The Fiske Center Blog

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

June 23, 2014
by Fiske Center
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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 21, 2014
by John Steinberg
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Front Page Boston Globe Story on Archaeological Excavations in Plymouth: The mystery of where Plymouth got its start

Boston Globe article about work in Plymouth

Boston Globe article about work in Plymouth

There is a wonderful page 1 story in the Boston Globe today about the work in Plymouth.  Dave Landon does a great job in the attached video explaining the work.  There are also a series of very nice photos that go with the story.  If you have trouble with the Globe site, you can see a printed version here.  The Author, David Filipov, has done a number of great stories.

June 20, 2014
by John Steinberg
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EU7 3D views of the bricks

EU7We were out taking pictures of the bricks in Excavation Unit 7 on Burial Hill in Plymouth yesterday and Doug Bolender put together another 3D view.  This one is can be viewed on the web, and does not require downloading like the last one.   EU7 is where, according to the 1874 Beers map stood a school, probably the one that gave the street its name.  You can see the whole map at the Boston Public Library (Leventhal Map Center).

June 19, 2014
by John Steinberg
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Ground Penetrating Radar and Excavation Unit 3

Excavation Unit 3 superimposed over GPR

Excavation Unit 3 superimposed over GPR

In this GPR Slice image, made by Brian Damiata, hard reflectors from the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey are shown in yellow and red.  In this GPR- slice, blue areas did not return any energy.   This slice is from about 90 cm below the ground surface.  The location of the hard reflectors (red and yellow) suggest that the stone wall excavated in EU3  probably continues to the southeast.   EU3 is the excavation with the overhead image superimposed.  If you look closely, you can see a row of stones in the east.  You can see more of EU3 in a previous blog post.  The red lines in the jpg are our best estimate as to the location of structures in the 1874 map, also described in a previous blog post.

June 19, 2014
by John Steinberg
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Plymouth Burial Hill 3D view of Excavation Unit 3

The wall at the bottom of this unit is probably associated with one of the stable structures seen in the old map of burial hill and described in a previous post on this blogBurial_Hill_EU3Doug Bolender has created a 3D PDF that you can download and move around.  The file will not work in the web browser (it will just be a blank page).  You have to download it to your machine, and open it in a new version of Acrobat and allow it to run.    Once up and running you can look down into the buckets, as well as the excavation.

June 18, 2014
by Fiske Center
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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 Fiske Center | 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

June 14, 2014
by Fiske Center
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Burial Hill, update on the work so far!

The field school has been in session for three weeks, and we have discovered that the units we are working on are deep! This is often the case in urban areas that people have been using intensively for hundreds of years. Burial Hill is no exception. There were likely Native American settlements in this general area; the Pilgrims built the core of their colony here starting in 1620 and used the hill as the high point of a fortified town until the 1670s. Parts of the hill became a cemetery in the 1680s, and the area along School Street, where we are working, became the location of houses, stables, warehouses, a school, and other buildings during the later 18th century and throughout the 19th century. All of these buildings were taken down during the last decades of the 19th century and first decades of the 20th century.

Detail of an 1874 map of Plymouth, showing the area along School Street where we are working.

Detail of an 1874 map of Plymouth, showing the area along School Street where we are working.

One of the primary questions that we are trying to answer this year is what effect the 19th-century buildings that lined the street had on older archaeological deposits. Did they cap and preserve them, or cut through them? Are there areas in the back yards of the buildings with good preservation, or should we look under the building footprints?

We have opened 5 excavation units (or EUs) so far. Three of these are pretty far along, and so far are all very different. EU1 is located in an area that seems to have been between two buildings on the 1874 map and was within the foot print of a large building on the 1885 map. Here we found a thick mottled deposit containing a mix of 19th-century material such as coal and older, mid-18th century ceramic fragments. There are large tree roots running through the unit, and we have not reached the bottom yet, so don’t know if there are earlier layers below.

Xinli excavating the mottled deposit in EU1.

Xinli excavating the mottled deposit in EU1.

Tyler working on the deeply buried stone foundation.

Tyler working on the deeply buried stone foundation.

EU2 was placed to cross the back wall of one of the buildings. For a long time, we thought that the wall must have been completely destroyed when the building was demolished, because the unit contained only a clean sand and gravel fill with very few artifacts. But there were a few artifacts, so we kept excavating and eventually found a deposit of iron objects, cans and possibly horse harness pieces, and then below that, just over a meter below the surface, finally located a mortared stone foundation! The material above it suggests that when the building was demolished, someone brought in cart loads upon cart loads of clean sand and gravel to cover the area.

Lauren and Allie working on the steep slope of EU3.

Lauren and Allie working on the steep slope of EU3.

We also expected EU3 to cross a building wall, and it seems like that is proving to be the case as well. This wall is only partially uncovered, but seems not to be mortared and to be only partially intact. One of the striking differences between EU2 and EU3 is the material used to cover over the demolished foundations. While in EU2 it was very clean, in EU3 it was filled with slag from an iron foundry which was probably brought in from another location in Plymouth and dumped here. EU3 has been challenging to excavate because it is on a part of the hill with a very steep slope.

We just started EUs 4 and 5 this week, so it’s too soon to say much about them, but they are located in what would have been the back yards of the buildings.

June 12, 2014
by Fiske Center
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Excavations on Burial Hill in Plymouth

Welcome to the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Archaeological Field School in Plymouth! We are carefully digging along the perimeter of historic Burial Hill Cemetery this month to look for remnants of the earlier buildings that stood here, including Plymouth Colony’s first fort from 1621. We started work in late May, and the work has been exciting.

Ground penetrating radar survey prior to excavation.

Ground penetrating radar survey prior to excavation.

In partnership with Plimoth Plantation, we have a team of graduate and undergraduate students working alongside professors from UMass Boston’s Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research and the University’s Anthropology Department. We are hoping to discover part of the 17th-century palisade wall that encircled the fort and ran about a half-mile around the original settlement in Plymouth. The fort, atop Burial Hill, was used for the town’s defense through the time of the King Phillip’s War in the 1670s. Afterward, the hill became a burial ground with gravestones dating back to the 1680s.

Our team will not be digging or disturbing historic graves and monuments along Burial Hill, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.

Working against the backdrop of the historic cemetery.

Working against the backdrop of the historic cemetery.

The excavation site is located along School Street beside the First Parish of Plymouth of 1620. A reconstruction of the fort and the palisade wall stands in nearby Plimouth Plantation. Our team is working out of Plimoth Plantation’s facilities and collaborating about site interpretation with the museum staff. In May, we used ground-penetrating radar – or geophysical survey devices – on Burial Hill to try to detect parts of the earlier buildings and original palisade structure. Through June 27, we will be excavating along School Street.

The excavation area at the edge of Burial Hill.

The excavation area at the edge of Burial Hill.

This summer’s work is part of “Project 400: The Plymouth Colony Archaeological Survey,” a site survey and excavation leading up to the 400th anniversary of New England’s first permanent English settlement in 1620, the founding of Plymouth Colony. It is our objective to add a scholarly perspective to the discussion around this significant milestone. We have extensive experience doing archaeological digs in urban settings including Faneuil Hall in Boston and Newport, RI.

We have permits from the Massachusetts Historical Commission and the Town of Plymouth to conduct the surveys and funding from state and national organizations. For more information about the Fiske Center, please visit http://www.fiskecenter.umb.edu. For information about Plimoth Plantation, visit www.plimoth.org.

We will be working Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., through June 27, and we welcome visitors.