The Fiske Center Blog

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

June 13, 2019
by ericalang001

The 2019 Hassanamesit Field School

On May 29th, Hassanamesit Woods Field School students returned to Grafton, Massachusetts to continue work at the Deb Newman site. Last year’s 2018 field school unearthed the remains of an eighteenth-century Nipmuc wetu, but due to time constraints they were unable to fully finish excavating the area. This year’s field school students will spend three weeks working at the Deb Newman site, and then travel to Shelter Island, New York to excavate at Sylvester Manor – a 17th century provisioning plantation that was an arena of interaction between its English owners, the Sylvesters, the enslaved Africans who lived and worked there, and the local indigenous populations who may have either traded with or worked for the Sylvesters as well.

Led by Dr. Stephen Mrozowski, Dr. Heather Trigg, and teaching assistant Gary Ellis, the field school students spent the first week in the field uncovering last year’s excavation units to finish photographing, drawing plan views and wall profiles of several units, and excavating features that were not finished last season. Features are an important component to archaeological sites, especially at this 2019 field school which is focused on unearthing a wetu. At Hassanamesit Woods, we typically find features such as post holes, hearths, stone walls, and other amorphous soil stains. These components are able to reveal more about the architecture and general use of the area by the Nipmuc.

Claire excavating a unit level.

During the second week of the field school, students broke ground on five new units while also continuing to work in last year’s units. With the new units, we are hoping to find features that can provide insight into the layout of the wetu and how the Nipmuc were utilizing the space to better understand their lives. While excavating, the field school students need to be particularly careful. Because features are such an integral component of the Deb Newman site, everyone must watch for any subtle sign of change in soil color and texture, which can indicate a potential feature. So far, a few possible post holes have been unearthed and more features with charcoal, ash, and burnt soil were uncovered, suggesting the area could have been used for food preparation or as a heat source.

Among the various types of cultural material uncovered including pearlware, creamware, glazed redware, and iron nails, some of the particularly unique artifacts found thus far include two fragments of flat window glass with tooled edges. The tooled edges indicate that the Nipmuc were modifying consumer goods in order to use it as a tool. In this case, perhaps the worked glass was used as a scraper for woodworking or on animal hides.

Dennis describing the process of taking soil samples from the field to later analyze in his lab.

Archaeology is a highly collaborative discipline, and field school students experienced firsthand the ways that Fiske Center staff often lend their specialized skills to ongoing projects. For instance, this past week Dr. Trigg collected soil samples to examine phytoliths, or microscopic plant matter that usually survives well in the ground. In doing so, Dr. Trigg hopes to determine which organic materials were used by the Nipmuc when building the wetu. Dennis Piechota, the archaeological conservator of the Fiske Center, also joined the crew for a day in the field. He painstakingly carved out blocks of soil from features to take back to his lab, where the micro-stratigraphy of the samples can be analyzed to better understand the features, and by extension the people who created them.

As the field school enters its final week at Hassanamesit Woods, students and faculty are excited to continue unearthing the past to see what other features and artifacts will be revealed, so that we can learn more about the long history of the Nipmuc in Grafton.


June 6, 2019
by Christa Beranek

Plymouth field school 2019: shovel test pits

Shovel test pit excavations

UMass is back in Plymouth for a 7th field season!

By Anya Gruber

Excavations are underway for UMass Boston’s 7th field season in Plymouth, MA! Over the years, UMass’s team has excavated in three areas across the town–Burial Hill, Brewster Gardens, and Cole’s Hill–and this year we’ve added a lot off Carver Street to the list, and have returned to Burial Hill to build off the very exciting discoveries we made last field season.



TA Megan (left) and Mariah, from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Historic Preservation Office, look for artifacts in the screen.

The Carver Street lot is actually two pieces of land; one is owned by Plymouth residents and local history enthusiasts, while the other is owned by the town. This spot is located just down the road from Cole’s Hill, in an area that has a long settlement history. Based on historic maps and records, oral history, and previous excavations at nearby sites, we believe that this may have been inside the eastern edge of the palisaded village established in the 1620s. The Fiske Center’s resident geophysics wizard Dr. John Steinberg, alongside graduate students Melissa and Megan, conducted an extensive GPR (ground penetrating radar) survey to better understand what lies beneath the soil here. The GPR data showed a few anomalies that may belong to a building foundation, or perhaps a stone wall. But we won’t know until we dig a little further!


GPR survey

John, Megan, and Melissa walk the GPR unit on Burial Hill to create maps which inform our excavation plans for the summer.

Once we’re done on Carver Street, we’ll move on to our main site at Burial Hill. This location has seen the majority of UMass’s work in Plymouth, and has yielded incredible insights into the early colonial and Native histories from the deep to the recent past. Last year, we concentrated most of our work on the western side of the crypt, and we will continue that pattern this year. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll find some more 17th century artifacts and preserved features this summer!

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

January 14, 2019
by John Steinberg

Results of Geophysical survey at Langone Park: 100 Years since the Great Molasses Flood

By John M. Steinberg & Grace E. Bello

View of softball diamond at Langone Park.  The infield  and pitcher’s mound is outlined in brown, which helps to orient the following geophysical images.

As we said in our previous post,  the City Archaeologist, Joe Bagley asked us at the Fiske Center if we could conduct a geophysical survey over the area of Langone Park that, 100 years ago, had a tank which ruptured and caused The Great Molasses Flood of 1919.  This is in preparation for Tuesday January 15th, 2019—the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

Grace Bello beginning to set up the geophysical grid by placing PVC flags along the first base line.

For our archaeological geophysical survey, we used two common techniques: ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic (EM) conductivity.  The area was first prepared for the survey by placing out a grid of PVC flags.  Because the grid was oriented to the softball diamond, the locations of each of the corner flags (and many of the intermediate flags) were recorded with a survey grade GPS.

John Steinberg walking along the third base line with the CMD-Mini.

First, John used the CMD-MiniExplorer conductivity meter, which requires the operator to walk across the target area holding the unit just above the ground.  These transects are then combined to create a  conductivity map of the subsurface. The CMD-Mini creates a data set with two components at three different “depths.”   The different depths are from the three different receivers in the orange tube at various distances from the single transmitter.  The farther apart the receiver from the transmitter, the “deeper” the reading (1 is the closest, 3 is the farthest and thus deepest).   The two components are complex.  The Quadrature component, usually called bulk conductivity (Con) represents the apparent conductivity of the volume of earth under the unit and is measured in milli-Siemens per meter (mS/m).   Good conductors (e.g., salty wet earth) have high conductivity, while poor conductors (e.g., rocks) have low conductivity.  The in-phase component (IP) is usually expressed in parts per thousand (ppt) and is very sensitive to buried metal.  Thus, we have a total of  six different maps from the CMD-Mini: Con1 & IP1, Con2 & IP2, and Con3 & IP3.

Grace Bello with the Malå GPR unit.

Second,  Grace and John walked back and forth dragging the Malå GPR unit with a 500 MHz antenna.  The GPR unit sends out microwaves and if there is a change in soil moisture (or some other similar property) some of the microwave energy will be reflected back up to the GPR unit, which also has a receiver.  The GPR unit then, like the CMD, collects data along transects which produce a data stream called a radargram. Multiple transects are combined and then sliced at different depths, which allows us to create a series of maps that depict some of the aspects of the changes in the subsurface at different depths.   We created 25 different slices, but only present two below.

Example radargram from the transect 5 m (16.5 ft) north of the third base line.

Outlines of  all the structures from the maps described in our previous blog post

In our recent blog post, we describe the georeferencing of various historic maps of Langone park.  When all of the various structures depicted on these maps are combined, you can get a sense of just how complex this lot is.  Many of the structures may be the same structure, but  with slightly different locations provided by different maps, and we do not know how accurate any of them are.  In this case, we have been asked to identify one of the last structures on the lot.  Generally, the construction of  later structures compromises or destroys the earlier structures.  Thus, our most likely potential target is an area where there is a broad, consistent absence of distinct structures. Furthermore, given the hasty construction of the tank, any remements are probably shallow.  This approach is in stark contrast to our usual method—where we are trying to identify remnants of the earliest structures.

GPR slice 50 cm (about 20 in) below the ground surface.

GPR slice 150 cm  (about 60 in) below the ground surface.

Starting with the GPR results, there is a distinct hard reflector 50 cm below the ground surface (bgs). This hard reflector is circled in pink.  This infield hard reflector is distinct from the outer edge of the infield (marked in brown).  This hard reflector is potentially caused by the remnants of the tank in question.  That being said, we want to be a little careful, because this hard reflector is almost the same as the grass infield area from when this was a little league diamond.  However, this slice is a little too deep to show that contrast.  Furthermore, the wide dirt path from the mound to home plate is not visible in this slice.  Both of these lines of evidence suggest that this hard reflector is a result of current or recent landscaping. The deepest GPR slices do not seem to show remnants the tank but instead show some of the potential dock and landfill boundaries, just to the north of first base.  Interestingly, this dominant southeast angle does not reflect any of the structures or orientations seen in our georeferenced maps.

In-phase for the most shallow CMD-Mini readings (IP1). The potential tank location is in pink.

In-phase for the middle  CMD-Mini readings (IP2).

The CMD-Mini yields much more complex results that correspond to many of the structures outlined in the georeferenced maps.  Starting with the IP components, IP1 shows a blue (high IP) area in the infield that corresponds to the area identified in the GPR (again circled in pink).  Just north of the first base line, in right field, is a rectangular blue area that has the same general dimensions and orientation as the structure seen in the 1917 map, just north of the tank in question.  That structure has an add on (in brown) that curves along the curve of the tank that touches 1st base. The potential tank area is more distinct in the deeper components (IP2 & IP3), while the building in right field is less distinct.

Conductivity for the most shallow CMD-Mini Readings (Con1).

The bulk conductivity component of the data from the CMD-Mini is much more complex, but all three sensor-transmitter distances show the same basic map.

In-phase for the deepest CMD-Mini readings (IP3). The potential tank location is in pink

Conductivity for the middle CMD-Mini Readings (Con2).

The Slatter 1852 Map with Con3 superimposed.

The Bromley 1917 map with Con3 superimposed.

Unlike the IP, the Con does not hint at the tank location, there are three high (blue) conductivity areas that seem to correspond to the distribution and orientation of structures in some of  the georeferenced maps.  The blue area in left center field matches quite closely with the angled structure drawn in the 1852 Slatter map.  Some of the low conductivity lines (which could be lines of rocks) correspond to lines drawn in that 1852 map.  Once a property orientation is established, it tends to persist.  Thus, it is not surprising that the geophysics can correspond to more than one map.  Specifically, the three blue areas in the outfield roughly correspond to the three drawn structures abutting the tank in question depicted in the 1917 Bromley map.

Proposed location of tank superimposed on air photo.

While in both the 1852 and 1917 maps the correspondences with geophysical readings and drawn structures  are not exact, they are well within the range of accuracy that we usually see with these kinds of maps.

When all of our data is combined (the georeferenced maps, the GPR and the Electromagnetic Conductivity) and tried to make fit, our best guess as to the specific location of the remnants of the tank that caused the Great Molasses Flood, is 3 meters northwest of the location drawn in the 1917 Bromley map—at least by our georeferencing of that map.  Obviously, we would need to excavate this dynamic and interesting area to begin to refine the location further, but the geophysical results suggest that the 1917 map is generally accurate.  There is no evidence of a consistent bias in the locations of structures as compared to the geophysics, so as georeferenced, the 1917 map is accurate to better than 5 m (16 ft).  As always, more research is necessary.

The 1917 Broomly map with the proposed actual location of the tank in pink.



Langone Park and Great Molasses Flood of 1919

January 13, 2019 by gracebello001 | 0 comments

By Grace E. Bello & John M. Steinberg

Areal image of what the waterfront looks like today.

The City Archaeologist, Joe Bagley, asked us at the Fiske Center if we could conduct a geophysical survey over the area of Langone Park that, 100 years ago, had a tank which ruptured and caused The Great Molasses Flood of 1919.  This is in preparation for Tuesday January 15th, the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

For our archaeological geophysical survey we used two common techniques: ground penetrating radar (GPR) and electromagnetic (EM) conductivity.   The results will be presented in the next post.

Before we interpret the results of a geophysical survey, we try and georeference every map we can of the area in question.  The georeferenced maps allows us to better understand the geophysical results.  Thus, below is a sample of some of the many maps that we looked at, to understand the complex history of this park.  Today, the park has a little league / softball diamond, and the outline of that feature is shown in brown on each of the georeferenced maps (which are mostly from the Norman B. Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library).  In  great article in the Boston Globe Magazine, you can see a georeferenced 1917 map showing that the location of the tank is in the general area of the diamond.   However, the Wikipedia map shows a smaller tank more north and a building between the tank and Commercial street.  Joe Bagley wanted us to see if we could refine the location of the tank that ruptured in 1919. Over time, maps generally become more accurate, but just how accurate, and how well out team has georeferenced them is and issue that we study intently.  Geophysical results can sometimes help us better georeference the maps and understand what parts are accurate, and what parts might require a little change.   This is akin to the work we have been doing in Plymouth, combining geophysics and georeferenced maps,  getting ready for the 400th anniversary of that colony.

1775 Map depicting the shipyard that occupied the area where the tank collapse

The landscape of Boston has been altered heavily over the past four hundred years.  The evolution of Boston’s landscape is evident in historic maps that depict the city’s waterfront property.  Maps, such as the ones shown in this sequence, are extraordinarily important sources of data about the past. These maps detail the dynamic history of the North End in Boston.

The Great Molasses Flood of 1919, took place in a relatively small portion of the North End’s extensive history and has hardly left a mark on the landscape. The flood occurred on January 15th, 1919, when a 50 ft. tall and 90 ft. in diameter molasses storage tank, owned by the Purity Distilling Company, collapsed.  The collapsed tank then tipped over creating a wave of molasses close to 25 ft. tall which killed 21 people and injured up to 150. Today this is what the area looks like.

1814 Map.  surveyed by J.G. Hales ; J.R. & Penniman.

Starting with the 1722 Captain John Bonner map of the, then, town of Boston, which shows the then active docks that occupied much of the Boston shoreline.  This map was a monumental beginning to modern cartographic detailing that documented Boston’s shoreline. The docks, that are clear in the 1722 map, suggesting  dry and wet docks in the 18th century.  In a redrawn 1775 map, the area where the tank was located in the 20th century, was occupied by Hunts and Whites Ship yard.  In this georeference, the park diamond is centered on the “ar” of Ship Yard.

In an 1814 map, Commercial Street was labeled Lynn Street and the softball diamond seems to be on the mostly dry land with a building to the east.  According to an

1852 Map surveyed and drawn by J. Slatter & B. Callan.

1852 map the adjacent street is now Commercial Street and a substantial amount of land has been added in the form of docks.   It is not clear if the building along the first base line is the same one depicted in the 1814 map, but certainly the building curving around 3rd base seems to be new. The two border lines

1861 map made by Boston City Council, city engineer James Slade

coming together at the pitching mound may be visible in some of the geophysics, and will be seen in many of the later maps.

The same basic configuration is also visible in the 1861 map, made by the City.

1867 Sanborn Insurance map of Boston : volume 1 : plate 1
Cartographer: Daniel Alfred Sanborn

An 1867 map is the first real detailed map of the area. It is also one of the early famous Sanborn fire insurance maps.  It shows several coal sheds and hints that the building along the first base line, first seen in the 1814 map, might still be there 50 years later.

George Washington Bromley 1890 map

The  1890 Bromley map suggests that the “V” of two docks,  meeting at the pitchers mound, first seen in the 1852 map, is still present but that the building  that used to be along the first base line, is now substantially larger.  The docks are also very different.  A image of these kinds of docks can be seen in the birds eye view of downtown Boston dated 1877.  These docks were an active hot spot for landscape change during

Bachman 1877 birds eye view

the 18th and 19th centuries.  Further construction of larger docks and land masses were very common during these centuries by building cribbing or sinking ships to artificially fill in the harbor

By the 1908 map, the lot will take on the

1908 George Washington Bromley map

basic shape, the distilling company is labeled as the owner, and a small tank is indicated in the middle of the lot.

1912 George Washington Bromley map

This may be where the Wikipedia map gets its layout.  In this initial 1908 map one large building can be seen in pink that is replaced by multiple buildings in the following 1912 map.  The 1912 map shows a similar small tank but smaller building on Commercial St, and tracks going into the adjacent lot. To the right of the new park area is the soon to be location of the Purity Distilling Company which seems to have built larger molasses tanks as the business grew. This map shows the first distillery’s tank with two new buildings along side a new above ground railway.

1917 Bromley Map probably showing the tank before destruction.

A 1917 map shows the distillery buildings and the large molasses tank before the accident.   The 1917 map is what we will base much of our interpretation on.  It almost surely shows the large molasses tank that burst during the 1919 disaster as well as two new buildings.  This is the final map that the distillery appears on.  A 1922 map shows the absence of a distillery and tank, replaced with reused buildings by railway operations. Our final map, from 1938, again shows all of the buildings in the 1917 map, with the addition of a small shed where the pitcher’s mound is today.  In 1973 Langone park  was created.

1922 Bromley map

1938 Bromley map

In our next installment we will present the geophysical results from Langone Park.


November 27, 2018
by gracebello001

Updating Cape Cod 3-D Model

Our work with the Cape Cod National Sea Shore  continues as we monitor erosion trajectories.  This 3-D model was built to aid in quantifying beach erosion over time. While the data is collected for purely scientific reasons, I made a fly through movie using photos and GPS control points taken by John Schoenfelder, John Steinberg, Melissa Ritchey, and Jocelyn Lee.

September 24, 2018
by gracebello001

Summer Field Work on the Cape Cod National Seashore


This past summer has been a busy and productive one for the members of the Fiske Center. In conjunction with the National Park Service (NPS), Cape Cod National Seashore one of the more interesting projects was to assess and to aid in management of a series of potentially endangered archaeological sites in Wellfleet, MA.  The project area is on Great Island and Great Beach Hill, which are the two largest sandy areas that make up the peninsula that defines the western side of Wellfleet harbor and separates it from Cape Cod Bay. This is a dynamic area and one of the island towns in the area has already been submerged. These islands have been found to have both Native American and European Colonial archaeological sites. The most famous site in the area is the Samuel Smith Tavern. This site was excavated by James Deetz in 1969 and 1970.  More recently, in 2012, the area around the Samuel Smith Tavern was explored by The Public Archaeology Laboratory in cooperation with the NPS. Reassessing the extent and preservation of the Tavern site was a central part of the current joint project. As part of that work we georeferenced the 1969 and 1970 excavation datum and the earlier excavations boundaries were redefined, in light of later, much more extensive work.

During the PAL survey, there were several large shell middens identified that were eroding out of sea bluffs on Great Island and Great Beach Hill. Shell middens are trash piles, and as the name suggests, consist of mostly shell. Several of the eroding shell middens are on sandy cliffs that are 80 feet high and at the same time deeply buried by wind-blown sand. These conditions make the sites difficult to assess, let alone excavate. One of the outcomes of the joint NPS-Fiske Center project will be to assess the shell middens likelihood of suffering further erosion as well as to define their areas.

Thus, for three weeks in August the crew set out on the two and a half mile hike every morning to develop answers to these questions. Stay tuned for what we found.

Some of the Wellfleet excavation crew

Some of the Wellfleet excavation crew

Great Island and Great Beach Hill in Wellfleet, MA

Great Island and Great Beach Hill in Wellfleet, MA

August 22, 2018
by Fiske Center

Digitizing the Allerton/Cushman Collection at Plimoth Plantation

Photo by Plimoth Plantation.

Grad student Elizabeth Tarulis working on later period artifacts from the 17th-century Allerton/Cushman site.

This summer Anya Gruber and Elizabeth Tarulis, graduate students in UMass Boston’s Historical Archaeology program, have been working at Plimoth Plantation to digitize the Allerton/Cushman collection. This work is part of an ongoing collaborative project funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, discussed in a previous blog post.

The Allerton/Cushman site is believed to be the home site of Isaac Allerton, merchant and official representative of Plymouth Colony. Located in Kingston, MA this was probably one of the first residences established by settlers immediately outside of Plymouth Colony. It was owned by several others over the years including Allerton’s son-in-law, Thomas Cushman.

The site was discovered in the 1970s when a couple purchased the land to build their home. As the topsoil was stripped, the architect for the construction project recognized that some artifacts were turning up which looked very old. He brought them to Dr. James Deetz, the Assistant Director of Plimoth Plantation at the time. Deetz realized that the construction crew had identified a significant 17th-century colonial site. He took a team out to excavate the site, and the majority of the artifacts they found are still at Plimoth Plantation. A small portion of the collection is also at the Kingston Public Library.

Photo by Plimoth Plantation.

Site documentation from the Allerton/Cushman site, being digitized as part of this project.

We are working to make Deetz’ work available to a wider audience by digitizing this collection. We have already completed the first step by scanning the site documents. We have very detailed site maps, but appear to be missing some field notes and inventories that are mentioned in a later report. Currently we are cataloging the artifacts and entering this information into a database. We began with the “19th and 20th-century materials” box, which has almost anything you can think of from dozens of cigarette butts to a plastic cowboy to two 20th-century rat nests.

Photo by Plimoth Plantation.

The dot/dash provenience labeling system.

As with any older collection, this one has a few quirks. All of these artifacts are labeled with color-coded dots and dashes to indicate their provenience, or the location within the site where they were found. While it is fabulous to have the provenience information, this paint system did not survive well on some of the artifacts. The colors have faded, which proves challenging when you need to distinguish between white and grey or yellow and gold. Further, the coating on top of the painted dots has yellowed, making it difficult to distinguish between green and blue or white and yellow.

These artifacts are also sorted by material rather than provenience (where they were found). Sorting by provenience is the current best practice, and one of the most time-consuming tasks of the digitization process has been to organize the color-coded artifacts from large bags of glass or plastic into their respective proveniences.  The end result of this process will be that artifacts that were found together will be once again stored together.

Despite these issues, this collection is in good shape for its age. We plan to fully catalog these artifacts, reorganize them by provenience, photograph the objects, and make this information accessible online to scholars and members of the public. Although we have not yet started working on the earlier materials, previous research suggests that this is a rich 17th-century site. It will be a valuable resource for future researchers, and we look forward to seeing what is yet to come.

June 23, 2018
by elizabethquinlan002

The Penultimate Week at Hassanamesit Woods

It’s been a busy penultimate week out at Hassanamesit Woods, with three areas of excavation and quite a few interesting site features being discovered by the field school students.

A view of students excavating under a beautiful blue sky

Graduate students Gary (left) and Brian (right) work on paperwork and profile straightening for their respective units under a brilliant blue sky. The weather this past week has been amazing out in Hassanamesit Woods.

Over at the Augustus Salisbury site graduate student Rick and Dr. Trigg have continued to excavate units associated with the extant Salisbury foundation, finding several architectural features as they’ve gone. The most important has been what appears to be the continuation of the wall still visible on the surface, which will give us a better idea of the extent of enclosure on the property. This is especially important for Rick, as his thesis is focused on the utilization of land surrounding Keith’s Hill in Grafton. Dr. Trigg and Rick also found an interesting bone-related mystery for graduate student Liz to ponder. Liz is a faunal analyst, and is working with Dr. Trigg to solve the mystery– a rare opportunity at Hassanamesit Woods, as the preservation for organic material is not the best.

Field school students prepare to draw the profile of their unit.

Tyler (left) and Andrew prepare to draw the east profile of their unit. Tyler is marking out the grid for drawing, and Andrew is using a brush to clarify stratigraphy changes in the unit wall.

A student holds a massive chunk of top level duff.

Graduate student Liz holds a particularly stubborn (and massive) chunk of duff removed from her unit. Due to the densely packed bushes, lichens, and other plant material on the hilltop, the top level of soil can only be removed in chunks and broken up manually.










Over at the Deb Newman site graduate students Brian, Gary, Tyler, and Liz, along with undergraduates Andrew, Bryn, and Alex continued to open and fully excavate several units surrounding metal detector hits marked by Brian in earlier weeks. As the week progressed, first Tyler and Andrew, and then Liz and visiting grad student Ivana moved over to a nearby hilltop about 300 yards from the Deb Newman site proper, to excavate some promising units surrounding glacial erratics (boulders) that would have been on the surface when the site was occupied. Unfortunately with the exception of a more recent hearth and a single possible posthole, these units have not revealed as much as hoped, and the plan for the final week of excavation is for Tyler and Andrew to move back over to the Salisbury site while Liz finishes up on the hill. 

Graduate student Melissa started the week mapping with Lauren, refining coordinates, shooting in elevations and datum points, and, with the help of Dr. Schoenfelder, teaching all of the field school students the basics of using a total station. Melissa then moved back to the Deb Newman site and has been working on another excavation unit near one of Brian’s metal detector hits.

A corner flag for a unit showing easting, northing, and elevation.

One of the many new flags shot in by Lauren and Melissa, showing easting, northing, and elevation information for a unit.


As this brilliantly hot and sunny week wrapped up, Dr. Mrozowski urged his students to not only consider the artifacts coming out of the ground, but the impact of both time and space on the sites they are excavating. He stressed that the most important information about site usage can come from holistic interpretation of recovered artifacts, oral and written history, and the consideration of how change and use over time intersects with the space inhabited by people at the site.

A view of a large field bordered by trees where the excavation is taking place.

A view of the Deb Newman site after cleaning up for the day.














Next week is our last week at Hassanamesit woods, and as we wrap up this blog will post exit interviews from some of the field school students to get an idea of how the experience has benefited them. We hope you’ve enjoyed following along with our progress, and we’ll update again soon! 

June 15, 2018
by elizabethquinlan002

Chasing Color Changes at Hassanamesit Woods

A view of the summer sky above Hassanamesit Woods

The first few weeks out in Hassanamesit Woods have been marked by (mostly) great weather and even better field experiences. Despite a rain day spent in the lab cleaning recovered artifacts on Monday the 4th, the second week of work gave the students a look at how changing stratigraphy within a unit can both puzzle and inform an excavator. Graduate students Melissa and Liz, joined by graduate student Ivana, began seeing some interesting soil changes as they brought their unit down to roughly 35-45cm below datum. These stratigraphic changes continued as they  followed the strata down to a final depth of about 75cm below datum. As this unit is located right up against the Augustus Salisbury foundation, it was hoped that these soil changes might indicate a builder’s trench in the unit.

View of the Northwest corner of Unit E448 N274

The northwest profile pictured above shows the bands of color that indicate stratigraphic changes. The C horizon is characterized by the greenish-grey sandy layer in the middle.

During construction of a building with a stone foundation it was often the case that builders would dig down into the sterile subsoil (known in this case as the ‘C horizon’ or ‘C strata’) in order to lay the foundation well below the contemporary ground surface. The soil displaced from this digging would then be loosely filled back in, along with building debris and other trash from the time period, so it could be dug out again later if repairs to the foundation were needed. The soil is often put back “out of order”, and areas of clear disturbance in the natural stratigraphy can clue in archaeologists to construction activities at a site. These trenches, and the artifacts recovered from them, can also help date the completion of a foundation.

By the beginning of the 3rd week it became clear that the stratigraphic changes observed in Melissa, Ivana and Liz’s unit were not being found in Rick and Alex’s adjacent unit, meaning the changes must be associated with the foundation rather than the wider yard space. Over in Tyler and Andrew’s unit, however, they began spotting some unusual stone placements, which also continued into Rick and Alex’s unit. At first it was thought they must have been placed deliberately by people in the area, as they were almost all propped up in an ‘upright’ manner. However, upon discussion with environmental archaeologist Dr. Trigg, Dr. Mrozowski, and the discovery of a large amount of loose frost fractured stones, it was decided that they most likely were the result of New England’s at-times violent freeze-thaw cycles.

Melissa and Lauren take elevations using a data collection unit and a prism pole

UMass Boston Historical Archaeology graduate students Melissa (left) and Lauren (right) use a data collection unit a prism pole to take elevations and lay out new units. These tools are used with a total station, operated by Dr. Schoenfelder (not pictured) to accurately map site coordinates.

Monday and Tuesday of week three also saw the arrival of Dr. John Schoenfelder and UMass Boston graduate student Lauren to the site. They worked with field school students to map further units near the Salisbury foundation, establish datum points at the Deb Newman site, and take some elevation measurements. This gave students attending the field school the opportunity to learn how to operate a total station and precisely map site coordinate

As this mapping was going on, Gary and Bryn finished their unit at the Augustus Salisbury site and moved over to the Deb Newman site to open the first unit there. This unit corresponds with some of the marked metal detection hits made by Brian in the first week. By Thursday they were joined by Liz and Melissa, while Alex, Andrew, Rick, and Tyler remain at the Salisbury site to finish their units.

While field work is generally supplemented by research and analysis after the season has officially ended, there are still times when you need to go home after a long day of excavating and consult a few books. After the discovery of a piece of pearlware or ironstone with a unique maker’s mark in a level suspected to be contemporaneous with the completion of the foundation, everyone ran to their phones to search the many online ceramic databases. When this proved to be too big a task for a quick in-the-field search it was decided that everyone would spend some time looking for the mark in online and print databases. Luckily the Fiske Center library is fully equipped for such a search. Three books containing examples of British and US pottery marksWhile the mark has yet to be identified, Dr. Mrozowski hopes that when it is it will give us a reliable TPQ (terminus post quem, or earliest possible date) for the Augustus Salisbury foundation’s completion. Perhaps the remaining units at the Salisbury site will provide more identifiable ceramic pieces from the same time period to aid in the TPQ determination.

The dual focus of this field school on both the Deb Newman and Augustus Salisbury sites provides an opportunity for comparative excavation and should prove very interesting in the coming weeks.



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