The Fiske Center Blog

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



Hi Folks,

Settle in, because we have a bunch of new developments to share with you.  In the short time we’ve been digging at Gore Place, it’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to say we’ve moved close to a metric ton of dirt.  We’ve answered a number of important questions, but of course have encountered some unexpected surprises resulting in even more questions.  Our strategy of excavating large open areas has proven very successful.   Using a system of alphabetically labeled Lots, we are able to visualize the extent of different soil deposits and how they relate to each other.  As you can see in the post below, we’ve opened two trenches placed strategically to reveal the northern, southern, and eastern walls of the greenhouse.  Each trench is sub-divided into 2×2 meter excavation units so we can maintain a greater degree of control over artifact densities and soil stratigraphy.

  In our initial 2×10 meter trench, below the topsoil, we came down to a substantial layer of rubble that accumulated within and spread outside the greenhouse during the demolition event.  This deposit contained predominately architectural debris including brick and mortar fragments, window glass, and nails along with small pieces of decorated and plain ceramics, bottle glass, buttons, and animal bones.  Once the thick rubble layer had been removed, we discovered what remains of the northern and southern walls of the greenhouse, characterized by large stones, brick, and mortar that run east-west through two of the units.  These walls 14 feet apart and appear to have been set into the subsoil.  This means that when the greenhouse was built, a large amount of dirt was excavated from the construction site, some of which was redeposited around the building perhaps in an effort to even out the surrounding landscape and create level workspaces.  Additionally, we uncovered a very large dark brown, charcoal-rich pit feature that sits immediately adjacent to the northern wall and stretches approximately 4 feet into the exterior yard space.  We exposed the eastern edge of the pit, but it continues an undetermined extent beyond our excavation area to the west.  The close proximity of the pit to the greenhouse wall, combined with its size, shape, and low artifact content suggest it may have been used for enriching soils for specialized planting activities in and around the greenhouse.   The fact that the pit is located on the north side is meaningful because it indicates how the landscape may have been divided into different types of spaces.

Cassandra, Julia, and Sean peeling away the demolition debris on top of the southern wall of the greenhouse. Close up of the top of the northern greenhouse wall after the thick rubble layer has been removed (facing east)

Last Friday, we opened a second trench measuring 2×8 meters perpendicular to the first excavation area in an attempt to expose the east wall.  We have been working simultaneously in both trenches.  The surface gravel layer in the second trench transitioned rather quickly to a number of different soil deposits as well as a perplexing arrangement of mortared bricks and rocks running diagonally north-south through the western half of the trench.  At this point, one of our primary questions is whether or not this course of brick in fact represents the east wall of the greenhouse.  Or is it a more modern feature considering how close to the surface it is?  So far, the artifacts are consistent with the types found inside the greenhouse, and a possible builder’s trench characterized by a dark brown strip of soil on both sides of the mortared brick suggest it was intentionally positioned in this area, but we shall see.  Other questions concern the exterior spaces of the greenhouse identified in the northernmost and southernmost units of the first trench. 

Top of a substantial loose and set-in brick feature less than 5cm below the surface (facing north). Possibly the eastern wall of the greenhouse

Finally, in the grand tradition of saving the best for last, today Nadia and Phil were working the unit adjacent to the mortared brick feature and discovered the base of a tumbler with not only a diagnostic pontil scar, but evidence of bifacial chipping!  This tells us that once the tumbler was no longer needed to drink from, it was repurposed into a cutting or scraping tool. 

Base of a tumbler with pontil scar on the bottom and evidence of bifacial chipping along the broken edge! What sorts of things could it have been used for in a greenhouse context and who was using it?

Stay tuned for more exciting discoveries in the coming weeks!



  1. This isn’t the first repurposed tumbler found at Gore Place, is it? But I must say: This is a really nice example! Looking forward to seeing the pollen results from within the greenhouse – perhaps there will be some evidence of Caribbean imports??

  2. Hi Bill,
    This is the first repurposed tumbler from Gore Place that I remember. We do have others from other sites though.

  3. Wow! This is all fantastic stuff. Glad to hear you guys are having a successful field season!

    Also, Fiske Center, I like your user photo! 🙂

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