Friday, August 3, 2018

News from the Lab, The Fred Veigh Collection

Fred Veigh at Bonnie Brook site (36Bt43) photo credit: J. Herbstritt

About this time in August of 2017, we highlighted the Robert and Jim Oshnock Collections from Western Pennsylvania. This year the lab is concurrently processing another donation from the Western region of the Commonwealth, the William Fredrick Veigh Collection. With continued gratitude to Bob Oshnock, Brian Fritz and other Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) members who assisted in preparing this substantial collection for transport and donation, we are celebrating the completion of the preliminary box inventory earlier this summer. We take this opportunity to honor Fred Veigh’s contribution to Pennsylvania archaeology and The State Museum as we begin the task of cataloging and inventorying the artifact assemblage.

Riker mount of artifacts from Squirrel Hill Bottom Lands (36Wm35)

Fred Veigh (December 29, 1949-January 25, 2016) was a prolific archaeological collector and surveyor, and an active member of the SPA for most of his adult life. Receiving his education and training in archaeology at the University of Pittsburgh facilitated Fred’s participation as a field crewmember on Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) investigations in the 1970s, and as an independent Field Associate in Anthropology of the Carnegie Museum in subsequent years. Fred authored and co-authored numerous articles in the Somerset County Archaeological Society (SCAS) SPA Chapter quarterly newsletter while serving as its secretary, and continued as a member of the Westmoreland Chapter in his later years. Mr. Veigh meticulously labeled his artifacts and thousands of artifact boxes, containers and bags with topographical site information and a number designation system he developed to keep track of each surface collected location by county. Throughout his life, he participated and consulted on local and international excavations in addition to countless avocational hours spent surface hunting and documenting archaeological sites.

Temporary storage of Veigh collection

Due to the sheer number of individual sites and collection areas in this 258 box and 31 Riker Mount donation, it has taken several months with the assistance of our energetic volunteers to identify how many locations the collection contains. We can now report that Mr. Veigh’s donation represents prehistoric and historic artifacts from over 250 sites recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files and an additional 1,867 loci, the majority of which he documented on topographic maps. From these maps, we have begun the process of matching his unrecorded finds with pre-existing sites in CRGIS, and are recording new sites when possible. It is highly likely that the Veigh Collection will contain around 2,000 previously recorded and newly recorded archaeological sites after laboratory processing is completed. This is an astounding accomplishment for an individual and testament to Mr. Veigh’s passion for preserving our shared cultural history.

Map transcribing

The majority of the donation derives from Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties. Also present in the collection are minor assemblages from surface hunted sites in Adams, Allegheny, Bedford, Butler, Cambria, Chester, Clinton, Columbia, Erie, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Lehigh, and Venango Counties.

So far, we have focused on processing recorded sites with large artifact assemblages containing diagnostic prehistoric or historic artifacts. The McCoy Pottery site (36So56) is a rare example of rural commercial ceramic production during the Civil War Era. Hiriam D. McCoy owned and operated the pottery from the 1850s to 1870s. The McCoy site and colorful life of its proprietor—a self-taught man with only nine months of formal education, pottery craftsman and entrepreneur, civil war veteran, eventual hotel owner and elected judge (King, 1986)—will make an interesting subject for a future blog. Mr. Veigh participated in the 1975-1976 SCAS excavations at the pottery and later retained the collection for the chapter. It contains numerous examples of kiln furniture, saggers and examples of jars, crocks and bowls made with locally derived clays in addition to stoneware production of similar vessel forms. Pictured below, one of the few complete saggers recovered during SCAS investigations is on exhibit at the Somerset County Historical Society (Hoffman, 1976, reprint 2000).

Sagger from the McCoy site (36So56) on exhibit at Somerset County Historical Society

Sagger vessels, like kiln furniture are products created and consumed during the firing process to properly space and stabilize a variety of ceramic forms, and ensure an even glaze and easy extraction after the kiln has cooled. Sagger forms can vary depending on the potter’s preference and type of finished vessel it is designed to support, but often has a similar appearance to ceramic spittoons with side vent holes for proper air circulation during firing.

Taking notes at Nash site (36Cn17)

Fred was a member of the field crew during the 1972 PHMC excavations at the Nash site (36Cn17) on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and surface hunted during his breaks and down time. The Nash site is multi-component late Middle Woodland to early Late Woodland village, with occupational phases from the Clemson Island, Shenks Ferry and McFate/Quiggle cultures. The PHMC investigated the site as part of the Susquehanna River Archaeology Survey to define the Clemsons Island culture in eastern Pennsylvania (Smith, 1977; Smith and Herbstritt, n.d). Jim Herbstritt, Section of Archaeology staff archaeologist, also revisited Nash between the years of 2000 to 2004. The prehistoric pottery assemblage from Mr. Veigh’s surface finds reflects the presence of all three cultural groups at 36Cn17 and compliments the research he helped to conduct with the PHMC and the later work of Mr. Herbstritt.  

Nash site field form recorded by F. Veigh

The Veigh collection is significant not only for the volume of artifacts and breadth of documented geographic distribution, but also for the types of artifacts Mr. Veigh collected. Many surface hunters bias their collection strategies toward complete tools and diagnostic projectile points. Fred was also meticulous about collecting and retaining non-diagnostic chipping debris (the waste material from making formal stone tools), prehistoric and historic pottery sherds and other small artifacts—evidence of human activity usually disregarded or discarded by the casual collector. In addition to the Nash site, we have inventoried a whopping 25,092 pieces of chipping debris from only a handful of processed prehistoric sites from the Veigh colleciton. Varieties of chert present include locally derived Shriver, Uniontown, Brush Creek, Monongahela, and Ten Mile as well as out-of-state sourced chert, such as Onondaga (NY), Flint Ridge (OH) and Upper Mercer (OH). South Mountain Metarhyolite is also a common source material in the Somerset County sites and likely was transported or traded along Nemacolin’s and the Turkeyfoot Paths, Indian trails that crossed through this territory between Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania and the western part of the state (Means, 2013). In that sense, the Veigh collection, demonstrates the value of well-documented surface collections and provides a relatively accurate depiction of the type and variety of lithic sources utilized in prehistoric activities over much of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Uniontown chert debitage from the Ross site (36Wh271)

If you are interested in learning more about the Veigh Collection and other current projects in the Archaeology Laboratory, please join us in The State Museum Nature Lab next Thursday, August 9th at 11:30 am. Our laboratory managers, Andrea Carr and Callista Holmes will be on hand to demonstrate laboratory methods and answer questions about how we preserve our past for the future through artifact conservation and documentation. It was the purpose of this post to honor the life Fred Veigh and his enormous contribution to archaeology. We would like to close by saying it is our honor to work with collections like the Oshnock brothers and Mr. Veigh—the collections of individuals whom have dedicated much of their lives to preserving the archaeological heritage of Pennsylvania for all through documenting, organizing and donating their finds to The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology.


Hoffman, Vera Jane
1976       “The Real McCoy” SPAAC Speaks. The Society for Pennsylvania Allegheny Chapter No. 1 Newsletter 12:1. Reprinted in The SPA Somerset County Archaeology Society Chapter No. 20 Newsletter 2:3.

King, Ruth Alison
1986       McCoy family history letter to the Laurel Messenger, April 21, 1986, c/o The Somerset County Historical Society. On county file (36So56) at Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Means, Bernard
2013       “Somerset County: Birthplace of the Monongahela Culture Concept”, This Week in Pennsylvania History, August 16, 2013.                     

Smith, Ira F.
1977       The Susquehanna River Valley Archaeological Survey. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 47(4):27-29.

Smith, Ira F. and James T. Herbstritt
nd.         Clemson Island Studies in Pennsylvania. Unpublished manuscript at the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

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

Friday, July 20, 2018

T is for Turtle

As we enjoy this beautiful summer weather, walking or driving down country trails and roads, be sure to keep an eye out for turtles.  Turtles have been revered by cultures around the world.  They are often viewed as wise beings, symbols of longevity, messengers between this and the spirit world or as some northeastern indigenous people believed in the creation of our world on Turtle Island.  Many eastern tribes, including the Lenape and Iroquois, had similar creation stories.  They believed that in the beginning the world was covered entirely with water. There was an island in the sky where the Sky People lived.  No one died or was born there, and all was well.  Until Sky Woman fell through a hole toward the sea where she landed on grandmother turtle or Turtle Island.  Various water animals took turns diving to the bottom of the sea trying to bring mud to spread on the turtles back.  Eventually one succeeds (depending on the version of the story as to which animal succeeded), but they did and when placed on the turtle’s back it created land that grew and grew eventually becoming the size of North America.  This over simplification of the creation story is derived from several versions and from several tribes, this and in other legends about turtles can be found here. 
Turtles appear repeatedly throughout native legends demonstrating their relevance to human society.  This respect is recognized in the archaeological record by the many pendants, ornaments and effigies discovered on Northeastern sites.  Kinsey (1989) suggests that reptiles “constitute 15% of the Susquehannock [study of zoomorphic images] sample and less than 4% of the Seneca sample and these are limited to turtles and snakes; the former is the most common”.  In Pennsylvania, turtle pendants are more prevalent than pipe effigies, but there have been several found in other states.

There is a very interesting pendant that was recovered from the Flint Mine Hill site in New York.  This site is described as “a vast industrial complex consisting of numerous quarry pits, quarry and production refuse piles, small campsites, and extensive workshops where chert was knapped” (Lenik, 2010).  The pendant depicts a turtle surrounded by a snake and is carved on both sides.  Suggested interpretations are that it is an amulet meant to drive away demons by depicting a snake devouring another animal (Parker, 1925) or as perhaps the snake invoking a guardian spirit to protect the wearer who was of the turtle clan (Lenik, 2010)

Not only are turtles represented on portable artifacts, but they are also found as petroglyphs and as effigy rock features.  Petroglyph sites in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia were documented by James Swauger, many of which exhibit designs interpreted as turtles.

There are also several examples of effigy rock features in North Dakota and the Lake of the Woods region of Canada.   

It is clear that turtles have been revered by indigenous people since at least the Archaic period (Pearce, 2005), by the variety of specialized images presented.  Physical turtle shells are also represented in the archaeological record.  Their shells were used as utilitarian objects like bowls and scoops.  

They have been found in ceremonial contexts like the burials at Serpent Mound, where unmodified turtle shells were found next to human skeletal remains (Pearce, 2005).  Rattles made of turtle shell have been found on numerous sites and are ethnographically documented in ceremonial use, such as the False Face Society. 

Turtles have been esteemed by cultures around the world, so it is no surprise that Native Americans respected this now often-overlooked creature as well.  So, keep in mind the special turtle as you explore mother nature this summer and if by chance you see one along the roadside maybe give this noble creature some respect and if safe, a hand in crossing.

Kinsey, W. Fred
1989       Susquehannock Zoomorphic Images: Or Why the Seasons Change. In New Approaches to Other   Pasts edited by Fred W. Kinsey and Roger W. Moeller. Archaeological Services, Bethlehem,     Connecticut
Lenik, Edward J.
2010       Mythic Creatures: Serpents, Dragons, and Sea Monsters in Northeastern Rock Art. Archaeology   of Eastern North America 38:17-38
Parker, Arthur C.
1925       The Great Algonkin Flint Mines. Researches and Transactions of the New York Archaeological        Association. 4(4):105-125
Pearce, Robert J.
2005       Turtles from Turtle Island: An Archaeological Perspective from Iroquoia. Ontario Archaeology      79/80:88-108
Swauger, James L.
1974       Rock Art of the Upper Ohio Valley. Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Late Woodland Period Chesapeake Shell Trade

Marine shells were an important medium of exotic exchange among native societies of the Middle Atlantic and Upper Ohio Valley societies during the Late Woodland (1000 – 1550 AD). The recovery of shell from archaeological sites of this period is archaeologically traceable well into the Appalachian Mountains and other far flung regions of Pennsylvania’s interior. These areas are principally centered on the lower Upper Ohio Valley at sites in the Monongahela -Youghiogheny drainage of southwestern Pennsylvania -  the headwaters of the Potomac Valley that reach to the rugged mountains of Fayette and Somerset counties and; the waters of the Susquehanna above the Blue Mountain water gap located a few miles above Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Evidence of the Late Woodland shell trade in these various geographic regions of Pennsylvania becomes obvious by the locations of archaeological sites. Ornaments made from different species of marine shell are principally obtained from the Chesapeake’s intertidal and coastal environments. We should hasten to note that some later Woodland groups obtained fresh water shells from the shoals of large fresh water river systems for ornamental use. We will, however, save this topic for another time and focus on the marine species found at archaeological sites.

 Mercenaria mercenaria or “hard clam” shells collected from lower Chesapeake Bay in 2018.

There are five principal species of marine shell that made their way inland through trade from the Chesapeake region. These species are distinctive in morphology and used differentially as personal objects of adornment such as bracelets and necklaces. Among the more common, widely distributed forms, were the tiny disk-shaped beads fashioned from the thin sections of quahog a.k.a. hard clam shells Mercenaria mercenaria. Quahogs occur all along the Atlantic coast and constitute a valuable source of protein among sea food connoisseurs. Several different species of marginellas can be found from Cape Henlopen, Delaware (Lowery 2012) south to the West Indies. Both of these were popular among the lower Susquehanna Valley’s Shenks Ferry, Mason Island and Monongahela groups of the Piedmont and Allegheny Mountain/Lower Upper Ohio Valley regions of Pennsylvania (Heisey and Witmer 1964; Mayer-Oakes 1955).

Beads made from a variety of shells recovered from Late Woodland sites in Pennsylvania.

Another less common bead type found at some of their habitation sites was made from Olivella (sp?) a more southern variety of gastropod that occurs from North Carolina to Florida. These resemble the classic shape of an olive-shaped fruit, however, they are somewhat larger than marginella shells.

Busycon or whelk shell objects found in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic areas are generally considered rare objects of the Late Woodland period. Busycon contrarium or lightning whelk and Busycon canaliculatus a.k.a. canaliculatum or channel whelk are the most common and occur from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to Cape Cod, Massachusetts to St. Augustine, Florida, respectively - a very wide distribution, indeed.

Engraved shell gorget associated with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (Weeping Eye motif). 

            Busycon shells were made into drinking cups and tube-shaped beads of various lengths. West and south of the Middle Atlantic region anthropomorphic/zoomorphic engraved gorgets were worn around the neck. Carved from the large dorsal cup-shaped part of the Busycon shell, these impressive shell objects are principally found in Fort Ancient and Mississippian contexts that date to the circa 1000 – 1600 AD period. The engraved Busycon shells are a principal artifact type of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (Waring and Holder 1945).

Section of a wampum belt illustrating the variety of color design combinations.

            Wampum shell beads, characterized by their short cylindrical shape, appears to be most common after the close of the Late Woodland period around 1550 AD.  Suffice is to say that the English called this type of shell bead peag, a shorter version of the Massachusetts Algonquian word wampumpeag. White, purple and, rarely black, are the principal colors of wampum with slight gradations within these colors. The Dutch and French referred to wampum as zeewant and porcelaine, respectively (Bradley 2011). These colorful beads were typically fashioned out of quahog or hard clam and whelk shells.

            The Chesapeake Bay and its inter- connected river systems was the main corridor for the spread of marine shell onto the Pennsylvania landscape during the Late Woodland period. Although adjacent states can document a longer period of use (Lowery 2012), and this probably applies to Pennsylvania as well, currently the evidence of marine shell use in Pennsylvania is limited to the Late Woodland period. Preservation of these objects is largely determined by the site’s environmental context. Unfortunately, marine shell is a material that is rarely preserved in most situations leaving few records.

            We hope that you have enjoyed reading about the different kinds of marine shells, their distribution through trade and how they were used by the Indians who once lived in Pennsylvania centuries ago. Please join us another time as we present another interesting topic relating to Pennsylvania and its archaeology.  

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