Researchers from UMass Boston’s Andrew Fiske Memorial Center for Archaeological Research have discovered the original 1620 Plymouth settlement three hundred and ninety five years after Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving in Plymouth, Massachusetts. A portion of the proof includes a calf that UMass Boston students have named Constance.
David Landon, associate director of the Fiske Center, has led a group of undergraduate and graduate students in a field school in Plymouth for the past four years. The field school is offered through UMass Boston’s College of Advancing and Professional Studies. This past summer, Landon and the students spent five weeks on Burial Hill looking for the site of the original Pilgrim settlement.
When he started, Landon’s goal was to find evidence of the original settlement before 2020 – the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Plymouth Colony. He achieved his goal four years early, in the first year of a three-year National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant, which is worth $200,000.
Because the original structures were built with wood and not bricks, the team couldn’t look for foundations, but had to look for post and ground construction. Landon explained that while digging, the team constantly has to try to interpret what they’re finding. This boils down to moving slowly and determining if there are any patterns in the flow that can be mapped out. As soon as a pattern is detected, the process becomes extremely slow. Landon added that it is about much more than artifacts. Ultimately, it is about trying to identify soil color and trying to understand constructed features that are no longer visible.
Landon’s team did however find various 17th century artifacts around the post and ground construction, including pottery, trade beads, tins and musket balls. Landon says that at the point of discovering the artifacts, his students and researchers became cautiously optimistic that they had found a location inside the settlement walls. The next find was “Constance” – a calf buried in the bottom-most pit. As native people didn’t have domestic cattle, Landon and his team know that Constance lived and died in the confines of the original Plymouth settlement.
As success in a colony often depended on herds of cattle, these became the centerpiece of the economy. Landon notes that the calf does connect us to that tradition.
Kathryn Ness, the curator of collections at Plimoth Plantation, UMass Boston’s partner in this project, says this discovery is huge. She adds that finding evidence of colonial activity inside the original 1620 Plymouth settlement is an exciting discovery and believes it could dramatically change their understanding of early European colonization in New England.
This is the first proof of where the settlement was located and what kinds of items the Pilgrims used and owned. The team’s findings will help further refine the exhibits at Plimoth Plantation. Historical documents and archaeological evidence are used as the basis for our portrayal of the past. The activities, buildings and reproduction objects are also kept as accurate as possible. The team is looking forward to learning more about their finds and discovering what they find next season.
Researchers and students are currently cleaning, labeling and researching what was found this past summer. They will also try to figure out how Constance died and why she was not eaten but buried.