Colonial Archaeology at Plimoth Plantation

Plimoth Plantation founder Harry Hornblower II was an avid amateur archaeologist. As a student at Harvard, Harry studied Colonial history and became interested in Colonial ruins in the Plymouth area.


Harry Hornblower and Jim Deetz discuss archaeology

Harry was particularly interested in "cellar hole archaeology," investigating the ruins of Colonial buildings, to provide information on 17th-century architecture.  In 1941, along with the Harvard Excavators' Club, he investigated the Clark Garrison "RM" Site in Plymouth (C-1), and the Winslow Site in Marshfield (C-2). After World War II, Harry founded Plimoth Plantation. The variety of artifacts uncovered from the two sites, such as ceramics and spoons, guided the purchase of artifacts for use in the Museum's re-created buildings.

In the late 1950s, Harry approached Harvard University, looking for a young archaeologist to advise on the creation of a Native campsite. James Deetz joined the Museum staff, and Harry soon encouraged him in his interest in "cellar hole archaeology." Over his long career at Plimoth Plantation, Deetz, along with his students from Brown University, excavated more than a dozen historic sites in Southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Deetz's excavations made significant contributions to the development of the field of historical archaeology as well as the study of 17th-century New England.

Jim Deetz cross-mending pottery


Today Plimoth Plantation serves as a state-recognized curation site for local archaeology from all over southeastern Massachusetts. Artifacts are used for study, reproduction and exhibition.

Sites with a 17th-century Colonial component excavated and curated by Plimoth Plantation include:

  • C-1, the “RM” Site, Plymouth, MA, excavated 1940, 1941 and 1968;
  • C-2, the Winslow Site, Marshfield, MA, excavated 1941 and 1947;
  • C-3, the John Howland Site, Kingston, MA, excavated 1937 and 1960;
  • C-4, the Robert Bartlett Site, Plymouth, MA, excavated 1959;
  • C-5, the Joseph Howland Site, Kingston, MA, excavated 1960, 1968;
  • C-6, William Bradford II Site, Kingston, MA, excavated 1966;
  • C-7, Harlow House, Plymouth, MA, excavated 1960s;
  • C-14, Winslow Site, Marshfield, MA, excavated 1971;
  • C-21, Allerton Site, Kingston, MA, excavated 1972;
  • C-23, Major John Bradford Site, Kingston, MA, excavated 1973-1976;
  • Sparrow House Site, excavated 1988

Finds from these sites include ceramics (stonewares such as Bellarmine and Westerwald, earthenwares such as Borderware, North Italian marbled slipware, North Devon fine and coarse wares and sgrafitto), pipes, metal tools, nails and other architectural fragments, personal items and weapons.

C-13a, a downtown Plymouth site excavated in the early 1970s, contains a rich assemblage from three 18th- and early 19th-century trash pits. The pits included ceramics forms like chamberpots, storage jars, plates, bowls, and teacups, made of tin-glazed earthenware, creamware, pearlware and Chinese export porcelain.

One of the most recently excavated sites is the Bradford Pottery Site in Kingston, MA. In 1996, under the guidance of archaeologist Stephen Pendery, Plimoth Plantation staff did a salvage dig of an early 19th-century pottery. Finds include kiln furniture such as saggers and tripods, as well as several types of redware vessels like bowls, milk pans and storage jars. Plimoth Plantation artisans use information from this site to inform the ceramic production program.

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