The ca. 1638 Waterman Site, Marshfield, Massachusetts: The Anatomy of a Pilgrim House


The excavation and reconstruction of the ca. 1638 Waterman site is providing the first comprehensive and detailed look at the architecture and household material culture of an early period Pilgrim house in Plymouth Colony. The small vernacular house was of earth-fast, post-in-ground, and palisaded-wall construction, and burned down in a catastrophic fire after only a short period of occupation. The archaeological features, artifact patterns, and historical documents are integrated with 17th-century anthropomorphic architectural metaphors to reconstruct the house’s architecture and the various domestic activities that occurred within and around the house, including foodways, expressions of gender roles, environmental adaptation, and English and Native American cultural exchange.


La excavación y reconstrucción del sitio de Waterman de ca. 1638 proporciona la primera visión completa y detallada de la arquitectura y la cultura material del hogar de una casa de peregrinos del período temprano en la Colonia de Plymouth. La pequeña casa vernácula era de construcción de muros hecho de postes de madera metidos en el suelo y de paredes empalizadas, y se quemó en un incendio catastrófico después de solo un breve período de ocupación. Las características arqueológicas, los patrones de artefactos y los documentos históricos se integran con metáforas arquitectónicas antropomórficas del siglo XVII para reconstruir la arquitectura de la casa y las diversas actividades domésticas que ocurrían dentro y alrededor de la casa, incluidas las formas de comer, las expresiones de los roles de género, la adaptación ambiental y el intercambio cultural entre nativos americanos e ingleses.


Les fouilles et la reconstruction du site de Waterman datant de 1638 apportent la première vision exhaustive et détaillée de l'architecture et de la culture des objets domestiques d'une demeure de Pèlerin des tous débuts dans la colonie de Plymouth. La petite maison vernaculaire était un bâtiment en charpente, poteaux en terre, aux murs de palissade. Elle a brûlé dans un incendie catastrophique après une brève période d'occupation. Les caractéristiques archéologiques, les modèles d'artéfact et les documents historiques sont intégrés à des métaphores architecturales anthropomorphiques du 17ème siècle afin de reconstruire l'architecture de la maison et les différentes activités domestiques ayant eu lieu au sein de la demeure et autour d'elle, notamment les pratiques alimentaires, les expressions des rôles des sexes, l'adaptation environnementale et les échanges culturels entre anglais et Natifs américains.

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Preservation archaeology takes many skilled and dedicated people, and the Waterman site was no exception. With great appreciation and respect I thank, first and foremost, Mary G. Harper, director of AHS; also, Bruce Clouette, AHS senior historian; the AHS crew; state archaeologist/state historic preservation officer Brona Simon and Jonathan Patton of the Massachusetts Historical Commission; Gale Associates; the Federal Aviation Administration; the Town of Marshfield; and the Marshfield Municipal Airport. I would also like to thank Cary Carson, Emerson Baker, the late Brian Jones, and the late Karin Goldstein for their insights and support. Thank you also to the Society for Historical Archaeology, including Historical Archaeology’s editor-in-chief Christopher Matthews, copy editor Richard Schaefer, and the anonymous reviewers for their efforts and perspectives. In memory of Robert Waterman and Elizabeth (Bourne) Waterman.

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Harper, R.K. The ca. 1638 Waterman Site, Marshfield, Massachusetts: The Anatomy of a Pilgrim House. Hist Arch (2021).

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  • household
  • gender
  • Plymouth Colony
  • New England
  • architecture
  • methods
  • 17th century