UMass Boston Researchers Find Evidence of Original 1620 Plymouth Settlement

Colleen Locke | November 21, 2016
UMass Boston students have affectionately named this calf Constance.

UMass Boston students have affectionately named this calf Constance.
Image by: David Landon



We've opened the first window but we want a bigger view. We want the bay window.



Archaeologists Reach Goal Four Years Ahead of Schedule

Three hundred and ninety-five years after Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts, researchers from UMass Boston’s Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research can say they have definitively discovered evidence of the original 1620 Plymouth settlement. Part of the proof involves a calf that UMass Boston students have affectionately named Constance.

For the fourth summer, David Landon, associate director of the Fiske Center, led a group of undergraduate and graduate students in a field school in Plymouth offered through UMass Boston’s College of Advancing and Professional Studies. Landon and the students spent five weeks on Burial Hill looking for the site of the original Pilgrim settlement. ​Landon’s goal when he started was to find evidence of the original settlement prior to the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Plymouth Colony in 2020. He met his goal four years early, in the first year of a three-year, $200,000 National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant.

Because the original structures weren’t built with bricks, the research team couldn’t look for foundations. Rather, they had to look for “post and ground construction” – basically holes for wood, and dirt.

“While we’re digging, we’re constantly in the process of trying to interpret what we’re finding. It really goes to just moving slowly and trying to see if there are any patterns in the flow that we can map out. As soon as that starts, it becomes a slow process. It’s about much more than the artifacts – it’s about trying to pin down soil color and trying to understand constructed features that are no longer there,” Landon said.

But then Landon’s team did start finding 17th century artifacts: 17th century pottery, tins, trade beads, and musket balls – around that post and ground construction. Landon says the students and researchers were at this point cautiously optimistic that they had found a location inside the settlement walls. And then they found “Constance” – a calf buried whole in the bottom-most pit. Because native people didn’t have domestic cattle, Landon says we know that she lived – and died -- in the confines of the original Plymouth settlement.

Students with the remains of Constance the calf

“Constance is a great symbol of this. Oftentimes success in the colony depended on herds of cattle. It became a centerpiece of the economy. So the calf does connect us to that story,” Landon said.

Kathryn Ness is the curator of collections at Plimoth Plantation, UMass Boston’s partner in this project. She says this discovery is huge.

"Finding evidence of colonial activity inside the original 1620 Plymouth settlement is an incredibly exciting discovery that has the potential to change dramatically our understanding of early European colonization in New England. For the first time, we have proof of where the settlement was located and what kinds of items the Pilgrims owned and used,” Ness said. “At Plimoth Plantation, the team's findings will help us further refine our exhibits, as we use archaeological evidence and historical documents as the basis for our portrayal of the past and to ensure that our buildings, activities, and reproduction objects are as accurate as possible. We are looking forward to learning more about their discoveries and seeing what they find next season!"

Landon and more students and researchers will be back next summer.

“We’ve opened the first window but we want a bigger view. We want the bay window. We want to see if we can find other components,” Landon said.

For now, researchers and students are cleaning, labeling, and researching what was found this past summer. They’re also going to be trying to figure out how Constance died and why she was buried, rather than eaten.

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 nearly 17,000 students while engaging local and global constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service. To learn more, visit www.umb.edu.

Tags: anthropology , caps , fiske center , historical archaeology , plymouth colony

Comment on this story

Comments (32)

Posted by Douglas | March 07, 2017 - 10:54 p.m.

Mind-blowing. And I thought Sunday drives to find old New England graveyards were fun! We have homes from 1720 in our neighborhood near Providence, but this is really very cool, and I hope it open up other opportunities for learning - Douglas


Posted by Sue | January 12, 2017 - 11:16 a.m.

This is very exciting as my ancestor was a founding member there….


Posted by Donna Fuller Clark | January 05, 2017 - 10:49 a.m.

Great find. So interested in any information on my Pilgrim relatives. Direct descendant of Dr. Fuller.


Posted by Gloria | January 04, 2017 - 10:24 p.m.

Perhaps Constance had cow pox?


Posted by RICHARD SMITH | January 04, 2017 - 8:57 p.m.

This is fantastic! Let your imagination run wild, but keep it in control. There is the answer out there somewhere. Go to it!


Posted by Harlan Fields | December 24, 2016 - 8:18 a.m.

This is a great venture that you are undertaking, yet an important one. There has been much new historical information on this time period, in America, as of late, and I say, open the ‘bay window.’


Posted by carlos valencia | December 11, 2016 - 10:25 p.m.

Amazing, UMass Boston ...


Posted by Lisa Todd | November 26, 2016 - 3:36 p.m.

Cool!!!


Posted by Nancy Piccirilli | November 25, 2016 - 4:11 p.m.

Maybe Constance was one of the associates of Thomas Granger?


Posted by Valerie Jones | November 24, 2016 - 12:16 p.m.

EXCITING….....CAN’T WAIT TIL NEXT YEAR


Posted by Shirley Horn | November 24, 2016 - 11:39 a.m.

This is so interesting and exciting. Great work on your part. Keep it up.


Posted by Estelle Perkins | November 24, 2016 - 7:40 a.m.

Great find! Keep up the good work. I am a descendent of John Alden and have worked on genealogy all my long life.


Posted by David FitzGerald | November 24, 2016 - 4:52 a.m.

We would love to talk to you about this on BBC Radio Devon in Plymouth UK. Please get back to us…..Fitz


Posted by Mary Ellen Wright | November 23, 2016 - 10:50 p.m.

I am amazed the Pilgrims built their colony so near the water which must be Cape Cod Bay. This is in the picture with the dead calf.  Also amazing is the calf buried so close to the water, as tides could disturb the grave. 


Posted by Janice Urquhart | November 23, 2016 - 6:26 p.m.

Exciting finds! Thank you for your passion to uncover the wonderful history of our beloved Pilgrims and their settlement in Plimoth. As a direct descendant of people on the Mayflower, it’s especially meaningful. Congrats to the students and leaders and thanks to those who awarded the grant money!


Posted by NancyH Hughes | November 23, 2016 - 6:11 p.m.

Wonderful accomplishment! The site of John Howland’(1) ‘s home is marked on Leyden St. ????!


Posted by Gerhard Wiesinger | November 23, 2016 - 3:35 p.m.

This is exciting news - congratulations to Mr. Landon and his team from Germany! As a graduate student in the UMass History Department at Amherst I had participated in archaeological field work with William Kelso on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in 1985. Bill Kelso was the one who, after a long struggle, found the original settlement of Jamestown which he showed me and my family when we visited. To find out that now the other famous settlement In Plymouth was has also been discovered is an archaeologist’s and historian’s dream come true! Keep up the great work and have a Happy Thanksgiving! Gerhard


Posted by Bruce Hughes | November 23, 2016 - 12:41 p.m.

Proud of my school.
Bruce Hughes, BA Poli Sci, 1977, UMass Boston
Economic Development/Community Planner
Old Colony Planning Council, Brockton, MA


Posted by Susie Sherman | November 23, 2016 - 11:35 a.m.

I’m really happy to see this dig!


Posted by Thom Adams | November 23, 2016 - 10:54 a.m.

Wonderful work, thanks to all of the team. I am a direct decedent of the Fuller family that were buried there and I would love to know more about what you are doing/finding.


Posted by Robert L. Sherwood | November 23, 2016 - 10:32 a.m.

I recall the sad case of young Thomas Granger of Duxbury, who was executed for bestiality in Plymouth Colony (1625).  Wm. Bradford recalls it in his history: “The catle were all cast into a great and large pitte that was digged of purposs for them, and no use made of any part of them.”  Since it was a capital offense, it would make sense if the trial and execution would have occurred in the town of Plymouth. The fact that a whole calf was buried at the bottom of a pit seems a curious coincidence to me. Of course, I’m not a professional historian, only a passionate amateur historian, so…........ Anyway, offered for what it’s worth.


Posted by Lea Sinclair Filson, GSMD Governor General | November 23, 2016 - 10:17 a.m.

Congratulations to UMass for this amazing announcement. We look forward to learning new information about the Pilgrims who are so important to our American history.


Posted by Maurice Hitt | November 23, 2016 - 8:38 a.m.

This is huge!! I am a Mayflower descendant and have been always wondering just where exactly was the original settlement. Bravo to the research team that uncovered a great discovery!


Posted by Wm. Brewster | November 23, 2016 - 2:24 a.m.

Fascinating, but where, exactly, is this dig? Burial Hill is pretty big, and challenging for some to scour to find. Finding a calf puts this somewhere well after 1620, since first cattle only arrived on the Anne in 1623 (if memory serves). Love to see what you’ve done and what you’ll be doing in the future.


Posted by Anna | November 22, 2016 - 9:16 p.m.

Very interesting history!


Posted by Marc Joseph Douyon | November 22, 2016 - 4:03 p.m.

It’s good to have those students going out there to do research, and to learn. They will never forget it.


Posted by Marc Joseph Douyon | November 22, 2016 - 4 p.m.

This is a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for the students.


Posted by Dorothy Lara | November 22, 2016 - 3:52 p.m.

So exciting and amazing!  I have a special interest as I have six sets of nine times great-grandparents on the Mayflower ... Soule, Allerton, Hopkins, Standish, Warren, Cooke, also Robert Cushman.  To me, time just seems to melt away.  I feel they still live on in me ...


Posted by Melinda | November 22, 2016 - 3:17 p.m.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Granger


Posted by Susie Foster | November 22, 2016 - 11:36 a.m.

This is wonderful news. My 8th Great Grandfather is John Howland. We visited Plymouth few years back, and enjoyed exploring everything that we could there.


Posted by Helen Ahearn | November 22, 2016 - 11:08 a.m.

Wonderful to learn of this new discovery just before our “Thanksgiving”; we’re thankful for these new finds.


Posted by Trudy Adams | November 22, 2016 - 9:51 a.m.

So interesting! I love everything to do with the Pilgrims. This is exciting and I look forward to more on these digs. Thanks