The Fiske Center Blog

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

June 23, 2018
by elizabethquinlan002
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The Penultimate Week at Hassanamesit Woods

It’s been a busy penultimate week out at Hassanamesit Woods, with three areas of excavation and quite a few interesting site features being discovered by the field school students.

A view of students excavating under a beautiful blue sky

Graduate students Gary (left) and Brian (right) work on paperwork and profile straightening for their respective units under a brilliant blue sky. The weather this past week has been amazing out in Hassanamesit Woods.

Over at the Augustus Salisbury site graduate student Rick and Dr. Trigg have continued to excavate units associated with the extant Salisbury foundation, finding several architectural features as they’ve gone. The most important has been what appears to be the continuation of the wall still visible on the surface, which will give us a better idea of the extent of enclosure on the property. This is especially important for Rick, as his thesis is focused on the utilization of land surrounding Keith’s Hill in Grafton. Dr. Trigg and Rick also found an interesting bone-related mystery for graduate student Liz to ponder. Liz is a faunal analyst, and is working with Dr. Trigg to solve the mystery– a rare opportunity at Hassanamesit Woods, as the preservation for organic material is not the best.

Field school students prepare to draw the profile of their unit.

Tyler (left) and Andrew prepare to draw the east profile of their unit. Tyler is marking out the grid for drawing, and Andrew is using a brush to clarify stratigraphy changes in the unit wall.

A student holds a massive chunk of top level duff.

Graduate student Liz holds a particularly stubborn (and massive) chunk of duff removed from her unit. Due to the densely packed bushes, lichens, and other plant material on the hilltop, the top level of soil can only be removed in chunks and broken up manually.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over at the Deb Newman site graduate students Brian, Gary, Tyler, and Liz, along with undergraduates Andrew, Bryn, and Alex continued to open and fully excavate several units surrounding metal detector hits marked by Brian in earlier weeks. As the week progressed, first Tyler and Andrew, and then Liz and visiting grad student Ivana moved over to a nearby hilltop about 300 yards from the Deb Newman site proper, to excavate some promising units surrounding glacial erratics (boulders) that would have been on the surface when the site was occupied. Unfortunately with the exception of a more recent hearth and a single possible posthole, these units have not revealed as much as hoped, and the plan for the final week of excavation is for Tyler and Andrew to move back over to the Salisbury site while Liz finishes up on the hill. 

Graduate student Melissa started the week mapping with Lauren, refining coordinates, shooting in elevations and datum points, and, with the help of Dr. Schoenfelder, teaching all of the field school students the basics of using a total station. Melissa then moved back to the Deb Newman site and has been working on another excavation unit near one of Brian’s metal detector hits.

A corner flag for a unit showing easting, northing, and elevation.

One of the many new flags shot in by Lauren and Melissa, showing easting, northing, and elevation information for a unit.

 

As this brilliantly hot and sunny week wrapped up, Dr. Mrozowski urged his students to not only consider the artifacts coming out of the ground, but the impact of both time and space on the sites they are excavating. He stressed that the most important information about site usage can come from holistic interpretation of recovered artifacts, oral and written history, and the consideration of how change and use over time intersects with the space inhabited by people at the site.

A view of a large field bordered by trees where the excavation is taking place.

A view of the Deb Newman site after cleaning up for the day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next week is our last week at Hassanamesit woods, and as we wrap up this blog will post exit interviews from some of the field school students to get an idea of how the experience has benefited them. We hope you’ve enjoyed following along with our progress, and we’ll update again soon! 

June 15, 2018
by elizabethquinlan002
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Chasing Color Changes at Hassanamesit Woods

A view of the summer sky above Hassanamesit Woods

The first few weeks out in Hassanamesit Woods have been marked by (mostly) great weather and even better field experiences. Despite a rain day spent in the lab cleaning recovered artifacts on Monday the 4th, the second week of work gave the students a look at how changing stratigraphy within a unit can both puzzle and inform an excavator. Graduate students Melissa and Liz, joined by graduate student Ivana, began seeing some interesting soil changes as they brought their unit down to roughly 35-45cm below datum. These stratigraphic changes continued as they  followed the strata down to a final depth of about 75cm below datum. As this unit is located right up against the Augustus Salisbury foundation, it was hoped that these soil changes might indicate a builder’s trench in the unit.

View of the Northwest corner of Unit E448 N274

The northwest profile pictured above shows the bands of color that indicate stratigraphic changes. The C horizon is characterized by the greenish-grey sandy layer in the middle.

During construction of a building with a stone foundation it was often the case that builders would dig down into the sterile subsoil (known in this case as the ‘C horizon’ or ‘C strata’) in order to lay the foundation well below the contemporary ground surface. The soil displaced from this digging would then be loosely filled back in, along with building debris and other trash from the time period, so it could be dug out again later if repairs to the foundation were needed. The soil is often put back “out of order”, and areas of clear disturbance in the natural stratigraphy can clue in archaeologists to construction activities at a site. These trenches, and the artifacts recovered from them, can also help date the completion of a foundation.

By the beginning of the 3rd week it became clear that the stratigraphic changes observed in Melissa, Ivana and Liz’s unit were not being found in Rick and Alex’s adjacent unit, meaning the changes must be associated with the foundation rather than the wider yard space. Over in Tyler and Andrew’s unit, however, they began spotting some unusual stone placements, which also continued into Rick and Alex’s unit. At first it was thought they must have been placed deliberately by people in the area, as they were almost all propped up in an ‘upright’ manner. However, upon discussion with environmental archaeologist Dr. Trigg, Dr. Mrozowski, and the discovery of a large amount of loose frost fractured stones, it was decided that they most likely were the result of New England’s at-times violent freeze-thaw cycles.

Melissa and Lauren take elevations using a data collection unit and a prism pole

UMass Boston Historical Archaeology graduate students Melissa (left) and Lauren (right) use a data collection unit a prism pole to take elevations and lay out new units. These tools are used with a total station, operated by Dr. Schoenfelder (not pictured) to accurately map site coordinates.

Monday and Tuesday of week three also saw the arrival of Dr. John Schoenfelder and UMass Boston graduate student Lauren to the site. They worked with field school students to map further units near the Salisbury foundation, establish datum points at the Deb Newman site, and take some elevation measurements. This gave students attending the field school the opportunity to learn how to operate a total station and precisely map site coordinate

As this mapping was going on, Gary and Bryn finished their unit at the Augustus Salisbury site and moved over to the Deb Newman site to open the first unit there. This unit corresponds with some of the marked metal detection hits made by Brian in the first week. By Thursday they were joined by Liz and Melissa, while Alex, Andrew, Rick, and Tyler remain at the Salisbury site to finish their units.

While field work is generally supplemented by research and analysis after the season has officially ended, there are still times when you need to go home after a long day of excavating and consult a few books. After the discovery of a piece of pearlware or ironstone with a unique maker’s mark in a level suspected to be contemporaneous with the completion of the foundation, everyone ran to their phones to search the many online ceramic databases. When this proved to be too big a task for a quick in-the-field search it was decided that everyone would spend some time looking for the mark in online and print databases. Luckily the Fiske Center library is fully equipped for such a search. Three books containing examples of British and US pottery marksWhile the mark has yet to be identified, Dr. Mrozowski hopes that when it is it will give us a reliable TPQ (terminus post quem, or earliest possible date) for the Augustus Salisbury foundation’s completion. Perhaps the remaining units at the Salisbury site will provide more identifiable ceramic pieces from the same time period to aid in the TPQ determination.

The dual focus of this field school on both the Deb Newman and Augustus Salisbury sites provides an opportunity for comparative excavation and should prove very interesting in the coming weeks.

 

 

October 27, 2014
by Jessica Rymer
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Public Archaeology Case Study #2: Working with Collections

BCM Collections Intern Brittany Contratto does matching activity with visitors

BCM Collections Intern Brittany Contratto does matching activity with visitors

Since Boston Children’s Museum is one of the few children’s museums in the world to have a collection, we knew from the earliest planning stages that the collection would be incorporated into our program.  One of our overall goals was to communicate why archaeology was important, and working with the collection gave us the opportunity to do this.

To this end we devised a matching game that asked children to pair items that would normally be found at an archaeological dig- stone tools from the Museum’s Eastern Woodland holdings- with recognizable objects of the same function from the early American collection.  In this way we hoped to encourage children to think creatively while showing that archaeology has real links to how we live in the present.

Objects for the matching game.

Collections objects at the matching station.

One of the advantages to the matching activity was that it was flexible enough that the person running this station could easily modify it for a variety of ages. For children too young to make the kinds of connections we were aiming for, looking at objects under magnifying glasses or simply holding the tools and feeling their weight sufficed (it should be noted here that in order to handle objects children were required to put on the white gloves we provided and were not allowed to handle certain objects).

One of the disadvantages to this activity was that it required someone with collections experience to manage.  This meant that depending on the night, either the Collections Manager, the Collections Intern, or myself (a former Collections Intern at the Museum) had to take turns manning the table for the entire 2 hours.

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series can be found here and here.

October 24, 2014
by Jessica Rymer
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Public Archaeology Case Study #1: Mock Dig

Overall

Prepping

Prepping the dig kits

As I mentioned in my previous post on practicing public archaeology, our program featured two activities:  a mock dig and a matching game with objects from the Museum’s collections.  Though we had the room for 2 hours, the activities were designed to be completed quickly so families could experience other aspects of the Museum during their visit.  We did the program twice, on two different Friday nights.

Having a mock dig was initially on our wishlist until an educator at the Museum sent us the following link: http://www.ehow.com/how_12077769_make-dinosaur-dig-kids.html.  While this activity is meant for paleontology programs, the idea of using plaster appealed to us as a way to teach children about stratigraphy.  Using our experience digging in Grafton over the summer, we designed a dig kit that would mimic New England stratigraphy:  plaster would represent the clay of the “B horizon”, and would contain objects evocative of those used by Native Americans before the arrival of Europeans (shells, rocks for stone tools), while a layer of potting soil on top of it would represent the “A horizon”, and would contain objects associated with Europeans (broken plates, teacups, gaming pieces, fake coins).  The idea was that children would scoop out the potting soil and push it through the screens we’d provide then pop the objects out of the plaster with a (blunt) trowel.  We made 7 kits in all.  Each kit was designed to be used by one or two children at a time with the volunteers replacing the potting soil and reburying the “artifacts” for the next child.

As the picture below shows, this is a messy activity and some kind of floor covering is a must.

The dig kits in action

The dig kits in action

The potting soil worked well but required a 1/4 in screen, which most children were not interested in using.  The plaster actually dried around the artifacts, making it difficult for children to pop them out.  When we did this activity on the second night, we did not use plaster at all.

Though the stratigraphy aspect of the activity did not work well, we were able to engage with the children by getting them to think about what these objects could be, what they were used for, and what we could learn from digging them up.  With the exception of the under 5 crowd, the majority of the children were able to understand this line of reasoning.  They also picked up on the idea that ceramic pieces from the same kit can mend but, if they don’t, could represent multiple vessels.  Without any prompting from us, several children began taking ceramics from the dig kits to see if they mended with any of the plates at the mending station.  This also provided an opportunity to explain that archaeologists don’t always find all of the pieces to things.  And telling children that archaeologists don’t get to keep what they find was a convenient way to explain why they couldn’t take the objects home with them.

This activity was very popular, could be assembled quickly, and was a convenient way to suggest that children check out the other archaeology activities being offered.  The next and last post in this series will focus on the matching activity and address some of the challenges of using collections in public programs.

October 21, 2014
by Jessica Rymer
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Practicing Public Archaeology: A Case Study

Graduate students enrolled in ANTH 615 (“Public Archaeology”) this fall were challenged to identify a situation in the community in need of public archaeological engagement and to create a (hypothetical) program to address that need.  As luck would have it, fellow graduate student Steph Hallinan and I happened to already be planning a program at Boston Children’s Museum for Massachusetts Archaeology Month.  And just in case you didn’t think we could get any luckier, you should know that our professor liked our idea and agreed to let us use it for this class.  Sometimes things just come together like that.

The idea for an archaeology month program stemmed from a unique aspect of the Museum:  it is one of the few children’s museums in the world to maintain a collection.  A product of one hundred and one years of donations and gifts, the collection boasts everything from dollhouse furniture to Egyptian art.  It includes objects from countries on every continent (excluding Antarctica) and goes back as far as a few thousand years.  But it takes an archaeologist to teach archaeology, and this is where we came in.  Using the Museum’s Eastern Woodland holdings as our inspiration, we created two different activities designed to run simultaneously:  a game that asked children to decide what a stone tool was used for by matching it with a similar object from the early American

 collection, and mock dig kits designed to teach the law of superposition by using plaster and potting soil to mimic New England geography in aluminum tins (pictured above).  Our most popular activity, mending ceramics (pictured right) was added at the last moment because we realized we had broken more plates than we could possibly put in the dig kits.

As we’ve learned in class, public archaeology means different things for different people.  For myself, it means being public about what worked and what didn’t so others can benefit from your experience.  And at the risk of this turning into something more suitable for Academia.edu than this blog I’ll end here, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each activity in their own posts over the next few weeks.

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