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Research Report

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In May and June of 2016, a field school from the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston, in partnership with Plimoth Plantation and the Town of Plymouth, undertook a fourth season of work as part of Project 400: The Plymouth Colony Archaeological Survey. The approaching 400th anniversary (1620-2020) of the founding of Plymouth Colony, New England’s first permanent English settlement, provides a unique opportunity to revisit our scholarly understanding of the Colony’s history. Working with community partners and descendant organizations, including the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and local museums, we are undertaking a series of initiatives focused on the Plymouth Colony to help advance a complex, inclusive, and scholarly understanding of the region’s Colonial and Native communities. This year, we continued work on the edge of Burial Hill at the south end of School Street. This report presents interim results from Burial Hill, since additional excavation units are planned in the adjacent areas in 2017. Most excavations were located in a strip of land between the street and the historic burials where last year’s work had identified early artifacts and deposits; we opened 7 excavation units (1 2x2 m; 6 1x2 m) on this section of Burial Hill. Steinberg and Damiata conducted a geophysical survey on two additional areas of Burial Hill. We placed a single 1 x 2 m excavation unit in one of those areas (along Church Lane) and a single 1 x 1 m unit in the traffic island in Town Square. In the areas on Burial Hill adjacent to last year’s work, we found the first evidence of intact archaeological features from the early 17th-century town (EUs 17, 21, and 24). The features included a pit with an almost complete calf skeleton in it, an associated shallow trench (possibly from a drip line), a deep trench, 2 post holes, and a planting hole. These features contained European and Native ceramics, lithics (both ballast flint, 8% and local materials, quartz 53%; rhyolite 33%), animal bone, and small finds such as straight pins, shot, and trade beads. Our preliminary interpretation is that at least some of the 78 fragments of Native ceramic and 144 worked lithics from the 17th-century features are the result of trade and interaction between the English colonists and the Wampanoag. Another excavation unit (EU20) encountered a number of 17th-century artifacts in mixed layers, suggesting that there may be 17th-century features near-by. The unit along Church Lane (EU26) located an intact section of a Native site, again with Native ceramic fragments (43 pieces) and worked lithics (128 pieces of rhyolite (51%), quartz (45%), and other local material). Native ceramics from all contexts were examined microscopically to record inclusions, thickness, surface treatment, and organic accretions. We also excavated 5 1 x 2 m units on a lot on Cole’s Hill owned by the Pilgrim Society where we had done geophysical survey in 2015. There, we did not find any 17th-century features or deposits, though we did find remains of the 19th/20th-century building (EU1), an 18th-century cellar on the property (EU5), and a 19th-century dry well or cistern (EU4). Two units also contained dense kitchen trash middens from two different points in the 19th-century (EUs 2 and 5). Finally, one of the units (EU3) contained a late 19th or early 20th-century cache, purposefully buried, of personal and/or memorial artifacts including daguerreotypes in wooden frames, jewelry, and sewing items. We conducted detailed deed research to reconstruct the earlier configuration of this intensively used urban lot. Finally, we took cores at 4 locations Brewster Gardens to take a sample for environmental analysis and to assess the changing shoreline of Town Brook. The sample taken for pollen analysis is currently being processed. Finally, our students conducted lab work and public interpretation in the new open laboratory space in the Plimoth Plantation Visitor Center as part of the Plantation’s initiative to more fully interpret the archaeological process and collections for their visitors.

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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.