Friday, November 9, 2018

Revisiting Susquehannock Culture History

2018 Workshops in Archaeology, John Smith’s Susquehannocks: The Archaeological context of a Native Culture

We would like to thank all the attendees, speakers, volunteers, and staff that made the 2018 Workshops in Archaeology a bounding success.  The subject of this year’s program was John Smith’s Susquehannocks: The Archaeological context of a Native Culture; and it was one of our most successful events having an overall attendance of 190 people. 

As always there was flint knapping demonstrations provided by Steve Nissly, an expert flintknapper that not only displayed some of his more impressive pieces but also demonstrated his technique.  This year in keeping with the Late Woodland culture period of the Susquehannock Indians, Steve demonstrated the technique used in producing triangular shaped projectile points (arrowheads).

Doug McLearen, Chief, State Historic Preservation Office and Dr. Patricia Gibble, Historic archaeologist and retired college Professor and consultant identified artifacts for participants which facilitated site recording.

Noël Strattan and Hannah Harvey from the State Historic Preservation Office were on hand to demonstrate site recordation in the Cultural Resources Geographic Information System (CRGIS).  It is essential to know where sites are in order to protect and preserve our archaeological heritage.

In addition to these staples of our program we were pleased to welcome 9 speakers to this year’s program.  All professionals with an expertise in Susquehannock archaeology and history.

The program began with Beth Hagar, Director of State Museum of Pennsylvania, providing opening remarks with a brief presentation of recent accomplishments and events at the museum.  Followed by opening remarks by Dr. Paul Raber, Director of Archaeological Services Heberling Associates, Inc.

It seemed only right to begin the day with Dr. Barry Kent, Pennsylvania State Archaeologist (retired).  He is also the author of Susquehanna’s Indians, the preeminent volume on the archaeology and history of the Susquehannock Indians.  Dr. Kent provided the culture history of this native group from their origins through the last historic record at the horrific Conestoga Indian Town massacre in 1763.

Next up was one of our former interns, Jasmine Gollup, M.A., TRC Environmental Corp.  She presented her research in the Upper Susquehanna Valley tracing the origins of the Susquehannock or Proto-Susquehannock, acknowledging some of the caveats encountered during her investigations.

After a short break, with more doughnuts and fruit than you can imagine.  James Herbstritt, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, discussed the ethnogenesis of the Susquehannocks as they moved through Pennsylvania following the North and West branches of the Susquehanna River.  By analyzing changes in ceramic assemblages from many Susquehannock and Proto-Susquehannock sites and associated carbon 14 dates he developed a chronological sequence of the Susquehannocks.

The last paper of the morning was presented by Andrew Wyatt, M.A., Senior Archaeologist, AECOM.  Andrew shared the results of the data recovery excavations at the Lemoyne site, an early seventeenth century, palisaded, Susquehannock village.  Significant in providing dietary evidence not previously recovered on many of the previously excavated village sites which has enriched our understand of Native foodways.

Presentations resumed after lunch with Dr. Robert Wall, Towson University, discussing the chronology of the Susquehannock.  Looking at community patterns of several sites excavated in the last few decades, this time in the Upper Potomac River Valley he demonstrated the existence of a brief occupation which existed for about twenty years, which ended about 1620.

The first depiction of a Susquehannock is from John Smith’s journal and map of 1608 where he notes that they are “a giant like people”.  Dr. Marshall Becker, West Chester University compared both male and female skeletal remains of Susquehannocks recovered in West Virginia with remains of contemporary natives from nearby tribes. His research suggests that the women were of average height, but the men were indeed taller.

Dr. Lisa Lauria stepped away from the taxonomical approach and touched on the cultural anthropological method.  She discussed the social context of ceramics and how it changed as brass and copper kettles replaced the handmade ceramic vessels.  Lisa suggested that changes in pottery decoration and size reflected social change and adaptation of the people.

After another brief break, Dr. Timothy Shannon, Gettysburg College, explored the historical accounts of the Susquehannocks interactions with colonials in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Dr. Shannon’s research of treaty agreements, journals and colonial government records traced the transfer of power from the once powerful Susquehannocks to the Iroquois after the Iroquois attack of 1674.

The final paper of the day was delivered by Jackie Kramer, Outdoor Recreation Planner, National Park Service.  She talked about the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail which is the country’s first national water trail extending from Havre de Grace, Maryland to Cooperstown, New York and its role in telling the story of the native people that lived in the lower Susquehanna River valley.

The presenters gathered for a question and answer session with the audience which allows for further discussion and questions from the audience. This exchange often introduces additional dialogue that presenters are unable to share in their presentations due to time constraints.  Participants had one last opportunity to share thoughts and interests at a lovely reception in the museum’s Susquehanna room. 


For those that attended it was a great day full of good information about the people that once inhabited this part of Pennsylvania.  If you were unable to attend, there is always next year. These presentations are also a preview of a soon to be published title; Contact and Cultural Identity, Recent Studies of the Susquehannocks edited by Paul Raber. This publication will be available in the fall of 2019 through Penn State University Press. The 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Show is just around the corner and this year’s exhibit will follow the theme of the workshops highlighting the archaeology and history of the Susquehannocks.   Stay tuned to TWIPA for information regarding the 2019 Workshops in Archaeology as well as other upcoming events.  

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

Friday, October 26, 2018

Workshops in Archaeology 2018 at the State Museum of Pennsylvania

Last Call!

Registration for this year’s Workshops in Archaeology program is proving to be one of our largest presentations to the public since the 1990’s! Through current and ongoing research, archaeologists and historians from the Northeast and Middle Atlantic regions will trace the path of the Susquehannocks from their ancestral homelands in northern Pennsylvania to their violent disappearance in the lower Susquehanna Valley in 1763. Please join us at the State Museum of Pennsylvania on October 27th to learn about this most fascinating topic.

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Fort Hunter Wrap-up and Archaeology Month Events

3rd in the 'berg at Fort Hunter 2018

The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology wrapped up its annual public archaeology excavation this past Friday, October the 5th. Despite this year’s overall soggy season, the program continues to be successful in providing an opportunity for the public to observe an archaeological dig up close, and to learn more about the historic and prehistoric inhabitants that called what is now Fort Hunter Mansion and Park home.

These students are shovel-ready!

Middle school and High school students, college undergraduates as well as home-schooled individuals were introduced to modern survey methods used to establish the site’s grid coordinate system, excavation techniques using traditional hand tools such as spade shovels and mason’s trowels, and the basics of artifact identification while screening soil.

Learning what to look for in the screen

Casual visitors to the park, not wishing to get their hands dirty, were treated to a detailed history of the property as known from the historical record and, how we have come to understand the site archaeologically.

Attentive crowd during Fort Hunter Day 

Avid followers of TWIPA will recall that our last post contained somewhat of a cliff-hanger concerning a linear feature that had been identified in two excavation units adjacent to the rear of the 1860’s addition to the mansion. Tantalizing fragments of French and Indian War period ceramics such as delft tin-glazed earthenware and scratch blue salt-glazed stoneware, and a few pieces of lead swan shot stoked imaginations that the feature might be associated with the fort’s stockade, or perhaps a ditch dug around the fort to enhance its defenses. Such a recommendation had been noted in the historical record in the form a letter:

PA Archives, Vol. III, page 488 – G. Price to Gov. Denny, Fort Hunter, ye 22nd July, 1758
“I was left in the Garrison of Fort Hunter, and received Orders from Genl Forbes to repair it, and sent and Engineer to inspect into the condition, who found necessary to Stockade it, for which purpose I was to get the Country People; and accordingly apply’d to the several Justices of the Peace for the Townships of Paxton and Donegal, which latter I never had any answer from, but was inform’d by Parson Elder, of Paxton, whose word is the same wth that of the Justices, as they act in conjunction in such affairs that till harvest be over the Country People can do nothing; therefore thought propper to acquaint you of this, as a duty incumbent, also that I am relieved, and that should be the work of the fort be Pospon’d till harvest be over, ‘twill be yet three weeks before they begin.
P.S. – the Stockades are cut.”

Continued excavation of the suspect feature ultimately revealed itself to be the trench for a clay sewer pipe, likely dating to the second quarter of the 20th century with the arrival of modern plumbing to the mansion. A pipe dream indeed, much to the crew’s dismay. One silver lining of the deflating discovery late in the dig, is that it at least spares us the next eleven months of speculation about the feature’s origin.

trench feature visible in cross-section and clay sewer pipe

With the field season quickly drawing to a close, final levels were completed in the excavation block and then each profile, or wall, of the individual units was photographed and carefully hand mapped on graph paper to scale in order to record their stratigraphic sequence.

measuring and mapping profiles in unit with pvc drain pipe

The site was then “put to bed” by lining the walls and floors of each unit in the excavation block with heavy black plastic and weighted down with stone. The Fort Hunter ground crew has it all backfilled  for the safety of the park visitors during the rest of the year. 

overview of 2018 excavation block, looking West

The saying goes “you just can’t find good help these days”. In our case we have found good help, in the form of our dedicated volunteers. We can’t emphasize enough, the amount of work completed would not have been possible, nor as enjoyable without you, and we thank all of you for your enthusiasm and hard work!

Looking forward to more Archaeology Month events happening soon, Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village is hosting Archaeology Day tomorrow, Oct. 13th from 11AM to 5PM. Be sure to check their website for details.

Thursday, October 25th from 10AM to 1PM the Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia will host a workshop on historic ceramic identification and its importance to archaeologists. More information can be found by clicking here.

And finally, just two weeks away, The State Museum of Pennsylvania will host the 2018 Annual Workshops in Archaeology series on Saturday, October 27 from 8:30AM to 6PM. This year’s topic, the culture history of the Susquehannock Indians from an archaeological context, will be explored in detail by nine 30-minute presentations throughout the day followed by a question and discussion forum, and concluding with light refreshments. Additional programming includes a flint knapping demonstration, artifact identification, and instruction on recording sites with the State Historic Preservation Office’s Cultural Resource Geographic Information System. 
Early registration discount ends Oct. 19th. Program abstracts and registration form can be found here

We hope to see you there!

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