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 .

Friday, April 8, 2016

SPA Meeting

It’s that time of year again! Next weekend, April 15 – 17, 2016 marks the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology’s (SPA) 87th annual meeting. This year’s meeting will be hosted by the Ohio Valley Chapter of the SPA (#22) in West Middlesex, PA. The theme of the conference is Digging Down into Pennsylvania’s Past: Pre-Clovis through Postmodern. As always, this year’s meeting promises to be enlightening and informative, spanning a wide range of archaeological topics in the Keystone State.

Friday afternoon, The Pennsylvania Archaeological Council will hold a symposium on Lithic Quarries in Pennsylvania: The Archaeology of Tool Stone Procurement, highlighting the state’s lithic resources and their use by its prehistoric inhabitants. Papers will be presented by some of the state’s prominent archaeologists including The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s own Dr. Kurt Carr, who will speak on bedrock quarries and their uses and distribution based on his own field research and the records of the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files. Other papers will focus on the different types of geological sources available in the state.

The meeting, being held at the Park Inn by Radisson in West Middlesex is open to the public. Registration at the door is $35 and the cost for dinner is $32. The SPA is listed as one of our “favorite links” on the right hand side of the screen. For more information and for the entire program including abstracts click the link to their homepage.

Presentations throughout the weekend will highlight research by students and avocational and professional archaeologists.  Students vie for the Dr. James Hatch and Dr. W. Fred Kinsey scholarships by submitting papers on Pennsylvania archaeology.  These student scholarships support and recognize the efforts of the next generation of archaeologists who will continue to support the activities of the Society.  With the assistance of State Museum staff, recipients of the Kinsey Scholarship have an opportunity to get their paper published in the Society’s journal, Pennsylvania Archaeologist.

Past recipient of award
(photo courtesy of The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

Saturday evening will feature the banquet, a guest speaker and awards ceremony, followed by the ever-popular live auction. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Aksel Casson, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Slippery Rock University and Co-Director of the Middle East Studies Center. Dr. Casson will be speaking on the Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Syria: Thinking Globally and Locally; a timely topic in view of the recent damage leveled by ISIS in the ancient city of Palmyra and other places across the country. The auction is an exciting SPA tradition so be sure to bring a few extra bucks to bid on books, archaeological field equipment, and gift baskets. Money raised will go to benefit the Elmer Erb Permanent Fund. 

SPA members enjoying the banquet at last year’s meeting
(photo courtesy of SPA website)

Auction Items at past SPA meeting
(photo courtesy of The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

Also, be sure to visit the bookroom and student poster session throughout the day on both Friday and Saturday. Activities wrap up Saturday night with refreshments and mingling in the Hospitality Suite.

The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc. was organized in 1929 to: Promote the study of the prehistoric and historic archaeological resources of Pennsylvania and neighboring states; Encourage scientific research and discourage exploration which is unscientific or irresponsible in intent or practice; Promote the conservation of archaeological sites, artifacts, and information; Encourage the establishment and maintenance of sources of archaeological information such as museums, societies, and educational programs; Promote the dissemination of archaeology by means of publications and forums; Foster the exchange of information between the professional and the avocational archaeologists. 

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

Friday, March 25, 2016

Archaeological Dating Techniques

We are in the final stages of processing the 2015 Fort Hunter collection and have begun to inventory the artifacts. As described in our Processing the Fort Hunter Collection blog the inventory process includes, “adding a description of each artifact or group of like artifacts into the digital inventory by catalog number, and bag and box them carefully to insure their preservation for long-term curation. This is all done in a systematic manner so that any given artifact can be easily accessed and utilized by future researchers.” During this process we try to add as much information to the inventory as we can that may be useful to a researcher and for us in our site analysis.  This includes material types, condition or wholeness of the artifact, and date of production to name a few. Many of these characteristics are easy to identify just by looking at the artifact, but determining the date or date range of production is not always easy. Over the years archaeologists have identified different methods on how to date different types of artifacts. We will take a look at some of these techniques here.

                After years of research through historical documentation and through precise data collection from well stratified and dated archaeological sites, archaeologists have developed typologies for several different categories of artifacts such as ceramics, pipe stems, bead, projectile points and more. A typology is a system that uses physical characteristics to place artifacts into specific classifications. In the case of a dating typology archaeologists use the physical characteristics to identify the artifact within a specific type that correlates to a specific date or range of dates. 

One example of this analysis method is historic ceramics which have been in production for hundreds of years, but not every type of ceramic has been in production for that entire period. Due to technological advances especially during the mid-16th to mid-17th centuries, pottery craftsmen were able to create more refined pastes (less porous), glazes more purified in color and new methods of decorating the pottery (from hand painted to transfer printed) as time went on. It is these changes in how the ceramics were produced that created subtle clues to help the discerning eye determine the specific type of ceramic. In the case of ceramics it can be difficult to identify creamware from pearlware, whiteware and others, but through previous research we know that the paste in creamware is more porous than that of the others and that the glaze is often pooled with a green tint in crevices. It is often these physical attributes that help identify a specific ceramic as creamware. Once we have identified the piece as creamware we can then look at known production or manufacture dates from the typology and determine a date between 1760 and 1820 (Deetz 1996).

Ceramic typology on exhibit in the archaeology section department of the State Museum

                When we have an entire or even a large fragment of a ceramic vessel, we can often determine the shape of the vessel or the type and method of production of the design on the vessel. Both of these characteristics are also used to narrow down a date range. So not only do we have a typology based on the type of ceramic, but we also have typologies with determined dates of manufacture for each of the different shapes and forms of decoration.   Researchers comb through archives for manufacturing records which also aid in dating these historic period ceramics.

Prehistoric Pottery & Projectile Points
Dating methods for prehistoric ceramics are dependent on typologies which were developed through careful analysis of such attributes as temper, decoration, design and form. For many native groups’ specific tempers, forms, designs and/or decorations have been attributed. Through many years of work on archaeological sites of different specific native groups a typology of pottery has been developed. Today many vessels can be easily identified with the use of this typology because there are so many different styles, each of which is attributed to different culture groups and periods. This is true of large fragments or whole vessels, but when it comes to small fragments with limited design or decoration on them, like using the porosity of the paste in historic ceramics. Archaeologists must use the temper type to determine where the pottery originated or if it could help identify what group occupied a site when combined with other evidence. Temper is a material foreign to the clay which is added to help prevent the vessel from cracking or breaking during the drying and firing processes.  Common Pennsylvania tempers include chert, quartz, limestone, shell and more. 

Example of pottery fragments with varying temper types. From left to right shell, quartz and chert

                The same process of collecting data from various sites over many years has also provided archaeologists with a projectile point typology. These typologies like that of the prehistoric pottery vary from region to region, but each typology is developed using the shape, size and lithic type of projectile points and context in which they were recovered.

Part of the projectile point typology on exhibit in the archaeology section department of the State Museum

Glass Bottles
                As with historic ceramics, archaeologists have developed typologies of glass bottles based on various physical characteristics. One part of the typology looks at the bottle lip or rim. Several types of lips were put onto glass bottles using different methods. So, as with the ceramics, archaeologists can attribute different lips to a date range because as new technologies or methods of attaching lips to bottles were developed other methods were outmoded and the newer methods were used more frequently. This is also the case with the form or shape of the bottles. The shape of the bottle base changed over time as push-ups became more or less popular and round versus oval came in and out of use. There is also the use of molds, which leave mold seams on the glass that provide archaeologists with another dating tool. Finally, if a bottle has a seal or is embossed with a company name, archaeologists can find information relating to that company to determine the bottles time range of manufacture.  There are many ways we can date a bottle and for more in-depth information on this process please check out the Society for Historical Archaeology’s website at

Picture of various glass bottles courtesy of SHA bottle identification website

Picture of various bottle base types courtesy of SHA bottle identification website

Picture of a bottle with a push-up courtesy of SHA bottle identification website

Pipe stems
                Another example of the use of a typology to determine the production date of an artifact is white clay smoking pipes, referred to as kaolin or ball clay pipes. In the case of pipe stems as with many artifacts, it is the advancement or change in technology and form that allows archaeologists to develop typologies. Based on historic documentation the length of pipe stems increased as time went on and in order to bore a hole through such long stems with no damage to the wall of the stem the size of the wire used to bore the hole had to decrease (Hume 1969). After a study of thousands of pipes both American and English one Mr. J.C. Harrington developed a system showing average bore diameter size and its correlating production date (Deetz 1996, Hume 1969). Today this system though still in debate about its accuracy, is widely used to determine the general date ranges of pipes with attached stems and pipe stem fragments, which provides useful information about the use of a site during different periods.


Picture comparing 4/64th, 5/64th and 6/64th pipe stem diameters

As shown above there are many different typologies that archaeologists have developed in order to help us date artifacts and thus date different levels of sites. Those mentioned above are just a few of the typologies archaeologists use there are also bead, drinking glass, button, coin and many other historic artifact typologies as well as prehistoric artifact typologies such as projectile points and pottery. There are also ways to help narrow down dates to more definite ranges with the use of maker’s marks.

Makers Marks
                A maker’s mark is basically a logo or trademark, which can include images, words, initials or dates that represent the maker of the product on which the mark is placed. These marks were placed on all kinds of products including glass bottles, ceramic vessels, various forms of metal objects and many other types of artifacts. Through registries and historical research it is now possible to find published lists of maker’s marks for both American and English companies, which show images of and describe maker’s marks and provide the date range of production for anything with that mark.   

Picture of maker’s mark on artifact with image and date from documentation

Identifying the dates of manufacture of artifacts helps archaeologists to not only date the level of a site, but also understand the use of the land during that period. Doing this also allows archaeologists to compare sites with similar artifacts and dates to find similarities or dissimilarities that can help us to develop theories on types of sites and their use.

We hope you have enjoyed this look into the analysis and research methods employed by archaeologists and will consider reviewing some of the resources listed below. Our job as archaeologists and curators offers us a unique opportunity to examine archaeologically recovered specimens and create a picture of past human behavior through our material culture. Please visit our gallery of Anthropology and Archaeology on the second floor of The State Museum of Pennsylvania where you can view additional artifacts representing our archaeological heritage.

References and additional information:

Deetz, James
1996       In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. Anchor Doubleday, New York.
Hume, Ivor Noel,
                1969       A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

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