The Fiske Center Blog

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

June 5, 2012
by Fiske Center
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The first week of excavation at Gore Place

A guest post written by Allison Conner, one of the students taking part in the field school at Gore Place–

Summer has arrived and with it the 2012 Gore Place Field School has begun! Taking place at the scenic and beautiful Gore Mansion near Waltham, Massachusetts, our excavation is a collaborative effort between the Gore Place Society and The Fiske Center for Archaeological Research. We will keep using the blog to make our research more accessible and to offer everyone a chance to learn about the project and participate in an ongoing dialogue about our results. We are very excited about this project and expect to uncover some truly incredible things. Make sure to check back regularly for updates on the progress of the excavation and its results!

Last week was our first week of excavation at the site led by Dr. Christa Beranak and Dr. David Landon. Our goals for this summer include opening a large excavation area to determine what type of greenhouse Gore built on his property, defining several features around the greenhouse structure, and finding out more about an area which once held a grapery wall and later greenhouses using geophysics. We have gotten excellent results from ground penetrating radar survey undertaken by Dr. John Steinberg and Dr. Brian Damiata which shows numerous features across the site including the greenhouse foundation, an exterior wall, and a large circular feature (see previous Gore Place blog entry). The time invested in geophysical survey will allow us to place excavation units more accurately.

Taking the topsoil off of the first excavation trench.

This week we laid out a 2 meter by 10 meter trench which should cut across part of the northern and southern foundation of the greenhouse structure. We got off to a slow start this week, but by the time we wrapped up on Friday we had dug far enough down that we were uncovering large bricks and historical artifacts. While some of those artifacts were modern, like a 1950s penny, we also found several fragments of historic ceramics, a horseshoe, and part of a skeleton key which likely date to the time when the greenhouse was standing. We expect to find many more lock and key artifacts during our excavation since the greenhouse structure would have held valuable exotic plants kept tightly secure within the building. All in all we’ve had a great first week! We are hoping that the rain holds off so we can get back to digging!

May 29, 2012
by John Steinberg
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First GPR from the Gore Place Greenhouse

1834 Lyman map aligned based on Fiske Center excavations.

We did get some very nice Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) results.  You can learn more about GPR at Wikipedia  and the Slice software we use at GPR-Slice.

To begin to understand the results , we need to go back to our previous excavation, led by Christa Beranek, in 2008. She and the rest of the Fiske Center, uncovered a brick floor that had very unusual sides, and we assume that it was the extension to the greenhouse, specifically outlined in a map from 1834 made for Theodore Lyman, who owned the property after Christopher Gore.  We aligned  that 1834 Lyman map with the stable (now moved to the north) and the brick floor, in order to get some idea where the greenhouse would be.GPR-Slice image over an air photograph at Gore Place

We now have some GPR results that suggest that we have found the north and south Greenhouse walls. These are very clear in the deeper slices (maybe about 65 cm below the ground surface – slices 12-14).

GPR-Slice from about 34 cm below the ground surfaceThe main oval in the middle is caused by a gravel layer, that until a week ago, used to surround a oval garden of boxwoods.

Shallow GPR slices (about 35 cm below the ground surface) with the 1834 Lyman map.

What also shows up clearly is the greenhouse fence or wall that enclosed the structure.  It is interesting to note that in the Lyman map, the southeast corner is drawn as a curve, with is consistant with the GPR results from the southeast.  What is new is the circle to the east (right) of the gravel oval.  This circle has a strange football like appendage to the south.  We have not seen this feature on any map.  It looks like there may be paths going into an inner circle.   The outer circle and the football appendage appar to interface directly with the greenhouse outer fence that is in the Lyman map.

Brian Damiata explaining the GPR-Slice images to UMass Boston Historical Archaeology MA sudent Sean Romo

This data took 7 hours to collect and Brian was up well into the night processing it.

May 28, 2012
by Christa Beranek
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What’s happening at Gore Place?

We got a lot of questions last week from visitors to Gore Place about whether we were preparing to build something; one hopeful kid asked if we were putting in a playground!  All of these questions were understandable, since we had laid out many colorful flags and were working with the total station to survey various points.  In fact, however, these were all to guide our geophysical survey, not to plan construction.  The flags mark points on a grid system over the site, and we take data along those lines so that we always know exactly where in space the data comes from.

Last week, we used a method called Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) which sends energy into the ground and records the reflected energy that comes back.  Different buried objects and surfaces will reflect back different amounts of energy, giving us a map of sorts of what is below the surface.  In the photos, you can see the GPR antenna, which is a box that is dragged across the ground.  We’ll use the GPR information to plan our archaeological excavation.

John Steinberg and Brian Damiata conducting a GPR survey.

We’re working in the area just past the parking lot on the entrance drive which was the location of Christopher Gore’s greenhouse constructed ca. 1806.  From some earlier work, we know that parts of the greenhouse are preserved below the surface.  This season’s excavation will uncover sections of the greenhouse to see how much we can learn about its appearance and layout.  Since it was destroyed in the 1840s, there are no photographs of it, nor are there any known drawings that show what it looked like (thought the location and outline appear on two maps).

Another common questions is why we are using methods like GPR if the greenhouse shows up on maps.  There are a few reasons.  Although the maps are fairly accurate, they are not always precise enough to tell us where exactly on the modern landscape the building would have been.  Since archaeological excavation is slow, we want to start in exactly the right place.  GPR also helps us determine which parts of the building are best preserved, again so that we can choose the best place to excavate.  Finally, not everything from the past landscape got put onto maps — when we started processing the data last week, we got a wonderful surprise about another possible feature in the vicinity of the greenhouse.  That will be the subject of another post — stay tuned!

The excavation itself starts at the end of next week and runs till June 29th.  The Gore Place grounds in Waltham, Massachusetts, are open to the public, so we hope you will take the opportunity to stop by and see the work in progress.

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