Bringing a Fresh Eye to Research
Joseph Bagley: Fishing in the Frog Pond
Two 4-foot-high bronze frog sculptures watch over the winter skaters and summer waders at the Frog Pond on Boston Common. From their perch on the eastern end of the pond they look across Charles Street to the trees in the Boston Public Garden. According to Joseph Bagley, if you were standing on the same spot 8,000 years earlier, the pond would still be there, inhabited by real, not bronze frogs. In place of the skaters and waders, you’d find indigenous peoples living around the pond, and thousands of clamshells would be visible, scattered along a shoreline reaching as far as Charles Street. Bagley, a recent archaeology graduate, easily paints this picture—the fruit of senior work for distinction, funded by UROP, in which he studied artifacts excavated from the area around the Frog Pond.
When Bagley arrived at Boston University, he knew he wanted to major in archaeology. “I liked science, I liked history, and I didn’t want a desk job,” he says. He had also honed his skills and interest in high school by attending an archaeological field school in his home state of Maine. Originally interested in classical archaeology, a second summer excavating in Maine refocused his interests to the history of New England before the arrival of Europeans.
Working with his mentor, archaeologist Curtis Runnels, Bagley learned that a prehistoric site on the Common had been excavated but the artifacts had never been studied. He saw in this both a subject for his senior work for distinction and an opportunity to explore the earliest history of Boston. With the permission of the City of Boston archaeologist, Bagley analyzed and photographed the finds. From them, he created a portrait of Native Americans who lived around the pond from 8,000 years ago until European settlers arrived. Among Bagley’s most important discoveries was a Neville spear point, the oldest artifact ever found in Boston. Bagley also found pottery fragments bearing the impressions of woven textiles, the oldest examples of weaving in Boston. Another tool in the collection, called a scraper because it could be used to scrape fat and muscle from animal hides, was made from Pennsylvania jasper, showing that villagers traded well beyond the local area.
Based on the artifacts from the Frog Pond excavation, Bagley wrote a brief story describing the village and the villagers—children chase each other brandishing toy spears made from reeds, while grown-ups make pottery, tend fires, or butcher deer. The Frog Pond artifacts are typical of those from villages of this time period along New England’s coast, says Bagley, but given the tremendous amount of construction in Boston, the Common is one of the few areas where evidence of this early history is still preserved. He adds that part of the site’s importance is in reminding people that “the history of Boston began long before 1630 when the colonists arrived.”
—by Trina Arpin