The Fiske Center Blog

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

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

June 26, 2014
by Jessica Rymer
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Despite threat of poison ivy, the search for Deb Newman continues undeterred

After adjusting our strategy for the remainder of the season, our STP survey took us across the street, where the foundation of Lewis Ellis’s home beckoned through the poison ivy. Drs. Trigg and Bolender, Sam, and myself faced the task of marking off the STPs without getting poison ivy on the tapes or ourselves. In an ideal world this would be possible with the aid of a Total Station- our particular model can find the stadia rod all on its own, with minimal human prodding- but with our line of sight blocked by the trees we did it the old-fashioned way, by pacing off every 10 M with tapes. Naturally this entailed dragging them straight through poison ivy, which is why the tapes are now stored in their own bag in a separate bucket until we clean the equipment at the end of the project.

Jessica gets coordinate information from the Total Station

Jessica gets coordinate information from the Total Station

Sam checks the line of sight

Sam checks the line of sight

Back across the street we have officially designated the area around the “barn” as a brand new site because the area doesn’t fall into either of the 1727 allotments of either Deb Newman and Lewis Ellis. Other potential uses for the enclosure include a meeting-house or schoolhouse for the seven Nipmuc families at Hassanamesit in the 18th century, making it even more important that any units dug in this area be given a separate designation in our records.
Dr. Trigg has begun coring inside the enclosure to find the best places for taking soil samples. Like the phosphate analysis she will conduct for the lambing pen, testing these samples will help us narrow down the possible uses for the enclosure.

Dr. Trigg examines a soil core sample

Dr. Trigg examines a soil core sample

Dr. Trigg removes another sample while Carolyn (middle) places a flag in the previous one and Janice (left) prepares to do the same

Dr. Trigg removes another sample while Carolyn (middle) places a flag in the previous one and Janice (left) prepares to do the same

June 23, 2014
by Jessica Rymer
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Changing Strategies at Deb Newman

As a general rule archaeologists have to be flexible, willing to rework their hypotheses and sampling strategies over the course of a project. Though we recovered nails, brick, and creamware from our 2 X 2 M units, which date our deposits to the correct time period, we aren’t satisfied that that particular area is the site of Deb Newman’s late 18th/early 19th c. home. To determine if the artifacts we found in our original excavation area were the result of artifacts washing down slope from a possible barn foundation higher up Keith Hill, we’ve begun digging shovel test pits every 10 M between the foundation and treeline. The test pits were based in part on a map created in ArcGIS by Doug Bolender of the Fiske Center showing statistically significant clusters of “A horizon”, the geographic strata where material culture related to Deb Newman would be located, from the 2010 and 2011 shovel test pits (pictured below).

Map of the Deb Newman site showing areas where STPs with deeper than normal “A horizon” (cultural strata) are clustered around one another (areas in black, “HH” on key”), potentially indicating human activity; the background (Natural_STPs 1 Value on the key) shows general “A horizon” depth across the area between the road and treeline)

Map of the Deb Newman site showing areas where STPs with deeper than normal “A horizon” (cultural strata) are clustered around one another (areas in black, “HH” on key”), potentially indicating human activity; the background (Natural_STPs 1 Value on the key) shows general “A horizon” depth across the area between the road and treeline)


Danny works on an STP

Danny works on an STP

Steph and Diana screen for artifacts

Steph and Diana screen for artifacts


Down in our original excavation area Kristina and Shala are finishing up the most challenging unit

Down in our original excavation area Kristina and Shala are finishing up the most challenging unit


Kristina and Shala work on a profile of their unit

Kristina and Shala work on a profile of their unit


While in another context the color change in the soil might suggest that these stones were used for drying fish or meat, the lack of artifacts point to the color resulting from excessive iron in the soil from the stones. The area also has the potential to be a riverbed, but we won’t know more until Dennis Piechota, the conservator at the Fiske Center who specialized in micromorphology, micro-excavation and elemental analysis of artifacts and the soil matrix, is able to examine them.
By: Jessica Rymer

June 18, 2014
by Jessica Rymer
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An Interdisciplinary Effort: Soil Chemical Analysis at Deb Newman

The Hass Woods project has been an interdisciplinary effort from the start, and we are lucky to have Dr. Heather Trigg, a paleoethnobotanist from the Fiske Center, working with us at Deb Newman this season. In addition to instructing students and digging, Dr. Trigg has been hard at work collecting soil samples for phosphate analysis from a lamb pen associated with the site.

Dr. Trigg demonstrates how to use a soil core while Janice looks on

Dr. Trigg demonstrates how to use a soil core while Janice looks on

Discovered during the initial site survey, the lamb pen would have been used to keep newborn lambs from wandering off. To test this interpretation, Dr. Trigg will be taking soil samples for analysis at the Fiske Center.

Carolyn shows off a recovered soil sample

Carolyn shows off a recovered soil sample

The rest of us have continued digging with the goal of finishing our units this week in order to begin an STP survey of another area as our search for the foundation continues.

Steph and Diana draw a profile of their recently completed unit

Steph and Diana draw a profile of their recently completed unit

By Jessica Rymer

2014 Excavations at Hassanamesit Woods Begin

June 16, 2014 by Jessica Rymer | 0 comments

The 2014 field season at Hassanamesit Woods has commenced! Welcome back to the Hass Woods blog- my name is Jessica Rymer, a graduate student in the Historical Archaeology MA program at UMass. I’ll be posting throughout the next few weeks from the field school at Hassanamesit Woods. This summer four undergraduate students and five graduate students (including myself) will spend the next five weeks under the direction of Dr. Steve Mrozowski (accompanied by Dr. Heather Trigg) investigating the potential site of the of home of Deborah Newman, a Nipmuc woman who, according to local history, was said to live “across the road” from Lewis Ellis, whose father Amos Ellis helped in constructing the house of Sarah Burnee that have been the focus of the previous year’s excavations. Using the data recovered from an intensive STP survey that the Fiske Center conducted in 2010, we’ve begun placing 2M X 2M units around the test pits with the highest concentrations of creamware, brick, and nails, artifact categories which suggest that a late 18th/early 19th c. home was somewhere in the vicinity.
Of course before excavations could begin in earnest, we had some cleaning to do:

From front to back:  Kristina, Shala, and Janice use machetes and loppers clear the area around a test pit

From front to back: Kristina, Shala, and Janice use machetes and loppers clear the area around a test pit


 Carolyn repairs a shaker screen before it goes into the field

Carolyn repairs a shaker screen before it goes into the field


Kristina sharpens a machete

Kristina sharpens a machete


Steph repairs a pair of loppers

Steph repairs a pair of loppers


Dr. Heather Trigg instructs students in how to put in a 2 X 2 M unit

Dr. Heather Trigg instructs students in how to put in a 2 X 2 M unit


Kristina, Carolyn, and Dr. Trigg screen for artifacts while Janice (back), Kristina and Diana work on making more dirt

Kristina, Carolyn, and Dr. Trigg screen for artifacts while Janice (back), Kristina and Diana work on making more dirt


Kristina, Carolyn, and Dr. Trigg screen for artifacts while Kristina and Diana (front) continue digging.  Dr. Mrozowski and Janice discuss her unit (back)

Kristina, Carolyn, and Dr. Trigg screen for artifacts while Kristina and Diana (front) continue digging. Dr. Mrozowski and Janice discuss her unit (back)

So far digging in the rocky New England soil has been a challenge, but since every large rock has the potential to be a part of the foundation we’ve kept going. As part of our sampling strategy Dr. Heather Trigg has been taking soil samples; stay tuned for a post on this fits in to our search for the foundation.
By Jessica Rymer

March 5, 2014
by Fiske Center
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Summer Field Programs

We have two field schools running this summer from May 27th to June 27th.

Participants in the 2013 archaeological field school in Plymouth.

Participants in the 2013 archaeological field school in Plymouth.

Field School in Plymouth, Massachusetts
The field class will take place at a series of sites in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This summer’s work is part of “Project 400: The Plymouth Colony Archaeological Survey,” a broad project of site survey and excavation leading up the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Colony in 2020. In 2014 the focus will be on surface reconnaissance and mapping of a series of sites, shallow geophysical remote sensing, and test excavations in downtown Plymouth. Through daily archaeological fieldwork and laboratory analysis students will learn the process of field recording, mapping, excavation, sample collection, and basic artifact analysis in historical archaeology. The course includes a special emphasis on shallow geophysics for mapping subsurface deposits, and students will learn how remote sensing techniques are applied to site analysis, excavation, and interpretation. A series of trips to local museums and sites is included as part of the class.
For more information, or to register:
http://www.umb.edu/academics/caps/summer_programs/field_study/archaeological_plymouth

 

Field School at Hassanamesit Woods in Grafton, MA
The Hassanamesit Woods Project is a collaborative effort involving the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research, the Town of Grafton, Massachusetts, and the Nipmuc Nation. The goals of the project are to use archaeology and geophysical survey to explore the history and heritage of the Nipmuc people of Massachusetts. Previous excavations have focused on the 200-acre parcel known today as Hassanamesit Woods. Previous excavations have demonstrated that the parcel was part of Nipmuc country for at least 4,000 years. The chief focus of our research has been the Sarah Burnee Phillips/Sarah Boston farmstead that was a Nipmuc residence between 1750 and 1840. Work has also focused on the Eighteenth Century home site of Deborah Newman, a Nipmuc woman who was a contemporary of Sarah Boston’s and was part of the same Hassanamesit community.

During the summer of 2014 excavations will focus on the Deborah Newman site and the surrounding area of Keith Hill in Grafton, Massachusetts. Students will gain training in large-scale block excavation, stratigraphic interpretation, field recording, material culture identification and mapping. Students will also have the opportunity to work with specialists from the Fiske Center who specialize in geophysical survey and remote sensing. These techniques will be used to carry out geophysical surveys of additional sites in collaboration with the Nipmuc Nation.
For more information, or to register:

http://www.umb.edu/academics/caps/summer_programs/field_study/hassanamesitt

September 17, 2013
by John Steinberg
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Massachusetts Archaeology Month Poster

2013 Archaeology Month Poster

The 2013 Massachusetts Archaeology Month Poster prominently features Stephen Mrozowski’s excavation at Grafton.  The Poster shows the foundation of Sarah Boston’s house under excavation. In the foreground, the drain out of the cellar is being investigated.  The photo was taken by Heather Law, an alumna of the MA Program in Historical Archaeology and now a PhD student at UC Berkeley.  Mrozowski, in his orange jumpsuit, can be seen in the background.

 

2006 Archaeology Month PosterThis is the second time in 7 years that a Fiske Center project has been featured on an archaeological month poster.  In 2006 David Landon’s excavation at the African Meeting House on Joy St was featured.

Alex and Kelly work on the new southeast corner.

June 26, 2013
by Fiske Center
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More Structural Understanding at SBFS

We’ve had some more new developments in the foundation excavations this week! We were able to uncover a new intact corner of the foundation in the southeast. We found corners already in the northeast, and last week we found one in the northwest. More and more, we are finding that the foundation of this 260+ year old structure is remarkably sound. It was designed, like most dry-stacked structures, to allow water and fine sediment to pass through, avoiding the destructive pressure of water built up behind the retaining wall. Rather than trying to keep the water out of the cellar like most modern foundations, this one was meant to channel it through the upslope wall, down through the gravel and sand-bed floor, and out through the stone lined drain on the downslope side of the house. While this means that these kinds of foundations require more maintenance than others to keep sediments out of the cellar, it also lends them to less warping over time. This old, but trusty construction technique is probably what has allowed us to find so many sound corners of Sarah’s cellar.

Alex and Kelly work on the new southeast corner.

By: Heather Law Pezzarossi

Thinking Through Sampling and Stratigraphy at SBFS

June 20, 2013 by Fiske Center | 0 comments

Hi everyone,
Sorry about the lack of posts, your resident blogger has been under the weather. But I’m back now and ready to deliver the news from Hassanamesit Woods.

Last week our field school students worked to carry out our sampling strategy, set out by Dr. Mrozowski and Dr. Steinberg the week before. The following video is an explanation of that strategy that Dr. Mrozowski gave to the students on site:

Dennis Piechota, Fiske Center conservator and soils specialist, examines the stratigraphy underneath the northwest corner of the house.

We also worked to further refine our understanding of the house by excavating the northwest corner of the foundation. Rather than revealing the living floor underneath the rubble, we realized that the northwest corner was not part of the cellar. While the house footprint is clearly rectangular; the cellar is in the shape of an ell, with the northwest corner left standing and supporting a bed of stones. Discussions have settled on the idea that this standing corner may have served as a base for a chimney. The abundance of ash and charcoal in the northwest part of the cellar, as well as the presence of mortar in an other wise dry stacked stone foundation, seems to support this theory. This new finding has piqued our interest in vernacular stone architecture and we hope to have a more informative post on this topic soon. Thanks for following along!

By: Heather Law Pezzarossi