The Fiske Center Blog

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

September 24, 2018
by gracebello001

Summer Field Work on the Cape Cod National Seashore


This past summer has been a busy and productive one for the members of the Fiske Center. In conjunction with the National Park Service (NPS), Cape Cod National Seashore one of the more interesting projects was to assess and to aid in management of a series of potentially endangered archaeological sites in Wellfleet, MA.  The project area is on Great Island and Great Beach Hill, which are the two largest sandy areas that make up the peninsula that defines the western side of Wellfleet harbor and separates it from Cape Cod Bay. This is a dynamic area and one of the island towns in the area has already been submerged. These islands have been found to have both Native American and European Colonial archaeological sites. The most famous site in the area is the Samuel Smith Tavern. This site was excavated by James Deetz in 1969 and 1970.  More recently, in 2012, the area around the Samuel Smith Tavern was explored by The Public Archaeology Laboratory in cooperation with the NPS. Reassessing the extent and preservation of the Tavern site was a central part of the current joint project. As part of that work we georeferenced the 1969 and 1970 excavation datum and the earlier excavations boundaries were redefined, in light of later, much more extensive work.

During the PAL survey, there were several large shell middens identified that were eroding out of sea bluffs on Great Island and Great Beach Hill. Shell middens are trash piles, and as the name suggests, consist of mostly shell. Several of the eroding shell middens are on sandy cliffs that are 80 feet high and at the same time deeply buried by wind-blown sand. These conditions make the sites difficult to assess, let alone excavate. One of the outcomes of the joint NPS-Fiske Center project will be to assess the shell middens likelihood of suffering further erosion as well as to define their areas.

Thus, for three weeks in August the crew set out on the two and a half mile hike every morning to develop answers to these questions. Stay tuned for what we found.

Some of the Wellfleet excavation crew

Some of the Wellfleet excavation crew

Great Island and Great Beach Hill in Wellfleet, MA

Great Island and Great Beach Hill in Wellfleet, MA

April 27, 2018
by John Steinberg

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 4, 2017
by John Steinberg
1 Comment

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 or see the Fiske Center Website.

Skip to toolbar