The Fiske Center Blog

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

Cole’s Hill Mystery Artifact!


by Nadia Waski

We need your help!

Excavations from this past summer’s fieldwork on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, revealed a 19th century cache of intentionally buried personal items—which we are calling the Cole’s Hill Memorial Cache. (Click here for additional background about the deposit.) While most artifacts from this collection have been identified, we are still puzzled by these copper coils. They were discovered underneath cobbles in the southern half of the excavation unit, associated with a small glass bottle, spectacles, and a pansy pin.

The coils in situ, surrounding a small glass bottle.

We have considered a number of possible uses for these delicate coils, whose ends are designed to fasten together, including a possible necklace, a girdle, a portion of a woman’s hoop skirt, or even a man’s sleeve garter. Comments or opinions on this object would be greatly appreciated to help guide our efforts to identify this artifact!

The coils in their protective housing in the lab.


  1. FIT might be a good place to check about fashion related questions as their fashion history department is quite extensive as well. If this is indeed part of the clothing they would most likely have details of usage, good luck to all!

  2. They’re really not the right shape for a sleeve garter and by then they would have been using rubber elastic most likely.
    How long are they and circumference? If they were a part of clothing, of which I’m skeptical, it is more likely to be a corset or other understructure like a cage crinoline or bustle or something to do with luggage or bags.

  3. As a graduate of the UMB program, my experience in the field would indicate that the “mystery” coils that you’ve found are some type of 19th-century tensioning spring used in either a piece of machinery or, commonly, in various types of door hinges.

    That is why one end has a loop and the other a knob: the loop-end would have a bolt or screw put through for attaching it to something and the knob-end would be placed into a receiving hole on something else for the desired tension to cause the spring effect to work.

  4. I suspect that these might be the frames of a headdress or wreath, which might have consisted of silk flowers, fruits, or leaves mounted on a flexible wire frame. You can see examples at the Museum of Fine Art Boston

  5. I think the spring coil device may be a type of hanger for the pictures. Google “Plate hangers”. Maybe there were particular devices like this sold locally at that time period that could be used for comparison.

    Here is an example of one.

    J Lucas

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