UMass Boston Receives $181K NEH Grant to Make Pilgrim Artifacts More Accessible

Colleen Locke | April 23, 2018
UMass Boston students Jared Muehlbauer, Asbhy Sturgis, and Jacob Strauss worked in the Plimoth Plantation visitor center laboratory during UMass Boston’s summer field school. Field school students spend time in the lab.

UMass Boston students Jared Muehlbauer, Asbhy Sturgis, and Jacob Strauss worked in the Plimoth Plantation visitor center laboratory during UMass Boston’s summer field school. Field school students spend time in the lab.

NEH Grant One of Three Received by UMass Boston

Christa Beranek, a project archaeologist for UMass Boston's Fiske Center for Archaeological Research, has received a three-year, $181,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant to create a digital catalog of Plimoth Plantation’s archaeological collection, including artifacts excavated from first- and second-generation Pilgrim homes between the 1940s and 1970s. More than $60,000 of the grant money has been set aside to pay UMass Boston graduate students to work on the project.

“This project will be a wonderful complement to our ongoing excavations, and the students working at Plimoth Plantation will get valuable experience working with archaeological collections in a museum setting,” said Beranek, the project director. “The process of digitizing older archaeological collections in order to make them more accessible and to bring the information about them into modern formats is something that this generation of students will be able to apply throughout their professional careers.”

The “Digitizing Plimoth Plantation’s 17th-Century Historical Archaeology Collections” project involves cataloging and digitizing field notes, plans, drawings, and photos associated with the excavation of four archaeological sites, making material currently in boxes accessible to teachers, students, scholars, and anyone with an Internet connection. And talk about access in unprecedented ways: Certain artifacts will be imaged in 3-D, meaning they can be recreated using a 3-D printer.

“The collections covered by this project are important both to understanding early colonial life in Massachusetts and to the history of the field of historical archaeology, since they were excavated by some of the founders of the discipline,” Beranek said.

UMass Boston field school students dig in Plymouth for Pilgrim artifacts

This summer, while UMass Boston students catalog artifacts already uncovered, students participating in a field school offered through UMass Boston’s College of Advancing and Professional Studies will be digging for more artifacts. David Landon, the associate director of the Fiske Center, led the team that in 2016 discovered the first-known remains of the original 1620 Plymouth settlement on Burial Hill in downtown Plymouth. That’s also the site of this summer’s dig.

“This summer we expect to uncover additional posts from a structure plus trash deposits and other features in exterior yard spaces,” Landon said. “We also continue to explore the area for any remains of the palisade wall that enclosed the settlement, which has proved elusive so far!”

“The field project and the digitization project complement each other, because the students will be able to carry the specialized knowledge they’re learning about 17th-century artifact types on one project over to the other project,” Beranek said.

The three-year NEH grant concludes in 2020, the same year as the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower’s arrival. A $24,927 grant from UMass President Marty Meehan’s office and the Creative Economy Initiatives Fund in 2016 funded the NEH proposal.

UMass Boston received a total of three NEH grants this month. The other two grants are a $99,774 grant to create three-course sequence in environmental humanities focused on Boston Harbor and surrounding areas and a $6,000 grant to research a book on the history of venereal disease in 18th century England. The NEH awarded $18.6 million in grants to 199 humanities projects across the country.

About UMass Boston
The University of Massachusetts Boston is deeply rooted in the city's history, yet poised to address the challenges of the future. Recognized for innovative research, metropolitan Boston’s public university offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s 11 colleges and graduate schools serve more than 16,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit

Tags: archaeology , grant , historical archaeology , plimoth plantation , plymouth colony , research

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