The history of Portsmouth, New Hampshire is rich and vibrant. Every time visitors visit Strawbery Banke, they are treated to a visual feast with historic streets, walkways and buildings interpreted to various time periods. Over time the museum has been an urban neighborhood with multiple residences, commercial shops, and industrial businesses near brick warehouses and barnacled piers along the Piscataqua Riverfront. The Strawbery Banke historic district remains characterized by narrow streets and wood frame buildings representing 18th and 19th century architectural forms and town planning practices.
Strawbery Banke archaeologists have conducted some of the largest and most successful urban archeology projects in New Hampshire. Continued investigations promise to be equally successful in uncovering important archeological data. These data, including artifacts, features and their patterned distribution within the ground, are likely to enhance our understanding of social behavior, culture change and daily life over nearly 300 years of Portsmouth’s history. In the past, numerous excavations sponsored by Strawbery Banke Museum have provided information on domestic life, building traditions, commercial activities, on pottery manufacture, tanning and other industries, and have aided the museum in reconstructing buildings, wharves, gardens, roads and pathways. Excavations undertaken by Strawbery Banke archaeologists, carried out since the 1960s, have demonstrated that Portsmouth is one of the richest sites for historic archeology in northern New England.
Past archaeological investigations have explored features and deposits dating from the 1600s through the 1900s, reflecting domestic, architectural, religious, industrial and commercial aspects of life associated with Portsmouth and Puddle Dock since the first settlement in the 1600s to the present day.
Past archeological excavations have revealed:
- artifacts and features reflecting a cultural continuum from the late 1600s
- main dwelling foundations fronting former streets and alleys
- features and deposits at the rear of former dwellings
- historic water management and other town utility systems in the neighborhood
- information about historic landowners and tenants who occupied the historic structures
- evidence of community leaders, immigrants, women and enslaved people of African descent
- neighborhood transitions from farmers to tradesmen to merchants to immigrants
- elements and activities associated with industry and commerce
For a bibliography of Strawbery Banke Archaeology and links to several of the articles published about the Museum's archaeology, click here.
Even though many aspects of Portsmouth’s history are well documented, ongoing historic and archeological research continues to produce new information, thereby deepening our understanding and appreciation of Portsmouth and its neighborhoods. Most of the latest research focuses on the social fabric of the community, exploring aspects of former proprietors and tenants, past economy, industry, minority groups, ethnic heritage, and daily life. Currently, Portsmouth researchers are investigating the role of women, enslaved and free people of African descent and immigrants in the community through time, as well as the development of artisan craft trades, economic growth and decline, and aspects of class structure reflected in former proprietors and tenants of the Strawbery Banke buildings. These topics are being addressed in on-going programs at Strawbery Banke Museum and by independent scholars, using a wide array of data including maps, photographs, paintings, archives, buildings, objects and artifacts from archeological sites.
In addition, on display and in Strawbery Banke’s collections are hundreds of thousands of artifacts that have been recovered from Strawbery Banke investigations. The artifact collection includes objects of ceramic, glass, metal, wood, bone, shell, and leather. The collection is estimated to include over 700,000 specimens. The artifacts provide tangible evidence for details of life from the seventeenth to the late twentieth centuries, much of which is not available elsewhere. The examination of these artifacts as well as bones, seeds and other organic remains yield evidence about domestic, maritime, commercial and industrial activities, as well as diet, horticultural practices and the local economy and environment. Ceramics and glass constitute concrete proof of objects used in the household, while nails, hinges, brick mortar and other architectural objects demonstrate building construction materials and techniques. Artifacts also offer information on industries as potting and tanning, wealth, trade networks and changes in style, which, in turn, offer insight into daily living patterns and changes in culture over time.
If you are interesting in learning more about the archaeology of Strawbery Banke, we invite you to visit the museum, review our calendar, or contact us about attending or scheduling archaeological presentations, archaeological workshops for career exploration and professional development, summer archaeology field schools and camps, and volunteer and research opportunities.
For more information on archaeology at Strawbery Banke, please contact Archaeologist Alix Martin at
or call (603) 422-7521.