The Fiske Center Blog

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

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.

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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.

June 17, 2015
by Fiske Center
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A pipe bowl from Plymouth

RB pipe from excavations on School Street in Plymouth, MA

RB pipe from excavations on School Street in Plymouth, MA


One of our most intriguing artifacts from Plymouth to date is a ceramic smoking pipe bowl stamped with a maker’s mark. The fragmentary pipe was found in a layer that dates to the 19th century and contains other 19th-century artifacts, but the pipe itself seems to match a mark used by Richard Berryman, whose pipes were made in Bristol, England, between 1619 and 1652. We don’t know exactly how this early artifact found its way into a much later soil deposit; it may have been disturbed and redeposited during 19th-century building and landscaping along School Street.

The mark on the heel of the pipe is the initials RB with a dagger and heart between them. Pipes with the same mark were found in Ferryland, a 17th-century English colony in Newfoundland. Their example can be seen here.

June 16, 2015
by Fiske Center
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The Mystery of Unit 13

By Anya Gruber

Uncovering the top of the largest of the mystery artifacts.

Uncovering the top of the largest of the mystery artifacts.


In Unit 13, Emily, Kerri, Ashley and I had just made it through a thick layer of old industrial coal ash – dark grey soil filled with soggy ash that looks a little bit like pet litter filled with coal, charcoal, coal slag and the occasional brick fragment – when Ashley suddenly encountered long streaks of rusted metal. We were immediately intrigued; metal was distinctly different from coal ash, and we’d grown rather weary of that. The rusty metal could be anything – perhaps a door hinge, just some scrap metal from a garbage pit, or maybe something even more exotic like a 1960s VW Bug (though that seemed slightly less likely).
When we started to dig further (using our trowels very, very carefully so as not to accidentally damage the artifacts, which would have been easy to do since the rust made them quite fragile), we realized that there were actually three separate metal objects at the bottom of our excavation unit. There seemed to be one circular artifact, and two flat ones; one flat object was right next to the circular one in the north end of the unit, and the other flat object seemed to be smaller and situated in the south end. We began to speculate that the circular object, which looked like a big barrel, could be some kind of coal furnace or engine from the nineteenth century, since there used to be an engine house close to our site. However, the thinness of the metal suggested it was not made for industrial purposes. The professors pointed out that the round metal object was tinned, which means it was coated with tin to prevent rusting (though no metal object, tinned or not, is safe from rust after a couple hundred years in the ground).

Detail of the lid.

Detail of the lid.


We continued onward, and realized that the flat object immediately next to the circular one seemed to be a lid; it had a piece on it that reminded us of a hinge, and there was a lip on the top of the circular artifact that seemed to correspond with the flat edge of the potential lid. We were getting really excited about the mystery object at this point, with everyone speculating what it could be. Since the unit was getting so deep, Emily and I became the official diggers (we are the two tallest members of our team – it was slightly easier for us to get in and out of the hole, but at this point we both felt like rabbits in a burrow deep beneath the ground and could hardly hear what was going on above ground), and we were steadfast in our mission to extract the curious items from the ground. However, the barrel and the lid seemed to be deeply wedged into the earth, and we were nervous that we wouldn’t be able to actually get it out to get a proper look at it.
Soon, we were able to remove the third item in the south end of the unit. It turned out to be some kind of box that had deteriorated quite a bit. We focused our attention on the barrel and the lid, digging around it and trying very hard to not flake bits of iron from its surface. We encountered a huge volume of brick and plaster in the area around the mystery objects, which suggested that we had found a nineteenth-century demolition of a building. Some particularly interesting artifacts from this deposit were a few unusual wedge-shaped bricks, which may have been used to build an arch. Though we’d had brick fragments in earlier units, we hadn’t seen these oddly shaped ones before, which made them interesting and exciting to find.
But back to the metal barrel, the star of the show! We dug further, trying to reveal as much of it as we could, but it became more and more apparent that we wouldn’t be able to remove the barrel. We did, however, release the lid, which we will keep. We knew that, even if we did reach its bottom, it would probably just crumble into a pile of rusty dust if we tried to lift it. So, like the scientists we are, we documented the find by drawing plans, sketching, measuring, photographing, and taking notes, making sure we had a detailed, accurate record of the object and the context it was found in.
Emily taking measurements for a drawing of the barrel.

Emily taking measurements for a drawing of the barrel.


We ultimately decided to keep the metal mystery barrel in situ, and we’ll rebury it when it’s time to close the unit. We haven’t determined exactly what the barrel was used for or what year it was made, but our working assumption is that it was used in the livery stables that were once located on School Street, perhaps to hold feed or grain for the horses. We’ll be doing more research on it to see what else we can find. In any case, it was a really cool find and certainly a treat for my group to have such an intriguing mystery to figure out!

June 15, 2015
by Fiske Center
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Seven Units Open in Plymouth

With two weeks of excavation done and roughly two weeks to go, we have seven excavation units open in Plymouth. Three of these are finished; the others are still in progress. We’ll probably open one or two more this week, but since the units can be very deep, we don’t want to start more than we can finish. Two of our completed units are about four feet deep! These are both inside the footprint of 19th-century buildings that cut deep into the hill when they were constructed. Because of this, we know that we won’t find deposits from the 17th century settlement in either of these areas, but both of them taught us about the later history of Burial Hill. In one, we have the foundation of one of the barns that lined this section of School Street. The other contained a large and unusual artifact – the post about that is coming tomorrow.

Organizing the artifacts excavated so far.

Organizing the artifacts excavated so far.


We had a rain day today, so spent time in the lab organizing the artifacts we’ve recovered so far and writing up some of our results to share on the blog.

If you are in Plymouth, stop by to say hello and tour the site. We’re happy to talk!

David Landon talking to a visiting group of students.

David Landon talking to a visiting group of students.

June 15, 2015
by allisoncarlton001
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Education and Excavation in Hassanamesit Woods

Dr. Mrozowski shows some of his field students how to map a feature.

Dr. Mrozowski shows some of his field students how to map a feature.

The small crew steadfastly completed their shovel-test pits and got to work on the larger unit excavations this summer in the Hassanamesit Woods. This year’s goal was to pinpoint the location of the late 18th/early 19th-century household of Deb Newman, who was a contemporary of Sarah Boston and the focal point of the project’s past excavation seasons. However, the shovel test-pits completed in the first few days of this year’s season were unable to gain any ground on that front. The field crew is currently focused on what is believed to be the nearby house site of Lewis Ellis, who was the son of a blacksmith with ties to Sarah Boston and Deb Newman.

Students excavate their units in Hassanamesit Woods.

Students excavate their units in Hassanamesit Woods.

Along the way, the students are getting a glimpse into the daily operations of an archaeological field excavation under the direction of Dr. Stephen Mrozowski. There are currently eight 2 x2  units being dug. The units have been placed according to historical maps and from reference to previous excavations in past summers. Throughout their progress, the students have uncovered an interesting material culture assemblage and some features that allude to an intriguing moment in the site’s history. The process has allowed students to understand the importance of historical documents as Dr. Mrozowski has conducted preliminary historical research to help make sense of the finds being recovered in the field.
The weather has been unusually cooler for this time of year, but this has allowed the crew to work hard and fast, and in the coming week this means expanding the search for Deb Newman and Lewis Ellis.

June 4, 2015
by Fiske Center
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Getting started in Plymouth

After some shovel test pits and a few rainy days, we have gotten going on our larger excavation units on Burial Hill in Plymouth, MA. We are continuing our work from last year along School Street, looking for places where 17th-century deposits might be preserved in a narrow strip of land between the historic burials and the foundations of buildings that used to front on School Street.

Dr. David Landon orienting the students to the site on Burial Hill.

Dr. David Landon orienting the students to the site on Burial Hill.

This year we are testing the southern end of the street with several 1 x 2 meter excavation units. We have four which we started yesterday; all of them are still in progress and encountering cultural deposits of different ages. As we found last year, units that are quite close together have very different strata and artifact types.

One of the excavation units.

One of the excavation units.

We have placed these units based on historic map data and on several weeks of intensive geophysical survey by Drs. John Steinberg and Brian Damiata. We will probably be working in this area for the next few weeks, so if you are in Plymouth, please stop by and visit!

April 27, 2015
by Jessica Rymer
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Conference on New England Archaeology annual meeting to be held Saturday, May 2

The Conference on New England Archaeology will hold its annual meeting on Saturday, May 2, at Old Sturbridge Village in the Fuller Conference Center beginning at 9 AM.  This year’s theme is “When is ‘Enough’ Enough?: The Archaeological Curation Crisis in the 21st Century.”

From the current chair, Historical Archaeology MA student Danielle Cathcart:

“Ten years ago, the Heritage Health Index quantified the truth behind archaeology’s “dirty little secret” (http://www.heritagepreservation.org/HHI/full.html). It showed that over 60% of our national collections—nearly 3 billion artifacts—have sustained damage due to improper storage, with more than a quarter existing in a constant state of deterioration in institutions with no environmental controls. The passage of historic preservation legislation in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘90s ushered in an era of unprecedented discovery and collections gathering empowered by federal mandates to minimize the effects of development on buried and extant cultural resources. Subsequently, archaeological research in both academic and CRM endeavors has amassed a staggering amount of objects and information that now languishes in deteriorating bags and boxes—poorly curated, underreported, and orphaned from its associated contextual documentation. Awareness is no longer the issue. Immediate action and thoughtful planning is necessary if archaeology intends to remain a sustainable and meaningful enterprise. We must begin to develop workable solutions to a problem we’ve been facing for the past four decades—a problem that will continue to worsen until we can begin to think critically about what we collect, for what purpose, and why it deserves to be preserved in perpetuity.”

Historical Archaeology MA students Allie Crowder and Janice Nosal will also be presenting.  Pre-registration is not required.

For more details, see the event on Facebook.