City Archaeology Month highlights JP history

October 26, 2012
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Boston’s city archaeologist is inviting Jamaica Plain into his lab for a lesson in local archaeology, including Native American and Colonial sites, some of which are thousands of years old.

As part of the state’s Archaeology month, City Archeologist Joe Bagley is offering eight neighborhood-focused lectures on top of other city-wide activities. The archaeology of JP, Roslindale, Hyde Park and West Roxbury will be discussed on Oct. 30 in the City Archaeology Lab in West Roxbury.

“I did not want Bostonians to think archaeology only occurs in downtown on the big visible historic sites like Faneuil Hall or Boston Common,” Bagley told the Gazette.

At the JP-themed lecture, Bagley will discuss known archeological sites in and around Jamaica Plain, which include Native American and rural farming sites in Arnold Arboretum, around Jamaica Pond, and a 400-year-old fishweir on the old Stony Brook under Jackson Square.

A fishweir is a wooden, fence-like fish trap. The well-known downtown Boylston Street Fishweir site is 2,500 years old, composed of 65,000 wooden stakes and was uncovered during excavation for the MBTA Green Line in the early 20th century.

Bagley has been in the job less than a year, and wanted to make a splash with Archaeology Month, he said.

“Even though I worked with the collections as an intern for the City archaeology program several years ago, I was truly shocked at the breadth and depth of the materials held at the lab. I quickly realized that one talk on the overall archaeology of Boston was not going to be enough, and as a new City archaeologist I wanted to start with a bang,” he said.

Many of the lectures will be held in the neighborhoods they address, but Bagley said he specifically did not want to do that with all lectures.

“I deliberately chose to do the Southwest Boston talk in the City Archaeology Lab because I want the City lab to become a valued community center,” he said. “The lab is open to the public, it truly holds the history of Boston, and I very much want to become a valued part of the neighborhood. I can have all of the artifacts out on display, allowing for a more hands-on history event than a traditional lecture.”

Bagley is hoping this will spark curiosity about Boston’s long history throughout the year.

“I think the average person would be surprised to find out that within the City of Boston there are over 200 documented archaeological sites, and almost half of them are Native American. In JP alone, there are 27 currently-known archaeological sites and likely many more yet to be discovered. There are archaeological sites in Arnold Arboretum that are over 7,000 years old. That’s 2,000 years older than the Egyptian pyramids or Stonehenge.”

Those include an important historic house that used to be located on a hill near Jamaica Pond and previous Native American occupation of that same hill. The Arboretum contains the remains of the historic structures relating to its former use as farmland, dating from 1600 to 1900.

“There is one significant site that appears to be a large [Native America] camp site or possible small village between 1,000 and 3,000 years old,” Bagley said.

As city archaeologist, Bagley is in charge of the 3,000-square-foot City Archaeology lab, about half of which is storage for the city’s collections. The remaining space is split between the museum area and Bagley’s actual lab, where he processes, sorts, cataloges and photographs artifacts.

“I am working on getting an in-house iron conservation laboratory setup here so we can treat some of the important metal artifacts here, such as cannonballs from the Battle of Bunker Hill,” but that will take more fundraising, he said.

Bagley is also responsible for any archaeological digs on City property and reviews development projects in the city for potential impact on archaeological sites.

“If anyone ever has an archaeological question, thinks they may have found an artifact, or are concerned about a potential archaeological site, they may contact me at any time,” he said.

Begun in 1992 as Archaeology Week, Massachusetts Archaeology Month is a month-long celebration of archaeology in Massachusetts and around the world. More information is available at bit.ly/MAarchaeology.

The City Archaeology lab is located at 201 Rivermoor St. in West Roxbury. The public is welcome by appointment. It can be reached at 617-635-3097.

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