The Fiske Center Blog

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

The End of Excavations… For Now


The Crew

Time flies when you’re digging, and on Friday our summer excavations at Gore Place came to a close. After five weeks, we’ve excavated 13 units across three trenches, and moved a small mountain of dirt across the site. So what have we learned? For starters, we know that the greenhouse was not simply demolished. The destruction layers associated with the greenhouse were confined to a relatively small area, and were comprised mostly of brick, mortar, plaster, and stone. We found few artifacts in these deposits, and almost everything was highly fragmented; there were only a few whole bricks recovered, for example. Had the greenhouse just been knocked over and buried, we should have found not only more rubble than we did, but more intact bricks or wall segments. Additionally, there should have been a far greater amount of glass, since greenhouses required large windows along the southern wall to facilitate plant growth. Thus, our excavations point to a more controlled deconstruction of the greenhouse, with building materials and tools carefully removed (leaving little for the archaeologists!). Around the same time as this greenhouse was dismantled, we know that the grapery greenhouse was being expanded, and it is possible that our missing windows and bricks were incorporated into that structure.

Even with few artifacts, we were still able to learn more about the greenhouse’s appearance and lifespan. The discovery of many marble tile fragments corroborates the idea that the building was similar to the Gore mansion, and that it was at least partially a public space. There would be no reason to floor a purely utilitarian space with expensive marble tiles, but they would make sense if Gore wanted to show off the greenhouse to his friends. The northern and eastern foundations of the building were partially intact and made of stone. Prior to demolition, these stones were likely supported brick walls. The south wall has been almost completely destroyed, but the rubble layer has an abrupt and very distinct edge where we believe the wall once was. Taken together with data from the 2008 excavations, we know that the greenhouse measured 40-45 feet long and 14 feet wide. The ceramics from the building all date to before 1830-1840, reinforcing documentary evidence which suggests the greenhouse was demolished between 1840 and 1850, and possibly even earlier.

Here you can see the north wall (the line of stones at the top) and where the south wall was (just behind where the stack of bricks is at the bottom)

This project has also turned up tantalizing hints about how the space around the greenhouse was used. A nearby cobble surface may have served as an outdoor workspace for the building, and a brick and stone wall extending south from the greenhouse may have formed an enclosure separating different yard spaces. The last trench we opened was centered on an intriguing circular feature identified during the Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey, and it turned out that the feature was a set of gravel paths. Below these walkways we found several sets of small planting holes, and both the paths and planting holes may have been different iterations of a formal garden space.

Danielle cleaning around the cobble surface

I think that everyone would agree that excavating at Gore Place this summer has been a very rewarding experience, but the work is far from over. The next phase of the project is to clean and identify the artifacts we’ve recovered, and analyze the soil and pollen samples we took on site. Studying these items will hopefully help to clear up the many questions that remain after this summer’s work. For example, we still don’t know what was grown in the greenhouse, which pollen analyses may elucidate. It is also unclear how many of the features of the site, such as the gravel paths and the cobble surface, relate to the greenhouse. Lab-based analysis of artifacts, pollen and excavation notes may lead us to concrete answers. Or, as often happens in archaeology, to more questions. Either way, there will be more Gore Place news coming – we’re planning more excavations for the fall, so stay tuned!

It can be difficult to see, but if you look closely you'll notice a large amount of gravel running top to bottom (North-South) in this unit. Without GPR, we may never have found this feature!

The wall extending off the SE corner of the greenhouse. It is unclear if it is contemporary with the greenhouse, although it is on the same orientation.

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Skip to toolbar