The Fiske Center Blog

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

January 30, 2017
by Fiske Center
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Federal land and archaeological sites


Archaeology has a preservation ethic, and in the US, the Federal Government plays a large role in preserving our shared cultural heritage, including archaeological sites, by virtue of owning land, especially in western states. A bill directing the Secretary of the Interior to sell public lands in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming has been introduced: H.R. 621. It has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources (members from UT, AK, TX, CO, VA, WY, MI, NC, FL, IL, GA, LA, AR, and CA). The full list of committee members can be found here. Selling the land weakens or eliminates the legal protection of any archaeological sites on the land.

The link to the bill, H.R. 621, is here.

If you would like to comment on this bill, especially if you live in one of the states with a member on the Committee on Natural Resources, you can find their contact information here.

There is a Google doc (authorship unknown) with committee contact information and a suggested script.

Related legislation, bill H.R. 622 would “terminate the law enforcement functions of the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management and to provide block grants to States for the enforcement of Federal law on Federal land under the jurisdiction of these agencies.” This bill has also been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources and the Committee on Agriculture. The effects on archaeological resources are less clear cut, but would probably entail states deciding the degree to which they wanted to devote resources to combat looting and site destruction on Federal land.

January 24, 2017
by John Steinberg
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Archaeological Organizations Concerned about Funding for National Endowment for the Humanities

The Hill has published an article describing the Trump Administration’s plans for the 2017 budget.  They explain that the plan is close to the Heritage Foundation’s “Blueprint” (summary and full document).  The author, Alex Bolton, cites “Staffers for the Trump transition” as the source of the information on using the “Blueprint”  for the new administration’s plans.   On Page 79  of  the blueprint , it outlines eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), stating that “the government should not use its coercive power of taxation to compel taxpayers to support cultural organizations and activities.”

This concerns us greatly since NEH funds spectacular archaeology, including our Plymouth excavations.  The recent discoveries at Plymouth have received substantial media attention.

The Hill’s article has received widespread attention from lots of outlets (e.g., Time, Salon, Art News, Huffington Post, Snopes, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Independent, Fortune & Chicago Tribune) and the Hill has published a follow-up.

Most of the professional archaeological organizations and societies have sent letters  (SHA, SAA) to members, or posted on webpages (AIA, AAM), or Facebook (AAA) describing this threat to NEH (as well as NEA & CPB).  All of them direct to the National Humanities Alliance which describes the efforts and has a page that allows you to send an email to your officials.

There is also some petitions (and here), at whitehouse.gov, but they do not appear to be accepting signatures.

December 23, 2015
by David Landon
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Community Preservation Coalition Highlights Archaeology

The Community Preservation Coalition has recently highlighted the use of Community Preservation Act funds to support archaeology in Massachusetts. One of their featured projects is our work on Nantucket at the Boston-Higginbotham House, a collaborative undertaking with the Museum of African American History.

Nantucket Artifacts

Read more about it here:

http://www.communitypreservation.org/successstories/historic-preservation/22022?utm_source=December+2015+Newsletter&utm_campaign=Dec+2015&utm_medium=email

October 30, 2015
by David Landon
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Public Presentation: UMass Boston’s Plymouth Archaeology Project

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Tuesday, November 10, 7–8:30 pm • Plymouth Public Library

Fehlow Room, Main Library, 132 South Street, Plymouth, MA

Please join us for an overview of the planned work for the University of Massachusetts Boston’s archaeological and geophysical investigations in the Town of Plymouth. This work is being sponsored by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and is designed to learn more about the history and archaeology of the Town as part of the lead up to 2020. Proposed work for 2016–2018 will be described followed by a question and answer session for the audience.

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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.

 

October 27, 2014
by Jessica Rymer
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Public Archaeology Case Study #2: Working with Collections

BCM Collections Intern Brittany Contratto does matching activity with visitors

BCM Collections Intern Brittany Contratto does matching activity with visitors

Since Boston Children’s Museum is one of the few children’s museums in the world to have a collection, we knew from the earliest planning stages that the collection would be incorporated into our program.  One of our overall goals was to communicate why archaeology was important, and working with the collection gave us the opportunity to do this.

To this end we devised a matching game that asked children to pair items that would normally be found at an archaeological dig- stone tools from the Museum’s Eastern Woodland holdings- with recognizable objects of the same function from the early American collection.  In this way we hoped to encourage children to think creatively while showing that archaeology has real links to how we live in the present.

Objects for the matching game.

Collections objects at the matching station.

One of the advantages to the matching activity was that it was flexible enough that the person running this station could easily modify it for a variety of ages. For children too young to make the kinds of connections we were aiming for, looking at objects under magnifying glasses or simply holding the tools and feeling their weight sufficed (it should be noted here that in order to handle objects children were required to put on the white gloves we provided and were not allowed to handle certain objects).

One of the disadvantages to this activity was that it required someone with collections experience to manage.  This meant that depending on the night, either the Collections Manager, the Collections Intern, or myself (a former Collections Intern at the Museum) had to take turns manning the table for the entire 2 hours.

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series can be found here and here.

October 24, 2014
by Jessica Rymer
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Public Archaeology Case Study #1: Mock Dig

Overall

Prepping

Prepping the dig kits

As I mentioned in my previous post on practicing public archaeology, our program featured two activities:  a mock dig and a matching game with objects from the Museum’s collections.  Though we had the room for 2 hours, the activities were designed to be completed quickly so families could experience other aspects of the Museum during their visit.  We did the program twice, on two different Friday nights.

Having a mock dig was initially on our wishlist until an educator at the Museum sent us the following link: http://www.ehow.com/how_12077769_make-dinosaur-dig-kids.html.  While this activity is meant for paleontology programs, the idea of using plaster appealed to us as a way to teach children about stratigraphy.  Using our experience digging in Grafton over the summer, we designed a dig kit that would mimic New England stratigraphy:  plaster would represent the clay of the “B horizon”, and would contain objects evocative of those used by Native Americans before the arrival of Europeans (shells, rocks for stone tools), while a layer of potting soil on top of it would represent the “A horizon”, and would contain objects associated with Europeans (broken plates, teacups, gaming pieces, fake coins).  The idea was that children would scoop out the potting soil and push it through the screens we’d provide then pop the objects out of the plaster with a (blunt) trowel.  We made 7 kits in all.  Each kit was designed to be used by one or two children at a time with the volunteers replacing the potting soil and reburying the “artifacts” for the next child.

As the picture below shows, this is a messy activity and some kind of floor covering is a must.

The dig kits in action

The dig kits in action

The potting soil worked well but required a 1/4 in screen, which most children were not interested in using.  The plaster actually dried around the artifacts, making it difficult for children to pop them out.  When we did this activity on the second night, we did not use plaster at all.

Though the stratigraphy aspect of the activity did not work well, we were able to engage with the children by getting them to think about what these objects could be, what they were used for, and what we could learn from digging them up.  With the exception of the under 5 crowd, the majority of the children were able to understand this line of reasoning.  They also picked up on the idea that ceramic pieces from the same kit can mend but, if they don’t, could represent multiple vessels.  Without any prompting from us, several children began taking ceramics from the dig kits to see if they mended with any of the plates at the mending station.  This also provided an opportunity to explain that archaeologists don’t always find all of the pieces to things.  And telling children that archaeologists don’t get to keep what they find was a convenient way to explain why they couldn’t take the objects home with them.

This activity was very popular, could be assembled quickly, and was a convenient way to suggest that children check out the other archaeology activities being offered.  The next and last post in this series will focus on the matching activity and address some of the challenges of using collections in public programs.

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