A buried calf was crucial to the find.

By Jess McHugh
November 30, 2016
Credit: Courtesy of David Landon

As the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Plymouth Colony approaches, researchers are still discovering new information about some of the first European settlers.

A team from the University of Massachusetts Boston recently discovered the first known remnants from the original 1620 settlement of pilgrims who crossed over on the Mayflower and landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

“We actually found evidence of part of the built landscape,” head researcher David Landon told Travel + Leisure, describing the importance of the find.

Landon and his team made the discovery during their fourth summer of excavation. Plymouth has long been a cultural attraction as well as a thriving town since the time of the first colonists, and the UMass team has been able to find artifacts from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries during their time on the dig.

“Since we’re digging in a town this isn’t like a site in the woods—it’s actually in a very well-established tourist town. So we continue to find evidence of all of the different time periods of the town,” Landon told T+L. They even discovered remnants from the 300th anniversary celebration of the landing of the Mayflower that took place in 1920.

Credit: Courtesy of David Landon

The discovery of the first settlement was no simple task. The early residents of Plymouth did not use stone or brick foundations but instead built their homes by digging holes and planting stakes in the ground. When the team discovered these type of soil stains, coupled with musket balls, pottery and other artifacts that would have been used by the colonizers and not the native people, they became more certain of their find, according to a statement from the university.

One 17th century calf, lovingly named Constance by the researchers, helped confirm the find. The team discovered her remains inside the confines of what they believe to be the settlement, and the fact that native people would not have used domesticated cows solidified the hypothesis.

The original Plymouth settlement in the 17th century was itself built on an even older Wampanoag tribe settlement whose residents had perished prior to the pilgrims arrival. The research team continues to find objects from the tribes, including a stone workshop that predates the 1620 colony.

“Anywhere that we’ve dug in Plymouth, the native presence is really strong,” he said. “It’s a testament to the thousands of years of continuous occupation before it was a European settlement.”