The Fiske Center Blog

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

Hassanamesit Woods Field Season | 2013

May 30, 2013 by Fiske Center | 0 comments

Welcome everyone, to the 2013 archaeological field season at the Sarah Boston Farmstead Site! For the next month, we’ll be working with a crew of 3 undergraduates and 7 graduate students at the Sarah Boston Farmstead Site, an 18th and early 19th c. Nipmuc Farmstead site in Grafton, Massachusetts. The Fiske Center for Archaeological Research takes pride in our collaboration with the Nipmuc Nation and the Town of Grafton on this project. These blog posts are an attempt to make the archaeology we do more accessible to the community, so that people with a vested interest in Nipmuc history can share in our endeavors. You can read more about the project and the goals of the project here.

We were very pleased to introduce the site to a new group of field school students this week, and we look forward to your questions and comments about our work this season. The Fiske Center has conducted an advanced field school at Hassanamesit Woods for the past 7 seasons, so we have accomplished a lot already! But there are some questions that remain and we will focus our efforts on addressing those as soon as we get settled. Today was spent cleaning out the site, raking leaves, drying tarps, laying in units, and of course, going over the basics of our excavation strategy with the students. Expect updates on our first excavations soon. For now, I’ll leave you with a few photos from our first day on site. Thanks for your interest!

Kelly, learning the art of screening.

James and Katherine clean out one of our units from last year.

by: Heather Law Pezzarossi

May 2, 2013
by John Steinberg

Geophysics during the Archaeological Field School in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Panorama photo of Burial Hill

Geophysics will be part of the field school at Plymouth.  We plan to do some GPR and conductivity at Burial Hill during the first weeks of the field season.  Brian Damiata and I will be running the survey for the first few weeks of the field school.  You can see some of Brian’s work at Sylmar, Santa Monica, and Crows Landing.  Not only will students learn about collecting the data, but they will also learn how to analyze it with GPR Slice software.

It is not too late to register

April 26, 2013
by John Steinberg

Archaeological Field School in Plymouth, Massachusetts

Plymoutn in 1846 showing location of archaeological field school.

The Archaeological Field School in Plymouth, Massachusetts is collaboration between the Department of Anthropology and the Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research at UMass Boston. This summer’s work will help launch “Project 400: The Plymouth Colony Archaeological Survey,” a broad project of site survey and excavation leading up the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Colony in 2020.  Much of the archaeological work will take place along Spring Ln near the Jenney Mill

You can learn more at

April 25, 2013
by John Steinberg

Field School in Historical Archaeology at Hassanamesit Woods

This summer the department of Anthropology in conjunction with the Andrew Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston will sponsor a field school in historical archaeology at Hassanamesit Woods in Grafton, Massachusetts.  You can learn more and enroll at

April 23, 2013
by Meagan Ratini

Mount Gilead AME Church Cemetery Survey

A few weeks ago, a team from UMass Boston and the Fiske Center traveled southwest to Pennsylvania to survey another historically African-American cemetery. Whereas the recently-studied cemetery on Shelter Island was used for enslaved individuals, this cemetery was created at a later point in time, when free people as well as those who escaped from slavery were forming many of their own communities. Many such communities were centered around churches which explicitly served African-American congregations—as did the Mount Gilead AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church.

UMass Boston grad student Allison Conner (left) obtains GPS points while Dr. John Steinberg places flags to mark where the GPR survey would be conducted. Mt. Gilead AME Church is in the background.

Founded sometime in the 1830s, Mount Gilead sits on a wooded ridge in Buckingham, Pennsylvania. At the time of its founding, the church was located in an area surrounded by farms mostly owned by white Quakers. Little has been documented about this church’s history and its relationship with the surrounding areas, although the church leadership believes that there were once one hundred families who lived on the ridge line and comprised the community of the church.

The people buried in the church cemetery include freeborn African-Americans, individuals who escaped or were emancipated from slavery, as well as some people without African descent who have been part of the mountain community as it’s changed over the past century. Local legends and local histories tie this church even more strongly to the Underground Railroad (Blockson 1975:13), including to the figure of Benjamin “Big Ben” Jones, whose dramatic recapture by Southern slave hunters was recently fictionalized in an independent film.

UMass Boston graduate students Nadia Kline (left) and Allison Conner prepare the cemetery for the survey on an unseasonably cold morning.

In terms of the research for my master’s thesis, I am interested in seeing whether the cemetery was in use before the church actually owned the property, potentially suggesting the surreptitious use of this land by people of the Underground Railroad or suggesting types of aid which Quakers in this area may have provided to the people of the church.

In order to do this, we needed to map the locations of extant gravestones as well as use shallow geophysics to see whether all graves in the cemetery are marked. Thanks to a research grant from the Graduate Student Assembly at UMass Boston, I was able to bring several professors (Drs. John Steinberg and John Schoenfelder) as well as two of my fellow graduate students to the site to survey the whole area of the cemetery both above ground and by using ground-penetrating radar (GPR).

John Steinberg pulls the GPR antenna along the ground while Nadia Kline watches the read-out on its monitor.

GPR “sees” graves by sending and receiving pulses of electromagnetic energy into the soil and recording the reflections of that energy off of changes in the ground structure as well as reflections from buried objects.  You can see an example from the Sylvester Manor project for an idea of what these read-outs look like or read a slightly more detailed description of the technology in another Fiske Center blog post.  Unfortunately, GPR has no way to determine the actual age of anything it sees, but by studying the results in combination with archival documents, I’m hoping to be able to be able to answer these and other questions.

The results of this work are still forthcoming, but should help bring to light more about this church’s history, growth, and persistence in the area.  It should also help with ongoing preservation efforts at the church and cemetery.



Blockson, Charles L.
1975    Pennsylvania’s Black History. Louise B. Stone, editor. Portfolio Associates, Philadelphia, PA.

April 10, 2013
by John Steinberg

Sylvester Manor: Land, Food and Power on a New York Plantation

Eben Fiske Osby at the opening of the special preview of “Sylvester Manor: Land, Food and Power on a New York Plantation”

Steve Mrozowski, as well as other folks from the Fiske Center attended a special preview of the exhibition “Sylvester Manor: Land, Food and Power on a New York Plantation” on Tuesday night.  Eben Fiske Osby opened the event with a graceful speech

Stephen Mrozowski points to a picture of Alice Fiske at the NYU exhibit with bones excavated from Sylvester Manor.

If you are in New York you can see some wonderful artifacts excavated by UMass Boston Field Schools in the Bobst Library Gallery on Washington Square, at NYU.  They also have on display some wonderful documents that were in the vault.  These documents are now part of the NYU collection.