The Fiske Center Blog

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

Munroe Tavern: Week One Excavation Update


Week one of our archaeological excavation has come to a close and already interesting things have been coming out of the ground! When we last updated, we posted a picture of a brick structure that we thought may have been some sort of drain or trough.   During our first week at the site, we opened up a 1 by 1 meter unit directly south of it to see if the structure did in fact continue under the ground. After clearing off the remaining sand, we dug through the topsoil (much easier to carry in buckets) and uncovered this:

We carefully excavated the unit to expose the bricks to their best advantage and were wary of digging too deep and undercutting the structure. As of now there appear to be at least four or five courses of brick in this section of the drain, and you can see from the photo that there is a definite slope downwards from one end to the other. Perhaps this reflects the slope of the ground at the time, or maybe this angle would have allowed for faster flow of water. Once we determined how far down the bricks went, we took a two liter sample of soil from inside the structure. This soil sample will be taken back to our labs at UMass Boston and run through a Flote-Tech Machine, a machine that pumps a whole lot of water into the soil allowing the seeds and other plant materials to literally float to the surface. It’s a fun process that involves getting your hands dirty and wet, what more could an archaeologist want? We can then collect these plant materials and analyze them under a microscope. We’re hoping that samples like these will give us a better idea of the environmental conditions that surrounded Munroe Tavern in previous times.  We also took a brick sample (an entire brick that had fallen into the drain) and a mortar sample in order to understand the building methods and materials that went into this structure. 
Here is another photo of what we uncovered and its relationship to our structure from last week:
As you can see, the two appear to be part of the same structure. In fact, when taking the soil sample (a delicate process), I could actually look through one end of the brick drain into its counterpart! Our current thinking is that we have is a brick drain that probably dates to around the construction of the ell in the mid 19th century. But where did the water come from and where did it go to? We don’t have the answer to the second question yet, but we believe we have the answer to the first.
While our discovery was going on, other members of our team were excavating a 1 by 2 meter unit right next to the old well (located underneath the concrete slab in the picture). And this is what they found:
This appears to be a brick and tile drain that took water directly from the old well and fed it into our brick structyre nearby. It’s a pretty impressive water system and it looks like it ran over a large area.   As I said before, we don’t as yet know where all of this water was flowing to. Was it the water system for the new kitchen? Did it serve the old buttery that lies somewhere nearby? Or was it early flushing plumbing for an indoor sanitary system?
If you have an idea what this drain system might have been used for, please feel free to drop us a line in the comments below. If you’ve got one just like it in your back yard, even better! We encourage all who are interested to stop by and check out our excavation, we’d love to share what we do with you and answer any questions you may have. 
Linda Santoro

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