nature of the hill may help explain the deposition of the gravestone fragment. If it spalled off or was broken off of one of the tombstones up the hill, then it likely rolled down as the hill was being re-contoured. Its location within a fill layer suggests that it was deposited no earlier than 1884, the last year that the building uncovered in the unit was mentioned in the documentary record. If the fragment did spall off, then it may have been deposited during the winter when water in cracks of the stones would have frozen and expanded, breaking off pieces of the headstones. The alternative, that the piece was broken of instead of spalled off, may have happened during construction activities on the hill.

References
American Antiquarian Society
2014 The Farber Gravestone Collection. Accessed 15 December 2014.

Baugher, Sherene, and Richard F. Veit
2014 The Archaeology of American Cemeteries and Gravemarkers. University Press of Florida, Gainesville.

Berg, Shary Page, and Betsy Friedberg
2012 Burial Hill National Register Nomination Form. National Park Service, Plymouth.

Deetz, James
1996 In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. Anchor Books, New York.

Deetz, James, and Edwin Dethlefsen
1994 Death’s Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow. In Interpreting Objects and Collections, Susan Pearce, editor, pp. 30-37. Routledge, New York.

Eriquez, Christina
2009 Our History In Stone: The New England Cemetery Dictionary. Sinematix, Brookfield.

August 11, 2015
by Fiske Center
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Further Research: The Buildings on Burial Hill, part 2

Deed Research

This post is part of the Further Research series (see here for an explanation) and is continued from Part 1.

In researching the building foundations we uncovered during the 2014 excavations on Burial Hill in Plymouth, we georferenced historic maps and also did extensive deed research to determine who owned them and what were they used for.  There are maps from 1874 and 1885 that show the buildings along this stretch of School Street, but the two maps do not completely agree with each other, and one map contained a number of inconsistencies regarding building ownership, suggesting that we couldn’t use it to determine who owned the different buildings.

A section of the 1874 Beers map of Plymouth showing the buildings along School Street.  However, based on deed research the building owners listed on this map appear not to be correct in all cases.

A section of the 1874 Beers map of Plymouth showing the buildings along School Street. However, based on deed research the building owners listed on this map appear not to be correct in all cases.

A section of the 1885 Sanborn map showing buildings on School Street.  Note that some buildings have been demolished since the 1874 map and others have been reconfigured.

A section of the 1885 Sanborn map showing buildings on School Street. Note that some buildings have been demolished since the 1874 map and others have been reconfigured.

Over the course of the 2015-2015 academic year, we conducted deed research to trace the history of the properties in the excavation area. The task was complicated here because the modern property, owned by the Town of Plymouth, is made up of 10 separate 18th and 19th-century lots that were only consolidated in the early 20th century. We had to trace a lot of parcels to reconstruct the history of ownership along School Street! Usually, we needed to go back to a late 18th or early 19th-century deed to find parcel dimensions that allowed us to fit the historic parcels onto the modern landscape.

Advertizement from the 1890 Plymouth Directory  for the Chandler Livery Stables.  We did not uncover the foundations of this building, but excavation units 1 and 8 were inside the footprint of Albert and William Chandler’s “new stable” built between 1882 and 1884.

Advertizement from the 1890 Plymouth Directory for the Chandler Livery Stables. We did not uncover the foundations of this building, but excavation units 1 and 8 were inside the footprint of Albert and William Chandler’s “new stable” built between 1882 and 1884.

Ownership of the core of Burial Hill was always been retained by the Town of Plymouth, and the area was used for burials beginning in the late 17th century. However, in 1722, the Town began selling off parcels of land on the northern and eastern boundaries of Burial Hill, along present-day South Russell and School Streets, with most initial public sales of Town land on Burial Hill taking place between 1775 and 1825. Most of the lots along South Russell Street and the northern part of School Street were residential. School Street took its name from a grammar school, sometimes referred to as the central school, established in 1765 north of the Unitarian church at the south end of the street (the lot labeled “Engine House” on the 1874 Beers map). A second school, sometimes called the “town school” was established in 1827 in the middle of School Street, just south of the path up to Burial Hill, after the Central School District purchased a plot of land in 1826. This lot is still labeled as “School” on the 1874 Beers map. South of this school, the properties were primarily barns and stables (such as the Chandler Livery stable), many of them built by landowners living on the opposite side of School Street from the cemetery. In 2014, we found the foundations of two of these buildings as well as deposits relating to the 1827 school (which will be discussed in a later post).

Ad for Harlow and Bailey in the 1890 Plymouth Directory.

Ad for Harlow and Baily in the 1890 Plymouth Directory.

Excavation unit 2 crossed the back wall of a building that we identified as belonging to the firm of Harlow and Bailey. The land was first sold by the town in 1736 and 1740 and came under the ownership of the Jackson family in 1787 and 1790. After a number of intermediate transactions with the heirs of the Jacksons in the 1860s, the property, including a barn, was acquired by the firm of Samuel Harlow and J. C. Barnes, which became Harlow and Horace P. Bailey. Harlow and Bailey sold “stoves, furnaces, and kitchen furnishings, crockery and general hardware” at 18 Main Street. Harlow and Bailey seem to have encountered financial trouble in the 1890s and transferred all of their corporate property to a trustee in 1898 (PRCD 775: 122) with instructions to sell the property for cash to satisfy their creditors. Harlow and Bailey owned a business elsewhere in Plymouth and may have used this building for storage, which is how it is labeled on the 1885 Sanborn map, or they may have stabled horses that were used in support of their business.

Foundation of the Harlow and Bailey building in EU2.

Foundation of the Harlow and Bailey building in EU2.

Excavation unit 3 crossed the back wall of a building last owned by Zenas F. Leach. Leach owned land in several places along School Street, and was the last private owner of three lots at the south end of the street, which he sold to the town in 1884 at which time they contained “old stable buildings.” Davis outlines the complex early history of these lots in Ancient Landmarks of Plymouth (1899). They were all acquired by Caleb Rider in 1833 and 1843. The three lots were held by Rider until the 1860s, then all transferred several more times in the 1870s and 1880s before being purchased by Leach in 1882. These were among the first buildings on School Street to be demolished, probably soon after they were acquired by the town since they are absent from the 1885 Sanborn map.

August 7, 2015
by christa.beranek
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Further Research: The Buildings on Burial Hill, part 1

Georeferencing

This post is part of the Further Research series (see here for an explanation).

During the 2014 excavations on Burial Hill in Plymouth, we uncovered the foundations of two historic buildings and deposits from two additional building lots. One of our questions that needed follow up research was which buildings these were: who owned them and what were they used for? There are maps from 1874 and 1885 that show the buildings along this stretch, but tying the historic maps to the modern landscape is not always a straightforward task.

A section of the 1874 Beers map of Plymouth showing the buildings along School Street.

A section of the 1874 Beers map of Plymouth showing the buildings along School Street.

A section of the 1885 Sanborn map showing buildings on School Street.  Note that some buildings have been demolished since the 1874 map and others have been reconfigured.

A section of the 1885 Sanborn map showing buildings on School Street. Note that some buildings have been demolished since the 1874 map and others have been reconfigured.

The process of using GIS to place a historic map on the modern landscape is called georeferencing. To do this, you need points on the historic map that still exist on the modern landscape. In an urban area such a Plymouth, this is a challenge because there have been a number of episodes of urban redevelopment that have moved streets, reshaped the coastline and streams, and demolished or moved historic buildings. All of the buildings along School Street, our study area, for example, had been demolished since the maps were made. We found two points near our study area that seemed to be stable: the corner of a historic church and of the old jail. Both of these buildings exist on the maps and in the modern world, so we could go and take GPS points on corners of the buildings and use those points to relate the maps and the modern landscape. Using these two points, we georeferenced the maps. (Since we did this, the old jail on South Russell Street has been demolished, making this task even harder for future generations!)

 

Outlines of buildings from the 1874 and 1885 maps over the modern landscape.

Outlines of buildings from the 1874 and 1885 maps over the modern landscape.

Once we georeferenced the maps, we traced the buildings from them so that we could view the modern landscape and the historic building outlines. Looking at the outlines of the buildings from the two maps, it is clear that the relationship between the maps and the modern landscape is not straightforward. Many of the same buildings are represented, but they fall in different places (the two at the north [left] end of the view, for example). Some of the differences between the maps indicate actual changes to the built landscape between 1875 and 1885, such as the remodeling of the buildings on the lot immediately south of the 1827 school and the demolition of the most southern buildings. Other differences, however, raise questions about the accuracy of the different elements of the maps. For example, the 1827 school is depicted on both maps, but when both maps are georeferenced, the school building does not appear in the same location. The Beers map also shows buildings projecting well into the street (which is possible if the street was widened, or it may represent an error in the generation of the map), while the Sanborn map conforms somewhat better to the modern street layout. The Beers map also labels the buildings by owner or occupant, but the individuals listed in the project area (S. Bartlett and J. C. Barnes) were no longer property owners in 1874, and in fact, had both owned the same property in succession, not adjacent properties. It is not uncommon for historic maps not to conform to a modern survey of the same landscape: streets could be changed; buildings could be moved. More than that, however, historic maps are historic documents, like any other, that need to be read critically. Was the map maker concerned with accurately showing the streets, perhaps, but not the property lines or the locations of the buildings? With the limited amount of excavation data that we have, we cannot be certain about the accuracy of either map; both may be somewhat correct and incorrect in different ways. Critical evaluation of the maps indicated that we also needed to do deed research to trace the owners, uses, and sizes of the parcels on this part of Burial Hill.

To be continued…

August 4, 2015
by Fiske Center
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Further research required…

Most of the posts on this blog are done during the field season to highlight ongoing work or new discoveries. Many of those show intriguing artifacts or features and end with statements like “further research is needed…” This is often true; we document our findings carefully in the field, but many artifacts need to be cleaned, researched, and compared to reference samples to be identified or interpreted. Often we need to look at artifacts as a group rather than individually to make sense of them; sometimes additional documentary research tells us more. One of the common sayings among archaeologists is for every hour a person spends in the field, three hours are required in the lab.

The next few posts will be part of a “Further Research” series on artifacts and features from the 2014 season on Burial Hill in Plymouth to show what we learned about them during a year of research. The 2015 material will undergo the same treatment over the fall and winter.

July 16, 2015
by Fiske Center
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A Whimsical Find

Dog foot print on a handmade brick

Dog foot print on a handmade brick

The top 40 centimeters in our first unit against the house at Gore Place have been full of demolition debris — brick, mortar, building stone, slate, and marble tile fragments. We don’t save all of that architectural material, but we do look at the pieces to see if there is anything distinctive that would merit saving any as a sample. We were rewarded yesterday by a dog footprint on one of the broken bricks from the rubble! A footprint like this is made when an animal walks over the wet bricks, at the manufacturing site, before they have been fired. This find doesn’t shed any light on the questions that we are trying to answer about Gore Place, but it’s a cool and very evocative bit from the past, and the first find of this type by anyone on the crew.

July 14, 2015
by Fiske Center
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New Territory at Gore Place

Kellie and Justin opening the first of two planned units against the north face of the building.

Kellie and Justin opening the first of two planned units against the north face of the building.


We are doing a short, 3 week project at Gore Place this summer, a historic property in Waltham, Massachusetts, where we have done a number of previous seasons of research on the formal and agricultural landscape, including excavating the remains of an early 19th-century greenhouse. During our first week and a half, we have been following up on earlier work in the drive circle. Yesterday, we started exploratory work in a totally new area, against the historic house. We are looking for evidence of cellar and ground floor entrances that no longer exist, but since it is a new area, do not know what to expect!

June 28, 2015
by allisoncarlton001
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Finishing Up the Field Season

Dr. Mrozowski showing the students how to excavate levels systematically.

Dr. Mrozowski showing the students how to excavate levels systematically.

Throughout the Grafton Field School this summer there were many exciting finds and revelations that pushed Dr. Mrozowski to contemplate the future of this project. The crew worked longer hours this week and worked harder to recover every possible piece of information they could before backfilling their units. For many students, it was their first field school experience and for others, it was their first time excavating unique features.

 

Dr. Mrozowski explains the importance of soil in interpreting archaeological sites.

Dr. Mrozowski explains the importance of soil in interpreting archaeological sites.

FullSizeRender-4

Fragments of a slip-decorated redware vessel.

 

June 23, 2015
by allisoncarlton001
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Racing the Storm

The field crew erected a tent over their unit to shelter it from the rain.

The field crew erected a tent over their unit to shelter it from the rain.

Withstanding the elements, members of the Grafton field crew continue mapping their unit.

Withstanding the elements, members of the Grafton field crew continue mapping their unit.

Screening persists despite the persisting rain.

Screening persists despite the persisting rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grafton crew was racing against the clock as a storm closed in on their site today. They managed to make some headway on their individual units as far as getting through one level, cleaning it up, or mapping a feature.

However, despite Dr. Mrozowski’s best efforts to keep an eye on the clouds, the thunder began pounding and the clouds opened up to let the rain pour down on Hassanamesit Woods. He made the decision to pack up soon after and the field crew headed back to the Fiske Center to take advantage of the afternoon and process some more of the plethora of recovered artifacts collected from the past week.

 

 

 

 

 

June 22, 2015
by allisoncarlton001
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Taking a Trip to Burial Hill and Plymouth

Professor  David Landon gives the Grafton field students a tour of Burial Hill and discusses the objectives of his field school.

Professor David Landon gives the Grafton field students a tour of Burial Hill and discusses the objectives of his field school.

Last week the Grafton crew visited the Burial Hill field school to see their process and progress. Dr. Landon led a tour of a few of their units and shared the news that this year’s field school has produced promising results. The students also had the opportunity to get a glimpse at the assortment of finds being recovered, the different excavation processes and procedures that are required of archaeology being conducted in an urban environment, as well as how archaeologists interact and educate members of the public who walk by sites.

After the brief tour, the students took time to visit Plimoth Plantation where they were able to see how interpretations of the past and material culture come to life, and how such history is presented to the public. It was a fun experience, but much more work is still to be done in Grafton where the students are in the midst of the final week of their dig. 

A view of the Plimoth Plantation living history museum.

Plimoth Plantation living history museum.

A Wampanoag making a mishoon -- or dugout boat.

The making of a mishoon — or dugout boat.

June 21, 2015
by allisoncarlton001
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Making the Most of Rainy Days

Students participating in the Grafton field school wash and brush the artifacts collected from their units.

Students participating in the Grafton field school wash and brush the artifacts collected from their units.

In the archaeological discipline, every day counts. We are strained by tight deadlines, strict budgets and even by Mother Nature. This week the Grafton crew had yet another rain day that kept them from their field site. However, they made the most of it by spending the day in the lab at the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research. The crew washed and processed the artifacts that have been recovered from their units thus far. This gave them an opportunity to get an idea of the scope and span of the material culture their fellow crewmates were finding in their individual units.
TA Carolyn Horlacher explains the various types of ceramics to students in the field school.

TA Carolyn Horlacher explains the various types of ceramics to students in the field school.

In addition, Carolyn Horlacher who is the graduate TA for this summer’s field school provided the students with an overview of ceramics, glass and other artifacts that were similar to the types being unearthed in Grafton. This prepared them to begin the cataloging process in case the weather forces them indoors once again.