Archaeologists last excavated a hill above Plymouth Rock

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BOSTON (AP) – Archaeologists take one last look at the grassy hilltop overlooking the famous Plymouth Rock, before a historic park is built to commemorate the pilgrims and indigenous peoples who once called it home.

Withstanding the sweltering heat, a team of about 20 graduate students enrolled in a master’s program at the University of Massachusetts in Boston began excavating an undeveloped site this week at Coles Hill in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The National Historic Landmark, which houses the first cemetery, used by pilgrims after their arrival from England in 1620 and formerly a Wampanoag village for millennia, has been hit and pushed several times over the past century.

But now that historic organizations are relaunching deadlocked plans to build a permanent memorial they call a park of memory, this may be the last chance to dig the ground for indigenous and colonial artifacts.

“Coles Hill is one of the most sacred lands we have,” said Donna Curtin, executive director of the Pilgrim Society and the Hall of Pilgrims, which owns the tract. “We want it to be more than just a grassy, ​​empty lot. We want to involve people. And archeology is deeply attached to this place. “

David Landon of the Fiske Archaeological Research Center in Massachusetts-Boston, who is leading the effort, said he was confident his team would retrieve items of interest from the site.

“It is not always possible to work at such important facilities,” he said. “We know that we will find something – there is no doubt about that. Every time you start digging in Plymouth, you find interesting material. “

Less than 48 hours after excavation, which is scheduled for July 1, the team found what Landon calls “the wreckage of everyday life”: several Wampanoag artifacts, shards of pottery from the 1800s, and bones from cows and pigs. the remains of the colonist’s lunch.

There is hope for more. The dig site was once occupied by several small houses, including a sailor’s house from the early 1700s.

Remembrance Park, which will be built on a hilltop overlooking Plymouth’s waterfront, was originally conceived to commemorate the 400th anniversary of 2020 since the arrival of the pilgrim in 1620, the founding of the Plymouth Colony, and the historic settlers’ engagement with the Wampanoag people. But then the coronavirus pandemic hit idling many memorable events as well as construction.

The new renovated park will highlight three periods of epic historical trials: the Great Dying of 1616-1916, when a deadly disease brought by other Europeans hit the Wampanoag people severely; the first winter of 1620-21, when half of the Mayflower colonists died from a contagious disease; and the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.

Linda Coombs, a Wampanoag chief and activist, said she was glad attention was being paid to what is largely a forgotten chapter in history.

“People don’t know that the Great Extinction happened,” she said. “At school you are being stuffed with the story of 50 pilgrims who died in the first winter. But during the Great Dying, about 50,000 Wampanoag died, and it is not known how many other tribes north of what is now Maine. It’s nice to see that these numbers are lined up. “

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

“We want to create an interpretable space here where people can participate,” she said. “The park is dedicated to recognizing and preserving what we have all experienced in 2020. This is an opportunity to combine the past and the present in a way that we could never have foreseen. “

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If archaeologists make any outstanding finds, Landon is confident that they will have more time to complete their work, if only because the townspeople share a sense of responsibility for Plymouth’s rich history.

“We will find out what we need to find out on the spot before any construction starts,” he said.

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