Document Type

Research Report

Publication Date

Fall 8-2016


In May and June of 2015, a field school from the University of Massachusetts Boston, in partnership with Plimoth Plantation, undertook a third 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 2015 work focused on the eastern edge of Burial Hill along School Street in downtown Plymouth where we excavated 13 shovel test pits (STPs) and 8 excavation units. We also carried out geophysical survey on two additional parcels in downtown Plymouth using ground penetrating radar (GPR) and frequency domain electromagnetics. These additional parcels (Brewster Garden and the Pilgrim Society lot on Cole’s Hill at Middle and Carver Streets) will be tested in future seasons. 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 placed excavation units on the eastern edge of Burial Hill along School Street, in the middle of the block. All of the features and deposits uncovered during 2014 were related to the 19th-century buildings along this section of School Street. During the 2015 season, we excavated STPs north of our 2014 project area and excavation units to the south of the 2014 project area. The 2015 season reinforced some of the conclusions that we made based on work in 2014, but also yielded several areas with early intact deposits. As we found in 2014, the large school and stable buildings cut deeply into the hillside, removing any earlier deposits within their footprints. In a number of cases the construction or demolition deposits continued well behind the building foundation walls (EUs 12, 13). However, there are areas behind (west of) those buildings where early deposits are preserved. EU11 located an intact Native deposit, possibly from a Woodland period tool-making workshop. The flakes from this site are predominantly local rhyolites; only one partial tool was found. There were also 24 fragments of Native ceramic. This excavation unit is significant because it adds a Native component to Burial Hill, a National Register property. The site is truncated on the east by the 19th century buildings, but continues an unknown distance north and south, and may continue west between the marked burials. The other preserved early deposit is a section of a potential 17th-century pit or trench identified in the westernmost portion of EU14. This deposit contained Native ceramic fragments and corroded metal, possibly pewter or solder. The presence of this feature and a small number of 17th-century artifacts in the fill deposits above it (including Border ware and a marked smoking pipe) suggest that the units at the southernmost end of School Street fall within or near the 17thcentury settlement core, since we did not find comparable numbers of early artifacts in units to the north in 2014. The 2015 excavations also yielded a collection of coffin hardware and human remains from a dense, mixed trash deposit (primarily located in EU15) that included hardware from several coffins and a small number of bones from three individuals as well as coal ash, slag, animal bone, and glass and ceramic refuse. These materials date to after 1850 and may have been deposited when coffins originally placed in the nearby crypt were moved for reburial elsewhere, later in the 19th century.


Cultural Resource Management Study No. 75

Community Engaged/Serving

Part of the UMass Boston Community-Engaged Teaching, Research, and Service Series. //

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.