The Fiske Center Blog

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

June 15, 2018
by elizabethquinlan002
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Chasing Color Changes at Hassanamesit Woods

A view of the summer sky above Hassanamesit Woods

The first few weeks out in Hassanamesit Woods have been marked by (mostly) great weather and even better field experiences. Despite a rain day spent in the lab cleaning recovered artifacts on Monday the 4th, the second week of work gave the students a look at how changing stratigraphy within a unit can both puzzle and inform an excavator. Graduate students Melissa and Liz, joined by graduate student Ivana, began seeing some interesting soil changes as they brought their unit down to roughly 35-45cm below datum. These stratigraphic changes continued as they  followed the strata down to a final depth of about 75cm below datum. As this unit is located right up against the Augustus Salisbury foundation, it was hoped that these soil changes might indicate a builder’s trench in the unit.

View of the Northwest corner of Unit E448 N274

The northwest profile pictured above shows the bands of color that indicate stratigraphic changes. The C horizon is characterized by the greenish-grey sandy layer in the middle.

During construction of a building with a stone foundation it was often the case that builders would dig down into the sterile subsoil (known in this case as the ‘C horizon’ or ‘C strata’) in order to lay the foundation well below the contemporary ground surface. The soil displaced from this digging would then be loosely filled back in, along with building debris and other trash from the time period, so it could be dug out again later if repairs to the foundation were needed. The soil is often put back “out of order”, and areas of clear disturbance in the natural stratigraphy can clue in archaeologists to construction activities at a site. These trenches, and the artifacts recovered from them, can also help date the completion of a foundation.

By the beginning of the 3rd week it became clear that the stratigraphic changes observed in Melissa, Ivana and Liz’s unit were not being found in Rick and Alex’s adjacent unit, meaning the changes must be associated with the foundation rather than the wider yard space. Over in Tyler and Andrew’s unit, however, they began spotting some unusual stone placements, which also continued into Rick and Alex’s unit. At first it was thought they must have been placed deliberately by people in the area, as they were almost all propped up in an ‘upright’ manner. However, upon discussion with environmental archaeologist Dr. Trigg, Dr. Mrozowski, and the discovery of a large amount of loose frost fractured stones, it was decided that they most likely were the result of New England’s at-times violent freeze-thaw cycles.

Melissa and Lauren take elevations using a data collection unit and a prism pole

UMass Boston Historical Archaeology graduate students Melissa (left) and Lauren (right) use a data collection unit a prism pole to take elevations and lay out new units. These tools are used with a total station, operated by Dr. Schoenfelder (not pictured) to accurately map site coordinates.

Monday and Tuesday of week three also saw the arrival of Dr. John Schoenfelder and UMass Boston graduate student Lauren to the site. They worked with field school students to map further units near the Salisbury foundation, establish datum points at the Deb Newman site, and take some elevation measurements. This gave students attending the field school the opportunity to learn how to operate a total station and precisely map site coordinate

As this mapping was going on, Gary and Bryn finished their unit at the Augustus Salisbury site and moved over to the Deb Newman site to open the first unit there. This unit corresponds with some of the marked metal detection hits made by Brian in the first week. By Thursday they were joined by Liz and Melissa, while Alex, Andrew, Rick, and Tyler remain at the Salisbury site to finish their units.

While field work is generally supplemented by research and analysis after the season has officially ended, there are still times when you need to go home after a long day of excavating and consult a few books. After the discovery of a piece of pearlware or ironstone with a unique maker’s mark in a level suspected to be contemporaneous with the completion of the foundation, everyone ran to their phones to search the many online ceramic databases. When this proved to be too big a task for a quick in-the-field search it was decided that everyone would spend some time looking for the mark in online and print databases. Luckily the Fiske Center library is fully equipped for such a search. Three books containing examples of British and US pottery marksWhile the mark has yet to be identified, Dr. Mrozowski hopes that when it is it will give us a reliable TPQ (terminus post quem, or earliest possible date) for the Augustus Salisbury foundation’s completion. Perhaps the remaining units at the Salisbury site will provide more identifiable ceramic pieces from the same time period to aid in the TPQ determination.

The dual focus of this field school on both the Deb Newman and Augustus Salisbury sites provides an opportunity for comparative excavation and should prove very interesting in the coming weeks.

 

 

June 11, 2018
by elizabethquinlan002
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2018 Hassanamesit Woods Field School Begins

Hassanamesit Woods LogoOn Wednesday May 30th the Hassanamesit Woods Field School crew officially broke ground at the Augustus Salisbury site and began the 2018 field season. This year’s focus is mainly on the 19th century Salisbury homestead, and the  18th-century Nipmuc deposits underlying the property. Under the careful direction of Dr.’s Mrozowski and Trigg, three undergraduate students and six UMass Boston graduate students have begun excavation of four 2x2m units.

Image of two tubes of Tecnu Extreme Poison Ivy Scrub

Removing poison ivy from both the Augustus Salisbury and Deb Newman sites will be a major part of this field work, so the appropriate precautions are needed.

Graduate students Melissa and Liz are working closest to the poison-ivy
covered 
Salisbury foundation, and have thus both acquired their own personal bottles of Tecnu.

Graduate student Rick, whose thesis will be focusing on the changes in land use of this site and others in the surrounding area, is working with URI undergraduate Alex in the next unit over from the Salisbury foundation. UMass undergraduate Andrew is working with grad student Tyler in a unit with stunningly meticulous sidewalls, which lies in the middle of the focus area. Right next to them is UMass undergrad Bryn and grad student Gary (another student working on Hassanamesit Woods data for his thesis), who are working closest to the “Hawk Foundation”. Together these units run from the north of the site area, near the visible Salisbury foundation, to the south where the “Hawk Foundation” was discovered in a previous season. The area in between, covered by three of the units, is thought to be where the Nipmuc community of Hassanamisco may have built a meetinghouse and/or school. The hope is that by excavating these previously untouched middle units, the underlying Nipmuc sites may be identified, shedding more light on the physical erasure of Nipmuc land and community represented by the Salisbury site

The students have been digging for two weeks now, however progress has been slow due to a deep layer of forest overgrowth and root mats. The site had to be cleared on the first day, necessitating many tick checks and poison ivy near-misses. Most objects coming out of the first few layers of the excavation units are architectural iron like nails and brackets, with small bits and pieces of ceramics here and there. Melissa and Liz are looking for a possible builder’s trench near the Salisbury foundation, while Rick, Alex, Tyler, Andrew, Bryn and Gary are all trying working down to the levels where Nipmuc sites may still be intact.

Archaeologists hold a tarp over an open excavation unit in order to take a photo

In the above photo, Gary, Dr. Trigg, Bryn, Alex, Melissa and Rick work to shade a cleaned and finished level within Gary and Bryn’s unit so it can be photographed for the site records. Photographing each level allows researchers to go back and look at the level-by-level changes in stratigraphy as a unit is fully dug down to the subsoil.  Dr. Mrozowski can be seen in the background in his blaze orange jumpsuit, contemplating a previously excavated unit. After discussions with Dr. Trigg, and consulting the site paperwork, he decided to open up the older unit to follow a previously discovered feature that had not been fully excavated the past year.

But what about the sixth graduate student? Brian has been over at the Deb Newman site, not far from the Salisbury site excavation, trying to definitively locate her dwelling using a new application of metal detection. Brian has past experience with metal detection use in archaeology on battlefield sites, but noticed some patterns in his previous work involving domestic sites and the types of metal artifacts that produce positive results from metal detectors. Using this method he is carefully covering the area around the Deb Newman site, and is marking out areas for later excavation. It is expected that some of the students currently at the Salisbury site will soon move over to the Newman site to begin further excavations there.

All in all it’s shaping up to be an exciting month of excavation at the Newman and Salisbury sites at Hassanamesit Woods, and we’re looking forward to updating you on the progress we make.

 

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 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.

July 8, 2014
by Jessica Rymer
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Excavations end raising brand new questions

At the close of excavations last week the Search for Deb Newman offered some exciting possibilities for future fieldwork while raising some tantalizing questions.
The minimal amount of artifacts recovered from the most likely area for the home forced us to reconsider what short-term occupations like Deb Newman’s would have looked like. In order to better understand the area as a whole we embarked on an intensive STP survey, which ultimately lead to the opening of 2M X 2M excavation units in three different locations: Deb Newman, Lewis Ellis, and the “enclosure”.
Carolyn and Janice focused on the Lewis Ellis site, putting in a unit near the foundation after STPs in the area turned up large pieces of 19th century ceramics. They uncovered a potential builder’s trench (pictured below) and piece of boot leather in addition to other 19th century artifacts consistent with the STPs. Though Lewis Ellis was a bootmaker, neither of these pieces of evidence are enough to make a case for the site definitely being either his workshop or home. They are, however, enough to bring us back to the site in the Fall to investigate further.

Potential builder’s trench uncovered by Carolyn and Janice that may be a part of Lewis Ellis’s shop

Potential builder’s trench uncovered by Carolyn and Janice that may be a part of Lewis Ellis’s shop


Down the hill Kristina and I worked in a unit adjacent to the enclosure, next to an STP that yielded an usual amount of creamware, mochaware, and hand-painted polychrome creamware in the “duff”, or topsoil above the cultural strata.
Kristina and Jessica clean their unit for a photo.  The red tint is from stains in the B horizon along the bedrock, which Dr. Trigg suggested came from decayed root

Kristina and Jessica clean their unit for a photo. The red tint is from stains in the B horizon along the bedrock, which Dr. Trigg suggested came from decayed root


The unit was part of our strategy to understand the function of the enclosure, which could have contained a school or meeting house. The school, however, was never built according to historic maps of Grafton (see map pictured below). Dennis Piechota has suggested that the unusual amount of sediments (as opposed to soils) in the unit were colluvial sediments being washed downstream from an area close by, potentially explaining the wealth of ceramics in the “duff”. This initially seemed to provide evidence in favor of a meeting house, however, Steph and Sam’s unit inside the enclosure ended unexpectedly in bedrock, making the results of Dr. Trigg’s phosphate analysis and Dennis’s thin sections all the more important for our understanding of this area.
1795 map of the town of Grafton showing the location of a meeting house

1795 map of the town of Grafton showing the location of a meeting house


Back at the Deb Newman site Danny, Shala, and Dallana opened a unit in a second area where high concentrations of artifacts were recovered from the 2010 STPs. In true archaeological fashion, they began turning up brick, ceramics, and even a burned tobacco pipe in the last week.
While we are starting to form a clearer picture of the historic landscape, this season’s excavations ultimately left us with questions that can only be answered by future excavations, proving that archaeology means never having to say you’re finished.
The 2014 Hassanamesit Woods team

The 2014 Hassanamesit Woods team

July 8, 2014
by Jessica Rymer
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Intriguing answers to some old questions lead to new possibilities

Since Day 1 we’ve run into puzzling or just plain odd stratigraphy that’s raised more questions than answers as we’ve continued to unravel the mystery of Deb Newman. Fortunately Fiske Center conservator Dennis Piechota came out to the site yesterday to collect soil samples for thin section analysis and took some time in the afternoon to explain some of what we’ve come across. He also offered insight into what it all might mean for our interpretation of our three sites (Deb Newman, the enclosure, Lewis Ellis), and was gracious enough to let me record his talk, excerpts of which you can listen to below.

Excerpt 1: Dennis explains some of the stratigraphy at the site, including the deeper A horizon soils that influenced our STP survey and what kinds of human impacts these might indicate (for a brief review of the survey click here).

Excerpt 2: Dennis explains the stratigraphy at the Lewis Ellis site, where Carolyn and Janice uncovered a buried A horizon

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