Friday, January 16, 2015

Archaeology Exhibit at the PA Farm Show

Here we are again, a new year and the grand event of the Pennsylvania Farm Show. The 99th annual PA Farm Show began last Saturday January 10, 2015 and runs through tomorrow Saturday January 17 at 5 p.m. As in past years, The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s exhibit is set up in the Family Living section, located in the main exhibition hall of the Farm Show Agricultural Complex. In cooperation with the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology and the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum we have put together quite an exhibit. This year’s exhibit demonstrates how environmental changes have contributed to the social and technological adaptations of humans in Pennsylvania beginning around 19,000 years ago.  The exhibit features artifacts ranging in time from the Paleoindian period to the Late Woodland and includes projectile points, scrapers, knives, bola stones, net sinkers, adzes, axes, grinding stones, pottery, bone fish hooks, pestles and more. Our exhibit also includes informative panels discussing how the environment changed throughout these prehistoric periods and the responses by humans, which we can see through the artifacts and floral and faunal remains.

The State Museum’s Janet Johnson preparing the exhibit cases

The State Museum’s Kurt Carr speaking with visitors looking at an exhibit case

State Museum of Pennsylvania 2015 Farm Show Exhibit

Don’t forget that our 20 foot long replica dugout canoe is also featured in the exhibit. Everyone is welcome to stop by and test it out by climbing in and imagining how it would have been to live hundreds of years ago with this as one of your main modes of transportation. While taking a “ride” in the canoe you can read our poster and look at the photos about how dugout canoes were made and how the State Museum’s archaeologists and volunteers made the exact canoe you are sitting in through traditional methods with traditional stone tools.

Visitors enjoying the dugout canoe at The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s exhibit

Members of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA), as in years past, will be on hand offering information about the organization and answering questions. If you are interested in joining the SPA; new memberships include the biannual journal Pennsylvania Archaeologist, announcements of the annual SPA meeting, newsletters and as a special Farm Show bonus of three previous issues of the SPA journal will be included. So stop on by and see what SPA is all about!

SPA’s Ken Burkett on hand to answer questions

 In addition to the State Museum’s artifacts and panels, this year the Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum has put together a display with additional brochures and booklets about events happening at the museum. There is also information about their Heirloom Seed Project, which preserves Pennsylvania’s past through heirloom vegetables and plants that were significant to Pennsylvania Germans from 1750 to 1940.

Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum display

Thus far, the 99th annual PA Farm Show has given us the opportunity to reach thousands of individuals with a current count at 32,736 and a projected count of 46,128 visitors total for the week. With a visitor count like this we have been able to disperse thousands of brochures, magazines, posters, tattoos, and free planetarium show tickets. Most of all the PA Farm Show has always given us the opportunity to share our knowledge of Pennsylvania’s past with all those who take a moment to stop by, sit in the canoe and chat with our volunteers and staff. We hope to see those of you who have not already visited tomorrow to let us share a little of Pennsylvania’s history and archaeology with you.


2014    Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Membership.

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

Friday, January 2, 2015

Ringing in the New Year with Sleigh Bells!

To help us ring in the New Year and in the nostalgic spirit of a snowy holiday season this week in archaeology will focus on a common artifact found in Pennsylvania homesteads and stables from the colonial period through the early 20th century—“S” is for sleigh bell.

Ornamental crotal or rumbler bells with engraved petal motifs were manufactured in British foundries as early as the 1500s. During the colonial period, mold-cast crotals with similar motifs were imported in large quantities to the Americas.  They adorned animal tack, carriages and sleighs of European settlers; and were traded to Native Americans who re-incorporated bells into their own cultural practices, using crotals for personal ornamentation.   By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, petal bell crotals became commonly known as sleigh or jingle bells, names popularized in Victorian-era Christmas carols still sung today.

A crotal or rumbler bell is distinguished from an open mouthed bell by its lack of an attached clapper. It is considered a rattle, rather than a true bell for this reason. Sound is produced by the inclusion of a loose pebble or iron jinglet encased in the bell’s round body. The sound travels out of the bell through the throat, a slot or series of slit openings on the bottom half of the body. The shank is located on the opposite side of the bell and is used to attach the crotal to a leather or cloth mount.   
Three petal-decorated and one undecorated mold-cast sleigh bells with slanted, u-shaped shanks, 17th - 18th centuries, Conestoga Town (36La52), The State Museum of Pennsylvania


Five of six sleigh bell crotals were recovered from PHMC excavations at Conestoga Town (36La52), a Susquehannock village site of the period from 1690-1740 (Kent, 2001; 207-208; 386). Based on their archaeological contexts, these bells are likely of British manufacture sometime in the late-17th to early-18th century and exhibit a slanted u-shaped shank typical of the period. While local metal smiths are likely to have produced crotals prior to the mid-1750s, the first commercially established foundries in the American colonies casting sleigh bells on a large scale were not operating until the latter half of the 18th century. Two sleigh bells from Conestoga Town exhibit a W.K. or M.K. makers’ mark which may link them to the Knight foundry (1518-1709) of Reading, England. The bell pictured below is engraved with the initials G.W. or W.G.; a common mark associated with Aldbourne, Wiltshire foundries of the 17th and 18th centuries (Hume, 1969). The W.G. maker’s mark cannot be ascribed to a specific bell maker until the late-18th century, William Gwynn. However, it is present on many examples of earlier dated crotals produced in the Wiltshire region prior to the establishment of the Gwynn foundry (1770-1813). (Link to Blunt for more information about the history of crotals and British foundries).
Seventeenth-eighteenth century sleigh bell, petal-decorated on upper and lower hemispherers, G.W. or W.G. maker's mark, Conestoga Town (36La52), the State Museum of Pennsylvania, on exhibit.

Hume (1969) believes the Wells foundry also of Aldbourne, was operating as early as 1694 and may have produced bells with a G.W. maker’s mark before the proprietorship of Richard Wells and sons (1755-1825). The R.W. engraving is a widely accepted diagnostic mark of the late 18th century Wells foundry, famous for producing sleigh bells in the largest array of sizes of any manufacturer in England. Sleigh bells with these marks have been found in archaeological contexts in Williamsburg, Virginia among other late 18th century colonial contexts.
The petal bell is also the most common design for sleigh bells dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. The first American manufactured sleigh bells were produced in East Hampton, Connecticut by Captain William Barton and his descendants. Pictured below is an early example of a petal bell designed crotal most likely produced by a member of the Barton clan (circa 1740s-1845).

American manufactured sleigh bell, 2 ¼” dia., 18th-19th century, Fort Hunter (36Da159), The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The bell was found behind the icehouse during 2013 PHMC excavations at Fort Hunter. Diagnostic characteristics include the petal engraved motif, the “B” marker’s mark present next to a single throat that terminates in circular ends, and the presence of two mold holes on either side of a cast u-shaped shank. This bell most likely belonged to the McAllister family who owned the property from the mid-1780s to the late 1800s. The presence of this American-made artifact among other household goods reinforces the political and economic transitions that occurred during and after the revolutionary war, as American craftsman began to fill the demand for fine-crafted goods formerly met by British import markets.
Nineteenth-twentieth century sleigh bells, left-1 1/4" dia.,right-2" dia.,manufacture unknown, Westmoreland County,   Robert Oshnock Collection, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.


 The sleigh bells from Westmoreland County pictured above also have a u-shaped shank like the bell found at Fort Hunter; however, the presence of four mold holes circling the shaft is likely evidence of post-1850 manufacturing techniques. There is a faint petal design and number “8” engraved on the larger crotal from the Milk site (36Wm540), indicating a 2” diameter size. The smaller bell, a general county find, displays a petal motif and also lacks a maker’s mark.
The State Museum, Section of Archaeology wishes you a happy and healthy holiday season! Please visit our exhibit booth at the Pennsylvania State Farm Show, January 10th-17th.  The exhibit will feature artifacts and information focused around cultural change and adaptation to the environment since our earliest occupation in Pennsylvania about 16,000 years ago.  Our booth is in the Main Hall in the Northeast section of the area, directly across from the Bureau for Historic Preservation and their Historic Markers scavenger hunt.  You can’t miss us, just look for the only 20 foot long replica of a Native American dugout canoe!

2014  The British Museum. A History of the World: Crotal Bells. Electronic document.
Blunt, Rod.
2005  UK Detector Finds Database: Crotal Bells. Electronic document.

Classic Bells Ltd.
2002  Electronic document.
Cotter, John L. and J. Paul Hudson
1957  New Discoveries at Jamestown. National Park Service.
Hume, Ivor Noël
1969  A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. University of Pennsylvania Press.
Kent, Barry C.
2001  Susquehanna’s Indians. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Spouse, Deborah A.
1988  A Guide to Excavated Colonial and Revolutionaly War Artifacts. Heritage Trails.

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

Friday, December 19, 2014

Recording your sites and donation collections

Artifact collecting is a favorite activity of many people in Pennsylvania and one that has been taking place for over a hundred years. Evidence of early collecting can be seen in the large assemblages of Civil War artifacts collected immediately following the retreat of troops from the Gettysburg Battlefield and in the cases of projectile points recovered from cornfields along the Susquehanna River in the early 1900s.  These collections often represent the remains of previously unknown sites that could provide important information to the history and prehistory of Pennsylvania.

Case of artifacts from the Exley Collection (Photo Credit: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology)

 Collecting artifacts and digging sites are activities that are destructive by nature and are often undertaken by those who are not trained as professional archaeologists. In this way, important information on these sites is lost forever.  Museums and professional archaeologists often rely on the collections and observations of avocational archaeologists to help with the understanding of local and regional settlement patterns. It is important to keep documentation on your site if you feel you must collect or dig on it.  Remember that the more information you can provide on specifics of site location and types of artifacts recovered, the greater our knowledge will be of how and why human settlements changed over time.  This is especially important for sites in areas that may be destroyed by development or natural disasters.

Site documentation can range from simply noting locations on a map to keeping detailed field notes, mapping site boundaries and features, and taking photographs of important site characteristics. Handheld, mobile phones and Global Positioning Units (GPS) make finding and mapping site and artifact locations simple.

Field notes and photos document a rockshelter site from the Jacob Grimm Collection (Photo Credit: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology)

 An easy way for you to assist the professionals is to record your site promptly by completing a Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) form.  Provide as much information as you can on the PASS form and the site will be given a trinomial designation and added to the compiled spatial data for the state. This information is used by qualified professional archaeologists but is kept confidential from the general public so that sites are not destroyed.

Example of a PASS form (Photo Credit: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology)

Cataloging the artifacts recovered from sites and recording their location is also an important part of the process. Designate a letter or number code to place on each artifact and key it to a list describing the type of artifact, material, and age if possible. Even if you are not sure how to identify your artifact properly, keying your finds to a map will allow researchers to determine spatial patterning at the site.

Artifact logs associated with the Assmus Collection (Photo Credit: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology)

Artifact inventory and associated point fragments from the Jacob Grimm Collection (Photo Credit: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology)

So, what happens if you decide you no longer want your collection or that you would rather share it for the research potential it may represent? Many people choose to donate their collections to the State Museum, providing significant research opportunities to future generations. Donations may be as large as several thousand artifacts or as small as one unique item, such as the unusual hafted maul recovered in the City of Harrisburg.  

Hafted maul from the Finley Collection (Photo Credit: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology)

A collection is not only the artifacts you’ve collected, but also the documentation. Documentation includes notes, maps, and catalogs as well as photos of the field work and the artifacts if you have them. A signed Deed-of-Gift form indicating your intentions of donating a collection to the museum must accompany the artifacts.

A new exhibit in the Archaeology Gallery on the second floor of the State Museum will showcase much of the information included in this blog. Please stop in soon to see it! More information on recording sites, cataloging artifacts, and donating collections can be found at

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