Researchers find America's first pilgrim settlement

The Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachussetts (Getty)
The Plimouth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachussetts (Getty)

Researchers in the US say they've found the exact spot where the first pilgrims arrived and settled almost 400 years ago.

A team from University of Massachusetts Boston spent five weeks looking for evidence of the settlement, called Plymouth, on Burial Hill.

They expected the search to last years, but quickly began unearthing 17th century artefacts, including musket balls, trade beads and pottery.

The smoking gun was a calf buried whole - Native Americans didn't have domestic cattle, the researchers say, so this was proof the site was used by European settlers.

"Finding evidence of colonial activity inside the original 1620 Plymouth settlement is an incredibly exciting discovery that has the potential to change dramatically our understanding of early European colonization in New England," said Kathryn Ness, curator of collections at Plimoth Plantation.

"For the first time, we have proof of where the settlement was located and what kinds of items the pilgrims owned and used."

It wasn't easy though. The pilgrims didn't build with bricks, so finding evidence of buildings was difficult.

"While we're digging, we're constantly in the process of trying to interpret what we're finding," says lead researcher David Landon.

"It really goes to just moving slowly and trying to see if there are any patterns in the flow that we can map out. As soon as that starts, it becomes a slow process. It's about much more than the artefacts - it's about trying to pin down soil colour and trying to understand constructed features that are no longer there."

Plymouth was settled in 1620 by pilgrims aboard English ship the Mayflower.