The Fiske Center Blog

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

November 29, 2019
by John Steinberg
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USA Today – Thanksgiving gets a revision

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Joey Garrison of the USA Today had an article that featured some of the results of the  UMass Boston excavation at Old Burial hill.  The online version can be found at :

Photo of a Printed version of USA Today

 

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/11/26/native-americans-dominated-first-thanksgiving-feast-plymouth/4248526002/

 

January 15, 2019
by John Steinberg
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The Langone Park Ceremony: Marking 100 Years Since The Great Molasses Flood

Circle of people forming the outline of the tank that burst 100 years ago today.

Based on the work of Fiske Center Archaeologists, Joe Bagley (The Boston City Archaeologist) was able to recreate the outside edge of the tank that burst and caused the Molasses Flood disaster.   Joe asked folks to stand along that circle during the ceremony of remembrance.  This happened at 10:30 AM on Tuesday January 15, 2019 at Langone Park, marking  100 years since the Great Molasses Flood.  John Steinberg, Melissa Ritchey, & Jocelyn Lee represented the Fiske Center and demonstrated how the GPR worked after the ceremony.

Memorial wreath with Joe talking in the Background

Jocelyn Lee & Melissa Ritchey demonstrating the GPR unit

Melissa Ritchey & Jocelyn Lee standing in the circle with the GPR unit.

(update Jan 16, 2019) The event received some press coverage:

An article by  in the Boston Globe — Boston officials remember the Great Molasses Flood, 100 years later 

An article by Matt Conti in the North End Waterfront – Human Circle Commemorates 100th Anniversary of Great Molasses Flood

January 14, 2019
by John Steinberg
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Results of Geophysical survey at Langone Park: 100 Years since the Great Molasses Flood

By John M. Steinberg & Grace E. Bello

View of softball diamond at Langone Park.  The infield  and pitcher’s mound is outlined in brown, which helps to orient the following geophysical images.

As we said in our previous post,  the City Archaeologist, Joe Bagley asked us at the Fiske Center if we could conduct a geophysical survey over the area of Langone Park that, 100 years ago, had a tank which ruptured and caused The Great Molasses Flood of 1919.  This is in preparation for Tuesday January 15th, 2019—the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

Grace Bello beginning to set up the geophysical grid by placing PVC flags along the first base line.

For our archaeological geophysical survey, we used two common techniques: ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic (EM) conductivity.  The area was first prepared for the survey by placing out a grid of PVC flags.  Because the grid was oriented to the softball diamond, the locations of each of the corner flags (and many of the intermediate flags) were recorded with a survey grade GPS.

John Steinberg walking along the third base line with the CMD-Mini.

First, John used the CMD-MiniExplorer conductivity meter, which requires the operator to walk across the target area holding the unit just above the ground.  These transects are then combined to create a  conductivity map of the subsurface. The CMD-Mini creates a data set with two components at three different “depths.”   The different depths are from the three different receivers in the orange tube at various distances from the single transmitter.  The farther apart the receiver from the transmitter, the “deeper” the reading (1 is the closest, 3 is the farthest and thus deepest).   The two components are complex.  The Quadrature component, usually called bulk conductivity (Con) represents the apparent conductivity of the volume of earth under the unit and is measured in milli-Siemens per meter (mS/m).   Good conductors (e.g., salty wet earth) have high conductivity, while poor conductors (e.g., rocks) have low conductivity.  The in-phase component (IP) is usually expressed in parts per thousand (ppt) and is very sensitive to buried metal.  Thus, we have a total of  six different maps from the CMD-Mini: Con1 & IP1, Con2 & IP2, and Con3 & IP3.

Grace Bello with the Malå GPR unit.

Second,  Grace and John walked back and forth dragging the Malå GPR unit with a 500 MHz antenna.  The GPR unit sends out microwaves and if there is a change in soil moisture (or some other similar property) some of the microwave energy will be reflected back up to the GPR unit, which also has a receiver.  The GPR unit then, like the CMD, collects data along transects which produce a data stream called a radargram. Multiple transects are combined and then sliced at different depths, which allows us to create a series of maps that depict some of the aspects of the changes in the subsurface at different depths.   We created 25 different slices, but only present two below.

Example radargram from the transect 5 m (16.5 ft) north of the third base line.

Outlines of  all the structures from the maps described in our previous blog post

In our recent blog post, we describe the georeferencing of various historic maps of Langone park.  When all of the various structures depicted on these maps are combined, you can get a sense of just how complex this lot is.  Many of the structures may be the same structure, but  with slightly different locations provided by different maps, and we do not know how accurate any of them are.  In this case, we have been asked to identify one of the last structures on the lot.  Generally, the construction of  later structures compromises or destroys the earlier structures.  Thus, our most likely potential target is an area where there is a broad, consistent absence of distinct structures. Furthermore, given the hasty construction of the tank, any remements are probably shallow.  This approach is in stark contrast to our usual method—where we are trying to identify remnants of the earliest structures.

GPR slice 50 cm (about 20 in) below the ground surface.

GPR slice 150 cm  (about 60 in) below the ground surface.

Starting with the GPR results, there is a distinct hard reflector 50 cm below the ground surface (bgs). This hard reflector is circled in pink.  This infield hard reflector is distinct from the outer edge of the infield (marked in brown).  This hard reflector is potentially caused by the remnants of the tank in question.  That being said, we want to be a little careful, because this hard reflector is almost the same as the grass infield area from when this was a little league diamond.  However, this slice is a little too deep to show that contrast.  Furthermore, the wide dirt path from the mound to home plate is not visible in this slice.  Both of these lines of evidence suggest that this hard reflector is a result of current or recent landscaping. The deepest GPR slices do not seem to show remnants the tank but instead show some of the potential dock and landfill boundaries, just to the north of first base.  Interestingly, this dominant southeast angle does not reflect any of the structures or orientations seen in our georeferenced maps.

In-phase for the most shallow CMD-Mini readings (IP1). The potential tank location is in pink.

In-phase for the middle  CMD-Mini readings (IP2).

The CMD-Mini yields much more complex results that correspond to many of the structures outlined in the georeferenced maps.  Starting with the IP components, IP1 shows a blue (high IP) area in the infield that corresponds to the area identified in the GPR (again circled in pink).  Just north of the first base line, in right field, is a rectangular blue area that has the same general dimensions and orientation as the structure seen in the 1917 map, just north of the tank in question.  That structure has an add on (in brown) that curves along the curve of the tank that touches 1st base. The potential tank area is more distinct in the deeper components (IP2 & IP3), while the building in right field is less distinct.

Conductivity for the most shallow CMD-Mini Readings (Con1).

The bulk conductivity component of the data from the CMD-Mini is much more complex, but all three sensor-transmitter distances show the same basic map.

In-phase for the deepest CMD-Mini readings (IP3). The potential tank location is in pink

Conductivity for the middle CMD-Mini Readings (Con2).

The Slatter 1852 Map with Con3 superimposed.

The Bromley 1917 map with Con3 superimposed.

Unlike the IP, the Con does not hint at the tank location, there are three high (blue) conductivity areas that seem to correspond to the distribution and orientation of structures in some of  the georeferenced maps.  The blue area in left center field matches quite closely with the angled structure drawn in the 1852 Slatter map.  Some of the low conductivity lines (which could be lines of rocks) correspond to lines drawn in that 1852 map.  Once a property orientation is established, it tends to persist.  Thus, it is not surprising that the geophysics can correspond to more than one map.  Specifically, the three blue areas in the outfield roughly correspond to the three drawn structures abutting the tank in question depicted in the 1917 Bromley map.

Proposed location of tank superimposed on air photo.

While in both the 1852 and 1917 maps the correspondences with geophysical readings and drawn structures  are not exact, they are well within the range of accuracy that we usually see with these kinds of maps.

When all of our data is combined (the georeferenced maps, the GPR and the Electromagnetic Conductivity) and tried to make fit, our best guess as to the specific location of the remnants of the tank that caused the Great Molasses Flood, is 3 meters northwest of the location drawn in the 1917 Bromley map—at least by our georeferencing of that map.  Obviously, we would need to excavate this dynamic and interesting area to begin to refine the location further, but the geophysical results suggest that the 1917 map is generally accurate.  There is no evidence of a consistent bias in the locations of structures as compared to the geophysics, so as georeferenced, the 1917 map is accurate to better than 5 m (16 ft).  As always, more research is necessary.

The 1917 Broomly map with the proposed actual location of the tank in pink.

 

 

May 18, 2018
by John Steinberg
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Twelve MA Theses in Historical Archaeology Defended in School Year 2017-2018

 

Kelton Sheridan talks about her MA thesis

Today at about 3 PM the Master of Arts Program in Historical Archaeology at UMass Boston will achieve a significant milestone:

More MA Theses were defended than new students accepted this year.

While the difference was only 2, it is important that this achievement be celebrated.   In addition to the 3 students that defended today:
Anya Gruber
Kelton Sheridan
Joe Trebilcock

And the 4 students who defended on Wednesday :
Sarah Johnson
Victoria Cacchione
Caitlin Connick
Leigh Koszarsky

 

We had 5 other students who defended earlier in the school year:
Caroline Gardiner
Alexandra Crowder
Ashby Sturgis
Jessica Hughston
Nadia Kline

This means 12 students defended during the 2017-18 school year. There are 10 graduate students in the 2017-18 matriculating Historical Archaeology class. There will always be some attenuation, thus having more students defend than enter will remain a very rare occurrence (as long as our program is thriving).  Our goal is that all of our students will finish their MA’s with an outstanding thesis and they will do it in a timely manner.

The Anthropology faculty and Fiske Center staff are constantly assessing the success of our MA program, not just by career path after leaving UMass Boston, but also looking at the time to degree.  The changes implemented over the last few years have probably made the MA even more rigorous.  At the same time, expectations and time tables have been more formally and clearly defined in the last few years.  That being said, most of the credit for this milestone goes to the hard-working students!

Just today there was an opinion piece in the New York Times by Ellen Ruppel Shell describing the financial consequences of not finishing an undergraduate degree.  While there are no statistics for Archaeology MAs, I suppose the costs of failing to complete the requirements are similar, though probably not as extreme. The success of our program depends on producing well-trained students who control the local archaeological sequences they are studying, deeply understand the unique and challenging archaeological methods they are using, and contribute to the theoretical problems in archaeology.   We will continue to work to put our students in a position to be successful.  Congratulations to all involved!

May 13, 2018
by John Steinberg
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Spring MA thesis defenses for the Historical Archaeology program

Ground Penetrating Radar radargram from Chapter 4 of Joe’s Thesis

**Please join us for spring MA thesis defenses for the Historical Archaeology program.**

All defenses will be held in McCormack, 1-503. 


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

10 am, Sarah Johnson, “The True Spirit of Service”: Ceramics and Toys as Tools of Ideology at the Dorchester Industrial School for Girls.
 
11:30 am, Victoria Cacchione, “There are among the coloured people of this place remains of the Nantucket Indians”: Identity through Ceramics at the Boston-Higginbotham House.
 
1 pm, Caitlin Connick, An Analysis of Form and Function of Ceramic Rim Sherds from La 20,000, a 17th Century Estancia Outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.
 
2:30 pm, Leigh Koszarsky, Understanding Epidemic and Encampment: Yellow Fever and the Soldiers of Smallpox Bay, Bermuda. 

Friday, May 18, 2018

10 am, Anya Gruber, Palynological Investigations of 17th Century Agro-Pastoralism and Ecological Change at LA 20,000, New Mexico.
 
11:30 am, Kelton Sheridan, A Century of Ceramics: A Study of Household Practices on the Eastern Pequot Reservation. 
 
1 pm, Joe Trebilcock, Quantifying the Reliability of Ground Penetrating Radar at Archaeological Sites. 

April 27, 2018
by John Steinberg
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Wellfleet beach bluff 3D images

As part of our work for the Cape Cod National Sea Shore, we are beginning to monitor  erosion trajectories.  Thus, we have begun to make 3D models of some of the beaches.  While the data is collected for purely scientific reasons, UMass Boston Historical Archaeology Graduate Student Grace Bello made a fly through movie using photos taken by John Schoenfelder.

December 14, 2017
by John Steinberg
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Taxing Science?

One of the piles constructed as part of the Manhattan Project

Two interesting opinion pieces in the Washington Post gave complementary perspectives on the UMass opposition to the Federal Tax Reform package. Both opinion pieces focus on the House of Representatives’ proposal of taxing graduate student waivers.

The first, by vice provost David Nirenberg at the University of Chicago, highlights the critical role that graduate students play in American prosperity.  Interestingly, he specifically calls out universities for not doing “a very good job of explaining the importance of graduate education to society.”  The second, by graduate student Sarah Arveson at Yale, argues that the charging and subsequent waiving of tuition that would now be taxed is part of a Yale University “pretense” that graduate students “are students liable for tuition, rather than employees, creating value for the institution and our fields of knowledge.”

I think some explanation is in order and since one of the assignments in David Landon’s Archaeological Methods graduate class was a proposal that includes a budget, I thought I would use these opinion pieces about the potential tax package as an opportunity to talk about some of my favorite subjects: grants and budgeting, and how they relate to tuition waivers.

There is some logic to the tuition and waiver process.  That process takes into account that the resources for students come from a variety of sources including grants, university funds, and endowment funds.  There is lots of room for improvement in how we budget and account for grant money, and the way we explain that to students. But the basic premise of tuition and waivers does work across educational institutions, whether in underfunded small state schools or large well-endowed private schools.  To make the system work, the tuition and waivers are variable, and they can be cobbled together in many different combinations.

Some funding agencies, across the spectrum of private, local, state, and federal, require cost matching or cost sharing to be eligible for their grants.  In these grants, a university would have to pay, or get from some other source, 10 to 50% of the budget.  Conversely, some agencies prohibit cost sharing (what the National Science Foundation calls “voluntary committed cost sharing”) so that the full cost of the grant is obvious.  Prohibiting cost sharing can help to reduce the advantage of richer schools in getting grants.  However, cost sharing demonstrates a university’s commitment to the specific research enterprise.  Often, the university uses tuition waivers as a portion of cost sharing.

Funding agencies also have overhead rates, sometimes referred to as “facilities and administration” or “indirect costs”.  Overhead is a part of the budget of a project, but is not used directly for the project but goes to the university to keep the lights on and fund other general expenses, that would be prohibitive to enumerate in a project budget.  Overhead rates vary dramatically; for some nonprofits the university rate can be as low as 10% but can be as high as 100% of the direct budget costs.  Overhead rates also depend on where most of the work is performed–on or off campus.  A small portion of the overhead may be given to the recipient and/or their department for other research expenses not outlined in the budget.  Generally, tuition waivers, while part of the direct costs, are not included in the total grant cost from which the overhead is calculated.

In a 1995 paper, that folks interested in grant budgets will find enthralling, Carol Gruber argues that the practice of universities contracting with the government, and the resulting overhead that came out of the “no-profit-no-loss” for universities approach, profoundly altered the research university landscape. The contract for research approach that provides overhead, an arrangement that was created during World War II, has helped to create the US university system as we know it today.  The principle behind no-profit-no-loss fits right into a university’s nonprofit status and like it or not—and Arveson clearly does not like it—students are part of that nonprofit approach.  Taxing graduate students’ tuition waivers is not just cruel to graduate students and harmful to academic pursuits, but a fundamental rebuke to the no-profit-no-loss university-government contracting relationship that was born out of the Manhattan Project.

 

Carol Gruber
“The Overhead System in Government-Sponsored Academic Science: Origins and Early Development”
Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences Vol. 25, No. 2 (1995), pp. 241-268

 

 

UPDATE:  December 17, 2017 –
The final draft of the Republican tax bill kills a proposed tax on tuition waivers.

December 4, 2017
by John Steinberg
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Fiske Center in Cooperative Agreement with the National Park Service

Fiske Center Director Steve Mrozowski looks at an eroding beach bluff on Great Island.

The Fiske Center has recently entered into a cooperative agreement with the Cape Cod National Seashore to conduct environmental monitoring, geophysical survey, coring, and limited excavations at several archeological sites on the Outer Cape. The project focuses on the history and prehistory of the Wellfleet area, the threat of coastal erosion, and methodologies of archaeological site assessment. This exciting project will add to the broad range of Fiske Center funded projects that investigate the cultural and biological dimensions of colonization.

One of the goals of the project is to complete an intensive inventory of archaeological sites threatened by significant erosion and inundation due to climate change located along the bluffs above the Atlantic Ocean at Great Island and Great Beach Hill.

As part of this cooperative agreement with the National Park Service, the Fiske Center will have Graduate Assistantships for students in the  Historical Archaeology MA program for work on the cooperative agreement. Duties for the Research Assistants will include performing background research, processing data and artifacts in a laboratory setting, and entering data into computer programs. The Research Assistants will also participate in the fieldwork and aid in report preparation. It is hoped that student research that takes place as part of this agreement will produce conference presentations, papers, and master’s thesis topics.

Fiske Center conservator, Dennis Piechota, examines the bluffs on Great Island for potential micromorphological samples.

Steve Mrozowski will oversee the project and direct the fieldwork in collaboration with John Steinberg (geophysical survey), Dennis Piechota (micromorphology), and Christa Beranek (historic period deposits). Students applying to the Historical Archaeology Master of Arts program who are interested in working on the Cape Cod project should mention it in their personal statement. For more information contact John.Steinberg@umb.edu or see the Fiske Center Website.

January 24, 2017
by John Steinberg
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Archaeological Organizations Concerned about Funding for National Endowment for the Humanities

The Hill has published an article describing the Trump Administration’s plans for the 2017 budget.  They explain that the plan is close to the Heritage Foundation’s “Blueprint” (summary and full document).  The author, Alex Bolton, cites “Staffers for the Trump transition” as the source of the information on using the “Blueprint”  for the new administration’s plans.   On Page 79  of  the blueprint , it outlines eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), stating that “the government should not use its coercive power of taxation to compel taxpayers to support cultural organizations and activities.”

This concerns us greatly since NEH funds spectacular archaeology, including our Plymouth excavations.  The recent discoveries at Plymouth have received substantial media attention.

The Hill’s article has received widespread attention from lots of outlets (e.g., Time, Salon, Art News, Huffington Post, Snopes, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Independent, Fortune & Chicago Tribune) and the Hill has published a follow-up.

Most of the professional archaeological organizations and societies have sent letters  (SHA, SAA) to members, or posted on webpages (AIA, AAM), or Facebook (AAA) describing this threat to NEH (as well as NEA & CPB).  All of them direct to the National Humanities Alliance which describes the efforts and has a page that allows you to send an email to your officials.

There is also some petitions (and here), at whitehouse.gov, but they do not appear to be accepting signatures.

November 24, 2016
by John Steinberg
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Plymouth Excavations in the News

plymouthThe press release put out by Colleen Locke from the Office of Communications has been picked up by a number of news organizations. The main story is in the Boston Globe by Brian MacQuarrie.  From the Globe, the DailyCaller,  AP and  Archaeology picked up the story. CNN, Fox News, Metro, Cape Cod Today, and the Daily Mail (UK) also expanded the story.   Travel & Leisure also did a write up on the piece.  On TV, WCVB (Chanel 5) aired a nice story and Sue O’Connell on the Take (necn) also has a sit down pieceDave Landon did a great job explaining the significance of identifying the exact location of the Plymouth settlement, which is recreated at the Plantation.

Google has a list of all the items.

 

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