Friday, April 13, 2018

Sharing and Preserving the Archaeological Record

The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology staff are the stewards of the archaeological record for the state of Pennsylvania. As such, the staff undertake numerous tasks to preserve the artifacts and records from sites across the state that have been donated to the museum. Many of the duties performed in the Section of Archaeology have been discussed in detail throughout previous posts of this blog, but one major responsibility that each of us has is to preserve site information, catalogs and artifacts for use in future research. Researchers use the data collected from us to develop conclusions on theories or ideas and present their findings at conferences and through publications, which can then further our understanding of Pennsylvania’s rich history. 

Over the past few weeks, staff members and archaeologists from across the state have been attending annual conferences and meetings. Presentations at these meetings discuss any number of topics including new artifact or site studies, more accurate or efficient methodologies and tests, and new insights on previously studied sites or collections. As was noted in our previous blog, several staff members recently attended this year’s Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) annual meeting. Once again, this conference was a success with topics covering prehistoric population movement, numerous site analyses, ceramic and bead analyses and much more. With the SPA annual meeting now over, our sights are set on another conference, taking place right now.

The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) annual meeting began on Wednesday April 11, 2018 and is running through Sunday April 15 in Washington D.C. The SAA meeting brings together archaeologists from across the country to continue sharing knowledge and developing a more in-depth understanding of the archaeological record across the continent. After a quick glance through the extensive conference program, staff in the archaeology lab recognized a few names. As is mentioned above, one of the principal goals of the Section for preserving artifacts and documentation is to open our doors to researchers who would like to use the collections to further our understanding of the archaeological record through various forms of analysis. Two of our more recent researchers, Lucy Harrington and Amy Fox, who spent long hours performing such research will be presenting at the SAA meeting. These young women are finalizing their projects and will be sharing the results with the archaeological community.

Amy Fox presenting her research at the SAAs

Past intern John Garbellano presenting poster at SAAs

Researchers like Lucy and Amy are some of the most common type of researchers we have at the Section of Archaeology, college students working on advanced degrees. Lucy and Amy both analyzed different types of projectile points in order to determine various aspects of their use. Both young women built upon older methods, using different types of measurements and/or three-dimensional imaging to analyze the projectile point attributes. Other recent student researchers examined animal bone assemblages from different archaeological sites to understand the use of different animal species in a culture and how domestic animals were transported across the landscape. We have benefitted from an array of research subjects from very specific topics, looking at one attribute of one type of artifact to more broad scope topics, such as comparing assemblages between sites.  

Dr. Bernard Means 3-D scanning turtle carapace from Monongahela site in Somerset County, Pa

 Other researchers frequently using the collections at the State Museum are professionals, who prepare papers, do background research for other projects or continue long-term projects. One such example is, Dr. Bernard Means a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who has a close working relationship with the Section of Archaeology. He has been working with us to 3-D scan various types of artifacts for his Virtual Curation Laboratory. With the data he has collected from our collections Dr. Means has been able to provide us with 3-D printed examples of some of these artifacts, which we use for outreach programs. Dr. Means will also be seen sharing information on his work at the SAA meeting this week. Finally, research is also performed in house. The Section of Archaeology staff are often found doing further research on various subjects for presentations and other public outreach programs. This and last year several staff members presented on various projects at the annual SPA meeting and two staff members are participating in the currently ongoing SAA meeting. 

Protecting and preserving Pennsylvania’s archaeological collections is what the staff of the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology do on a daily basis, but in order to increase the knowledge about Pennsylvania’s past we encourage researchers to take an interest, perform research, develop ideas and share them with the world. It is through research and sharing that we learn and develop a better understanding of the archaeological record. By doing this we can truly Save the Past for the Future.

If you are interested in researching a specific type of artifact or site we encourage anyone with a scholarly research project to submit a research request for access to the collections. For additional information or to make a request, please contact Janet Johnson at, or Kurt Carr at

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

Lifetime Awards and Once in a Lifetime Experiences, Spring Archaeology Conferences 2018

The weekend of March 15th-18th heralded the 2018 Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference where our very own Dr. Kurt W. Carr received the Lifetime Achievement Award. This award recognizes an archaeologist who has made significant contributions for more than 20 years to archaeology in the Middle Atlantic Region. The recipient must meet four criteria of Ethics, Research, Outreach and Service.  We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Kurt and honor his ongoing contributions to Pennsylvania and North American archaeology. As a staff archaeologist with the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission (PHMC) for 38 years, we also celebrate his contributions to the Pennsylvania Archaeology Site Survey (PASS), and encourage all to attend next week’s Pennsylvania Archaeology Council Symposium, Archaeologists Have History Too: Oral History of Pennsylvania’s Archaeology Site Survey.

Kurt began his career path as an archaeologist in high school at the age of 16, hitchhiking each summer from the northern suburbs of Philadelphia to join Fred Kinsey’s Franklin and Marshall College field school and survey crew in the Upper Delaware Valley. He continued his education with Dr. Kinsey, earning his B.A. in Anthropology from F&M in 1971, then branched out to earn his masters and doctorate degree in Anthropology from The Catholic University of America in 1975 and 1992. His graduate studies focused on Paleoindian and Early Archaic prehistory at Thunderbird and Fifty sites in Virginia. As a professional archaeologist, his post-graduate research and scholarship has broadened and continued in the areas of early hunting and gathering cultural adaptations, stone tool technology, settlement pattern analysis, geomorphology and environmental reconstruction.

He started his career at the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission (PHMC) as a cultural resource reviewer in 1980, eventually heading and overseeing the expansion of the department as the Chief of the Division of Archaeology and Protection from 1988 to 2005. He became the Senior Curator of the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum in 2007. Beyond his duties as a state archaeologist, Dr. Carr has served as a mentor to students of archaeology; taught courses at local community colleges; chaired committees and served in various leadership capacities for archaeology societies, councils and conferences; helped to organize annual meetings; delivered over 50 papers; and published over 25 peer reviewed journal articles and books, as well as over 13 technical reports.

One of Kurt’s many contributions to the archaeology of Pennsylvania is his participation in regional and statewide surveys as a college student and later as a PHMC archaeologist. State Museum archaeologists drafted the first standards, known as the PASS file, to record archaeological resources systematically in the 1950s.  This ongoing statewide campaign has recorded over 22,000 historic and prehistoric sites in the Commonwealth through the efforts of professional archaeologists from government, private and academic institutions, as well as avocational chapter members of The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA). Kurt has many on-the-ground stories to share from his college days of paddling the tributaries of the Susquehanna with a fellow student testing for, and recording sites on the floodplain. Not to mention, the months going door-to-door collecting landowner interviews in Lancaster County. He is also a wealth of knowledge from years spent guiding professional and avocational archaeologists through the site recording process.

Next weekend attendees of the Pennsylvania Archaeology Conference (PAC) Symposium will have the opportunity to hear Kurt’s experiences along with a comprehensive panel of Pennsylvania archaeologists whom have also devoted a lifetime of work toward creating and updating the PASS file system. Other representatives from the PHMC who are participating will be Noel Strattan, State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) CRGIS Coordinator as well as Section of Archaeology staff member, Jim Herbstritt along with former Senior Curator, Barry Kent. Speaking of lifetimes, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear an oral history of the Pennsylvania Archaeology Site Survey as well as learn about current archaeology projects happening in the state at The Society for Pennsylvania 89th Annual Meeting to follow.

The Pennsylvania Archaeology Conference Symposium and
The Society for Pennsylvania 89th Annual Meeting
April 6-8th, hosted this year by North Fork Chapter 29
Comfort Suites
10 Lakeside Avenue
Dubois, PA 15801
(814) 375-6028

The PAC symposium will kick off the weekend long conference on Friday afternoon. Saturday through Sunday morning, paper sessions begin with the SPA annual meeting. Representing the SHPO, Hannah Harvey will present during the Saturday morning session, The South Blairsville Industry Archaeological District: Exploring Western Pennsylvania’s Plate Glass Heritage. Past and present State Museum affiliated presenters include Barry Kent and Jim Herbstritt, who will be delivering concurrent papers to start the Saturday afternoon session—Images of Artifacts of Pennsylvania’s Past from Paleoindian to Historic Times, and Ethnogenesis and the Beginnings of Susquehannock. You can find further details at the SPA website, and link to the Preliminary Program for a complete listing of speakers and topics.

Walk-in registration is welcome at the door and there is still time to mail-in or register online for this year’s PAC Symposium and SPA Annual Meeting. Registration fees increase to $35.00 for regular SPA members and $25.00 for students as of this Saturday, March 31, 2018. Banquet fees remain at $32.00, for pre-registration and with limited availability for walk-in registrants. This year’s keynote banquet speaker is Dr. Michael Gramly, presenting Ritual Hunting of Proboscideans in the New World: Its Character, Inception, and Disapperance. Those interested in hotel reservations can reserve directly with the Comfort Suites. Reduced room rates are no longer available for conference attendees. 

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

Career Expo at Middletown Highschool

As our followers know we are always busy with a variety of tasks in the Section of Archaeology.  From excavations at Fort Hunter to the Pennsylvania Farm show, The Workshops in Archaeology program that we do in the fall and everything in between.  The common theme that runs through all these events is the importance of outreach to the people of Pennsylvania. A lot of people are interested in archaeology but many don’t realize how most archaeology is accomplished in Pennsylvania or how much history is right beneath their feet.  Our past is a non-renewable resource, so the more people are aware of that the better we are able to protect and manage our heritage.

Another form of outreach we participate in are school visits.  Yesterday we had a chance to speak with students contemplating their future occupations.  We were invited to attend the Career Expo at Middletown Highschool.  The students were divided by class, first the juniors then the seniors and so on.  As they entered the gym they were instructed to choose a career.  They were able to rotate to four careers during the classes allotted time.  We, along with numerous other professionals, engaged the students in small groups talking about our careers and answering questions.    It was a very nice well-organized program that allowed the kids to speak to a variety of professionals ranging from every branch of the military to physical therapy, nuclear science, archaeology and many, many more.

We shared with them some of the things we do here at the museum, including our role as the central repository for archaeological collections resulting from Cultural Resource Management (CRM) projects.  In 1966 the National Historic Preservation Act instituted the Section 106 process of mitigating the effects of federally funded construction projects requiring them to consider the archaeological consequences of their projects.  This consideration often requires excavation.  The Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania is the central repository for these collections and these projects are in large part the source of over 8 million artifacts (and growing) that we care for in the Section of Archaeology.   These CRM projects also employ fresh graduates of archaeology programs nationwide.  The requirements for a field tech position are typically a bachelor’s degree and a field school.  It would be impossible to display all our artifacts but they do go on lone to other facilities for exhibit and they serve as an invaluable resource to researchers. 

We also talked about opportunities available with the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission such as shadowing a curator and the KeystoneInternship program.  We have just finished going through the interview process with this year’s applicants.  I think it was a rewarding day for all involved and would like to both commend the program organizers Adam Shaffer and Michele Myers on a great program that gave the students an awareness of the many career options available to them; and we thank them for inviting us to attend. 

Before closing I would like to remind everyone that this weekend is the Mid Atlantic Archaeological Conference (MAAC) at Virginia Beach, Virginia.  It started yesterday so unfortunately if you’re not there you missed the Projectile Point/Lithic Workshop and tour of Ft. Eustis but it runs through Sunday March 18th so there is still a chance to enjoy some great presentations.    

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