Artifacts Tell the Story of Boston

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 Ask an Archaeologist is a YouTube series dedicated to answering your questions about Archaeology.  The series is based on questions submitted by viewers. Viewer’s questions are then answered by professional archaeologists with years of experience.

“Ask an Archaeologist” is back from its winter hiatus to bring you answers to your questions about archaeology.  Before the break, I sat down with the City Archaeologist of Boston, Joe Bagley, to find out about the archaeology happening right in ASOR’s backyard.

We picked three viewer submitted questions for Bagley to answer.

  1. What do you do with artifacts that are not on display?
  2. What is the coolest thing you have ever found?
  3. How do you work in archaeology in the United States?

Check out the video below to see what Bagley had to say about what archaeology can tell us about the history of the City of Boston and the United States.

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“For me, the coolest artifacts are artifacts that tell stories,” the City Archaeologist told me while surrounded by hundreds of shelves filled with boxes of archaeological materials recovered from over 39 excavations conducted in Boston.  Bagley, along with his staff of volunteers, is responsible for cleaning, sorting and cataloging all of these artifacts as well as managing any necessary archaeological excavations in the City of Boston.

Bagley brought some of those artifacts out of their boxes so he could tell their stories of a long Boston history.

The first was a spear point found near the Frog Pond in Boston Commons, a site familiar to locals and tourists alike.  It is the oldest artifact ever found in the City of Boston and Bagley said that it was between 5000 and 7000 years old, making it as old if not older than the Pyramids of Giza.

The spear point was made from a rock found only in the Blue Hills in Quincy, MA, some 12 miles from the Frog Pond. Bagley said that this spear point told us more about ancient Bostonians than simply how they were hunting game.

“From the rock itself we know that these people were moving all around the Boston area, going to the Blue Hills to collect resources, coming to Boston to hunt and then they dropped this spear point.”

The other artifacts Bagley showed me were artifacts from a much more recent period in history and had a much more specific date.

“We know based on its context that this is a cannon ball from the Battle of Bunker Hill,” Bagley said while holding a rusty cannon ball that was fired on the city of Charlestown on June 17, 1775 at the beginning of the American Revolution.  Those cannon balls were responsible for burning much of the city to the ground, therefore, like Pompeii, preserving much of the city of Charlestown for archaeologists to tell exactly how it was on that day in 1775.

The last, and “least glamorous artifact”, according to Bagley, was a green, decorated chamber pot found at the Three Cranes Tavern in Charlestown, which was in operation from the 1750s until the 1770 when it was burned down in the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Based on its decoration, Bagley says that we know that a woman named Grace Parker who owned the Parker-Harris Pottery, which was next door to the Three Cranes Tavern, made the pot.  The Tavern, at the time, was owned by a woman named Mary Long.  From this chamber pot we can tell that the two women were most likely doing business with each other, during a time when women own business were “almost unheard of.”

From ancient Bostonians traveling long distances to retrieve resources, to revolutionary women working together, Bagley told the story of Boston through archaeological artifacts.

If you would like to visit the Boston City Archaeology Lab click here for more information.

If you have any questions you’d like answered by an archaeologist, feel free to comment below. You can also submit questions on our Facebook page or tweet us with #AskAnArchaeologist. If you’re an archaeologist who’d like to help out by answering some of the questions submitted, please e-mail me. We’re always accepting questions and planning future episodes.

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