The Fiske Center Blog

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

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

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