Burning Down the House! An Analysis of Carbonized Textiles from the Waterman Site in Marshfield, Massachusetts
Date of Original Version
The excavation of the seventeenth-century Robert Waterman house site in Marshfield, Massachusetts yielded thousands of carbonized textile fragments. Of these, 146 samples underwent analysis; the majority represented wool fabrics, which include a 3/1 reverse herringbone twill weave and plain weaves. No other seventeenth-century site has yielded a 3/l reverse twill herringbone fabric. Six fragments came from a silk satin ribbon with silver wrapped-core yarns; only two other contemporary archaeological sites have had a silk and metal ribbon.
The locations of the artifacts likely reflect preservation and artifact selection, not indication of use at the time of destruction. The burned wool samples varied in their characteristics from being able to see fibers in yarns to having a shiny-smooth surface with little detail. Burning tests of wool fabrics suggest that differences among the archaeological fragments’ appearances are due to variables in the burning conditions including burning times and the objects’ proximity to the heat source.
These fragments are the earliest known European textiles recovered from seventeenth-century New England and the first documented from the Plymouth Colony. They provide a reference set for textiles excavated in the future. The silk and silver ribbon would have been imported, but the source of the wool textiles—imported or locally produced— is unknown.