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Archaeologists hilltop

Archaeologists dig hilltop over Plymouth Rock one last time

1of12University of Massachusetts Boston graduate students Sean Fairweather, of Watertown, Mass., left, and Alex Patterson, of Quincy, Mass., right, use measuring instruments while mapping an excavation site, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole’s Hill, in Plymouth, Mass. The archaeologists are part of a team excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last…


University of Massachusetts Boston graduate students Sean Fairweather, of Watertown, Mass., left, and Alex Patterson, of Quincy, Mass., right, use measuring instruments while mapping an excavation site, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole's Hill, in Plymouth, Mass. The archaeologists are part of a team excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time before a historical park is built on the site.
1of12University of Massachusetts Boston graduate students Sean Fairweather, of Watertown, Mass., left, and Alex Patterson, of Quincy, Mass., directly, use measuring tools while mapping an excavation website, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole’s Hill, in Plymouth, Mass.. The archaeologists are a part of a team excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time in front of a historical park is built on the website. Steven Senne/AP
University of Massachusetts Boston research scientist Christa Beranek, of Arlington, Mass., holds ceramic fragments estimated to be from the late 18th and early 19th centuries found at an excavation site, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole's Hill, in Plymouth, Mass. Beranek is part of a team of archaeologists excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time before a historical park is built on the site.
two of12University of Massachusetts Boston research scientist Christa Beranek, of Arlington, Mass., retains ceramic fragments anticipated to be from the late 18th and early 19th centuries discovered at an excavation site, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole’s Hill, in Plymouth, Mass.. Beranek is part of a group of archaeologists excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time in front of a historical park is built on the site. Steven Senne/AP
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University of Massachusetts Boston graduate students Nicholas Densley, of Missoula, Mont., left, and Kiara Montes, of Boston, right, use brushes while searching for artifacts at an excavation site, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole's Hill, in Plymouth, Mass. The archaeologists are part of a team excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time before a historical park is built on the site.
4of12University of Massachusetts Boston graduate students Nicholas Densley, of Missoula, Mont., abandoned, and Kiara Montes, of Boston, right, use brushes while looking for artifacts in an excavation site, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole’s Hill, in Plymouth, Mass.. The archaeologists are a part of a group excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time in front of a historic park is built on the site. Steven Senne/AP
Pedestrians walk down stairs from Cole's Hill toward a pavilion that shelters Plymouth Rock, in Plymouth, Mass., Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Archaeologists are excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time before a historical park is built on the site.
5of12Pedestrians walk down stairs from Cole’s Hill toward a pavilion that lands Plymouth Rock, at Plymouth, Mass., Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Archaeologists are excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time before a historic park is built on the website. Steven Senne/AP
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University of Massachusetts Boston graduate student Claire Norton, of Boston, uses a shovel to remove layers of soil while working to uncover artifacts at an excavation site, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole's Hill, in Plymouth, Mass. Norton is part of a team of archaeologists excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time before a historical park is built on the site.
7of12University of Massachusetts Boston graduate student Claire Norton, of Boston, uses a shovel to eliminate layers of soil whilst working to discover artifacts in an excavation site, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole’s Hill, at Plymouth, Mass.. Norton is part of a team of archaeologists excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one final time in front of a historic park is developed on the site. Steven Senne/AP
University of Massachusetts Boston research scientist Christa Beranek, of Arlington, Mass., left, and UMass graduate student Emily Willis, of Boston, right, sift soil through screens while searching for artifacts at an excavation site, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole's Hill, in Plymouth, Mass. The archaeologists are part of a team excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time before a historical park is built on the site.
8of12University of Massachusetts Boston research scientist Christa Beranek, of Arlington, Mass., left, and UMass graduate student Emily Willis, of Boston, directly, sift land through displays while searching for artifacts in an excavation site, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole’s Hill, at Plymouth, Mass.. The archaeologists are a part of a team excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one final time in front of a historical park is developed on the website. Steven Senne/AP
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Visitors stand in a pavilion that shelters Plymouth Rock, below, in Plymouth, Mass., Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Archaeologists are excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time before a historical park is built on the site.
10of12Visitors endure in a pavilion that shelters Plymouth Rock, under, in Plymouth, Mass., Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Archaeologists are excavating the grassy hilltop that overlooks iconic Plymouth Rock one last time before a historical park is built on the website. Steven Senne/AP
Visitors stand near a 1921 statue of the Wampanoag leader Massasoit, center, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole's Hill, in Plymouth, Mass.
11of12Visitors stand close to a 1921 statue of the Wampanoag chief Massasoit, centre, Wednesday, June 9, 2021, on Cole’s Hill, in Plymouth, Mass.Steven Senne/AP
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BOSTON (AP) — Archaeologists are giving a grassy hilltop overlooking legendary Plymouth Rock one final look in front of a historic park is built to commemorate the Pilgrims and the Indigenous people who once called it home.

Braving sweltering heat, a group of about 20 graduate students enrolled in a masters program at the University of Massachusetts-Boston started pruning an undeveloped lot on Cole’s Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts, this week.

The National Historic Landmark website — that includes the initial cemetery used by the Pilgrims after they came from England in 1620 and was a Wampanoag village to get centuries before that — was poked and prodded a lot of occasions over the last century.

But now, as historical organizations reboot pandemic-stalled plans to build a permanent memorial they are calling Remembrance Park, this might be the final opportunity to mine the soil for Native and colonial artifacts.

“Cole’s Hill is among the most sacred land we’ve got,” said Donna Curtin, executive director of the Pilgrim Society & Pilgrim Hall Museum, which owns the tract. “We want to make it more than just a grassy, empty lot. We want to engage people. And the archaeology is deeply wedded to the site.”

David Landon of UMass-Boston’s Fiske Center for Archaeological Research, who’s leading the effort, said he’s convinced his team will recover items of interest from the site.

“You don’t always get the opportunity to do work at sites that are so significant,” he explained. “We know we’re going to find stuff — there’s no question about that. Anytime you start digging in Plymouth, you find interesting stuff.”

Less than 48 hours into the excavation, which is scheduled to run during July 1, the team regained exactly what Landon calls”the debris of daily life”: a few Wampanoag artifacts, broken bits of 1800s pottery, along with the bones of cows and hens — leftovers of a colonist’s dinner.

There are hopes to get more. A few tiny houses once stood to the region where they are digging, including an early 1700s mariner’s home.

To be built atop the hill overlooking Plymouth’s waterfront, Remembrance Park originally was conceived to mark 2020’s 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim’s 1620 arrival, the founding of Plymouth Colony and the plantations’ historic interactions with the Wampanoag people. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, idling many commemoration events as well as construction.

The newly reimagined park will highlight three periods of epic historical challenge: The Great Dying of 1616-19, when deadly disease brought by other Europeans severely afflicted the Wampanoag people; the first winter of 1620-21, when half of the Mayflower colonists perished of contagious sickness; and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

Linda Coombs, a Wampanoag tribal leader and activist, said she’s glad attention is being paid to what’s largely a forgotten chapter of history.

“People are unaware that the Great Dying happened,” she said. “At school, you’re pounded together with the narrative of 50 Pilgrims expiring during their first winter. But during the Great Dying, about 50,000 Wampanoags expired, as well as who knows how many other tribal folks to the north in what is now Maine. It is kind of nice to see those numbers lined up side by side”

Construction is expected to begin late next year or early in 2023 on the park project, said Curtin, whose Pilgrim Hall Museum is partnering with Plymouth 400 Inc., a nonprofit group.

“We want to create an interpretive distance here where people may participate,” she said. “The park is intended to acknowledge and preserve what we’ve all lived through in 2020. It’s an opportunity to attract the past and present together in ways we never could have foreseen.”

If the archaeologists make any transcendent finds, Landon said he’s confident they’ll be given more time to complete their work, if only because the townspeople share a sense of stewardship over Plymouth’s rich history.

“We’ll learn what we need to learn from the website before any construction takes place,” he said.

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