Friday, September 13, 2019

Experimental Archaeology with Scrapers: Scrape, Scrape, Scrape

My Name is Alaina Helm, I interned with the Section of Archaeology during the summer of 2009, and I am a Junior at Oberlin College in Ohio. You may already have seen my other posts about previous projects I have worked on: lithic analysis of Kings Quarry (36Lh2) and refitting debitage from Eelskin Rockshelter (36Bu159). This post is about another project I completed this summer doing experimental archaeology on end scrapers under the direction of Dr. Kurt Carr, Senior Curator, The Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania.
                Prehistoric peoples demonstrate a preference for different lithic material types during different time periods. Paleoindians (10,000 to 12,000 years before present) preferred jasper and chert for making stone tools, despite inhabiting areas in closer proximity to alternative materials such as argillite and metarhyolite. During the transitional period (2800-4300 years before present) argillite and metarhyolite were intensively used throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.  With this knowledge in mind, we wanted to perform an experiment regarding the lithic composition of end scrapers to determine if there is a reason for biases towards certain lithic materials in the archaeological record.  Prehistoric peoples demonstrated a preference towards jasper scrapers despite being in closer proximity to other sources of useable material such as argillite. To determine if there was a functional reason for obtaining different materials from farther afield, we made scrapers of several materials and underwent experimental scraping with them. The goal of the experiment was to observe variations in wear patterns and effectiveness in scraping pieces of wood by using different materials.


Scrapers made for our experiment from various materials. Each scraper was assigned an alphanumeric designation for tracking purposes.


                Before beginning our experiments, I researched the literature to see if anyone had performed and written about a similar experiment. Although numerous articles have been published about use wear on scrapers, none of the articles compared wear between various lithic materials.  Our experiment consisted of several scrapers of varying materials created for the experiment by expert flint knapper Steve Nissley. The materials used were argillite, metarhyolite, jasper, quartzite, Normanskill chert, and Onondaga chert. All scraping was done on soft wood because it is easier to acquire than hide and would more quickly produce wear because it is a harder material.

Before being used, the scraper was hafted by channel lock pliers.

                The experiment was performed by hafting an end scraper using pliers padded with softened rawhide. The tools were then used in increments of 500 scrapes with a stroke length of thirty-two centimeters. The number of scrapes were carefully counted, and stroke length and strength was kept as uniform as possible to ensure consistency. Two sets of scrapers were used; one set was used by a variety of people including museum staff and volunteers, and the other set was used by only me. Having scrapers used by several people allowed more scraping to be performed faster without limitations caused by fatigue. Because several thousand scrapes needed to be performed for the experiment, having a separate set used by only one person allowed for a controlled comparison. The scrapers were photographed from multiple angles and at multiple magnifications using a Dino-Lite digital microscope with the highest resolution images at around 200x magnification. The scrapers were also measured using digital calipers at designated reference marks drawn on the scraper for consistency. All measurements and photographs were taken before the scrapers were used and at regular intervals of scraping to ensure a consistent record of wear on each scraper.

Alaina takes measurements and photographs of the experimental scrapers.

                The high-resolution images revealed that Argillite and Metarhyolite seemed to wear down faster with more visibly rounded edges than the Normanskill and Onondaga cherts, quartzite, and jasper. The chert scrapers showed a higher level of effectiveness than the jasper and the quartzite scrapers. Effectiveness was gauged by measuring the depth of the gouge each scraper created after the same number of scrapes. The argillite and metarhyolite scrapers shallower gouges than the jasper and chert scrapers, and the jasper scraper was slightly less effective than the chert scraper. These results suggest that the reason cherts and jaspers were the preferred materials for scrapers was due to their increased effectiveness in comparison with materials that may have been easier to obtain.

 
Argillite scraper with no wear (top) and after 500 scrapes (bottom).


This experiment was an interesting way to learn about lithic wear and get hands on experience with experimental archaeology. It allowed me to experience the nuances of designing an experiment and the difficulties in separating wear in differing lithic types. I learned a lot about aspects of experimental archaeology that are often not fully appreciated without the experience to back it up. This will help inform the way I approach any similar projects in the future. For example, on paper, scraping something 1000 times does not seem to be much until you realize that the individual scraping will need breaks. It is nice to occasionally switch up activities as well to make such experiments endurable.  I hope that my time with the Section of Archaeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania will provide me with insight and experience during the planning and preparation of future research and will help to form a foundation on which I can further add to the results of our research.


Upcoming Pennsylvania archaeology events:

This festival features a full day of hands-on activities. Visitors will be able to work with professional archaeologists and assist with three different excavations. An archaeologist from The State Museum of Pennsylvania will be on hand to answer questions.

Archaeologists from The State Museum of Pennsylvania will be conducting excavations in the mansion’s back yard during the park’s annual fall festival celebrating the old-time ways of life. Since 2006 archaeologists have been documenting archaeological evidence from the past occupations at this site dating from approximately 9000 years ago to the present day.

Don’t miss your opportunity to learn about the prehistoric people of western Pennsylvania that we call the Monongahela Indians. This theme will be featured at the 2019 Workshops in Archaeology hosted by the Archaeology Section at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. The program will take place on Saturday, November 9, 2019 at the museum.

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

Upcoming Events Featuring Pennsylvania Archaeology

Autumn is around the corner and the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania is gearing up for another busy season. This post includes a listing of upcoming events featuring Pennsylvania archaeology.



This three-day festival, celebrating the Susquehanna River, takes place along the banks of the river and on City Island in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania’s archaeology will be featured in a booth staffed by professional archaeologists and volunteers from The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Here, visitors will be able to see artifacts dating back thousands of years, take a “ride” in our dugout canoe, hold replica tools used to make the dugout canoe, learn about Pennsylvania’s past and find information on upcoming archaeology events in Harrisburg.

Sitting in the dugout canoe has become an annual tradition for many kids and families (image: PHMC)

The Archaeology booth and dugout canoe will be located near the Pow Wow on City Island, along the back side of the baseball stadium.

This map shows the location of The State Museum’s Archaeology booth at the 2019 Kipona Festival.

Since 2006, The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology has conducted excavations at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park. The primary goal of the excavation is to look for evidence of the French and Indian War era fort for which the park is named. The fort that stood at this location dates to the 1750s.

In addition to conducting excavations, Pennsylvania archaeology brochures, posters and information about the museum are also made available to visitors (image: PHMC)


Throughout the years, excavations have revealed a rich and varied past at Fort Hunter. Artifacts collected during excavations at Fort Hunter have included items dating to the prehistoric period and the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. These relics of the past in combination with thorough research have help to clarify the many transformations that have taken place at the site of the current mansion and the surrounding grounds.

Artifacts recovered from Fort Hunter pictured here include prehistoric points, gun side plate, MiniƩ ball, button, smoking pipe and dog licenses. (image: PHMC)


Weather permitting, excavations will be open to visitors from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday and on Sunday, September 15 for Fort Hunter Day.


The Archaeology Section of the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg invites you to attend our annual Workshops in Archaeology program on Saturday, November 9, 2019. 


Artifacts and reproduction points will accompany a demonstration by expert flint knapper Steve Nissly. (image: PHMC)


Last year’s popular theme exploring the Susquehannock Indians of central Pennsylvania will be continued with an examination of western Pennsylvania’s Monongahela Indians. We have invited a panel of experts to share their knowledge and research with us on this extensively investigated, but still mysterious culture. The Monongahela were the dominant Indian culture in southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio and northern West Virginia around 1000 AD, but by 1635 they vanish from the archaeological record.

This year’s Workshops in Archaeology will explore the many aspects of this culture including their pottery, diet, health, village patterns and social organization. 

Professionals will be on hand to assist attendees with artifact identification and recording archaeological sites. (image: PHMC)

Throughout the day, there will be demonstrations by professional flint knapper Steve Nissley, and experts will be on hand from Pennsylvania’s State Historic Preservation Office to assist attendees with artifact identification and recording archaeological sites.

Please join The State Museum’s Section of Archaeology in celebration of our rich archaeological heritage this fall. Harrisburg’s Kipona Festival and Pow Wow, the Archaeological investigation at Fort Hunter, and Workshops in Archaeology present valuable opportunities to meet State Museum archaeologists and learn more about how we can preserve our past for our future.

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

Friday, August 16, 2019

Eelskin Rockshelter Lithic Debitage Analysis

My name is Alaina Helm, I am a Junior at Oberlin College in Ohio and a Keystone intern in Archaeology for this summer.  Over the past several weeks and for a brief month-long stint back in January, I have been working on a flake refitting project here in The State Museum of Pennsylvania,  Section of Archaeology. The project was supervised by Dr. Kurt Carr, Senior Curator, and  consists of an argillite debitage cluster collected from the Eelskin Rockshelter (36Bu59) that was theorized to have been created over a single knapping event.

Steve Nissly flint knapping


                Analysis began with the organization and cleaning of the entire assemblage of debitage. Artifacts were cleaned using warm soapy water and a Sonicor ultrasonic cleaner, similar to a jewelry cleaner. We also experimented with the use of diluted vinegar water to remove patination, but it was found to be no more effective so was not done on all pieces. Once cleaned, flakes were uniformly laid out on trays for refitting by type as entire, proximal, medial, or distal pieces. A small quantity of other materials was found amongst the debitage and separated out that includes jasper, quartz, bone, and chert. A wide range of colors was noted in the argillite which is generally black. We also found two biface fragments, a proximal utilized flake, and an end scraper among the debitage.




 Several weeks were spent attempting to fit pieces together where flakes had come off each other or flakes had broken apart.  If successful, refitting a flake cluster back together would allow for the study of stone tool creation through flake reduction techniques. In the case of this cluster from the Eelskin Rock Shelter, only five refits were found over several weeks of searching through the hundreds of pieces in the collection. Methods used in attempting to match related flakes together included; grouping by color, grouping by texture, and grouping by type. Type attributes included the shape of the bulb of percussion (Lipped, bulbar, etc.) and the shape/ size of flake (length, width, thickness). These groupings did not reveal the relatively large number of matches that could be expected in a chipping cluster.


The majority of the debitage demonstrates late stage and baton reduction techniques. Late stage reduction is the process of reducing an already acquired raw material into a complete tool. Almost all flakes are thin with several dorsal flake scars. 68.4% of the proximal or entire flakes are lipped. Lipped flakes are a key indicator of late stage baton production technologies. 




Due to the small quantity of matched pieces found and the variations in color and texture, there is a good chance that although the lithic material first appeared to belong to a single chipping event, it instead represents several knapping events. This conclusion is additionally supported by the fact that there is a small amount of lithic materials other than argillite present, as listed above.  Other potential explanations for the high quantity of debitage found together could include that the materials were part of a rubbish pile or that several short knapping events occurred in the same location.               

example of color variation


This comparative analysis was an exercise well suited for my studies, as it brought together my interests in archaeology and geology. It provided useful experience in lithic analysis, and although sometimes tedious and frustrating when days were spent with no matched flakes found, was valuable in determining that the lithics cluster found at the Eelskin Rockshelter was not the refuse of a single toolmaking event. This project was ultimately beneficial to my own learning while also letting us learn a little about the activities being performed on the site.

Thanks for reading my blog and I hope you will check back for another blog post from me about the experimental archaeology test I conducted on stone scrapers.

Bibliography

Justice, Noel D.
1987       Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points of the Midcontinental and Eastern United States. Indiana University Press.

Anonymous
n.d. Eelskin Rockshelter-36Bu159, anonymous manuscript housed in the County Files, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg Pennsylvania.

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