UMass Boston Students Seek Original Plymouth Settlement Walls

Colleen Locke | July 07, 2014
The students had to make sure they reached the very bottom of the test excavation trenches.

The students had to make sure they reached the very bottom of the test excavation trenches.
Image by: Christian Arthur



People’s expectation is that since the town grew up and continued to grow on the same location, that there can’t be anything that’s remaining.



Plymouth, Massachusetts is home to one of our country's oldest settlements, but no one knows where the settlement borders were actually located.

David Landon, associate director of UMass Boston’s Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research, and a group of undergraduate and graduate students spent the last five weeks out on Burial Hill looking for the site of the original Pilgrim settlement. ​

The Archaeological Field School, one of two offered this summer through UMass Boston's College of Advancing and Professional Studies in collaboration with the Fiske Center and the Anthropology Department, is part of "Project 400: The Plymouth Colony Archaeological Survey"—a site survey leading up to the Plymouth Colony's 400th anniversary.

“The settlement was actually enclosed within a Palisade wall that was built to protect it and help fortify it. And one of the interesting things is that despite a lot of interest in the history and archaeology of the Plymouth Colony, no one has actually successfully found any buried remains of the original fortified settlement and I think in a lot of ways, it’s because people’s expectation is that since the town grew up and continued to grow on the same location, that there can’t be anything that’s remaining,” Landon said.

Landon’s team used ground-penetrating radar to make sure they weren’t digging into any unmarked graves and consulted with a geophysicist from California. The students had to dig deep.

“The buildings were cut deep into the ground, and the hill has been built up a lot since then,” Tyler Kyrola, a graduate student in the Historical Archaeology program, said. (Read about his experiences here.)

Although they didn’t discover the walls this time out, the students did come across the site of an old school, as well as horse bridles, doorknobs, ceramics dating back to the first half of the 19th century, and animal bones. (See the artifacts in this video.)

“One of the labs that we actually have back at UMass Boston is specifically for animal bone identification. We have reference skeletons of all different kinds of animals so that when we find bones on sites, we can actually take them back to the lab and say, ‘Well, is this a raccoon, is it a cat, is it a raccoon, is it a possum?’ That’s actually something the students frequently do as a class, where they learn how to do identification of the materials that we found on the sites,” Landon said.

Before the end of the field school, the students had to put back the bricks they had pulled out of the schoolhouse site. The identification work will continue back at UMass Boston in the fall and a graduate student will write a description of the artifacts for his master’s thesis. Eventually, the Fiske Center will publish a report on the findings and the collection of artifacts will be curated at Plimoth Plantation.

As for the settlement walls – Landon and his team are still looking. Landon plans to return to Plymouth with students every summer, until at least 2021.

About UMass Boston
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, 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 www.umb.edu.

Tags: anthropology , archaeology , caps , college of advancing and professional studies , community , fiske center , history

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