The Fiske Center Blog

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

June 19, 2016
by Fiske Center
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Why Do We Dig? Weeks One and Two at Plymouth

By Anna Crona

Opening a unit on the slope of Burial Hill.

Opening a unit on the slope of Burial Hill.

As our first full week of field work comes to a close and our second week is about to begin, there is a lot to reflect upon and even more for which to prepare. At the beginning of the week we had three units opened at both of our sites in downtown Plymouth. We started with three 2 meter x 1 meter units located at Cole’s Hill and two 2 meter x 1 meter units and a 2 meter x 2 meter unit located at Burial Hill. On Burial Hill, we soon added two additional 1 x 2 meter units. Our crew has collectively been hard at work moving and sifting through tons of soil, with the goal of uncovering undiscovered, crucial information about the original Plymouth settlement and the people involved in its genesis. Both sites have found intriguing artifacts and features and the students involved are being thoroughly trained in archaeological methods and protocol. The professors and teachers’ assistants are demonstrating the compassion, care, and attention to detail necessary to make archaeology a thriving and useful tool for historical research.

Caroline, Anna, and Samantha work on one of the units on Burial Hill.

Caroline, Anna, and Samantha work on one of the units on Burial Hill.


At the end of the week, the Burial Hill archaeologists left off having entirely closed out one unit. This unit was closed because its team was encountering several centimeters of sterile sand, about 55 centimeters from ground level. Additionally, two more units were opened: one directly behind the town tomb structure and the other attached to the 2m x 2m unit. The latter was expanded because, about 60 centimeters down from the ground level, the team working in this unit discovered several areas of differently colored soil. These areas suggest that the team was unearthing what are likely seventeenth-century features. As a result, excavation on this unit was temporarily halted and the new, adjoining unit has been opened up with the hope that it will expose enough of the features to help us understand their shape and orientation.

Glass syringe in situ at the Cole's Hill site.

Glass syringe in situ at the Cole’s Hill site.

The end of the week found the Cole’s Hill crew continuing excavation on their three original units, all of which have deep and complex deposits relating to the 19th-century occupation of this lot. They have found many interesting and significant artifacts, including a historic glass syringe, a 19th-century token, and several native flakes and points.

A large part of this project incorporates an element of public involvement and interaction. Among the many questions visitors ask us is the inquiry, “Why do you dig?” We tell them, in a nutshell, that we are digging to find parts of the original Pilgrim settlement and possibly the palisade wall that surrounded the original town. On a deeper level, we dig to give a voice to the people who no longer have one. While working in Plymouth we are in the business of giving a voice to the colonists and the Native tribes that came before us. The colonists came here looking for freedom to live according to their beliefs and to find new opportunities that they did not have in the Old World. Unfortunately, while seeking a life of opportunity, they also took this same freedom from many others, in Plymouth from the Native Wampanoag who had lived in this area for generations. We continue to dig because it is more important than ever to tell the stories of the people, from all nations and walks of life, whose voices are not being heard. At a glance, archaeology gives us a different way to view history. Under the surface, archaeology gives us a different and more personal way to view and understand humanity. We dig to bring this view to light.

About the author:
Hello! My name is Anna Crona and I am enrolled in the 2016 UMass Boston archaeological field school in Plymouth. I am a recent graduate of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where I received my bachelors degree in anthropology in December, 2015. During my time as an undergrad student, I focused my energies on historical archaeology and bioarchaeology, and more specifically, archaeology of colonial North America. Because of this, I am thrilled to be involved in the Plymouth excavations through UMass.

June 13, 2016
by Fiske Center
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Open Lab at Plimoth Plantation

By Jess Hughston

Field school students Jared, Ashby, and Jacob at work in the Plimoth Plantation lab.

Field school students Jared, Ashby, and Jacob at work in the Plimoth Plantation lab.

The organization of the Project 400 formal lab component is reflective of a broader movement within the discipline to include stakeholders and members of the broader community in the interpretation of their histories. Collections management and processing of archaeological materials has traditionally remained an exclusive activity that takes place out of view of the public. At Plimoth Plantation, Curator of Collections, Kate Ness has been working to move collections processing out of secluded spaces and into the public eye.
Field school students are working in the museum’s newly relocated archaeology lab in the Visitor Center with the primary aim of encouraging public interaction with the aspects of artifact analysis and interpretation that they are so often excluded from. The lab itself is set-up in the museum’s inviting gallery space. The artifact processing tables are arranged in a horseshoe configuration where field students at work are facing outward in all directions. Their activities can be viewed through a window-lined wall that faces the museum courtyard. In addition, museum patrons are invited to enter the space where they can ask questions and interact with the archaeologists at work.

Excavated fragments of a milkpan, a reconstructed vessel, and a modern recreation based on these examples.

Excavated fragments of a milkpan, a reconstructed vessel, and a modern recreation based on these examples.

One critical display in the lab communicates how archaeologists make interpretations of the fragmented material remains they recover from the ground. The display is laid out as a series, first exhibiting fragments of a 17th-century milk pan excavated from Marshfield, Massachusetts, and then a similar vessel comprised of mended fragments, and, finally, a reproduction milk pan that would be created for use by the interpreters in the English Village at Plimoth Plantation.

Fragments of reproduction vessels for visitors to sort.

Fragments of reproduction vessels for visitors to sort.

Visitors are also invited to work hands on at a separate table, mending vessel fragments of reproduction 17th-century ceramics to gain a better sense of how archaeologists piece together the past.
Materials processed within the lab space include previously held collections at Plimoth Plantation and artifacts recovered this season from Burial Hill and Cole’s Hill. Engaging with both sets of materials permits students to contribute to Plimoth Plantation’s efforts to universalize their system of collections tracking, which includes digitalization for increased accessibility, and to provide an additional layer of transparency for collaborators, stakeholders and community members that are closely following this year’s excavations.

Jess Hughston is a graduate student in the Historical Archaeology MA program at UMass Boston.

June 11, 2016
by Christa Beranek
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Welcome to the 2016 season in Plymouth!

Our 2016 field season in Plymouth is underway! We’ll have a few posts with details about the work soon; this post gives a quick overview of the project. You can also read updates from earlier years by looking at everything categorized under Plymouth (here).

View of Plimoth Plantation, a reconstruction based on the museum's best understanding of the appearance of the early 17th-century town.

View of Plimoth Plantation, a reconstruction based on the museum’s best understanding of the appearance of the early 17th-century town.

The approaching 400th anniversary (1620–2020) of the arrival of the Pilgrims and founding of the Plymouth Colony provides an opportunity to reexamine the region’s history and archaeology. Since 2013, Fiske Center archaeologists have been excavating in downtown Plymouth to try to locate any preserved remains of the 17th-century Plymouth Colony settlement. This project is a collaboration with Plimoth Plantation, and the summer research is run as an archaeological field school, with new and returning students comprising the field crew. Our goal is to add new information to our understanding of the Plymouth Colony, the colonists’ relations with Native Wampanoag people, and the growth and evolution of the Town of Plymouth.

Excavation in 2015.

Excavation in 2015.

We have been combining traditional archaeological excavation with geophysical survey techniques, mostly ground penetrating radar. The ground penetrating radar is used to map soil properties to help guide the digging and characterize broader areas than can be excavated. The excavation work that follows is a careful process of sifting for artifacts and mapping the soil levels to interpret the age and history of each section of the site. Despite its appearance as a small town today, the archaeology in Plymouth is very “urban,” with deep excavations, complex soil deposits, and artifacts from all periods of the town’s history. To date we have recovered thousands of artifacts spanning this history, starting with the Native American settlement that existed before the arrival of the Pilgrims, through the period when Plymouth was a colonial town, and into the 19th century when the landscape was dramatically reshaped.

 

The Search Continues

A section of the 1874 Beers map of Plymouth showing the former buildings along School Street at the edge of the cemetery.

A section of the 1874 Beers map of Plymouth showing the former buildings along School Street at the edge of the cemetery.

The major focus of our exploration has been along School Street on the eastern edge of Burial Hill. Burial Hill is on the National Register of Historic Places, with more than 2,200 gravestones dating from 1681 to 1957, and a diverse collection of memorial monuments. Before it was used as a burial ground, the high point atop the hill was the location of the Plymouth Colony’s fort from 1620 to 1676. From the fort the main road of the original settlement ran down what is now Leyden Street, with the houses lining the street encircled by a wooden palisade fence estimated at a half mile around. Two markers on Burial Hill identify potential locations of historic fortifications and another shows the possible site of John Alden’s house inside the palisaded settlement. These markers are only approximate, as there are no historic maps of the fort or settlement.

DSC02701Our work on the east side of Burial Hill has been focused on a north-south corridor between School Street and the burials uphill to the west. This strip of land was built up with stables, storehouses, two schools, and a series of other buildings in the late 18th through 19th centuries. These buildings were later torn down to remake Burial Hill into a more commemorative landscape. We have been digging inside, between, and behind these historic structures to map the different artifact deposits and look for preserved remains of the early settlement. In areas with this type of complex land-use history, early artifact deposits are intermingled with often much more abundant evidence of more recent use of the land. While some artifacts tell unique stories, together they provide clues to people’s past activities and help us envision the way the landscape changed over time.

This year, we are continuing our work on Burial Hill as well as expanding to examine some other sites. This year, for the first time, we also have a formal lab component in a new, open lab at Plimoth Plantation.

June 6, 2016
by Jared Muehlbauer
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Muskeget Island Through Time

While archaeology studies people and cultures of the past, much of what we do can be valuable to a number of other disciplines.  The Fiske Center recently worked with Dr. Rob Stevenson of the UMass Boston Biology Department on his research into vole species on Muskeget Island, off the coast of Nantucket.  In reading up in the island Dr Stevenson found that Wetherbee et al (1972) had shown that the island was moving and changing shape.  Dr. Stevenson confirmed this looking at historic maps and photographs.  Since this something that archaeologists frequently deal with, Dr. Stevenson asked the Fiske Center to help him quantify the changing shape and position of Muskeget Island through Geographic Information System (GIS).

Even though we often think of it as static, both human and physical geography are constantly changing.  In this case, Muskeget Island has shifted 2.3 miles to the east and has lost almost 2/3 of its area over the past 240 years.  The below images created by the Fiske Center Digital Archaeology Lab show how the island has changed in shape and position since 1776:

Muskeget Island Stages

Muskeget Island Before After

The Fiske Center was able to understand the changing nature of Muskeget through historic maps.  Starting in 1776, maps of Muskeget and its location off the coast of Nantucket were quite accurate as it was located on a major shipping lane.  Maps from 5 different years were traced into GIS and georeferenced based on the larger island of Nantucket.  By digitizing the historic maps and locating them in space through GIS, it allows us to not only display how the island has shifted, but also understand the rate of movement and area loss over time.

Through the use of historic maps and GIS, this project allowed Dr. Stevenson to get a better understanding of the dynamic environment of Muskeget and how this may have affected the species that live there.  More broadly, this sort of project has a great deal of potential both for archaeology and other disciplines.  Utilizing newer technologies like GIS to analyze historic maps can help us to get a new understanding of how the space of environments, geographic features and human settlements change over time.

Wetherbee, David K., Raymond P. Coppinger, and Richard E. Walsh.1972. Time lapse ecology, Muskeget Island, Nantucket, Massachusetts. MSS Educational Publishing Co., Inc. New York 173 pp.

May 16, 2016
by John Steinberg
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Four MA thesis defenses in May

A lot of scholarship being presented in the next week or so:                                               

Drew Webster

“Ceramic Consumption in a Boston Immigrant Tenement”

Wednesday, May 18 @ 1:00 pm in M-1-503

 

___________

 

Katherine Evans

“Chase Home for Children: Childhood in Progressive New England”

Thursday, May 19 @ 10:00 am in M-1-503

___________

            

Janice Nosal

“‘Improvement the Order of the Age’: Historic Advertising, Consumer Choice, and Identity in 19th-Century Roxbury, Massachusetts”

Thursday, May 19 @ 1:00 pm in M-1-503

 

___________

                                                 

Richard Roy

“The Martha’s Vineyard Experience: A Zooarchaeological Analysis of Diet and Environment”

Monday, May 23 @ 12:00 pm  in M-1-503

May 13, 2016
by John Steinberg
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Plymouth 400: Story Map

The story map for Plymouth 400

The story map for Plymouth 400

We have been working on additional ways to present the results of the research in Plymouth to the public and are happy to share a StoryMap, a web-based virtual exhibit, that we have developed.   You can find the webpage here:

StoryMap presents a sequential, place-based narrative in the form of a series of geotagged photos and captions linked to an interactive map
The link is https://umb.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=f11848bc84bf465792a798358899a718

April 9, 2016
by John Steinberg
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GPR-Slice animation from 72 Dale St. (Malcolm X’s boyhood home)

Brian Damiata and I put together a quick slice animation of the GPR results from our joint project in Roxbury with the City of Boston. The GPR readings help mapped the subsurface in the yard around the house, therefore the house, carriage house, and dirt pole are in white.   The house is the central white block and the dirt pile extends out  of the carriage house in the southwest.   If you look closely, there are many pipes running east-west.  The block to the north, in the neighbors yard, could show a circular feature that may be a well. The deepth of the slice is listed on the upper left (in cm).  Areas that reflect GPR energy (microwaves) are in red.  Where there was not reflection, the map is blue.  Based on these results  the excavations can be interpreted with better accuracy.

April 7, 2016
by John Steinberg
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Brown Bag Talk (Tues April 12@12:30) Sigríður Sigurðardóttir – From Text to Trowel: how a local rural heritage museum thrives in the 21st century

Coring in the ash midden outside the turf house museum

Coring in the ash midden outside the turf house museum

Sigríður Sigurðardóttir, Director of the Skagafjörður Heritage Museum will give a Brown Bag talk on  Tuesday, April 12 at 12:30 t UMass Boston in McCormack 1/503. The talk is  titled “From Text to Trowel:  how a local rural heritage museum thrives in the 21st century.”

The talk will describe the diverse portfolio of activities that the Skagafjörður Heritage Museum conducts that make it a vibrant center of cultural life for a valley in northern Iceland that has 6000 people and is located 60 miles south of the artic circle.  The Museum mixes local and international projects with traditional and cutting edge approaches to work in areas that require knowledge of hard science and local legend. The museum embraces 40,000 or so tourists every year but has a café frequented by locals. The Museum also offers international courses that take advantage of the regional knowledge of the traditional craft of turf house building.  Finally, she will describe how the small archaeological department has become one of the largest recipients of Icelandic government grants.

The Skagafjörður Heritage Museum is UMass Boston’s Partner in the National Science Foundation funded Skagafjörður Church and Settlement Survey (SCASS).  That project will run for 3 years and has received well over $500,000 in grants.

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