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City Archaeologist announces federal grant to showcase 17th century artifacts

Boston archaeologists will create a new exhibit and digital files of approximately 100,000 artifacts from four Charlestown archaeological sites as part of the Boston 400th Digital Archaeology Project.

The Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) has awarded the City of Boston Archaeology Program (Program) a $160,000 matching grant to digitally document 17th century collections housed at the City of Boston Archaeology Laboratory in West Roxbury. This work will help preserve these collections and improve public access and inclusive learning experiences for the community.

The Program was one of 208 institutions selected from a national pool of 758 applicants. The IMLS Museums for America grant supports projects that strengthen the ability of an individual museum to benefit the public by providing high-quality, inclusive learning experiences, serving as community anchors and essential partners in addressing community needs, and by preserving and providing access to the collections entrusted to its care.

The Boston 400th Digital Archaeology Project will digitally catalog and photograph approximately 100,000 artifacts from four archaeological sites dating to Boston’s first decades, 1630-1650. All four sites were found by archaeologists ahead of Boston's Central Artery/Tunnel North project, aka the "Big Dig" in Charlestown in what is now City Square Park and areas along Constitution Road. They include John Winthrop's 1629 Great House site, the 1635-1775 Long Ordinary (later renamed Three Cranes Tavern) site, and two private homes, that of James and Deborah Garrett (1638-1655) and John Smith (1644-1691).

These artifacts not only include the household artifacts from these families and institutions, but also include Massachusett Native creations like stone tools and pottery, and there was at least one person, an unnamed black girl, enslaved by the Long family who owned the Long Ordinary. These collections appear to be the largest and most diverse group of objects related to the first decades of Boston's colonial history in existence. It is incredibly important that the complete story of these places include the experiences and stories of the women, children, and free and enslaved Native and Black people living there. 

These sites were surveyed in the 1980s, and there is no detailed or digital catalog of the artifacts recovered making them inaccessible to researchers and the general public.  This project will create a new digital catalog for each assemblage and photograph each artifact for a free online artifact database.  At the end of the project in 2023, the Archaeology Program will launch new web pages for each collection on their website, including the digital catalogs and artifact image database, and create a new online and in person public exhibit at the City Archaeology Lab in West Roxbury. 

It is the hope of the City Archaeology Program that by completing this project years before the City's 400th anniversary in 2030, this data and these artifacts can be fully incorporated into the celebrations, research, publications, exhibits, and interpretive products to be created by Boston's many historical and research institutions.

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