The Fiske Center Blog

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

Back on Cole’s Hill: Goals for the 2021 Season in Plymouth


The UMass Boston field school is back in Plymouth this year, at two sites where we have worked before.

Overhead view of two students excavating.

Nicholas and Kiara excavating a late 18th-century midden deposit in 2021.

One of these is a lot along Cole’s Hill that is owned by Pilgrim Hall Museum.  Today, it is grassy and open, but in the early 1800s, it would have been divided into four different lots, with multiple houses and outbuildings.  We excavated here in 2016 and are back this year to learn more about some of the significant deposits.  Pilgrim Hall plans to landscape this parcel to visually connect it to the other memorials along Cole’s Hill, turning this space into a Remembrance Park honoring the Great Dying of 1616-1619 (an epidemic that affected the Wampanoag of Patuxet and other Native groups), the deaths of the Mayflower colonists in the winter of 1620-1621, and the 2020 pandemic.

Before they do that work, our archaeological excavations will gather more data about a few areas of the property, particularly the two older houses; one was owned by a series of mariners and the other was the first residence of the Jackson family on this lot.  Previous excavations learned a lot about the 19th-century residents; this season is targeting information about the 18th-century households.  We are also following up on excavations done by UMass Amherst in the 1990s that identified a small area where parts of a much older Native site were preserved despite all of the later building activity.  We have three excavation areas open now, with a fourth planned.

19th-century sketch of Cole's Hill

An 1882 sketch of Cole’s Hill showing the 19th-century duplex on the lot. Several 18th-century houses had existed on this lot previously.

You can visit the site during the week; docents from Pilgrim Hall Museum and Plymouth 400 are available to talk about the work and the plans for the park between 10 and 3.  The Associated Press story about the work, with some photographs of the excavations in progress can be found here.

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