Friday, May 20, 2016

Archaeology programs return to the Nature Lab

As the school year begins to draw to a close and summer vacations start to take shape, keep in mind the Nature Lab (located on the 3rd floor of the State Museum) has a full schedule of upcoming presentations for when Mother Nature throws a wrench in your outdoor plans, be it blistering heatwaves or the occasional monsoonal downpour.

Building on the success and positive feedback from last year’s inaugural Nature Lab Series, the staff of the Section of Archaeology will again host one-hour presentations on a variety of exciting topics from 11am – 12pm every Thursday through the end of July. To accommodate busy summer schedules, each program will be offered at least twice throughout the series. Find the topic that interests you the most, or attend them all!

A flint knapping demonstration and an introduction to the methods of cataloging and labeling archaeological collections kicked off our program offerings earlier this month, and we’ll continue with an in-depth look at the different design motifs on Native American pottery found in Pennsylvania as well as an overview of recent archaeological collections submitted to the museum from across the Commonwealth.

Click here to visit the State Museum’s Events page for a full listing of upcoming programs. We hope to see you soon in the Nature Lab!

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

Friday, May 6, 2016

An Intern Experience

          A sure sign of summer is high school and college graduations and with this major life changing event often comes the proverbial question of “what are you going to do now”?  Many of us are interested in a range of subjects and determining how to hone those interests into a career can be challenging.  Volunteering or interning is one way to define those interests and skills and recognize whether there is a sufficient sense of commitment and enthusiasm to develop a career.  We have students who volunteer with us, they must be 16 or older, and we welcome interns from the surrounding educational institutions in proximity to Harrisburg.  This week TWIPA will feature a blog from one of our two interns this semester from Elizabethtown College. 

Erin mocking up exhibit label placement

My name is Erin Gregory and I will be graduating from Elizabethtown College this May with degrees in Sociology/Anthropology and English Professional Writing. Afterward, I plan on enrolling in the Museum Communications program at University of the Arts in Philadelphia. But how I went from an English-concentrated course load to my interest in museum work is an interesting story.

If you asked 10-year-old me “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I would’ve cheerfully given you answers like a veterinarian, a singer, or an actress. As I got older and was forced to think rationally, all my answers disappeared. Toward the end of high school, I still had no answer, so I applied to undergraduate English programs because I knew I could write. I was half way through my sophomore year of college when I realized I dreaded the thought of a job in copy editing or proof reading. Though I enjoyed my literature classes, I knew I couldn’t make a living off of reading Shakespeare. Luckily, I picked up my second major – Sociology/Anthropology – freshmen year.

By junior year, I still couldn’t answer “what do you want to be when you grow up?” (the question matured a little and became “what are you doing after college?”). It took a trip to Iceland to find my answer. My classmates and I visited the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavik during our trip and I was fascinated. As I wandered from exhibit to exhibit, it dawned on me: museum studies. I could take my passion for anthropology and my writing skills and apply them in a museum environment. After the trip, I contacted my academic adviser and asked about museum internships. She mentioned interning for the Section of Archeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania and I jumped at the opportunity.

I wanted to focus more on the curatorial side of museum work rather than the hands-on archeological work because truthfully, I’m not a fan of getting dirty. So Janet, my mentor, and I decided that I would create an exhibit to highlight the work of one of the museum’s donors, Doris Freyermuth. Doris was an amateur archaeologist who had amassed a very important collection of artifacts from the Delaware Valley.  Without having a background in archeology, I knew I would have a rough start. Soon after starting my internship, I learned “rough” was an understatement. What do these numbers and letters mean? How many catalog systems are there? What’s a Riker box? What’s a Vosburg? Sandts Eddy is where? What’s a “Woodland” period? I had all these questions, but luckily, Janet and the rest of the department had all the answers.

For the exhibit, I needed to do the following: research Doris’ background in archeology, search the sites she helped excavate, create text that described both Doris and the sites, select some of her artifacts to display, arrange them in chronological order, pin them onto mounts, and map out how they would fit into the exhibit case. I’m sure there were additional steps involved because it took about four months to do all of that. In my defense, I assisted elsewhere in the department, helping staff with other collections. This involved helping to organize collections, package collections, cleaning or reconstructing artifacts, and typing data into their database. My focus was on curator responsibilities, but I wanted to learn everything and thankfully, I was able to do that during my internship.

Freyermuth collection selected ceramics 

Interning at the museum reinforced my decision to go into the museum field. Though I had a rough start, the staff was very helpful. By experiencing the behind-the-scenes work of an exhibit, I gained knowledge and experience I wouldn’t have obtained anywhere else. This internship has created a foundation not only for my graduate studies but for my future career path.

Intern projects are designed to provide training for students and to aid in curation and analysis of our archaeological collections.  Our Keystone summer intern will be arriving in a few weeks and will assist in sorting and inventorying of a large collection recently donated by an avocational archaeologist from Lebanon County.  This will provide an opportunity to examine artifacts, learn basic tool types and understand the process of inventorying, cataloging and analyzing these materials.  If you are interested in interning or are a high school student seeking an opportunity to learn more about archaeology, feel free to contact us for additional information.  See our “about us” on the far right side bar.

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

Friday, April 22, 2016

The 2016 State Archaeology Meetings

            This week in Pennsylvania Archaeology features a summary of the joint Pennsylvania Archaeological Council (PAC) and Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc. (SPA) annual meetings at West Middlesex, Mercer County on  4/15-4/17/2016.
registration table

            The gathering of professional and amateur archaeologists began Friday morning with the PAC business meeting. Here a variety of issues facing archaeology in the Commonwealth were discussed, foremost among these was the new predictive model for pre-contact sites that is now available on the Cultural Resources Geographic Information System (CRGIS) website. New guidelines issued by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) created quite a stir but a closer examination revealed these were a clarification rather than significant changes (although the discussion is still on-going).

            In the afternoon, PAC held a symposium entitled Lithic Quarries in Pennsylvania: The Archaeology of Tool Stone Procurement. Frank Vento began the presentation with an overview of the geologic formation of the main types of stone used in the production of chipped stone tools. Chert is the most common type used in the region and it is found in several different geologic formations including Bowmanstown, Shriver, Buttermilk Falls, Monongahela, Upper Mercer and Van Port. These overlap in color and appearance but several can be distinguished by the microscopic examination of thin-sections. Kurt Carr presented an overview of recorded prehistoric quarry sites including how the material was extracted from the ground. Quartz and quartzite were collected directly from the surface with minimal effort, however, shallow mining pits, one to three meters deep were dug to recover argillite and metarhyolite. The Hardyston jasper quarries in the Allentown area required the most effort. Mining pits over eight meters deep were dug to extract jasper for tools. Digging the pit took place over thousands of years, but, as noted by Brian Fritz, managing the spoils pile was the major problem.

conference attendees in the book room

            Ken Burkett, Paul Raber, Bev Chiarulli and Tim Murtha discussed specific quarries and also described the lithic reduction sites around these quarries. Typically, the raw material is frequently located some distance from water and once it was removed from the bedrock, the best pieces were moved to a more comfortable site where the poor quality material was removed and the actual production of tools began. Heather Wholey described the quarrying process for steatite which is a relatively soft rock that was used for stone bowls and ornaments during the Transitional period. Although, numerous studies have been conducted of the steatite quarries, Heather’s investigation included one of the first modern archaeological excavations of a worked outcrop. Brian Fritz finished the session with a model for the analysis of quarry sites. It included a classification system for quarry site types and new methods for analyzing large quantities of quarry debris.

Mercyhurst University students in attendance

            The SPA paper presentations began Saturday morning with a special treat for the audience; a video by Angela Jaillet-Wentling entitled Digging Deeper: Buried Landscapes of Pennsylvania. This is a Making Archaeology Public (MAP) project sponsored by the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. This is a nation-wide celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. Although, an unprecedented level of archaeology has been conducted over the past 50 years, much of it has not reached the general public. The goal of the MAP program is for each state to produce a 20 minute video summarizing what has been learned as a result of the NHPS. The basic idea of the MAP Project is that archaeologists within each state will work together to answer the question: What are the most important insights into life in the past that we have gained from National Historic Preservation Act mandated archaeology? Digging Deeper reviews the major stratified sites in each of the major rivers of Pennsylvania that have made significant contributions to our understanding of past cultural behavior. This is a must see.

powerpoint presentation title slide

            The Saturday morning session continued with presentations on a remote sensing project of Hanna’s Town by David Breitkreutz. Hanna’s Town is an 18th century town in Westmoreland County that has been difficult to locate but this investigation had promising results. Chris Espenshade conducted a battlefield archaeology project involving the Brodhead Expedition of 1779 during the Revolutionary War. His presentation demonstrated the difficulties of documenting a battle that included less than 50 combatants lasting less than an hour.  Victoria Cacchione also addressed the difficulties of investigating an historic site located in Michaux State Forest, but in this case, the site was occupied for nearly 200 years. The problem was linking the non-diagnostic artifacts with specific occupations. Charles Williams conducted an industrial archaeology project of the history and eventual demolition of a reservoir dam in Clarion County. 

The last three papers of the morning had a Paleoindian theme. Tom Glover described the environment, especially temperatures, during the Late Glacial Maximum; the bottom line - it was very very cold. Jim Wosochlo conducted experiments using end and side scrapers on a large cow bone. These tools are ubiquitous on Paleoindian sites and he suggested they were used for working bone, especially for removing the marrow. Finally, Jen Rankin reported on the excavation of a stratified Paleoindian site just across the Delaware River in New Jersey. These types of sites are very rare and preliminary findings suggest a very significant site in terms of the data available from this time period.

poster session

The afternoon commenced with a poster session by students from Indiana, Kutztown, Millersville, and California universities of Pennsylvania. The topics included a public outreach project, an industrial archaeology project, a distributional analysis of artifacts from a prehistoric village site and a dental analysis documenting gender related differences in an early Monongahela population.

The afternoon papers began with a paper by Andy Myers and Patty Stahlman documenting a stone mortar from a rockshelter and included a discussion of the possibility of nuts being processed. Carl Burkett, Robert Ilisevich and Bill Black documented the incredible variety of prehistoric archaeological sites found around Pymatuning Swamp. This type of survey is very important because it documents the diversity of adaptations associated with large wetlands. Ingram et al. conducted an investigation of an artifact collection from a Monongahela site that was investigated several decades ago. They examined the horizontal distribution of a variety of different artifact types. Part of the study included digitizing the site records and inventory notes. This will facilitate future analysis of artifact patterning.

presentation of the Hatch award

The final sessions of the afternoon began with a presentation by Brian Fritz, Bill Tippins and Ken Fisher on the Buffalo Creek Chert of Washington County. This was followed by James Burke who converted old photographs, slides and negatives to electronic media from the Carnegie Museum to reveal “hidden knowledge” concerning early investigation, such as, the Burgwin Mound excavation of 1898.  Finally, Dave Watters discussed the contribution of the Thomas Harper archaeological collection at the Carnegie and Amanda Valko, Janet Johnson, Brian Fritz and Bob Oshnock offered a tribute to Fred Veigh who recently passed on but donated his collection to the State Museum of Pennsylvania in perpetuity. It is good that these collections have found a permanent home where they will continue to contribute to exhibits and future research.

The goal of the SPA and PAC annual meetings is to share information on recent research being conducted by amateurs, professionals and students (our next generation of researchers). This year’s meetings were definitely successful in reaching that goal. Sharing research conducted by avocational and professional archaeologists is important for both groups.  The opportunity to hear of sites that the professional community is investigating and the potential for detailed analysis allows for SPA Chapters to learn about current excavation methods. We hope you will consider attending next year’s meeting in Harrisburg, April 7-9, 2017. 

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