The Fiske Center Blog

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

November 27, 2018
by gracebello001
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Updating Cape Cod 3-D Model

Our work with the Cape Cod National Sea Shore  continues as we monitor erosion trajectories.  This 3-D model was built to aid in quantifying beach erosion over time. While the data is collected for purely scientific reasons, I made a fly through movie using photos and GPS control points taken by John Schoenfelder, John Steinberg, Melissa Ritchey, and Jocelyn Lee.

August 22, 2018
by Fiske Center
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Digitizing the Allerton/Cushman Collection at Plimoth Plantation

Photo by Plimoth Plantation.

Grad student Elizabeth Tarulis working on later period artifacts from the 17th-century Allerton/Cushman site.

This summer Anya Gruber and Elizabeth Tarulis, graduate students in UMass Boston’s Historical Archaeology program, have been working at Plimoth Plantation to digitize the Allerton/Cushman collection. This work is part of an ongoing collaborative project funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, discussed in a previous blog post.

The Allerton/Cushman site is believed to be the home site of Isaac Allerton, merchant and official representative of Plymouth Colony. Located in Kingston, MA this was probably one of the first residences established by settlers immediately outside of Plymouth Colony. It was owned by several others over the years including Allerton’s son-in-law, Thomas Cushman.

The site was discovered in the 1970s when a couple purchased the land to build their home. As the topsoil was stripped, the architect for the construction project recognized that some artifacts were turning up which looked very old. He brought them to Dr. James Deetz, the Assistant Director of Plimoth Plantation at the time. Deetz realized that the construction crew had identified a significant 17th-century colonial site. He took a team out to excavate the site, and the majority of the artifacts they found are still at Plimoth Plantation. A small portion of the collection is also at the Kingston Public Library.

Photo by Plimoth Plantation.

Site documentation from the Allerton/Cushman site, being digitized as part of this project.

We are working to make Deetz’ work available to a wider audience by digitizing this collection. We have already completed the first step by scanning the site documents. We have very detailed site maps, but appear to be missing some field notes and inventories that are mentioned in a later report. Currently we are cataloging the artifacts and entering this information into a database. We began with the “19th and 20th-century materials” box, which has almost anything you can think of from dozens of cigarette butts to a plastic cowboy to two 20th-century rat nests.

Photo by Plimoth Plantation.

The dot/dash provenience labeling system.

As with any older collection, this one has a few quirks. All of these artifacts are labeled with color-coded dots and dashes to indicate their provenience, or the location within the site where they were found. While it is fabulous to have the provenience information, this paint system did not survive well on some of the artifacts. The colors have faded, which proves challenging when you need to distinguish between white and grey or yellow and gold. Further, the coating on top of the painted dots has yellowed, making it difficult to distinguish between green and blue or white and yellow.

These artifacts are also sorted by material rather than provenience (where they were found). Sorting by provenience is the current best practice, and one of the most time-consuming tasks of the digitization process has been to organize the color-coded artifacts from large bags of glass or plastic into their respective proveniences.  The end result of this process will be that artifacts that were found together will be once again stored together.

Despite these issues, this collection is in good shape for its age. We plan to fully catalog these artifacts, reorganize them by provenience, photograph the objects, and make this information accessible online to scholars and members of the public. Although we have not yet started working on the earlier materials, previous research suggests that this is a rich 17th-century site. It will be a valuable resource for future researchers, and we look forward to seeing what is yet to come.

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.

 

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