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 .