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 .

Friday, March 2, 2018

Earliest European Trade Goods and the Susquehannock Indians

Archaeologists typically spend the winter months processing and cataloging collections. Along with this comes research which will result in presentations, papers and publications. Current research of the Susquehannock culture period has provided the subject of this week’s blog in which we explore early Indian-European trade in the mid-Atlantic.

Although the Vikings first established their settlement at L’ Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland around 1000 AD, it was another 500 years before regular contact between Indians and Europeans occurred. By the late 1400s, Basques and English fishermen began harvesting cod and whales from the coastal waters around Newfoundland and Labrador (Kraft 2001: 355-357).

 Exploitation of these maritime resources required a land base of operations for processing the fish and rendering oil in large cauldrons for later transport back to Europe. It was probably during these times that they began to trade European-made goods for meat and animal furs. One of these places was Red Bay, Labrador located at the north end of the Straight of Belle Isle (Tuck and Grenier 1989).

Red Bay, Labrador Canada

Interaction with foreigners, who, to the local native groups, dressed differently and spoke a strange language, would eventually culminate in the exchange of trinkets such as glass beads, colorfully woven cloth and metal objects for beaver skins. Initially, these commodities were traded face-to-face.  Eventually, as trade relations developed, native traders began acting as middlemen between Europeans and other native groups. Some of these objects would survive for centuries to be rediscovered by archaeologists.

In northern Pennsylvania, the earliest European derived trade goods are attributed to the Susquehannocks who, by the mid-16th century were living in small communities around the confluence of the Chemung and the Susquehanna’s North Branch rivers. At these places, trade items are extremely rare, consisting principally of metal ornaments crafted from copper and brass. Among these items are spirals and tubular beads made by annealing , then rolling, these metals into shape. A few glass beads of greenish-blue color, an occasional fragment of wrought iron and plaited textiles have been found that indicate some level of variety in the trader’s trade inventory.

By the late 16th century and into the early 17th century, the Susquehannocks were receiving a wider variety of European manufactured goods that suggests these interactions with traders was on the rise as the result of the Susquehannock’s participation in the beaver skin trade . By then, Europe had depleted their supply of beaver for the hatting industry.

This was also the period in history when the Susquehannocks began adopting the pattern of communal life in large fortified villages with many houses. A major shift of their settlements to the lower Susquehanna valley around Washington Boro, Pennsylvania occurs where the environmental setting is more conducive to a longer, frost free growing season for crops, access to a more direct migratory fowl route as well as a more strategic position for trade with the English on Chesapeake Bay. With these advantages then, it comes as no surprise to us that the quantity and quality of trade goods grew by leaps and bounds.

Although the Susquehannocks continued trading beaver skins and other furs for many different varieties of glass beads and copper/brass ornaments they also were successful in obtaining axes, hoes, knives, harpoons, chisels and other useful tools of iron from European sources and this is reflected in the archaeological record of  their settlements. Around 1630 the Susquehannocks began obtaining guns. Although guns and gun parts are present they are by no means common until the 1640’s when flint lock fowling pieces show up as important trade items on their sites.

 Bastion mounted swivel cannon were also desirable weapons of warfare for the Susquehannocks. In fact, iron and stone cannon balls were discovered at the Strickler site which was one of their villages of the 1640-1660 period (Kent 1984). One explanation frequently cited is the hostility that developed between the Susquehannocks and other northern Iroquoians for control of the beaver skin trade. Another is that small munitions were more effective in taking more beaver in less time than would have been possible with trap sets alone. 

Trade between native groups and Europeans began once the New World was recognized as a valuable source for beaver skins and other commodities that previously had been exhausted in Europe. The gold, silver and emerald resources of Central and South America were never to be found along the northeast coast of North America. Instead, in a sense the fur trade made up the difference. In both cases, however, it was the Europeans who benefitted most.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this examination of early contact amongst Europeans and Indians in the Susquehanna valley. It was a complex period of culture change and an important period in the development of our Commonwealth. If you’d like to learn more about the Susquehannocks we encourage you to refer to the references below and visit the Anthropology and Archaeology gallery of The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Visitors to our museum can view some of the spectacular trade objects referenced in this blog and gain a sense of the importance of preserving our past for the future.

Kent, Barry C.
1984       Susquehanna’s Indians. Anthropology Series Number 6. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.
Kraft, Herbert C.
2001       The Lenape-Delaware Heritage: 10,000 BC to AD 2000. Lenape Books
Tuck, James A. and Robert Grenier
1989       Red Bay, Labrador: World Whaling Capital A.D. 1550-1600. Atlantic Archaeology Ltd. St. John’s Newfoundland.

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

A recent submission to the Section of Archaeology

W.P.A. excavations during Winter at the Peck Site (36So1)

Winter in Pennsylvania is not typically a time of year that is well suited for archaeological fieldwork. That is not to say fieldwork in February does not happen. Indeed, it has and does, but it would be difficult to persuade anyone that conditions like the ones seen above are anything approaching optimal.  When the days are short, cold winds bitter, and the ground is well, frozen, archaeologists often take to the lab to process (that is to sort, clean, catalog, inventory, label and archivally package for curation) artifact collections from the previous season’s excavations.

Here at the museum, artifact collections that are the product of cultural resource management projects arrive year-round, although there does seem to be an uptick in submissions this time of year. Being centrally located as the State Museum is in Harrisburg, from time to time criticism bubbles to the surface that our efforts and attention can focus disproportionately on sites in the Susquehanna River Valley region. Given the diverse topography and size of the state, wide ranging archaeological research interests, and our own limited resources, this criticism is not without some merit. This week’s post attempts to kill two birds with one stone in that it highlights an artifact collection submitted for curation just two weeks ago (a “fresh” collection so to speak), and that also happens to come from Westmoreland County – a nod to our cohorts over the hills in the southwestern part of the state.

project overview photo with phase one shovel test in foreground (photo credit: McCormick Taylor, Inc.)

In 2016, McCormick Taylor Inc. conducted an archaeological survey and evaluation for PennDoT’s proposed improvements to the highway interchange of state routes 70 and 31 in South Huntingdon Twp., Westmoreland County. As a recipient of federal highway tax dollars PennDoT is obligated to make a good faith effort in identifying and evaluating cultural resources, and, if necessary, mitigating any adverse effects their undertakings may have on important historic and prehistoric sites.

modern disturbance and steep sloped portions of the project area not tested (photo credit: McCormick Taylor, Inc.)

After eliminating areas of the project determined to have low archaeological potential due to modern disturbances or steep terrain, a total of 228 shovel test pits and two 1m x 1m test units were excavated across 12 ½ acres of ground. As a result of their work, seven new archaeological sites were recorded (36Wm1113 – 1119). Four of these sites consist of just 2 to 16 pieces of debitage each of local or regionally sourced cherts.  The very low artifact density, and the lack of diagnostic artifacts or cultural features were cited as justification to recommend these sites as ineligible to the National Register of Historic Places, and no further work was performed.

representative sample of lithic debitage from the Davis site (36Wm1119)

The Tignanelli site, 36Wm1113, comprised of mostly early 20th Century kitchen wares, bottle glass and architectural material such as brick, window glass and iron hardware, also contained about a dozen flake fragments of local chert. This site too, was recommended ineligible to the NRHP, primarily due to a lack of integrity and significance. There was one artifact in the assemblage however, that did stand out amongst the 1200 more mundane bits that is unique and worthy of a moment in the spotlight.

1937 Radio Orphan Annie decoder pin from the Tignanelli site (36Wm1113)

"mint" condition example

The 1937 Radio Orphan Annie decoder pin is a wonderful object of popular culture that harkens back to the days before television, when radio was king. It is easy to imagine that this, for a time, was probably a child’s most prized possession, and of course it conjures up images of the classic movie A Christmas Story, with Ralphie feverishly cracking the code only to be rewarded with a reminder to drink more Ovaltine. Not the type of thing to stop a transportation project in its tracks, but a charming artifact all the same.

phase two excavation unit of the Davis site (photo credit: McCormick Taylor)

After the phase I survey, the final two sites, 36Wm1116 and 36Wm1119, were recommended to proceed to phase II, to determine their eligibility to the National Register. As is the case with most cultural resource management efforts, excavations were limited to the project’s area of potential effects, or APE.  For the Davis site, 36Wm1119, this meant a limited view at what McCormick Taylor acknowledges in their report as a site that in all likelihood extends beyond the project boundaries. The four phase two 1m x 1m test units yielded 48 chert flakes in addition to the 25 pieces recovered from the two phase one test units. Similar to the other sites identified for the project, no features or datable diagnostic artifacts were found at 36Wm1119, and consequently the portion of the site in the project area was deemed ineligible to the Register.

Finally, for the Markle site, 36Wm1116, PennDoT successfully modified the design of their project to avoid any potential impacts. In many situations, avoidance constitutes an agreeable solution for all parties involved, in that redesign is generally a less costly option for PennDoT as opposed to labor intensive data recovery undertakings, and, while no additional fieldwork is planned for, the site is nevertheless recorded and will (or, should) remain undisturbed, thereby serving the interests of the cultural resource community and ultimately the broader public.


(2017) Brewer, Allison; Cristie Barry; Amanda Rassmusem

Phase IB/II Archaeological Identification and Evaluation Investigations for the S.R. 0070 Section K10, S.R. 70/S.R. 31 Interchange Improvement Project South Huntingdon Twp., Westmoreland County, PA

-report on file Section of Archaeology, State Museum of PA

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