The Fiske Center Blog

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

March 13, 2015
by John Steinberg

Archaeological Field Study Programs at UMass Boston for the Summer of 2015

The College of Advancing and Professional Studies (CAPS) has put out its lineup for Field Study Programs this summer. UMass Boston is offering an unprecedented 4 archaeological Field schools.  Two of the field schools are being run under the auspices  of the Fiske CenterHistorical Archaeology at Hassanamesit Woods and  the Archaeological Field School in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  The other two are being offered through the Department of Anthropology: Maya Archaeology and the Eastern Pequot Archaeological Field School.

February 10, 2015
by John Steinberg

Dr. Karin J. Goldstein, 1965-2015

Karin Goldstein on top of Burial Hill, on a rainy day, explaining her vision of the archaeology for Plymouth  400th.   Standing behind her, from right to left is Lee Hartmann, (Director of Planning and Development for the Town of Plymouth) David Landon (Assistant Director of the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at UMass Boston) and Richard Pickering (Deputy Director of Plimoth Plantation)

Karin Goldstein on top of Burial Hill, on a rainy day, explaining her vision of the archaeology for Plymouth 400th. Standing behind her, from right to left is Lee Hartmann, (Director of Planning and Development for the Town of Plymouth) David Landon (Assistant Director of the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at UMass Boston) and Richard Pickering (Deputy Director of Plimoth Plantation)

Our good friend and colleague Karin Goldstein passed away on January 28, 2015.  She will be sorely missed. There are so many students of Plymouth who owe so much to Karin.  She was an amazing resource who knew so much about the town of Plymouth. Luckily for us, she was so generous with her knowledge.

Karin was a historian and curator at Plimoth Plantation. Karin had  MA’s from the University of Leicester (1991, Nomenclature of Museum Objects) and UMass Boston (2001, Creation of a New England Gentry: The Winslows of Plymouth Colony).  She received her PhD in American studies from Boston University in 2006 (From Pilgrims to Poverty: Biography of an Urban Renewal Neighborhood in Plymouth, Massachusetts).  In 2013 she published a History of Jewish Plymouth.  We have lost a great scholar.

As 2020 approaches we will try and remember her energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge of the town and the events of the 15th Century.

There is a wonderful interview with Karin in Archaeology from 2006 about Thanksgiving at Plimoth.

A memorial celebration will be held in the Hornblower Visitors Center at the Plimoth Plantation on Wednesday, February 11, 2015, at 3 p.m.


See more at:

Karin Goldstein

Karin Goldstein

February 3, 2015
by John Steinberg

Thesis Process mini-course

Sword_CrosierHere is the new Mini-Course schedule,  running for five weeks on Wednesdays 3:00-4:00 pm, just before Anth 625 in Room 503:

In the first two weeks we will talk about connecting data-method-theory and how to create research questions out of those connections (sometimes called the middle range).  We will then give examples of successful proposals, talk about the logistics of finishing the thesis , and finally provide descriptions of ongoing research.

February 4:     Developing research questions, part 1
February 11:   Developing research questions, part 2
February 18:   Examples of successful proposals
February 25:   Understanding the process and reasonable timelines
March 4:         Project fair – a chance to hear about research opportunities on faculty and Center projects

December 14, 2014
by John Steinberg

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.


December 10, 2014
by Stephen Mrozowski

The History Channel’s Giant Problem

Mrozowski after visiting Goshen

Mrozowski after visiting Goshen

When I was asked to appear on this History Channel show, Search for the Lost Giants, Episode 3 the producers told me that it concerned local mysteries and stone structures. I had recently visited several stone structures in Massachusetts, the builders of which remain a mystery. Therefore, I was curious to see what Bill and Jim had discovered.

The Goshen Tunnel that I inspected on the show was an intriguing structure comprised of a well, with a tunnel running from its base. The Vieiras’ interest was certainly genuine, and I admired their enthusiasm – not everyone has a dedication to get to the bottom of local mysteries and at some level all archaeologists have a reservoir of curiosity for questions of history.  I did not find any physical evidence that confirmed for me that the structure was built using modern metal tools such as chisels or pry bars, and I said as such. In my estimation the best explanation for the tunnel was that it was linked to some illegal activity: maybe to counterfeiting or  to the smuggling of bootleg liquor  probably coming from Canada.  The liquor could have been kept cool in the tunnel, which could have been concealed by a metal or stone cap placed at the bottom of the well, but above the level of the tunnel so that water could be filled in to make the well look like, well a well.  The day after the visit, I e-mailed Bill to look in the well for a possible ridge upon which the cap could have been seated. None of this appeared in the episode.

My point isn’t to question either the sincerity or motivation of Bill and Jim in pursuing their interest in the possibility of giants or the presence of a burial chamber connected to the Goshen Tunnel. I only wish they had shared this intended direction with me either before or during the filming or post-production information exchanges. During the 19th century, all sorts of theories were developed to explain the many large mounds and earthen structures located throughout North America.  Among others theories were put forward that linked the construction of these mounds to one of the lost tribes of Israel, Old World civilizations such as the Phoenicians, and a race of giants.  In 1890, Cyrus Thomas published the results of his review of all of the archaeological evidence collected from mound sites across North America. He concluded that the evidence confirmed that these large mound complexes were the work the indigenous populations. Archaeologists know today that these were the centers of complex, highly sophisticated indigenous societies. Attempts to link such structures to non indigenous peoples is part of a larger attempt to end Native American history and to replace that history with an American narrative that denies the identity of North America’s indigenous peoples. The perpetuation of long discredited ideas concerning a race of giants is an affront to the indigenous peoples of North America and need to be recognized as such.

December 5, 2014
by Stephen Mrozowski

Who said anything about giants?

In the Goshen Tunnel during filming

I was surprised and disappointed to see my appearance on the History Channel’s Search for the Lost Giants, Episode 3, used in a manner that appeared to give credence to a long-discredited theory concerning giants. Who said anything about giants?  I thought I was being asked to inspect the Goshen tunnel and to offer my opinion concerning who may have built it or what it was used for.  The site was very interesting.

The search for giants is a long-standing and familiar tradition of denying indigenous histories by promoting absurd alternate explanations. In North America the notion of such a race of giants is one of a list of explanations used to deny the accomplishments of Native Americans. Speaking directly to Native American scholars or consulting a widely distributed text such as Kenneth Feder’s  Frauds, Myths and Mysteries would provide ample documentation of the history of such ideas and the evidence used to disprove them. The real giants of the past were the indigenous men, women and children who built the sophisticated societies that flourished across the continent for thousands of years. Their descendants have been denied such histories by theories such as that discussed on the program.

November 10, 2014
by Jessica Rymer

Field Retrieval of Composite Objects

Fiske Center conservator Dennis Piechota has been teaching a mini-course on conservation for archaeologists for the past four weeks.  Included in this mini-course was a demonstration on excavating and retrieving composite objects, in this case a wood handled iron knife.  Listed below are the steps that Dennis recommends for maximum preservation of both the wood and iron during storage and transport from field to lab.  Most of the materials that he used in this demonstration can be easily purchased before a project or off-site during one, and assumes that the project has access to a refrigerator.  For further reading, he recommends Retrieval of Objects from Archaeological Sites, edited by Robert Payton (Archetype Publications).

1.  When exposed to air the wood component begins to irreversibly shrink and distort due to drying – spray wood handle with distilled water if possible constantly to maintain its surface moisture and then cover it with polyethylene whenever possible.

The wrought iron/steel component is also corroding due to exposure to the air. Though it would benefit from being dried and placed in a bag with dessicating silica gel this would destroy the wood component so focus on maintaining the wood moisture first. While the wrought iron component is not stable and will need treatment it is more robust than the wood.

2. Excavate around the object and pedestal it creating a block of supportive soil matrix surrounding the artifact (idea is to then be able to lift the pedestal out and flip it upside down to expose the underside without it all falling apart)

3.  Cover the exposed artifact with a barrier film, like a strip of polyethylene. Thin clear high-density poly (HDPE) works well and is often available as trash bags!

4.  Apply plaster bandaging (available from art/craft stores) to the pedestal- Lay the wet bandaging over the polyethylene layer so the block of soil is covered on 5 sides (you’re basically making a plaster box).

5.  Label the plaster with orientation, context and artifact ID when it is hardened and dried.

6.  Slide something thin and stiff under the plaster to lift it out. Aluminum flashing cut to the size of the pedestal works well and is available at hardware stores. Aluminum foil-covered cardboard will work in a pinch especially for small artifacts.

7.  Lift and flip the pedestaled artifact while keeping it sandwiched between the aluminum flashing and the plaster support. This will safely put the artifact within the five sides of the plaster ‘box’.

8. You may remove the aluminum flashing to further clean the artifact while supported within its plaster ‘box’ or leave that for the lab.

9. Wrap for transport: Prevent drying by bagging the sandwich of plaster/artifact/aluminum in clear polyethylene e.g., a clear trash bag and wrap the bagged sandwich tightly in clear packing tape. Place it in a refrigerator as soon as possible to preserve moisture and slow the iron corrosion rate.

10. De-oxygenating bags made of Escal barrier film and an oxygen scavenger (available from KeepSafe ( will help preserve the iron while maintaining the moisture in the wood. If you put it in the Escal/O2scavenger bag and refrigerate it, treatment of your composite artifact can wait until the end of the field season if necessary. Without the Escal system the artifact should be conserved as soon as possible.