A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts

Joseph M. Bagley

History is right under our feet; we just need to dig a little to find it. Though not the most popular construction project, Boston’s Big Dig has contributed more to our understanding and appreciation of the city’s archaeological history than any other recent event. Joseph M. Bagley, city archaeologist of Boston, uncovers a fascinating hodgepodge of history—from ancient fishing grounds to Jazz Age red-light districts—that will surprise and delight even longtime residents. Each artifact is shown in full color and accompanied by description of the item’s significance to its site location and the larger history of the city. From cannonballs to drinking cups and from ancient spears to chinaware, A History of Boston in 50 Artifacts offers a unique and accessible introduction to Boston’s history and physical culture while revealing the ways objects can offer a tantalizing entrée into our past. Packed with vivid descriptions and art, this lively history of Boston will appeal to all manner of readers, locals and visitors alike.

Paper: $29.95 | E-book: $24.95
ISBN-13: 9781684580781
Pages: 224 | Size: 7 in. x 10 in.
Date Published: September 20, 2021

Bagley is wry and witty… demonstrating superior deductive skills and rousing the public to see the value of their past around them.

New Boston Post


  • Bagley is wry and witty . . . demonstrating superior deductive skills and rousing the public to see the value of their past around them.

    New Boston Post
  • City archaeologist Joseph Bagley has a special way of bringing Boston's evolution to life. In A History of Boston in 50 Objects, Bagley delivers a tangible take on our past through a collection of stunning portraits of things that have been unearthed here.

    Chris Sweeney
    Boston Magazine
  • The author’s engaging writing style keeps the pages turning. For undergraduates, this book provides an introduction to archaeology's unfolding of history. Although not a scholarly work, it does contain notes and a useful bibliography and belongs in the collections of universities and colleges as well as public libraries. . . . Recommended.

  • This is a great book. Joe Bagley cuts through layers of the prevailing historical narrative to bring real people-and animals-back to life. A Massachusett hunting for deer on the Common, a child hiding a metal cop and robber toy in a yard outside an orphanage, a worshipper at a Beacon Hill synagogue, a horse pulling a Metropolitan Horse Railroad car out of a Roxbury station, a cat buried outside a Charlestown tavern-these are the characters of history. A skilled archaeologist, Bagley has unearthed many of these objects. But with the keen eye of a detective and the verve of a novelist, he has told their stories and the story of the city around them. Don’t read this book on the T-you will miss your stop!

    Robert Allison
    professor and chair of the history department, Suffolk University
  • In this highly readable and entertaining volume, Joseph Bagley introduces us to fifty key artifacts that once belonged to Boston’s original residents-native Americans, colonial settlers, and people of various ages, classes, races, and ethnic backgrounds. Bagley elicits their stories from the smallest of items that passed through their hands before coming to rest in the soils beneath contemporary Boston.

    Mary C. Beaudry
    Boston University

About the Author

Joseph M. Bagley

Joseph M. Bagley is the city archaeologist of Boston and a popular lecturer and walking-tour leader.

Other Recent Titles

The Marital Knot

Noa Shashar

A New Orient

Amit Levy

The Spice Ports

Nick Nugent

The Green Ages

Annette Kehnel

The Philosopher Fish

Richard Adams Carey