As undergraduates our post field school lab course is a short but sweet intensive 2-week course that covers everything from washing, cataloging, labeling, and mending artifacts to aspects of metals conservation, paleoethonobotany, and an introduction to GIS. Additionally our class got the privilege to meet with the students and educators of the Native Tribal Scholars Program, a program for young, college-bound Native students in Massachusetts. Many of these young people share a common heritage with Sarah Boston and her ancestors, and were eager to learn more about our archaeological work at Hassanamesit Woods.
We had been planning for the entire week for the NTS students to visit the Fiske Center, and we were all so excited to meet and talk with them. We welcomed them around 2pm into the lab classroom for a short presentation from our director and professor, Stephen Mrozowski alongside with our lab instructor, Heather Law Pezzarossi, both of whom have been working on the Hassanamesit Woods Project for almost 7 years in collaboration with the Nipmuc Nation and the Town of Grafton, MA.Professor Mrozowski and Heather gave a brief history of the area and spoke of how Sarah Boston, a well known Nipmuc woman of the early 19th century, who specialized in basket weaving, most likely had an extensive complex trading network for her baskets that extended beyond Worcester County. They explained that the Sarah Boston cellar-hole was buried in rubble in a bulldozing episode after the hurricane of 1938, the most powerful hurricane in the New England area in recent memory (Platt 2006, Scotti 2003).
After the presentation we took the group around the Fiske Center through the different labs to show them how artifacts are treated and preserved after excavation. First stop was to metal conservator, Dennis Piechota’s lab where he showed the students pieces of metal he had conserved from the Hassanameiset Woods Project, including an iron kettle.
Next, was Heather Trigg’s pollen lab where the students and teachers of the group learned how archaeologists study both the extraction and floatation of soil samples to help reconstruct the past environments in Hassanamesit Woods. After Heather showed us some pollen and seed samples we took our group over to the metals conservation lab where Heather Law explained how we treat rusted iron to keep it from rusting anymore, and therefore preserving its structural integrity.
We concluded our tour back at the Fiske Center lab and classroom. There, the students could see and interact with a small exhibit, prepared by the lab school students, of artifacts recovered from the Sarah Boston Site. The exhibit included many items that might be found in a typical early 19th century household, including, tools, utensils, fragments of cookware and ceramic serving vessels, buttons, buckles, and more. The students spent some time examining the objects, asking questions, and then they helped the field school students wash some of the artifacts we found this past summer.
Personally, I love washing artifacts and I think the teenagers had a blast getting a little dirty and talking about what they were washing. I was so impressed with their willingness to learn and how quickly they were able to soak it up and identify different types of artifacts! As a group, we all thoroughly enjoyed meeting and working with everyone during the Nipmuc visit. For me, being able to teach others about so much of what I had learned over the past 7 weeks, and for them to be able to share their own stories with me was truly a great experience.
By: Lauren Roach
Lauren is in her final semester at UMASS Boston as an undergraduate pursuing a double major in Anthropology and History. She loves both field and lab work, but says, “there’s nothing quite like experiencing both back to back and seeing a project through as much as possible”.