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.

 

 

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. 

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.

December 14, 2014
by John Steinberg
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Geophysics at the Fowler Clark Farmstead in Mattapan

Using the CMD mini at Fowler-Clark

Using the CMD mini at Fowler-Clark

We are half way through a survey of the Fowler Clark Farmstead in Mattapan.  We were set back a little by the nor’easter last week, but will be out again finishing the GPR survey on Monday and Tuesday (December 15-16).

The geophysical work in on behalf of Historic Boston Inc., who would like to keep the pastoral setting of the farmstead. Today the 200-year-old farmstead sits on half an acre at Hosmer and Norfolk streets.  It is not known when the main farmhouse was built, but it appears on maps drawn between 1786 & 1806.  The barn is from about 1860.  You can learn more about this project on their blog which as a great 3D scan done by Feldman Land Surveyors.

We have some very preliminary results from the CMD.  The CMD is one of the instruments we were able to purchase with our recent NSF grant for work in Iceland from 2015-2017.  In 2013 we got a small grant to test these out in Iceland and like the unit very much, especially the temperature compensation.   That compensation algorithm turned out to be particularly important for the current November –December survey.

CMD 3 conductivity preliminary readings at Fowler-Clark

CMD 3 conductivity preliminary readings at Fowler-Clark

We surveyed with 25 cm transect intervals and fiducials mostly at 5 m.  This is the clipped conductivity 3 (largest dipole center distance – 1.18m)  readings.  The image mostly shows the distribution of sub-surface and near surface metal.

We will post more as we process it.

 

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