In May and June of 2014, a field school from the University of Massachusetts Boston, in partnership with Plimoth Plantation, undertook a second season of work in Plymouth, Massachusetts, as part of Project 400: The Plymouth Colony Archaeological Survey, a site survey and excavation program leading up to the 400th anniversary of New England’s first permanent English settlement in 1620, the founding of Plymouth Colony. This work was conducted under permit #3384 from the State Archaeologist’s office at the Massachusetts Historical Commission. The 2014 work focused on the eastern edge of Burial Hill along School Street in downtown Plymouth and consisted of ground penetrating radar survey and excavation (3 STPs and 9 EUs).
Burial Hill, formerly Fort Hill, is understood as the location of the original fort built by the English colonists, and the walls that enclosed the fort and town stretched down the hill towards the harbor. The precise locations of any of these features have never been archaeologically identified. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the land on the eastern edge of the hill along School Street was sold to individuals who built houses and stables, all demolished by the early 20th century. Our test excavations were designed to see if any 17th-century features or deposits existed either under the floors of these buildings or in the strip of land between the backs of the buildings and the burials, which begin roughly 20 meters from the street. During the 2014 season, we did not locate any 17th-century features or deposits.
The 2014 excavation units tested the footprints of 4 different 19th-century building lots (an 1827 school and three barn or stable buildings), all of which were demolished between 1882 and 1901. With the exception of the school, the buildings completely filled the 30 foot deep lots that existed along School Street. The excavations revealed that the buildings had been cut into the hill, destroying any earlier deposits that might have existed in those areas. Because of their particular construction and the area topography, there was almost no trash deposition behind the buildings, up the slope of Burial Hill. As each building was taken down, its footprint was filled, first to create a level surface, then to create a regular slope for this edge of Burial Hill. Each building appears to have been filled individually, since the deposits within each building footprint were quite different from each other. Material to fill these substantial building footprints must have been brought in from elsewhere; the slag in EU3 is the clearest evidence of this.
Although we found flaked tools (a quartz flake drill, a rhyolite unifacial scraper, and quartz Small Stemmed points) in the topsoil and fill layers of EUs 8 and 9 and chipping debris (quartz and rhyolite) in all excavation units, we found no in-situ Native artifacts or features. With the exception of the large metal pieces in EU2 and some related deposits in EU9 which seem to be primary trash deposits, most other deposits contained either predominantly architectural materials (brick, nails, window glass), or a mixture of architectural materials and redeposited sheet refuse (ceramics and glass in small fragments). One of the only in situ, non-fill deposits that we encountered was the test pit that we dug below the building floor layer of EU2 which uncovered an associated late 18th or early 19th century pipe bowl and a dog skeleton, either a burial or an animal that died below the floor.
From other units, there were a number of interesting small finds such as buttons, pins, an 1874 Indian Head penny, and buckles, including an early 20th-century Red Cross pin. Other notable artifacts include fragments of six possible gravestones in both slate and marble. One of these is decorated and appears to be a fragment of a slate Medusa style design from the Soule family of carvers, probably from the 1750s or 1760s. An analysis of all of the bone and tooth fragments recovered during the field season confirmed that the whole collection consisted of the remains of common animals (cat, dog, rat, duck, chicken, sheep/goat, pig, and cow) and included no human remains. EU7, located in the lot that held the 1827 school, yielded a significant collection of small finds related to the school including pen nibs, slate pencils, and a possible compass fragment. The report illustrates these materials and presents comparative research on the archaeology of school sites and artifacts.
Beranek, Christa M.; Warrenfeltz, Justin A.; Roy, Richie; Landon, David B.; Crowder, Alexandra; and Wagner, Katie, "Project 400: The Plymouth Colony Archaeological Survey, Report on the 2014 Field Season, Burial Hill Plymouth, Massachusetts" (2015). Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research Publications. 14.