Thursday, November 9, 2017

Workshops Wrap-Up

As many of you may know, we recently held or annual Workshops in Archaeology on October 28, 2017.  This year’s theme was Ethnicity in the Archaeological Record; and although attendance was a little lighter than usual, the papers presented and the discussions provoked were as interesting as ever.

The day began with the Director of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Beth Hager, welcoming everyone to the museum and generally setting the stage for this year’s installment of our workshops program.  Dr. Kurt Carr briefly introduced the topic of the day and was followed by our first presenter, Keith Heinrich of Pennsylvania’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). 

Keith suggested that in some cases (not all) place names can be an indicator of ethnicity.  He discussed two examples, Germantown in Philadelphia and Polish Hill in Pittsburgh.  Being an architectural historian, he was also able to describe structural clues to ethnicity. 

The second presentation of the morning was scheduled to be Brice Obermeyer of the Delaware Nation who unfortunately was unable to join us.  Nothing daunted, our own Janet Johnson was able to collaborate with Mr. Obermeyer and deliver an interesting paper identifying a Delaware village in Missouri.  Janet drew comparisons between Delaware sites in Pennsylvania using clues such as personal ornaments (silver adornments, glass beads, brass points & cones…) as well as structural similarities in log cabin construction.

Session three was delivered by Ken Basalik from Cultural Heritage Research Services, Inc. (CHRS).  Ken delivered a cautionary summation of several historic sites in Pennsylvania acknowledging the difficulty of defining an ethnic group through both time and space.  In some examples, physical alterations of structures through time were enough to disguise what could have been ethnic attributes.  In other instances, the artifacts recovered alluded to one group or another with varying degrees of accuracy.  Concluding with the idea that in some cases, structures and artifacts may offer clues but the best way of deciphering ethnicity was historical documentation and the personal accounts of those that lived there, if available.

The fourth session of the morning was presented by Hannah Harvey, Pennsylvania’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).  Her research was devoted exclusively to the company housing associated with the early 20th century Columbia Plate Glass Company near Blairsville in Indiana county.  Using documentation, predominantly census records, she was successful in “mapping the social geography of the community”.  

Although she too found it difficult to corroborate ethnicity via excavation.

John P. McCarthy, Cultural Preservation Specialist with the Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation, delivered the fifth paper, a discussion of burial practices at two early 19th century African American cemeteries in Philadelphia.  In several of the burials common yet unusual grave goods were interred with the deceased; coins, a shoe and a plate.  He contends that these are vestiges of spiritual non-Christian beliefs about the afterlife that developed in Africa and were demonstrative of an “African based social identity” in the face of growing hostility in 19th century Philadelphia.

The next paper also dealt with African Americans in Philadelphia, this time in the late 18th century.  Jed Levin, Chief of the History Branch of the Independence National Historical Park, spoke of the excavations at the National Constitution Center and the President’s House over the past 15 years and detailed the contrasting stories of two African Americans in Revolutionary War era Philadelphia.   One, James Oronoco Dexter a free coachmen and Ona Judge, Martha Washington’s enslaved seamstress.  Using both historical documentation and the archaeology he was able to construct a forgotten piece of our collective national history.

Our former Senior Archaeology Curator Steve Warfel spoke about the German religious community at Ephrata Cloister during the mid-18th century.  Steve’s presentation discussed the groups strict, pious, religious beliefs and how they changed as a result of internal and external pressures.  Some of these changes are reflected in the historic documentation others are not, but are evident in the archaeological record.  For example, their rules and beliefs are written about in several sources so they are known from the written record.  One such rule of behavior was a belief in poverty, they thought personal property to be sinful, and yet redware dishes were recovered archaeologically that clearly had initials scratched into the base, marking it as belonging to someone.  

Demonstrating the transformation of their self-view, self-identification being at the core of the definition of ethnicity.

The final presentation of the day was delivered by two speakers, Cristie Barry and Amanda Rasmussen both from McCormick Taylor.  They also discussed Germans, focusing on two German farmsteads in eastern Pennsylvania tracing their development through the 18th and 19th centuries.  Looking at the farm layout and the household artifacts as evidence of the frugal, self-sufficient nature of the German occupants.  They too found that without the historical documentation it would have been difficult to establish an ethnic link based just on the archaeological record.

At the conclusion of the presentations Jonathan Burns, Director of Juniata College’s Cultural Resource Institute, provided a closing summary to the day’s discussions.  Many of the paper’s resolved that without the accompanying historic documentation it can be difficult to establish ethnicity in the archaeological record.  The exception to this is finding a unique artifact or artifacts that are obvious ethnic calling cards.  While conducting excavations at Fort Shirley in Huntingdon county a medallion / charm was recovered inscribed in Arabic “No God but Allah”.  

A clear marker of Muslim ethnicity, but an extremely rare find. 

Along with the presentations Steve Nissly was in attendance demonstrating his Flintnapping skills.

Artifact were being identified by Doug McLearen and Kira Heinrich, both from the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).  

Noël Strattan and Hannah Harvey, also from the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), explained the Cultural Resource Geographic Information System (CRGIS) and registered new sites.  In all it was another successful Workshops in Archaeology concluding of course with a reception in the Hall of Anthropology where participants and attendants could snack and chat less formally about the day.

Hopefully this glimpse of the Annual Workshops in Archaeology has been enough to entice you to join us in the future.  Next year’s date is yet to be announced but we will post it here as soon as it is scheduled so stay tuned!

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, October 27, 2017

Lost Faces in Time

Anthropomorphic renditions in various media are well represented in the archaeological assemblages of the world, from Paleolithic times to the present. There is something about the appearance of the sculpted, modeled or carved human face on the collar of a pot, the bowl of a tobacco pipe or, perhaps, a pocket talisman, that conveys the phrase --- speak to me!
Figure 1. Pine Island “rock face”, Late Archaic period

Human face-like images have been recovered from archaeological contexts in Pennsylvania going back in time to the Late Archaic period. The “face rock” from Piney Island (Figure 1) may be 4000 years old as it was found between soil strata with radiocarbon dates of 3720 BP. and 4000 BP. (Kent 1996). In the Upper Delaware Valley, similar faces were apparently pecked onto the surfaces of small cobbles during the Late Woodland period. Stylized faces were also carved onto small pebbles and, the interior beam posts of the Oklahoma Delaware Big House or Xingwikaon. These carvings in bold relief may be Lenape renditions of the Mesingw or Masked Being. The Ohtas, or “Doll Beings” with remarkable powers (Figure 2), used in the Doll Dance by the Oklahoma Delaware were also carved from wood in precise detail (Kraft 2001).

Figure 2. Wooden Ohta doll, Delaware 19th century

The Munsee, who occupied a large part of the Delaware Valley from Port Jervis south to the Water Gap, decorated their cooking and storage pots with human-face-like features. Typically, three punch marks, made with a blunt stylus carved from wood or bone, formed the eyes and mouth and these were located at each rim castellation (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Munsee face pot, probably 17th century

Occasionally the potter chose to sculpt one face above the other. In the Lower Susquehanna Valley, these human face-like renditions became very common appliques to the collars of Susquehannock pottery by the first quarter of the 17th century (Figure 4). Susquehannock face pots were used for the storage and cooking of foods and as receptacles for burial offerings that held one last meal for the deceased.

Figure 4. Susquehannock face pot. Early 17th century

In both the Delaware and Susquehanna valleys, charm stones were made and carried by the Lenape and Susquehannock people. Principally made of soft stone such as steatite, serpentine, siltstone and by the middle of the 18th century, red pipestone (Figure 5), these effigies like the wooden Ohtas, were carved with great detail.

Figure 5. Pipestone maskette. Conestoga Indian site. Mid-18th century

Human face-like images adorned the bowls of tobacco pipes of the different Native American cultures. Certain clay pipes of the Wyoming Valley Complex (Smith 1973) are characterized by pronounced eye and mouth features indicative of some northern Iroquoian false face masks (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Wyoming Valley clay face pipe. Early 15 century

 Some of these mimic Onondaga and Mohawk pipe styles attributed to the Early Iroquois Chance phase  dates to approximately 1375-1425 A.D. Our Pennsylvania examples appear to be confined to the North Branch of the Susquehanna River from Nanticoke to the New York State line. Several pipe styles from southern Ontario suggest contact between the Wendat and Susquehannocks in the early to mid-17th century. Examples of the pinched face or plague pipe, a late 16th to early 17th century form, are rare in Susquehannock material culture but common in southern Ontario (Figure 7).

Figure 7. Pinch face clay pipe. Huron/Susquehannock Early 17th century

   These pipes which depict the gaunt forlorn image of a human are so-named for the illnesses brought by Europeans that ravaged North American native societies.
Figure 8. Face pipe of stone. Warren County, Pennsylvania. Age unknown

Moving our discussion westward we note the vasiform-shaped pipe of fine grained siltstone from a Seneca site in the Upper Allegheny valley. With a pronounced blowing or whistling mouth, boldly shaped brows and deep-set eyes, the image mimics the “Blower” category of false face masks used by the Iroquois or Haudenosaunee in their Mid-Winter ceremony (Figure 8). Another, stone face though much less expressionless, is from a site on the Sinnemahoning drainage in west-central Pennsylvania. Carved from fireclay, a soft indurated clay stone, the image has neither eyes nor mouth giving the object an expressionless appearance suggesting that it is an unfinished piece that was lost or discarded by its owner (Figure 9).

Figure 9. Stone maskette. Sinnemahoning Valley. Age unknown

Anthropomorphic images whether modeled or carved, onto pots, pipes or rocks take Native American material expression to its highest level that only the artisans who made these objects might truly understand their meanings --- speak to me!  

Harrington, Mark R.
1921      Religion and Ceremonies of the Lenape.Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation Indian Notes and Monographs 19.

Kent, Barry C.
1996      Piney Island and the Archaic of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Archaeologist 66(2); 1-42.

Kraft, Herbert C.
2001       The Lenape-Delaware Indian Heritage: 10,000 BC to AD 2000. Lenape Books.

Smith, Ira F.
1973       The Parker Site: A Manifestation of the Wyoming Valley Culture. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 43(3-4): 1-56.

Speck, Frank G.

1931       A Study of the Delaware Big House Ceremony. Publications of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, Volume II, Harrisburg.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, October 13, 2017

Fort Hunter Wrap Up

Fort Hunter Day 2017

In the remaining two weeks of fieldwork at Fort Hunter since our last post, our crew continued to excavate in their respective areas to the east and west of the milk house behind the mansion. Never a day went by without the archaeologists answering questions from the curious and inquisitive visitors to the park. How do you know where to dig? What are you finding? Did you have to go to school for that?

In the vicinity of the smokehouse foundation, artifacts were few and far between, suggesting that undisturbed soils with the potential to contain historic, and more optimistically fort period artifacts, had been all but exhausted through previous years’ work in this area. Careful troweling of the remaining soil did yield a handful of glazed redware sherds, very small fragments of tin-glazed earthenware and scratch blue salt-glazed stoneware. With disassembly of the smokehouse foundation completed and samples of visually distinct stones set aside for thin sectioning and sourcing analysis, the excavation block east of the milk house has closed and is ready to be backfilled. 

East block closing shot

Notable discoveries in the excavation units to the west of the milk house were predominantly prehistoric in age and included native pottery sherds, a few Late Archaic projectile points and a wide scattering of fire cracked rock.

Late Archaic projectile points (the asymmetry of the top specimen suggest it may have functioned as a knife) 

Most of these artifacts were found in a thin band of soil roughly 2 feet below the ground that was once the original land surface, referred to as a buried A horizon, and the first several inches of soil directly underlying it, the subsoil, also called the B horizon.

West trench excavation of buried A horizon (photo credit: Don Giles)

A few fragments of the pottery recovered are sections of the rim of a vessel.  Often decorated with varying patterns of incised lines and/or geometric shapes rim sherds are typically the most diagnostic portion of pre-contact ceramics. Seen below, the cord-marked horizontal and oblique lines on this sherd are indicative of the Owasco ceramic tradition which dates to c. 1000 to 1300 AD (Ritchie 1965). The ultimate in 3D jigsaw puzzles, there may be enough fragments to reconstruct upwards of half of this early fired clay container.

close up of cord marked rim sherd

One unique find this season is what appears to be a medial fragment, or middle section, of the stem portion of a native ceramic smoking pipe. The fragment is also split lengthwise, providing an interesting cross-section of the bore hole through the stem. The clay pipe fragment also exhibits shell tempering which is a characteristic of ceramics from the Late Woodland Period.

interior view of pipe stem fragment 

Despite its underwhelming context of recovery (modern utility trench fill) this artifact retains some significance in that of the tens of thousands of artifacts collected over the course of 11 field seasons, this is the only one in the assemblage to represent prehistoric tobacco use. In whole form, the pipe may have looked similar to this example below from the Strickler site.

complete ceramic pipe from the Strickler site

What does any of that have to do with the French and Indian War one might ask. Admittedly, not much, with one important exception, that it does drive home the point that this area was a strategic position on the landscape for not just hundreds, but thousands of years. There were, however, a few artifacts recovered this season that do seem to hint at echoes from the fort period.

 musket balls

gun flint

 late 18th and 19th C. brass and pewter buttons 

 tin glaze earthenware (left), and scratch blue salt glazed stoneware (right) 

These types of artifacts are intriguing, as they bare the signature of the fort period, and of the time before and shortly after, but unfortunately, due in part to the high level or earth moving activities in this particular section of the property, none were found in discrete contexts free from 19th and 20th Century material.

Susquehanna River looking upstream towards the Dauphin Narrows

It’s been said before, and it’s worth repeating, our volunteers are awesome! They are pleasant to be around, helpful with any number of tasks, and sometimes bring food to share. The amount of work accomplished this season simply would not have happened were it not for our dedicated volunteers.  A tip of the hat also goes to Dauphin County Parks and Recreation for their continuing cooperation and support. THANK YOU, to all who contributed in our efforts to uncover the past!

And a final reminder the Workshops in Archaeology program is just a short two weeks away:

The Archaeology Section of The State Museum of Pennsylvania invites you to attend the annual Workshops in Archaeology on Saturday, October28, 2017.  This program is designed to provide the public with an overview of archaeological discoveries and research being conducted in the region.  Papers presented at these sessions will focus on Ethnicity in the Archaeological Record as it can be identified at farmsteads, industrial sites, religious sites and other locations in Pennsylvania.  By recognizing cultural markers of preceding populations in Pennsylvania, archaeologists are better equipped to under-stand the fluid cultural landscape of our country.


Ritchie, William A.
(1965) The Archaeology of New York State
            The Natural History Press, Garden City, New York

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .