Fall 2017: By Rachael Moeller Gorman.

On a sticky day last June, archaeologist David Landon peered into a rectangular, three-foot-deep excavation unit on the edge of an old cemetery. “That layer they’re coming down on, despite being deeply buried, is very dark. It looks like topsoil,” Landon said. Two stocking-footed field school students gently scraped dirt into dustpans. “It’s very organic and rich.”

Landon and Christa Beranek, both of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Fiske Center For Archaeological Research, co-direct Project 400: The Plymouth Colony Archaeological Survey, an investigation to discover the location of the original 1620 Pilgrim settlement under downtown Plymouth, Massachusetts. Landon believes he’s looking at a trash pit from the seventeenth century that was probably located next to a house.

The Pilgrims built their homes with wood and thatch, and all that’s left of them is a series of stains from decayed posts that have enriched and darkened the surrounding soil with organic matter. “We are mapping very subtle soil stains, variations in soil color and texture and artifacts that are present,” he said. “These are some of our main pieces of evidence.”

This evidence is helping the archaeologists identify the perimeters of the Pilgrim settlement. Surprisingly, this is the first time anyone has come so far in identifying its location. The timing of the discovery is serendipitous, as the colony’s 400th anniversary, for which extensive activities are planned, is approaching.


Read More in our FALL 2017 Issue of American Archaeology, Vol. 20 No. 4. Browse Content of this Issue: Fall 2017 . Browse Articles Excerpts from our last issue, SUMMER 2017.

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