Thursday, December 31, 2009

Camp Security Artifacts Revisited

Camp Security is a Revolutionary War period prisoner-of- war camp that was occupied by British, Scottish and Canadian prisoners and camp followers (often wives and other family members) between 1781 and the end of the war in 1783. The site is located about four miles east of the City of York, in a relatively small, undeveloped portion of suburban Springettsbury Township. Thirty years ago, Barry Kent and Charles Hunter, archaeologists at the State Museum, located over 100 features here containing artifacts dating to the latter part of the 18th century. In all likelihood, these artifacts are related to the prisoner of war camp. Most of the features are pits, which were dug into the ground and which ultimately became receptacles for a variety of domestic debris.
The most numerous objects recovered from the pit features are discarded animal bones representing food refuse. A preliminary analysis of this faunal material (by Brenda Carr Weller, Lab Manager at McCormick Taylor, Inc.) indicates that beef and lamb were important components of the diet at Camp Security, with smaller amounts of pork and domestic fowl also represented. Wild food sources included small amounts of turtle. It appears the livestock was slaughtered and butchered on site, and the meat was probably eaten as large roasts and stews. These faunal remains suggest the inmates at Camp Security were reasonably well provisioned with food. This is in stark contrast to the experience of thousands of American prisoners who were captured when the Continental Army evacuated New York City in 1776. Many of the Americans were incarcerated in the notorious British prison ships anchored near the Brooklyn shore, where they were deliberately starved by their captors.

buttons fashioned from bone refuse

Other artifacts from the 1979 dig include thousands of fragments of window glass believed to be from the numerous log huts which were built as housing, according to contemporary written accounts. Pieces of clay “daub,” the material used for the chinking to seal gaps between the logs of the huts, were also recovered. The 1979 investigation also recovered hundreds of copper straight pins and crude buttons fashioned from animal bone. This corroborates the written accounts of the practice of “cottage industries,” such as the manufacture of lace and buttons, by the occupants of Camp Security.

straight pins

Currency, such as silver “pieces of eight” (Spanish coins known as “reales,” which were sliced into eight pieces so as to make “change”) was also found. This appears to corroborate written accounts that certain prisoners were allowed to work for local farmers and earn wages. Noticeably absent from the Camp Security collection are items such as fragments of tobacco smoking pipes and liquor or wine bottles. Such artifacts are often abundant on domestic sites dating to the 18th century. However, dozens of other personal items such as buttons, buckles, cuff links and clothing clasps are represented in the Camp Security collection.

Scottish silver brooch

One unique item is a silver brooch in the shape of a heart. This is a distinctly Scottish piece of jewelry, and members of at least one Scottish regiment of Highlanders are known to have been present at Camp Security. This brooch signifies a weeping heart and was given as a farewell token and hopefully, brought protection to a loved one who had been sent to the war in America.

In 2005, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Camp Security as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered historic places. Although this site has not yet been destroyed, the property is owned by a local individual who intends to ultimately convert this site into a housing development. We believe this unique place should be protected and preserved. So does a local preservation organization known as the Friends of Camp Security. We encourage all who cherish and respect our Revolutionary War heritage to contact the Friends of Camp Security for more information on how to assist with their preservation initiatives.

This week's guest blog is courtesy of BHP Historic Preservation Specialist Mark Shaffer.
For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, December 25, 2009

Lopresti Collection Donation

This week’s entry, our fourth in a series of donations to the State Museum of PA, showcases a collection of artifacts from Virginia Lopresti. A long time member of the Forks of the Delaware Chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Virginia chose to donate some of her artifacts to the State Museum’s Section of Archaeology in 2005, and the Museum graciously accepted. One of the earliest recorded archaeological sites in Northampton County, 36Nm11 was first registered in 1967. Over the years Ms. Lopresti has been an avid surface collector on this site, a portion of which lies in her back yard. Virginia has amassed a sizable assemblage of not only whole, diagnostic projectile points, but also expedient flake tools, scrapers, chipping debris of a variety of lithic materials, hammerstones, pitted stones and pestle fragments. From bifurcates to broadspears, the bulk of the diagnostic points imply an Archaic occupation (9000 to 3000 years ago). With 15 grandchildren, Virginia has understandably decided to hold on to her framed projectile points to pass along for them to enjoy. However, the value of the rest of the collection cannot be overlooked, and in some ways they can be viewed as a “more complete sample” of the site. Because there was no bias towards only whole projectile points, this type of collecting provides the archaeologist with a more representative sample of artifacts and can aid in interpreting site types and their function.

The State Museum has no other collection from this site, and Ms. Lopresti’s generous artifact donation contributes important information about regional settlement patterns and culture change during the prehistory of the Middle Delaware Valley.

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

Susquehannocks at the Overpeck Site (36Bu5)

In May 2007 Lou Farina, Forks of the Delaware Chapter 14, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Inc., donated four pottery vessels to The State Museum of Pennsylvania. These exceptionally fine examples of Native American origin were recovered by Mr. Farina and others during salvage excavations at the Overpeck Site from 1963-1967. Located on a terrace of the Delaware River at Kintnersville, Overpeck was a stratified multicomponent archaeological site lost to a soil mining operation.

Figure 1: Lou Farina and his donation of ceramic vessels from the Overpeck Site

Overpeck is perhaps best known for the pottery type Overpeck Incised, a unique Late Woodland type that has been described by John Witthoft (1947), former State Anthropologist and long time member of Chapter 14. Through the efforts of the chapter much information was garnered from the Overpeck Site investigations which has led to the completion of several reports published in Pennsylvania Archaeologist (Forks of the Delaware Chapter #14, 1980; Freyermuth and Staats 1992).

Of importance at Overpeck was the discovery of fourteen human burials, some containing early Contact Period European trade metal in the form of beads and pendants. The remains were disturbed by the mining operation though enough information survived that allows for some interpretation of the burials and their place of origin in history. Comingled with these deposits confined to the upper soil layers at Overpeck were numerous Late Woodland and Contact period potsherds essentially representative of the entire Delaware Valley sequence. Of interest, however, in the present discussion are the four vessels reconstructed by Mr. Farina as depicted in Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 2: Farina donation close-up

The large central vessel is of the Iroquois Linear type common over much of Iroquoia and dates to the circa 13th century A.D. The small vessel at its base, a "toy or juvenile" pot is from the Susquehannock occupation at Overpeck and dates to the Contact period (circa late 16th century A.D.). The two remaining large vessels, as well , are Susquehannock and fit with the Schultz Phase which is also dated to the latter part of the 16th century in the adjacent Susquehanna Valley.

As a side note, there have been other Susquehannock pottery specimens found at the Overpeck Site and many of these are curated at the State Museum of Pennsylvania where they can be studied by researchers and others interested in Native American material culture. The Farina donation of artifacts from the now lost Overpeck Site has added a new dimension to our understanding of Delaware Valley history.


Forks of the Delaware Chapter #14
1980 The Overpeck Site (36Bu5) Pennsylvania Archaeologist 50 (3): 1-46.

Freyermuth, Doris A. and F. Dayton Staats
1992 A Supplementary Report on the Late Woodland Ceramics from the Overpeck Site (36Bu5) Pennsylvania Archaeologist 62(1): 53-61.

Witthoft, John
Nd. The Overpeck Site. Unpublished manuscript in the manuscript files of the Section of Archaeology, State Museum of Pennsylvania.

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Werner Collection

David Werner documenting the Zimmermann Site

It is difficult to summarize the many contributions of David J. Werner to Pennsylvania archaeology in one posting. Mr. Werner was a WWII veteran and worked most of his post-war civilian career as a ticket agent for the Erie railroad. A dedicated avocational archaeologist in his spare-time, Mr. Werner was a founding member of the Society of Pennsylvania Archaeology, the Lenape Chapter 12. His collection encompasses over 40 years of archaeological investigation of the Upper Delaware River Valley on both the Pennsylvania and New Jersey sides.

His son, David Werner Jr., donated the collection to The State Museum of Pennsylvania in 2004. Stored in every nook and cranny of Werner Sr.’s basement and attic, the extensive collection included over 175 boxes of artifacts and excavation documentation from over 36 prehistoric and historic sites.

The sheer magnitude of the Upper Delaware artifact assemblage is noteworthy in and of itself. However, the collection’s true value is found in the diligent recordkeeping of Mr. Werner and fellow members of the Lenape Chapter 12. Under the field direction of Mr. Werner, sites were excavated in controlled units that were documented with detailed maps and excavation records.

A great deal of time was also spent organizing site collections and compiling artifact inventories after field work was done. Artifacts were documented, sorted, boxed and bagged by site provenience and in many cases labeled with catalog numbers. It is this attention to detail that arguably produced his most significant archaeology contribution to the Commonwealth, the publication of his report on excavations at the Zimmermann Site (36Pi14) in Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley (Kinsey, 1972).

In 1960s and early 1970s, the professional archaeological community enlisted members of avocational groups to aid with the identification and excavation of sites endangered in the proposed Tocks Island Reservoir Project Area. The Zimmermann Site was discovered by the Lenape Chapter while conducting a site survey between Matamoras and Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania, and was the largest of many archaeological sites investigated by Chapter members during this period.

The site’s unique stratigraphic sequence has added greatly to the regional understanding of the change from Late Archaic hunter/gather lifeways to more horticultural lifeways developed during the Early and Middle Woodland Periods. Zimmermann is a multi-component prehistoric site, with several isolated occupational zones. Werner was able to identify a distinct regional projectile point type, the “Dry Brook Fishtail” and proposed the “Dry Brook” cultural complex based on Level 3 excavations (Radiocarbon date 1280 B.C.).
Dry Brook projectile point

Also found associated with nearly three hundred identified “Dry Brook Fishtail” points in Zimmermann Site Level 3 were sixty-seven hearth features, twenty-one of which were large platforms of fire cracked rock ranging in size from 5 to 22 feet in length and 193 steatite (soapstone) bowl fragments from an estimated 32 individual vessels. This excavation level produced some of the largest reconstructed steatite vessels found in Pennsylvania to date.
reconstructed steatite vessel

For more information about the Zimmermann Site and the archaeology of the Transitional Archaic Period check out the following link and reference.

Kinsey, W. Fred (1972). Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pa

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

Friday, December 4, 2009

Donation December: The Gift of Giving

Each week this month will focus on an artifact collection generously donated to the State Museum Section of Archaeology by an amateur archaeologist. Well documented collections with detailed provenience information are of particular significance because they have the potential to contribute the most information about Pennsylvania prehistory. However, archaeologists are able to compare and examine all collections to interpret broad cultural changes.

The most recent donation to The Section of Archaeology comes from Mr. James H. Armstrong and provides us with additional specimens from an important site in the Susquehanna River Valley. Mr. Armstrong received this collection from his grandmother and decided to donate the artifacts so that they would be preserved for future generations and to assist in the research of early occupants of Pennsylvania.

The projectile points in this photograph were made by native peoples who occupied the Lower Susquehanna River. The points date from the Archaic Period (8000-1800 B.C.) thru the Late Woodland Period (800 -1550 A.D.). These periods are defined by changes in technology and changes in lifeways. The points at the bottom of the photo are the earliest, Archaic, and the points at the top represent the Woodland Period.

The stone tools in this photograph are representative of the Archaic and Middle Woodland Periods. During this time native peoples were evolving from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to one more dependent on horticulture. The notched net-sinkers would have been used along the river for securing fishing nets. The other tools function as wood-working implements such as the grooved axe (top), and the celt (second row, right) and chipped stone axe (second row, left). The third row includes three unfinished bifaces, left to right, which are essentially “blanks” for projectile point production. On the far right is a pick possibly used for carving steatite vessels dating to the Transitional Period (1800-1200 B.C.).

Archaeologists know the function and age of these artifacts through careful excavation of stratified archaeological sites and analysis of the levels at which these artifacts are found. We have blogged the past few weeks about the C-14 and AMS dating of artifacts and how archaeologists determine the age of artifacts. By compiling data from lots of sites and artifacts we are able to determine the point styles associated with the Archaic and Woodland Periods. Stratified excavations that then yield points produced by the same techniques as the dated points are considered contemporary. Changes in shapes of points indicate a change in technology or function over time.

Hunters prior to the Late Woodland Period are using a spear thrower or atlatl and the points are notched in various forms to allow for hafting to the spear shaft. In the Late Woodland Period the change in shape of projectile points indicates a shift to bow and arrow technology.

Please consider donating your collection to The State Museum to further our understanding of the heritage of our Commonwealth and Preserve our Past for the Future.

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving Staples: The Three Sisters

With the Thanksgiving Season upon us, how appropriate it would be to highlight the famous dietary trio that was most assuredly, in one form or another, on the table of the first Thanksgiving feast, the Three Sisters, corn, beans and squash. The term Three Sisters is a commonly used analogy for the practice of companion planting these crops, where each supports the other; through providing structure, moisture retention or nutrient exchange.

Both the nature and timing of the arrival of these cultigens into the Mid-Atlantic region continue to be intensively studied research topics in Archaeology, and the application of C-14 and AMS techniques have proved to be indispensable tools for dating these and a wide variety of other botanical remains.

As the body of data continues to accumulate, it is evident that each of the “Sisters” arrived in the region at different times in history, with squash (Cucurbita pepo) being the earliest at between 5000 and 2500 years before present (Hart and Sidell 1997). Next in the sequence, corn or maize (Zea maize) becomes common in archaeological settings post-dating roughly 1200 B.P., or about A.D. 700 (Klein 2003). Finally, the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) is the last to appear in the archaeological record, at approximately A.D. 1300 (Hart and Scarry 1999).

Native peoples in the area that would become Pennsylvania were raising all of the “Three Sisters” and enjoyed the nourishment they provided for hundreds of years prior to the settlement of Europeans in the New World. Today, we all are thankful for these staples of that first Thanksgiving feast and the many more that have followed.

Hart, John P. and C. Margaret Scarry (1999)
The Age of Common Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) In the Northeastern United States
American Antiquity 64 (4) 653- 658

Hart, John P. and Nancy Asch Sidell (1997)
Additional Evidence for Early Curcurbit Use in the Northern Eastern Woodlands East of the Allegheny Front.
American Antiquity 62 (3): 523-537

Klein, Michael (2003)
Of Time and Three Rivers: Comments on Early and Middle Woodland Archaeology in Pennsylvania. In Foragers and Farmers of the Early and Middle Woodland Periods in Pennsylvania, edited by Paul A. Raber and Verna L. Cowin, pp. 117-129. Recent Research in Pennsylvania Archaeology, No.3, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, PA.

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

Friday, November 20, 2009

Celebrating 60 years of using the carbon 14 dating method: Part II

Refinements in the method and improvements in procedures

In the past, C-14 dating required large samples of organic material. New processes, such as accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) allow for extremely small samples to be accurately dated such as seeds or the remains of a burned meal adhering to the inside of a clay cooking pot. For example, the plus or minus factor for the above date would be reduced to 40 years or less.

A problem with C-14 dating is contamination of the samples – the addition of old or new carbon. A great deal of care must be used in collecting the samples. Further, charcoal is light in weight and can be moved around by wind and water. The same flood deposits that cover artifacts at a stratified site can bring in old charcoal eroded from a site upstream resulting in a C-14 date that does not accurately date the deposit. This type of contamination can be offset by getting many dates from a site. C-14 dates are relatively inexpensive (approximately $300 for standard dates and $600 for AMS dates) and presently it is a common practice, where the charcoal is available, to get over twenty dates from the same site. Archaeological analysis is a process of identifying patterns and C-14 dates are part of the patterning. If all of the artifacts and stratigraphy points to a date of 5000 B.P. and the C-14 date is 20,000 B.P., there is probably something wrong with the C-14 date.

Changes in the intensity of the sun, the burning of fossil fuels and the testing of nuclear weapons has had an effect on the accuracy of carbon 14 dating. This has resulted in two problems. First, dates less than 300 years old are not very dependable and other methods must be used to date artifacts from this period. Second, it turns out that the amount of C-14 in the atmosphere has changed over time. This was discovered through dendrochronology – tree ring dating. Using AMS to date individual trees rings, it has been discovered that C-14 years do not exactly correlate with tree ring dates which we are sure relate to calendar years. For example, C-14 dates of around 3500 B.P. are several hundred years too old. On the other hand, C-14 dates of 11,000 B.P. are almost 2000 years too young.

Formulas are being developed to convert radio carbon years into calendar years but the system still needs to be refined. In the meantime, archaeologists are using both systems - calendar years (cal yr B.P.) and radio carbon years (14C yr B.P.). This is probably going to be resolved in the next few years but in the mean time it’s confusing for both professional archaeologists and the general public. However, as one archaeologist, (David Hurst Thomas) has put it, “radiocarbon dating is the workhorse of archaeology”. It produces reasonably accurate dates, to within a few decades and it allows us to compare a variety of significant technological and cultural events.

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

Friday, November 13, 2009

Celebrating 60 Years of Using the Carbon 14 Dating Method

Projectile point excavated from the Central Builders site, Northumberland County.
How old is it?

The above projectile point was excavated from a depth of nine feet below the ground surface along with a small group of stone tools and chips produced from the sharpening of tools. They were recovered next to a small cooking hearth with fire altered rock and charcoal. This point is similar to a style of spear point found throughout Virginia and North Carolina but it is slightly different. Based on its excavation depth, it is probably very old.

Prior to the discovery of carbon 14 (C-14) dating by Willard Libby and J. R. Arnold in 1949, we would not know if this spear point was part of the same cultural tradition as similar spear points found below the Mason-Dixon Line or that this one represents a completely different culture. We could only guess at the age and its relationship to other regions or how fast projectile point styles changed.

The discovery of C-14 dating enabled archaeologists to accurately date for the first time prehistoric archaeological materials in much of the world. It was a spectacular discovery and it revolutionized archaeology. With refinements to the method, especially over the past twenty years, we can now determine the age of objects in years before the present (B.P.); we can accurately determine the age of significant events such as the beginning of agriculture or the entrance of humans into the New World; we can compare cultural sequences in widely separated regions of the world; and, most importantly for archaeology, we can measure the rates of cultural change.

from David Hurst Thomas

How Carbon 14 dating works
Carbon 14 is an isotope that is formed when rays from the sun bombard nitrogen molecules in our atmosphere. It acts like other elements such as oxygen or iron, but it is radioactive and therefore, unstable. It behaves just like the stable or non-radioactive form of carbon. All living things contain the stable form of carbon – carbon 12 and the unstable form of carbon – carbon 14. As long as plants and animals are alive, they absorb carbon 14 thereby introducing it into the cells of the body.

However, when an organism dies, the input of C-14 ceases. At the same time, the stable form of carbon remains unchanged in the body. Because C-14 is unstable, over time it returns to a stable form of nitrogen. In 5,730 years, half of the original amount of carbon 14 in an organism will change back to nitrogen. This is called the carbon 14 half-life. Through Libby and Arnlod's discovery, the ratio of stable carbon to unstable carbon can be measured and a date can be calculated to determine the age of the carbon at the time of death. In essence this is how carbon dating works.

A draw back with C-14 dating is that it can only be used on organic material such as wood, bone, or shell –materials that were once parts of plants and organisms. It cannot, unfortunately, be used to directly date stone spear points or pottery and these are, by far, the most common artifacts from prehistory that have survived the vestiges of time. Therefore, archaeologists must date the organic materials directly associated with these non-organic artifacts. Essentially, scientists date the charcoal from the cooking hearth or trash pit with which the artifacts are associated resulting in a proxy date for the non-organic artifact.

The projectile point from the Central Builders site pictured above was associated with charcoal from the cooking hearth that radiocarbon dated to 9165 + 210 B.P. (University of Arizona Laboratory #10053). What does this mean? First, the University of Arizona facility performed the analysis and the sample number was 10053. The letters “B.P.” are an abbreviation for Before the Present. But that is not exactly correct because it actually means before the year 1950.

Since the present is always changing, Libby and Arnold decided to use a standard date of 1950 (remember the discovery date of the carbon 14 method was year earlier) as the present. The date of the charcoal is 9165 years before 1950 but this is based on several measurements of the amount of carbon 14 and carbon 12 remaining in the sample. In the University of Arizona sample #10053, the number 9165 is the mean of a number of measurements made by the lab.

This results in a plus or minus factor or standard deviation produced by the laboratory calculations. Therefore, using one standard deviation, there is a 68% chance that the actual date falls between 9375 and 8955 B.P. Usually, archaeologists are looking for a 95% probability and that means the date is somewhere between 9580 and 8745 B.P. This is a range of 835 years, but as we will see next week, this plus or minus factor has been greatly reduced by refining the radiocarbon dating method.

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

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Wolf Head Pipe

Fifty years after Donald Cadzow’s archaeological explorations at the Shenks Ferry Site (Cadzow 1936) staff from the State Museum of Pennsylvania returned to undertake further studies (Kent and Herbstitt 1986). Archaeologists and volunteers located Cadzow’s original excavations at Shenks Ferry, 36La2, and a section of the property was reopened. A complete house pattern and numerous pit features were found, including two deep silo-shaped pits of the Funk Phase period (ca 1400-1550 AD.).

Among the contents of one pit, (Feature 132), were incised pottery sherds, chert and quartz debitage, a slab mortar, a few carbonized nut shells, charcoal and a unique clay effigy pipe fragment, all of which were likely cast into the pit along with the site’s refuse some 400-500 years ago. On the floor of the silo-shaped pit lay the pipe fragment, a well sculpted rendition of the head of an animal that resembles a wolf or perhaps another form of narrow snouted beast.

Buff grayish brown in color, the pipe exhibits a darker brownish gray color around its neck that extends upward along the back of the pipe bowl, to the opening located between the ears and forehead. The modeling was completed during the unfired stage of manufacture since the relief appears well executed and smooth, with no indication of abrasion or gouging.

A similar clay effigy pipe of a bird recovered by Cadzow from the Susquehannock Strickler Site, 36LA3, dated to the 1645-1665 AD period, may be used for comparison relative to the shape of the pipe’s missing stem. It has been suggested that animal effigy pipes represent the owner’s clan affiliation within their native social group.

Cadzow, Donald A.
(1936) Archaeological Studies of the Susquehannock Indians of Pennsylvania Safe Harbor Report No. 2. Pennsylvania Historical Commission, Harrisburg.

Herbstritt, James T., Kent Barry C.
(1990) Shenks Ferry Revisited: A New Look at an Old Culture. Pennsylvania Heritage Vol. XVI No. 1, Harrisburg.

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

Friday, October 30, 2009

ESAF Meeting

The Eastern States Archaeological Federation (ESAF) will hold its annual meeting at the Holiday Inn in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on November 5-7. The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology will host this highly educational event that is open to the public. There will be over 40 presentations focusing on rockshelter archaeology, the Transitional Period, Monongahela archaeology and the analysis of soils in archaeology.

The guest speaker on Saturday evening will be Dr. Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institute. The title of his presentation is “Seeking a New Paleolithic Paradigm”. He will discuss several recent discoveries in the Middle Atlantic region that suggest the ancestors of Native Americans migrated to the New World at a much earlier date than previously thought.

The Eastern States Archaeological Federation is an organization of state archaeological societies representing much of the Eastern United States and Canada. ESAF was organized in 1933-34 to provide a forum for the exchange of archaeological information among archaeologists and state archaeological societies. With a membership of 12 state societies and over 300 individual memberships, ESAF continues to foster international cooperation and information exchange within the archaeological community, as well as supporting public outreach, education, and participation.

The objectives of ESAF are:
a. To serve as a bond between the Member Societies.

b. To encourage and promote scientific archaeological work by the Member Societies, Individual Members and Institutional Members.

c. To publish and encourage the publication of reports and articles about the archaeology of the region; anthropological studies related to the archaeology of the area; and contributions from inter-disciplinary fields related to the study of Eastern North American archaeology.

d. To promote the spread of archaeological knowledge.

e. To engage in the archaeological projects which exceed the capabilities of the Member Societies.
As a regional organization, ESAF publishes an annual journal. Registration for the meeting is available to the door. For more information on the meetings or the journal, visit the web site at

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

Archaeology Day at the State Capitol

On October 26, 2009, from 10:00 until 2:00, archaeologists from around the Commonwealth will gather in the East Rotunda of the Capitol to celebrate Archaeology Month. This event will be sponsored by the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council (PAC), the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc (SPA), the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). These organizations will provide a variety of exhibits on Pennsylvania archaeology. The theme is “Save the Past for the Future”. The goal is to focus the public’s attention on the significance of archaeological resources in the Commonwealth and to advocate for their preservation so that they may be appreciated and enjoyed by future generations.

To quote from the SPA web site on the value of archaeology:
“Men, women, and children have lived in the Commonwealth for nearly 14,000 years. Yet only a small portion of that time is documented on paper. Archaeological evidence often represents the only surviving record of Pennsylvania’s prehistory and can provide new information about where, when and how these people lived in the past”

We might add that this information can also be used to improve our own future.

At noon, there will be a ceremony for the John Stuchell Fisher Award. This is given in recognition to local, state and national officials who contribute to the promotion and understanding of archaeology in Pennsylvania. This year’s recipient is Mark Platts, President of the Susquehanna Gateway Heritage Area. He is receiving this award for efforts in preserving archaeological resources in Lancaster and York counties. Of special significance is his successful initiative to preserve the last two villages occupied by the Susquehannock tribe in the 17th century prior to their demise in the region. Steve Warfel, former Senior Curator of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania will comment on the significance of this work. The speakers will begin at 12:00.

Archaeologists from the Section of Archaeology of The State Museum and the Bureau for Historic Preservation will represent the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The Section of Archaeology serves as the primary repository for archaeological collections and holds over four million archaeological specimens in trust for the citizens of Pennsylvania. They are also responsible for the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology in the State Museum which provides a comprehensive tour of Pennsylvania archaeology from the Paleoindian period through the 19th century. On display at the Capitol will be a spectacular array of artifacts from sites in York County reflecting the Susquehannocks involvement in European trade.

Of particular interest to the younger generation, the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council and Indiana University of Pennsylvania will put on a demonstration in the early afternoon on Native American technology. For nearly 14,000 years, people lived in Pennsylvania without factories, automobiles or convenience stores. They used a relatively simple technological system to get their food, to make their clothing and obtain all of their material needs. Tying and attaching things with string and rope was a very common activity and essential to their lives. Everything from bow strings to fishing nets was necessary but where did they get the yards and yards of cordage to make these items? Cordage in Native American cultures was like duck tape is to our culture. The children visiting the exhibit will be invited to try their hands at making cordage and using a prehistoric drill. Think of all of the holes that need to be drilled into items to make them functional. This event will begin at 12:30.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation also has an active archaeology program. As part of their environmental stewardship program, they endeavor to protect archaeological sites that may be affected by their construction projects. For decades they have been conducting archaeological investigations prior to construction and they have recovered significant information on past cultures in Pennsylvania. They have developed a publication series and examples will be available, including their most recent publication on the archaeology conducted along the route 11/15 corridor.

The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology will have an exhibit describing the variety of activities they conduct around the Commonwealth to enhance and protect archaeological sites and artifacts. The local chapter, Conejohela Chapter 28, will have an exhibit presenting their involvement in preserving the Susquehannock sites in the lower Susquehanna Valley.

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

Friday, October 16, 2009

Artifact Transfers from State Historic Sites

Brandywine Battle Field Collection,
Delaware County, PA
Revolutionary War Period:
rifle bayonet
iron cock to flint lock rifle with French flint
Two French gun flints
1/2 lb. shot with visible cast marks

Artifact collections were transferred this summer to The State Museum, Section of Archaeology from several of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) State Historic Sites. We’ve chosen to highlight objects from the Brandywine Battlefield collection in this week’s blog to spread the word that severe cuts to the Commission’s budget has led to the loss of staff, suspension of programs, and closure or transfer of visitor centers on the Pennsylvania Trails of History.

The PHMC has temporarily suspended outreach and closed public venues at four of the twenty-three State Historic Sites as of August 14th, 2009. These include the Conrad Weiser homestead exhibit buildings, all visitations at the Joseph Priestley House, The Fort Pitt Museum, and the Brandywine Battlefield Historic Park exhibit buildings. Negotiations are in process for non-profit organizations to take over visitation and public outreach programs. In the meantime, local heritage societies have ramped up fund-raising efforts to meet budgetary shortfalls at all twenty-three State Historic Sites. Please write your legislatures, join the ranks of your local heritage society, and donate to save-our-history fund-raisers. To find information about volunteering and making donations for State Historic Sites click this link to the PHMC Trails of History and explore Pennsylvania’s rich and varied past.

At the PHMC Farm Show exhibit, January 2010, we will celebrate the unique role archaeology has played in understanding and interpreting State Historic Sites.

For those of you who follow our blog and would like to view the PHMC newsletter, click here.

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

Friday, October 9, 2009

Fort Hunter Excavation Wrap-Up

As this year’s excavation draws to a close, Fort Hunter retains its secrets and many questions remain unanswered. Addmittedly, this year has been frustrating. As in years past, fort period artifacts were recovered but no structural evidence was found that can be definitively attributed to the fort.

Our excavations in the main block revealed that the ice house foundation cuts into the well feature, suggesting an earlier date of construction, however the exact dates of these structures continue to be unknown.

Feature #24, a large shaft, was found in the unit directly west of the well structure. The four foot wide shaft feature contained an iron pipe running to or from the well at a depth of 6 ½ feet from the surface and appears to be a later modification to the well. The function of the iron pipe at this point is speculative. Prehistoric ceramic and Fire-cracked rock cluster

The prehistoric levels produced material in the form of a relatively dense FCR (fire cracked rock) cluster along with several dozen ceramic sherds. After washing and cataloging the collection in the lab, refits of both the ceramics and FCR seem to be likely. We are hoping to be able to reconstruct a portion of a large Middle Woodland pot.

In the exploratory trench in the front yard, a section of thickened A horizon was encountered. Probing north and south of the trench indicated the unidentified feature was approximately 15 feet wide and had an average depth of 15 to 28 inches. Artifacts contained within were a hodgepodge including ferrous metal objects, a glass wine bottle fragment and a Lamoka projectile point. This feature still holds the possibility of relating to the fort occupation.

Next year should see the in depth investigation of the well structure at the center of our main excavation block and continued exploratory trenching elsewhere on the property in search of the stockade.

While not all of our research goals were met this season, it remains a success in large part due to the time and effort of all our volunteers, and to the thousands visitors and hundreds students that participated the public archaeology program at Fort Hunter Park as part of the celebration of Archaeology Month in Pennsylvania.

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

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Search for Fort Hunter Continues

With the second to last week of excavations completed, the French and Indian War period Fort Hunter is proving to be elusive as ever. The feature initially interpreted to be the builder’s trench for the ice house did not pan out as the excavation in that square deepened. A similar anomaly on the north wall of the ice house was unearthed, only to contain whole, terra cotta flower pots. It seems our builder’s trench in reality was nothing more than an ornamental flower bed. Never the less, in the adjacent unit to the north of where the 1724 half penny was found, and at a similar depth, a small French flint, probably for a pistol, was recovered.

Another historic feature defying interpretation is a shaft feature to the immediate west of the well structure. One of the volunteers at the site, Jerry, has been tirelessly and skillfully excavating this feature to a depth of over four and a half feet. Completion of this task would not have been possible without his help.

Sediment layers surrounding the well structure in the main excavation block continue to produce prehistoric features and artifacts, slowing any progress that could be made on the well itself. A few post molds, chipping debris of a variety of lithic types and even a projectile point or two have been found, but the surprising discovery is the amount of prehistoric pottery, preliminarily identified as Middle Woodland in origin. Although the prehistoric occupation is not the focus of our efforts, careful excavation and documentation is necessary to recover the complete picture of the historic resources at Fort Hunter Park.

An exploratory trench was dug in the front yard of the mansion with the help of a class of forensic science students led by Ms. Mary Pat Evans of Susquehanna High School. Searching for structural evidence of the fort, they learned the field techniques of excavation and screening for artifacts in an archaeological setting. Thanks go to Mary Pat and her students for the hard work and a job well done.

Sunday October 4th marks Indian Festival Day at Fort Hunter Park, and among the many activities and exhibits, archaeologists will be on hand to answer questions about the ongoing excavation. The dig site is open to the public, Monday through Friday 9 AM to 4 PM, and volunteer sheets are available for those wishing to assist us in our search for the fort at Fort Hunter Park.

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

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fort Hunter Excavation Update

As the search for the French and Indian War period Fort Hunter continues new discoveries are made daily. As is so often the case with archaeology, these new finds pose more questions than they answer. While no structural evidence that can be definitively identified as belonging to the fort has been found, fort period artifacts are being recovered, such as fragments of tin-glazed earthenware, Whieldon ware and plain salt-glazed stoneware.

By far the most exciting find to date this season is that of a George I halfpenny dated 1724, recovered from what is being interpreted as the builder’s trench of the west wall of the ice house in the back yard of the mansion. Historic documents reference an ice house being built in 1794, however, the dimensions cited do not agree with the current structure. The halfpenny and mid-eighteenth century ceramics suggest this structure may be earlier than previously thought.

Additionally, it appears that the builder’s trench for the well feature intrudes into the ice house’s builder’s trench, indicating a later date of construction. The possibility of the well feature relating to the fort still exists, depending of course on the construction date of the ice house which is currently in question.

Further complicating the interpretation of the site, prehistoric finds continue to be made in the main excavation block. Feature 29 in particular, with the exception of two cut nail fragments has produced exclusively prehistoric material such as scores of chert, jasper and rhyolite debitage, as well as a dozen small fragments of quartz tempered, cordmarked ceramic sherds.

The excavation will continue for the next two weeks as part of the celebration of October as Archaeology Month in Pennsylvania. Sunday October 4th marks Indian Festival Day at Fort Hunter Park, and among the many activities and exhibits, archaeologists will be on hand to answer questions about the ongoing excavation. The dig site is open to the public, Monday through Friday 9 AM to 4 PM, and volunteer sheets are available for those wishing to assist us in our search for the fort at Fort Hunter Park.

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

Friday, September 18, 2009

Excavations at Fort Hunter Commence

well feature and adjacent ice house

Shortly after removing the backfill encapsulating the 2008 excavation block the discoveries continued. One objective of reopening last year’s dig is to establish the relationship between the circa 1790 ice house and the adjacent structural feature interpreted as a well. While clean troweling the current floor of the surrounding excavation units a handful of stone chipping debris and two quartz tempered cord-marked prehistoric ceramic sherds were recovered indicating that this particular location along the banks of the Susquehanna River was a favored spot long before any French and Indian War fortifications were erected.

prehistoric ceramic sherd

Additionally, a series of five by five foot units have been dug to connect with areas excavated in 2006 and 2007. Fort period artifacts recovered from the upper stratum of these units include a large gun flint of English flint and a piece of scratch blue salt-glazed stoneware. Other diagnostic artifacts reflect a mix of the late 18th and 19th Century such as hand painted and transfer-printed pearlware, creamware, and porcelain.

scratch blue salt-glazed stoneware and English gun flint

This Sunday marks the annual Fort Hunter Day at the mansion and surrounding park. Archaeologists will be on hand to answer questions from the public and volunteer sign-up sheets will be available for those wishing to assist us in finding the fort at Fort Hunter Park.

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

Friday, September 11, 2009

One of "history's mysteries" - Where is the "fort" at Fort Hunter

During Archaeology Month 2009, archaeologists from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) will investigate one of "history's mysteries” - where is the "fort" at Fort Hunter? Beginning on September 14, PHMC archaeologists will conduct an archaeological testing program at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park, located five miles north of the city.

The goal is to locate the remains of the French and Indian War era supply fort occupied between 1757 and 1763. This will mark the fourth season of this project and numerous fort period artifacts and features have been recovered - some of these may be part of the fort occupation. The stockade and the blockhouse, however, have yet to be located as our excavations continue.

The goals for this year’s investigation.
This year there are two main objectives. We will continue to search for the fort’s stockade line by excavating a series of trenches mainly in the yard around the mansion. Of considerable interest, is a new discovery that Jim Herbstritt made while examining aerial photographs of the property. He noticed several patches of grass across Front Street and east of the barn that appeared to be different in color and contrast than that of the surrounding vegetation.

The anomaly seems to outline an L-shaped area about 100 feet by 100 feet long reminiscent of a buried foundation wall or some other architecturally related feature. There are no known records of buildings on this part of the Fort Hunter Park property therefore we are speculating that it possibly marks the location of the former “old barracks”. Several trenches will be placed across this feature to determine its identity, function and age.

The second area of interest this season will be the north side yard of the mansion where a waterwell was discovered last year. It is stone lined and located adjacent to the 1805 ice house. Again, there are no historic maps of the well’s existence and its placement suggests that it is older than the ice house and therefore dates earlier than 1805. The top of the well contains 19th century artifacts but the bottom could contain very important artifacts from the fort period occupation.

Excavating a waterwell is a complicated undertaking that may require several seasons to complete. This year we hope is to resolve the chronological relationship between the well and the ice house. We will also excavate the soils surrounding the well down to a depth of three feet which will provide a better idea as to the nature of the well’s construction. The 2008 excavations revealed that the upper 12 inches of the site’s stratigraphy contain prehistoric materials as old as 9,000 years and these need to be archaeologically recovered prior to the well’s excavation.

Come visit us.
Our project is part of Pennsylvania’s “Archaeology Month” celebration in September and October. The excavations are open to the public, weekdays from 9:00 am until 4:00 pm, weather permitting. For more information on Fort Hunter or the archaeology of the Susquehanna Valley, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, September 4, 2009

Labor Day Weekend Kipona Powwow on City Island

The State Museum's Section of Archaeology will be returning to the Native American Powwow held on City Island as part of the Kipona Festival in Harrisburg this Labor Day Weekend, Sept. 5, 6 and 7.

Attractions of the State Museum’s display are to include the ever popular recreated dugout canoe, informational brochures on State Museum programs with coupons for reduced admission, children's activity worksheets, the 2009 Archaeology Month poster, and an exhibit of select artifacts from City Island excavations.

The purpose of our presence at the powwow is to raise awareness of all things archaeological; that sites are important non-renewable resources, the upcoming public archaeology program at Fort Hunter Park, October is Archaeology Month in Pennsylvania, Archaeology Day at the State Capitol, and to encourage visitation to the State Museum and our websites. Come out and enjoy the unofficial end of summer this weekend at the powwow on City Island.

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

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Trouble with Historians and Archaeologists: Auditing the Frankstown Branch Bridge Replacement

This week's guest blog comes from Ryan Updike, summer intern for PennDoT's Bureau for Environmental Quality and Design. Ryan is a graduate student at Virginia Tech and will complete both an MA in History and an MA in Education next spring. He’s a native of York County.

One important point hit me during my time spent auditing the Frankstown Branch Bridge replacement over the Juniata River in Blair County: wow, historians should really collaborate with archaeologists more often! The results of such a strategic partnership could yield so much more in the way of research and scholarship on resources and features both above and below ground as well as strengthen the bonds between two different camps in Cultural Resource Management.

Block 2, crew shot

Even the smallest archaeological find can yield rewarding information for a historian. The Phase I and Phase II Archaeological Surveys on this bridge project south of Hollidaysburg on Rt. 36 only dug up 107 artifacts that ranged from historic pottery to prehistoric chert flakes to chert tools. Just like historians, archaeologists rely on the evidence they find, and they then interpret whatever evidence that is found. At the Frankstown Branch site the artifacts showcased a small prehistoric task group or nuclear family group that subsisted by practicing a hunter/gatherer system. The site also contained entirely local resources and features, which bent the analysis toward the site being used by a small band from a local community.

Test Unit 2, west profile

The analysis on the social aspects of the site constituted important as well as usable information to any social historian investigating native cultures. This is the interesting point. This very small fraction of archaeological information can shed light on social habits that historians might set their sights on when investigating local prehistoric communities and their social makeup.
The trouble with historians and archaeologists is they forget what they have in common. When it comes to interpreting the past, historians and archaeologists are slaves to what they find. We are governed by it. If together we work to combine the soiled and written evidence, perhaps we can arrive at a clearer concept of the past. This new vantage point can then serve as a springboard for better management of our resources regardless of location in reference to the ground.

Shovel Test excavation

Lastly, this historian must thank the Section of Archaeology at the Pennsylvania State Museum for the opportunity to work with them. Thanks, Janet, Andrea, Liz, Dave and Dr. Carr.

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

Friday, August 21, 2009

Woodland Period Cremation Cache from Union County, Pennsylvania

The Cache
A cremation cache (Feature 2) was discovered in 2003 by Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission archaeologists during subsurface testing at site 36UN10, for the proposed Union County Business Park located north of Allenwood, Pennsylvania. The contents of this cache included eight ovate-shaped bifaces of gray colored tabular chalcedony, a hellgrammite point/knife of gray banded rhyolite, a two-hole gorget of gray siltstone and a faceted sphere of graphite. Fragments from two of the eight chalcedony bifaces were cross-mended and along with the others show evidence of heat fracturing from the cremation process.

Chalcedoncy blades and Hellgrammite Point

The thick mass of charcoal encapsulating the cache had traces of co-mingled calcine bone, ash and burnt soil which we believe to be the remains of non-organic cremated residue. Some of the cultural objects were inadvertently displaced by the backhoe operator, therefore, we are unsure of their original positions within the cremation pit. Careful investigation by PHMC archaeologists, however, concluded that the cache must have rested on the pit floor since in situ remnants of the cremated mass was found there.

Other Pit Features
A short distance southeast from the cremation pit, another pit (Feature 3) was excavated that contained charred fragments of sheeted bark, possibly the remnants of material used as pit lining. The contents of Feature 3 include a small Lamoka-like point, burned sandstone fragments, sandstone cobble hammerstone and chert, jasper, silicified siltstone and rhyolite debitage. A third but smaller pit (Feature 4) having no bark lining but a similar artifact assemblage was also found.

Gorgets and Graphite Sphere

Stratigraphy, Artifacts and another Cultural Context
The overall diversity of diagnostic artifacts recovered from the site suggests that 36UN10 was occupied by Native Americans from the Late Archaic through the Middle Woodland Periods (Range of Appropriate Dates here). However, the tightly compressed site stratigraphy displays little separation in the soil between different cultural groups as the land was reused again and again over a span of 2500 years.

Lamoka points/knives; Susquehanna Broad points/knives; Fishtail points/knives; steatite bowl fragments and Marcey Creek steatite tempered pottery make up the diagnostic artifact assemblages from these strata. The 1992 Phase III archaeological data recovery project of Louis Berger & Associates on the river terrace south of Allenwood (36UN82) documented a similar stratigraphic sequence of human occupation for the West Branch Valley (Wall 2000). There, archaeological investigations revealed a clearer picture in comparison to the mixed Archaic through Woodland sequence at 36UN10.

Examples of artifacts from Strat. 2/2a: top Early Woodland Period, middle Transitional Period, bottom Late Archaic Period

Carbon-14 analysis of the carbonized material found in the intrusive, yet isolated Woodland pits, Features 2, 3 and 4 described above, was employed to demonstrate a distinct chronological separation of the cremation activity found on 36UN10 from the earlier Archaic components also present on the site.

Cremation Chronology
A sample of charcoal directly associated with the cache submitted to the University of Arizona Radiocarbon laboratory returned a date of 1680+/- 40 radiocarbon years B.P., (before present). Utilizing two sigma ranges the corrected dates are 246 AD: 434 AD. Partially preserved charred remains of bark lining in pit (Feature 3) was discovered nearby and likely belongs with the Woodland cremation component at 36UN10. A sample of bark from this pit, also dated by the University of Arizona, yielded a corrected date range of 128 AD: 384 AD.

The overlapping of the two dates would indicate that the features are contemporary and date to the Middle Woodland Period, thus demonstrating that burial ceremonialism continued after the Early Woodland Period ended in the Susquehanna Valley. The presence of a Hellgrammite point/knife with the 36UN10 cremation would imply that the long held notion of Hellgrammite point/knife types being a regional manifestation of the Early Woodland needs to be rigorously tested with more investigations at other comparable sites in the valley. In contrast to the cremation feature found at 36Un10, other mortuary sites of the Susquehanna Valley are radiocarbon dated to the earlier part of the Woodland period (1,000-500 BC.). Artifact assemblages from such sites tend to include Meadowood blades, stone tube pipes, gorgets, copper ornaments and rarely, bird and boatstones (Kent 1994).

Kent, Barry C.
1994 Discovering Pennsylvania’s Archaeological Heritage. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Wall, Robert D.
2000 A Buried Lamoka Occupation in Stratified Contexts West Branch Valley of the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 70(1):1-44.

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

Friday, August 14, 2009

Summer 2009 Internship Section of Archaeology

My name is Thomas Wambach and I am an Anthropology/Archaeology major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), about to enter my junior year. This summer, I participated in an internship with the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), Archaeology Section located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I received this internship via the Diversity Internship Program, whose goal is to increase staff cultural diversity in Pennsylvania’s museums and cultural organizations. As I am of Haitian American ancestry, I found the program to be captivating as well as a worthwhile experience. It certainly has increased my knowledge of archaeology outside the classroom by helping me learn in a professional environment, under a well qualified mentor in my field.

As an intern in the Archaeology Section, I accomplished a number of personal and professional goals, and worked on a variety of different tasks and projects. My main project of focus during the internship was the processing of a collection of artifacts from an archaeological site in Clinton County, Pennsylvania known as the West Water Street Site (36 CN 175), located in Lock Haven, and excavated in 1992 by students from the University of Delaware. This was a stratified prehistoric site spanning nearly the entire time span of human occupation of the Susquehanna Valley. The artifacts I worked with dated to the Pre-Middle Archaic, Middle Archaic, and Late Woodland periods of human occupation in Pennsylvania. The first project task involved using printed records of the site’s artifacts, provided by the University of Delaware, to reenter data on artifacts spanning the first section of archaeological excavation at the West Water Street Site into an electronic database. An electronic database was unavailable from the University of Delaware for various reasons.

Once this section of the database was reentered and using a printed spreadsheet of the artifacts’ locations, I began to pull artifacts, by catalog number, from their original “pizza box” shaped cardboard boxes in one of the collection holding rooms occupied by the Section of Archaeology so that I could re-house these artifacts. That is to say, I pulled artifacts with catalog numbers 1200, 1400, 1500 etc, and re-housed them with their correct provenience information in larger acid free cardboard boxes. This encompassed a majority of the work I accomplished with the West Water Street Project, and represented a continuation of work performed by previous interns in the Section of Archaeology. The project was initially difficult, because many of the artifacts were scattered among a multitude of boxes in no particular order. Hence, finding the correct artifact was not only tedious, but also presented the possibility that certain artifacts might be missing from their original box. Overall, I estimate that more than four hundred bone, stone, ceramic, and FCR (fire cracked rock) artifacts were pulled and re-housed during my time here.

My time with the Section of Archaeology, however, was not simply limited to this activity. I also attended intern seminars held every Friday by Penn DOT’s Bureau of Design, Cultural Resources Section’s own Mr. Joe Baker. These seminars were organized and designed in a manner similar to a class lecture and discussion course to teach interns valuable lessons on historical preservation in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country, especially by introducing the rules and regulation of Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Other additional duties included the re-housing of artifacts outside my specific major project activity, and checking climate controls (temperature and humidity) in all artifact collection rooms. During the latter activity, I discovered that dehumidifiers are fickle little machines! I also briefly participated in field work at an archaeological site near Millersville, which was a good way for me to review the excavation and field training skills I’d learned during the summer of 2008 during IUP’s field school course. Moreover, from time to time, I assisted staff in maintaining the museum exhibits and galleries in the State Museum and Archives areas. This activity allowed me to visit the museum, that I had frequented as a child. I also attended an archaeology conference that took place in Harrisburg and I learned, first hand, how the museum receives new artifacts from public and private institutions, as well as donors from across the Commonwealth.

My summer internship also provided me the opportunity to show off my skills as an artist by drawing a reconstructed stone core artifact for one of my colleagues. I certainly hope the sketch proves useful in the future. I also took part in field trips to other museums in the state and to sites under protection by the National Register of Historic Places to evaluate their techniques of reaching the public as well as in artifact and site preservation, all the while comparing my observations with those services provided by the State Museum. In addition, I took part in a small public outreach activity by answering a letter sent by someone who had special interest in local archaeology. I provided the client with resourceful online and book sources so that his research could be completed. Despite the fact that the client was writing from prison, the effort demonstrates that archaeology is for everyone, and that we [archaeologists] are humble public servants.

Most importantly, I established contacts and friendships with the staff here in the PHMC, which I hope will help me in the future. My time here was very educational, fun, and an otherwise memorable experience that I will value greatly. I recommend contacting, interning, or communicating with the PHMC to anyone who is studying archaeology, like me, or to those who are interested in archaeology and/or prehistoric and historical preservation. It certainly proved to be an integral and priceless education and experience for me!
Thank you to all my friends and staff from the PHMC!

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

Friday, August 7, 2009

Experimental Archaeology at the Historical and Museum Commission - Building a Dugout Canoe

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) has carved three dugout canoes over the past decade. These have been done as public programs using replicated historic and/or prehistoric tools. The sight of people sometimes dressed in loin cloths, wood chips flying and fire attracts a lot of attention and these programs have been very popular with the public. The resulting dugouts have been included in a variety of presentations, most notably, the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show. Although the publicity is good, these projects are examples of experimental archaeology. They are being conducted to aid in the interpretation of the archaeological record.

As a simple definition, a dugout canoe or, simply, a “dugout” is a hollowed-out log used as a watercraft. It is typically made in a cycle of burning and cutting that includes repeatedly burning the log with a controlled fire and then scraping and chopping out the charred and softened wood with a variety of tools that can be as diverse as shells, wooden scraping tools and stone adzes.

The dugout is likely the earliest form of constructed watercraft in the world, and specimens in Europe have been dated to over 9,000 years old. Considering that humans voyaged to Australia at least 50,000 years ago, dugouts are probably at least that old. In North and South America, dugouts have been the main form of water travel since Native Americans arrived from Siberia over 16,000 years ago. In addition, there has been recent speculation that these early people first arrived by boat. The Northwest Coast seems to have the greatest variety of dugouts with some of these being very large and elaborately designed. In Eastern North American, dugouts are preserved in the lakes and bogs of Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The oldest of these date to over 6,000 years before the present.

During our 2005 project, we only used tools that were available to the prehistoric inhabitants of the Commonwealth. It has frequently been assumed by archaeologists that stone adzes were a common tool in dugout construction. The stone adzes were made by grinding down basalt into the desired shape. This was time consuming but attaching them to handles was the real challenge. Several handles and one adze were broken but eventually we developed a design that worked very well. Once the dugout was completed, the wear patterns on the stone adzes were analyzed and compared to archaeological specimens. Surprisingly, the wear patterns on the experimental specimens were not the same as most of the archaeological specimens. Our conclusion was that adzes were not commonly used in dugout construction. For more information on dugouts, visit our Building a Dugout page.

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

Friday, July 31, 2009

Recent Upgrades to the State Museum's Anthropology and Archaeology Gallery are Lean and Green

Over the past several months aging and power hungry light fixtures throughout the Anthropology and Archaeology Gallery have been replaced with more efficient and energy friendly fiber-optics and LEDs. These efforts have resulted in the reduction in electricity consumption from 92,800 kilowatt hours to 1,400 kilowatt hours over the lifetime of the fixtures. The cost savings are estimated to be roughly a thousand dollars per year and over $15,000 over their lifetime. The necessary electronics fabrication expertise was provided by the State Museum’s own A/V guru, Alan Byler. Kudos to Alan for his LED solutions in the Culture History Dioramas.

In addition to the reduced electricity consumption, the recycling of two mannequins from the Mastodon exhibit to the Delaware Indian Village has contributed to cost savings. With the Mastodon exhibit on the third floor undergoing major renovations, the Section of Archaeology has made good use of two mannequins in the village exhibit. Instead of wasting the figures by tossing them into the dumpster they’ve been incorporated into the village life scenes. With the help of exhibits fabricator Jonathan Schreffler, one figure has been transformed from cringing in front of a Pleistocene pachyderm to a more routine activity of 16th century Delaware life, scraping a deer hide in preparation for use as clothing. Also, a toddler girl was refurbished and added to the village, contributing some childhood energy to the overall scene. Thanks to Jonathan’s skills, this creative re-use of exhibit materials is not only a major cost savings, but also an aesthetic success.

Look for more energy aware and carbon conscience enhancements to the galleries in the future as the The State Museum continues to interpret and exhibit our shared heritage of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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