The Fiske Center Blog

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

May 27, 2021
by katherinealbert001
1 Comment

Job Hunting Guide for Archaeologists

Kati Albert ’21 is a recent graduate of the Historical Archaeology Master’s program, and this year’s recipient of the Chair’s Award in Leadership and Service.


Since joining the UMass Boston Historical Archaeology Master’s program in 2018, I have been so grateful for the support and opportunities this program has offered me, including the connections I have made with the UMB Alumni network, and the organizations and resources I have learned about over the last few years. To help current and future students (and recent alumni), I have created a guide to finding employment in archaeology or closely-related fields: a compilation of the knowledge that has been passed down to me, as well as research I have done on my own. It is primarily focused on the Boston-area and greater northeast, but I hope that students who come after me will find it useful when thinking about their short and long-term career plans in archaeology.


Click here to view the guide! 




November 29, 2019
by John Steinberg
1 Comment

USA Today – Thanksgiving gets a revision

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Joey Garrison of the USA Today had an article that featured some of the results of the  UMass Boston excavation at Old Burial hill.  The online version can be found at :

Photo of a Printed version of USA Today


January 15, 2019
by John Steinberg

The Langone Park Ceremony: Marking 100 Years Since The Great Molasses Flood

Circle of people forming the outline of the tank that burst 100 years ago today.

Based on the work of Fiske Center Archaeologists, Joe Bagley (The Boston City Archaeologist) was able to recreate the outside edge of the tank that burst and caused the Molasses Flood disaster.   Joe asked folks to stand along that circle during the ceremony of remembrance.  This happened at 10:30 AM on Tuesday January 15, 2019 at Langone Park, marking  100 years since the Great Molasses Flood.  John Steinberg, Melissa Ritchey, & Jocelyn Lee represented the Fiske Center and demonstrated how the GPR worked after the ceremony.

Memorial wreath with Joe talking in the Background

Jocelyn Lee & Melissa Ritchey demonstrating the GPR unit

Melissa Ritchey & Jocelyn Lee standing in the circle with the GPR unit.

(update Jan 16, 2019) The event received some press coverage:

An article by  in the Boston Globe — Boston officials remember the Great Molasses Flood, 100 years later 

An article by Matt Conti in the North End Waterfront – Human Circle Commemorates 100th Anniversary of Great Molasses Flood

May 18, 2018
by John Steinberg

Twelve MA Theses in Historical Archaeology Defended in School Year 2017-2018


Kelton Sheridan talks about her MA thesis

Today at about 3 PM the Master of Arts Program in Historical Archaeology at UMass Boston will achieve a significant milestone:

More MA Theses were defended than new students accepted this year.

While the difference was only 2, it is important that this achievement be celebrated.   In addition to the 3 students that defended today:
Anya Gruber
Kelton Sheridan
Joe Trebilcock

And the 4 students who defended on Wednesday :
Sarah Johnson
Victoria Cacchione
Caitlin Connick
Leigh Koszarsky


We had 5 other students who defended earlier in the school year:
Caroline Gardiner
Alexandra Crowder
Ashby Sturgis
Jessica Hughston
Nadia Kline

This means 12 students defended during the 2017-18 school year. There are 10 graduate students in the 2017-18 matriculating Historical Archaeology class. There will always be some attenuation, thus having more students defend than enter will remain a very rare occurrence (as long as our program is thriving).  Our goal is that all of our students will finish their MA’s with an outstanding thesis and they will do it in a timely manner.

The Anthropology faculty and Fiske Center staff are constantly assessing the success of our MA program, not just by career path after leaving UMass Boston, but also looking at the time to degree.  The changes implemented over the last few years have probably made the MA even more rigorous.  At the same time, expectations and time tables have been more formally and clearly defined in the last few years.  That being said, most of the credit for this milestone goes to the hard-working students!

Just today there was an opinion piece in the New York Times by Ellen Ruppel Shell describing the financial consequences of not finishing an undergraduate degree.  While there are no statistics for Archaeology MAs, I suppose the costs of failing to complete the requirements are similar, though probably not as extreme. The success of our program depends on producing well-trained students who control the local archaeological sequences they are studying, deeply understand the unique and challenging archaeological methods they are using, and contribute to the theoretical problems in archaeology.   We will continue to work to put our students in a position to be successful.  Congratulations to all involved!

December 14, 2017
by John Steinberg

Taxing Science?

One of the piles constructed as part of the Manhattan Project

Two interesting opinion pieces in the Washington Post gave complementary perspectives on the UMass opposition to the Federal Tax Reform package. Both opinion pieces focus on the House of Representatives’ proposal of taxing graduate student waivers.

The first, by vice provost David Nirenberg at the University of Chicago, highlights the critical role that graduate students play in American prosperity.  Interestingly, he specifically calls out universities for not doing “a very good job of explaining the importance of graduate education to society.”  The second, by graduate student Sarah Arveson at Yale, argues that the charging and subsequent waiving of tuition that would now be taxed is part of a Yale University “pretense” that graduate students “are students liable for tuition, rather than employees, creating value for the institution and our fields of knowledge.”

I think some explanation is in order and since one of the assignments in David Landon’s Archaeological Methods graduate class was a proposal that includes a budget, I thought I would use these opinion pieces about the potential tax package as an opportunity to talk about some of my favorite subjects: grants and budgeting, and how they relate to tuition waivers.

There is some logic to the tuition and waiver process.  That process takes into account that the resources for students come from a variety of sources including grants, university funds, and endowment funds.  There is lots of room for improvement in how we budget and account for grant money, and the way we explain that to students. But the basic premise of tuition and waivers does work across educational institutions, whether in underfunded small state schools or large well-endowed private schools.  To make the system work, the tuition and waivers are variable, and they can be cobbled together in many different combinations.

Some funding agencies, across the spectrum of private, local, state, and federal, require cost matching or cost sharing to be eligible for their grants.  In these grants, a university would have to pay, or get from some other source, 10 to 50% of the budget.  Conversely, some agencies prohibit cost sharing (what the National Science Foundation calls “voluntary committed cost sharing”) so that the full cost of the grant is obvious.  Prohibiting cost sharing can help to reduce the advantage of richer schools in getting grants.  However, cost sharing demonstrates a university’s commitment to the specific research enterprise.  Often, the university uses tuition waivers as a portion of cost sharing.

Funding agencies also have overhead rates, sometimes referred to as “facilities and administration” or “indirect costs”.  Overhead is a part of the budget of a project, but is not used directly for the project but goes to the university to keep the lights on and fund other general expenses, that would be prohibitive to enumerate in a project budget.  Overhead rates vary dramatically; for some nonprofits the university rate can be as low as 10% but can be as high as 100% of the direct budget costs.  Overhead rates also depend on where most of the work is performed–on or off campus.  A small portion of the overhead may be given to the recipient and/or their department for other research expenses not outlined in the budget.  Generally, tuition waivers, while part of the direct costs, are not included in the total grant cost from which the overhead is calculated.

In a 1995 paper, that folks interested in grant budgets will find enthralling, Carol Gruber argues that the practice of universities contracting with the government, and the resulting overhead that came out of the “no-profit-no-loss” for universities approach, profoundly altered the research university landscape. The contract for research approach that provides overhead, an arrangement that was created during World War II, has helped to create the US university system as we know it today.  The principle behind no-profit-no-loss fits right into a university’s nonprofit status and like it or not—and Arveson clearly does not like it—students are part of that nonprofit approach.  Taxing graduate students’ tuition waivers is not just cruel to graduate students and harmful to academic pursuits, but a fundamental rebuke to the no-profit-no-loss university-government contracting relationship that was born out of the Manhattan Project.


Carol Gruber
“The Overhead System in Government-Sponsored Academic Science: Origins and Early Development”
Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences Vol. 25, No. 2 (1995), pp. 241-268



UPDATE:  December 17, 2017 –
The final draft of the Republican tax bill kills a proposed tax on tuition waivers.

Education Foundations: Grafton 2017

June 19, 2017 by keltonsheridan001 | 0 comments

From potsherds to stone features, Grafton has been nothing but exciting this field season. After a two-year hiatus, an excavation team of professors, graduates, and undergraduates is back. The goal of this year is to continue opening units in Hassanamesit Woods. In 2015 a stone foundation was discovered. This season we are following that same foundation to understand the scale of the structure. Additionally, we intend to find other landscape features linked to the 18th and 19th centuries. Most artifacts that have been recovered so far are from the mid 19th century with a small percentage of 18th century materials. The goal of this season is to see if we can find additional evidence of an early 18th century school for Nipmuc and English children. A slate fragment with the abbreviations for the days of the week inscribed on it was found last year in addition to lead pencils that were unearthed this summer. Stay tuned to see what else the UMass archaeologists discover!

This gallery contains 2 photos

January 24, 2017
by John Steinberg

Archaeological Organizations Concerned about Funding for National Endowment for the Humanities

The Hill has published an article describing the Trump Administration’s plans for the 2017 budget.  They explain that the plan is close to the Heritage Foundation’s “Blueprint” (summary and full document).  The author, Alex Bolton, cites “Staffers for the Trump transition” as the source of the information on using the “Blueprint”  for the new administration’s plans.   On Page 79  of  the blueprint , it outlines eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), stating that “the government should not use its coercive power of taxation to compel taxpayers to support cultural organizations and activities.”

This concerns us greatly since NEH funds spectacular archaeology, including our Plymouth excavations.  The recent discoveries at Plymouth have received substantial media attention.

The Hill’s article has received widespread attention from lots of outlets (e.g., Time, Salon, Art News, Huffington Post, Snopes, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Independent, Fortune & Chicago Tribune) and the Hill has published a follow-up.

Most of the professional archaeological organizations and societies have sent letters  (SHA, SAA) to members, or posted on webpages (AIA, AAM), or Facebook (AAA) describing this threat to NEH (as well as NEA & CPB).  All of them direct to the National Humanities Alliance which describes the efforts and has a page that allows you to send an email to your officials.

There is also some petitions (and here), at, but they do not appear to be accepting signatures.

June 19, 2016
by Fiske Center
1 Comment

Why Do We Dig? Weeks One and Two at Plymouth

By Anna Crona

Opening a unit on the slope of Burial Hill.

Opening a unit on the slope of Burial Hill.

As our first full week of field work comes to a close and our second week is about to begin, there is a lot to reflect upon and even more for which to prepare. At the beginning of the week we had three units opened at both of our sites in downtown Plymouth. We started with three 2 meter x 1 meter units located at Cole’s Hill and two 2 meter x 1 meter units and a 2 meter x 2 meter unit located at Burial Hill. On Burial Hill, we soon added two additional 1 x 2 meter units. Our crew has collectively been hard at work moving and sifting through tons of soil, with the goal of uncovering undiscovered, crucial information about the original Plymouth settlement and the people involved in its genesis. Both sites have found intriguing artifacts and features and the students involved are being thoroughly trained in archaeological methods and protocol. The professors and teachers’ assistants are demonstrating the compassion, care, and attention to detail necessary to make archaeology a thriving and useful tool for historical research.

Caroline, Anna, and Samantha work on one of the units on Burial Hill.

Caroline, Anna, and Samantha work on one of the units on Burial Hill.

At the end of the week, the Burial Hill archaeologists left off having entirely closed out one unit. This unit was closed because its team was encountering several centimeters of sterile sand, about 55 centimeters from ground level. Additionally, two more units were opened: one directly behind the town tomb structure and the other attached to the 2m x 2m unit. The latter was expanded because, about 60 centimeters down from the ground level, the team working in this unit discovered several areas of differently colored soil. These areas suggest that the team was unearthing what are likely seventeenth-century features. As a result, excavation on this unit was temporarily halted and the new, adjoining unit has been opened up with the hope that it will expose enough of the features to help us understand their shape and orientation.

Glass syringe in situ at the Cole's Hill site.

Glass syringe in situ at the Cole’s Hill site.

The end of the week found the Cole’s Hill crew continuing excavation on their three original units, all of which have deep and complex deposits relating to the 19th-century occupation of this lot. They have found many interesting and significant artifacts, including a historic glass syringe, a 19th-century token, and several native flakes and points.

A large part of this project incorporates an element of public involvement and interaction. Among the many questions visitors ask us is the inquiry, “Why do you dig?” We tell them, in a nutshell, that we are digging to find parts of the original Pilgrim settlement and possibly the palisade wall that surrounded the original town. On a deeper level, we dig to give a voice to the people who no longer have one. While working in Plymouth we are in the business of giving a voice to the colonists and the Native tribes that came before us. The colonists came here looking for freedom to live according to their beliefs and to find new opportunities that they did not have in the Old World. Unfortunately, while seeking a life of opportunity, they also took this same freedom from many others, in Plymouth from the Native Wampanoag who had lived in this area for generations. We continue to dig because it is more important than ever to tell the stories of the people, from all nations and walks of life, whose voices are not being heard. At a glance, archaeology gives us a different way to view history. Under the surface, archaeology gives us a different and more personal way to view and understand humanity. We dig to bring this view to light.

About the author:
Hello! My name is Anna Crona and I am enrolled in the 2016 UMass Boston archaeological field school in Plymouth. I am a recent graduate of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where I received my bachelors degree in anthropology in December, 2015. During my time as an undergrad student, I focused my energies on historical archaeology and bioarchaeology, and more specifically, archaeology of colonial North America. Because of this, I am thrilled to be involved in the Plymouth excavations through UMass.

June 13, 2016
by Fiske Center

Open Lab at Plimoth Plantation

By Jess Hughston

Field school students Jared, Ashby, and Jacob at work in the Plimoth Plantation lab.

Field school students Jared, Ashby, and Jacob at work in the Plimoth Plantation lab.

The organization of the Project 400 formal lab component is reflective of a broader movement within the discipline to include stakeholders and members of the broader community in the interpretation of their histories. Collections management and processing of archaeological materials has traditionally remained an exclusive activity that takes place out of view of the public. At Plimoth Plantation, Curator of Collections, Kate Ness has been working to move collections processing out of secluded spaces and into the public eye.
Field school students are working in the museum’s newly relocated archaeology lab in the Visitor Center with the primary aim of encouraging public interaction with the aspects of artifact analysis and interpretation that they are so often excluded from. The lab itself is set-up in the museum’s inviting gallery space. The artifact processing tables are arranged in a horseshoe configuration where field students at work are facing outward in all directions. Their activities can be viewed through a window-lined wall that faces the museum courtyard. In addition, museum patrons are invited to enter the space where they can ask questions and interact with the archaeologists at work.

Excavated fragments of a milkpan, a reconstructed vessel, and a modern recreation based on these examples.

Excavated fragments of a milkpan, a reconstructed vessel, and a modern recreation based on these examples.

One critical display in the lab communicates how archaeologists make interpretations of the fragmented material remains they recover from the ground. The display is laid out as a series, first exhibiting fragments of a 17th-century milk pan excavated from Marshfield, Massachusetts, and then a similar vessel comprised of mended fragments, and, finally, a reproduction milk pan that would be created for use by the interpreters in the English Village at Plimoth Plantation.

Fragments of reproduction vessels for visitors to sort.

Fragments of reproduction vessels for visitors to sort.

Visitors are also invited to work hands on at a separate table, mending vessel fragments of reproduction 17th-century ceramics to gain a better sense of how archaeologists piece together the past.
Materials processed within the lab space include previously held collections at Plimoth Plantation and artifacts recovered this season from Burial Hill and Cole’s Hill. Engaging with both sets of materials permits students to contribute to Plimoth Plantation’s efforts to universalize their system of collections tracking, which includes digitalization for increased accessibility, and to provide an additional layer of transparency for collaborators, stakeholders and community members that are closely following this year’s excavations.

Jess Hughston is a graduate student in the Historical Archaeology MA program at UMass Boston.

June 6, 2016
by Jared Muehlbauer

Muskeget Island Through Time

While archaeology studies people and cultures of the past, much of what we do can be valuable to a number of other disciplines.  The Fiske Center recently worked with Dr. Rob Stevenson of the UMass Boston Biology Department on his research into vole species on Muskeget Island, off the coast of Nantucket.  In reading up in the island Dr Stevenson found that Wetherbee et al (1972) had shown that the island was moving and changing shape.  Dr. Stevenson confirmed this looking at historic maps and photographs.  Since this something that archaeologists frequently deal with, Dr. Stevenson asked the Fiske Center to help him quantify the changing shape and position of Muskeget Island through Geographic Information System (GIS).

Even though we often think of it as static, both human and physical geography are constantly changing.  In this case, Muskeget Island has shifted 2.3 miles to the east and has lost almost 2/3 of its area over the past 240 years.  The below images created by the Fiske Center Digital Archaeology Lab show how the island has changed in shape and position since 1776:

Muskeget Island Stages

Muskeget Island Before After

The Fiske Center was able to understand the changing nature of Muskeget through historic maps.  Starting in 1776, maps of Muskeget and its location off the coast of Nantucket were quite accurate as it was located on a major shipping lane.  Maps from 5 different years were traced into GIS and georeferenced based on the larger island of Nantucket.  By digitizing the historic maps and locating them in space through GIS, it allows us to not only display how the island has shifted, but also understand the rate of movement and area loss over time.

Through the use of historic maps and GIS, this project allowed Dr. Stevenson to get a better understanding of the dynamic environment of Muskeget and how this may have affected the species that live there.  More broadly, this sort of project has a great deal of potential both for archaeology and other disciplines.  Utilizing newer technologies like GIS to analyze historic maps can help us to get a new understanding of how the space of environments, geographic features and human settlements change over time.

Wetherbee, David K., Raymond P. Coppinger, and Richard E. Walsh.1972. Time lapse ecology, Muskeget Island, Nantucket, Massachusetts. MSS Educational Publishing Co., Inc. New York 173 pp.

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