Friday, March 15, 2019

The Leiser Collection – Preserving our Past for our Future

This week in Pennsylvania archaeology we are visiting some old friends and familiar collections. At the end of last week a few of the Section of Archaeology staff set out toward Milford, Pa, where they spent two days conscientiously packing up, long time collector and educator, Bill Leiser’s artifact collection from several eastern Pennsylvania sites. Mr. Leiser is a retired middle school science teacher, who collected on sites in the Upper Delaware River Valley for over 50 years and has spent time in his retirement continuing to educate students on prehistoric life in Pennsylvania and the importance of archaeology and record keeping.

Mr. Leiser with a reconstructed pot and stone tools from the Santos site.

Mr. Leiser discussing site information and artifacts with staff member as we work to safely bag and box up the artifacts.

Mr. Leiser is a dedicated and knowledgeable avocational archaeologist who has devoted a lot of his time to excavating, curating and sharing his collections. Working alongside other avocational archaeologists such as David Werner, William DeGraw and a former student of Mr. Leiser’s- Fred Assmus these men honed their excavation and mapping skills. Fred Kinsey who was a curator with the William Penn Memorial Museum (now the State Museum of Pennsylvania) and later at the North Museum at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, provided guidance to these former members of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Lenape Chapter 12. Bill gleaned invaluable knowledge on recording and mapping sites and continued to keep detailed records on his own excavations. You may remember from previous blog posts (Pike County, The Werner Collection, and In Memorium, Fredrick Assmus January 6, 1946-October 14, 2012) these other members of Chapter 12 have also donated their collections to the Section of Archaeology, which included most of the Zimmermann site (36Pi14) artifacts. Thanks to Mr. Leiser’s donation we believe we have completed our acquisition of all of the available Zimmermann site collection, which as has been mentioned in previous blogs is a large, well-documented site due to the efforts of Mr. Werner, Mr. Leiser, Mr. DeGraw and Mr. Assmus (Collecting in Archaeology).

A few of the Zimmermann site artifacts in Mr. Leiser’s collection.

One of the many shelving units and cases that Mr. Leiser safely kept his collections.

Along with excavating and collecting at the Zimmermann site, Mr. Leiser also collected on numerous other sites. Some of these other sites include the Santos site (36Pi37 and 36Pi02) and the Ludwig/Pitman site (36Pi19), both of which are large multi-component sites with numerous artifacts covering a large span of time. As he learned from the Zimmermann site, Mr. Leiser continued to take copious notes, create maps of the excavation units and organized the artifacts in such a way that he retained the unit and level information for each one. It is this extensive work that lends to these collections true value as exceptional research sources and great tools to furthering our understanding of the history/prehistory of this region.

Example of some of Mr. Leiser’s notes and maps for the Santos site.

Example of how Mr. Leiser kept artifacts organized by site, unit and level.

Bill and James with a few artifacts from the Santos site.

With the help of Bill and his son James, archaeology staff were able to safely pack and transport Mr. Leiser’s collection to The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology. We will begin to process Mr. Leiser’s collection into our cataloging and inventory system. This process allows us to prepare the collection for future researchers. The inventory process encompasses current point and ceramic nomenclature facilitating an opportunity to further comparative research into these recently acquired collections from the Upper Delaware. We thank Mr. Leiser for his hospitality, diligence and efforts to help preserve these all-important pieces of our past.

Upcoming events:
Dr. Kurt Carr will be sharing research related to the recently reprinted book Indian Paths of Pennsylvania, Paul Wallace, 2018, this weekend at the Lehigh Valley Heritage Museum

Archaeologists understand the importance of sharing our research with the community and offer a variety of venues for avocational and professional archaeologists to present their findings. Every spring there is a flurry of conferences available for the general public to attend and share in these discoveries. For those who would like to attend, the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference (MAAC) is being held in Ocean City, Md this year from March 21st – 24th. For the program and other additional information on the meeting please visit the website here: MAAC 2019. Online registration is closed, but walk-in registration is available.

                Another opportunity to hear about the archaeology of Pennsylvania is the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) annual meeting being held in Uniontown, Pa on April 5th – 7th. For additional information please visit the SPA annual meeting website at: . We hope to see you at one of the spring meetings or at one of the speaking engagements of our staff. Please take some time to read about the archaeological heritage of our commonwealth and the lessons that archaeology can provide for the future. Follow the example of Bill Leiser and his friends to record archaeological sites that you may know about.  Remember this is your heritage and it is our duty as citizens to strive to preserve the past for the future.  

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

Friday, March 1, 2019

March Madness Aside, This Month We’re Fired up for Fire clay!

In western and northcentral Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, fire clay deposits are found underlying coal seams and date to the Carboniferous age. Fire clays have historically been an important economic resource for the Commonwealth, most notably during the industrial boom of the mid-19th and early 20th century. The archaeological record also demonstrates Pennsylvania fire clays were a natural resource exploited by Pre-Contact Native Americans as early as 6000 years ago, although direct evidence of prehistoric quarry activities is lacking. Future trace element studies from probable sources as compared with artifacts have potential to shed further light on the movement of people, and the trade and exchange of goods and ideas in the Upper Ohio drainage basin, Middle Atlantic and Northeast. 

                          Map of Clay Sources in Northern Appalachia, (Ries 1903)

Fire clay samples from Cambria, Clearfield and Fayette counties

Fire clay is the common term  for clays of high aluminum content, valued since the industrial revolution and prior for their refractory properties, or resistance to high temperatures. Objects made from fire clay will remain structurally stable up to or above 3,000 ˚F. “Fire bricks” manufactured from these clays are used in metal, ceramic and glass industries for lining furnaces and kilns. Refractory clays are also used to create tools and utilitarian vessels also subjected to high heat in metallurgy, pottery and glass-works, such as crucibles and saggers.

Harmony Brick Works furnace, Leetsdale (36AL480), (Sewell 2004)

By the mid-1800s in Pennsylvania, plastic forms of fireclay and non-plastic deposits, known as flint clays, were mined to produce refractory materials for the iron, coal, ceramic and glass industries, and were a key product that in tandem with the associated coal sources of the region facilitated the burgeoning steel industry in Pittsburgh. 
Fire brick, manufactured by S. Barnes Company of Pittsburgh to line furnaces and kilns at  the Harmony Brick Works, a common brick manufacturer, Leetsdale (36AL480), (Sewell 2004).
 Fire brick manufacture was the second leading clay production industry in Pennsylvania at the turn of the 20th century. Combined 1901 and 1902 profits from fire brick manufacture grossed over $9.3 million, just under the $9.9 million income from common brick production. Pennsylvania manufacturers, using local fire clay sources, supplied nearly half of the refractory brick used in the nation, and were only surpassed in production by Ohio refractories (Ries, 1903). 

                                 Table courtesy of (Ries 1903)

Long before the steel boom greatly increased the demand for commercial-industrial refractory products, Native Americans were exploiting fire clay deposits for their unique plastic, yet stone-like properties. Raw sourced fire clays are easily hand polished to a high luster. For this reason, it was a valued material used by a variety of prehistoric cultural groups to make specialized ground stone tools such as bannerstones or atlatl weights, smoking pipes, gorgets, pendants and other personal adornments.

Gorget fragment and polished fire clay spalls surface collected from the Buffington site (36In15), Veigh collection

Fire clay artifacts have been found in archaeological contexts that range from the Late Archaic to Contact Period, yet the most distinct and diagnostic artifact almost exclusively made from fire clays are blocked-end tubular pipes. These pipes were produced and widely traded in the Adena and to a lesser extent, the Middlesex/Meadowood interaction spheres during the Early Woodland throughout the Ohio Valley, Middle Atlantic and Northeast.

Blocked-End Tubular fire clay pipes from the Haldeman O’Connor Cache, Shelly Island (36Yo3)

Rafferty (2004: 16) argues that the uniformity of blocked-end tubular smoking pipes suggests they were traded widely from specific and limited number of workshops. In contrast, the variability found in conical and open-ended tube pipes, also widely dispersed during the Early Woodland, were more likely products of local regional developments. While the well documented fire clay sources, such as those found in Portsmouth, Ohio are closer to the heartland of Adena culture in the Upper Ohio Valley, McConaughy hypothesizes that trace element source studies may demonstrate bordering Cresap phase communities of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, whose mortuary practices and aspects of material culture show a vested interaction in Adena trade and exchange networks, were potential suppliers of blocked-end tubular pipes. Pipes found in various stages of early production in Warren, Forest, Elk and Clarion counties may further indicate local fire clay quarry activities. It is possible that local Cresap phase communities would have  controlled access to these upper Allegheny Valley fire clay sources, and the production and trade of this pipe variety facilitated their interactions in these greater regional exchange networks (Mayer-Oakes 1955; McConanghy in press). Smith (1979) also notes that outcrops in Clearfield County believed to be “used extensively for pipe and pendant-making by the later Susquehannock inhabitants of the West Branch” of the Susquehanna River as potential quarry sources in the Early Woodland. 
Fire clay pipes and preforms (Mayer-Oakes 1955)

Blocked-end tubular pipe distribution in the Susquehanna River Valley (Smith 1979)

However, prehistoric fire clay quarries have yet to be recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS). This may be largely due to the extensive mining of these resources in the 19th and 20th centuries that have likely destroyed most archaeological evidence of pre-industrial quarry use. Furthermore, fire clay trace element sourcing studies have yet to be a priority in regional archaeology research. Comprehensive comparative sourcing studies would be a possible avenue for future study, (McConaughy in press), and provide direct evidence that western and north central fire clay sources were also mined in prehistory.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our overview of fire clay use through time. Mark your calendars for the 49th Annual Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference, March 21-24, 2019 in Ocean City, Maryland. It is still possible to register online to attend through March 8th.


Ries, Heinrich
1903       The Clays of the United States East of the Mississippi River. Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey, Professional Paper No. 11.

Mayer-Oakes, William J.
1955    Prehistory of the Upper Ohio Valley; An Introductory Archaeological Study. Anthropological Series, No 2. Annuals of Carnegie Museum 34, Pittsburgh.

McConaughy, Mark A.
In press Chapter 7, Early and Middle Woodland in the Upper Ohio Drainage Basin. The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania Volume 1. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.

Rafferty, Sean M.
2004       “They Pass Their Lives in Smoke, and at Death Fall into the Fire”: Smoking Pipes and Mortuary Ritual during the Early Woodland Period. The Archaeology of Tobacco Pipes in Eastern North America: Smoking and Culture. The University of Tennesee Press, Knoxville.  

Sewell, Andrew R.
2004       Chapter 5 Phase III Archaeology Data Recovery at the Historic Brickworks Component of 36AL480 in Leetsdale, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania ER# 1999-2661-003-E. Submitted by Hardlines Design Company, 4608 Indianola Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43214. On file at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology.

Smith, Ira F. III
1979       Early Smoking Pipes in the Susquehanna River Valley. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 49(4):9-23

Stewart, R. Michael
1989       Trade and Exchange in Mid-Atlantic Prehistory. Archaeology of Eastern North America 17:47-78

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

Friday, February 15, 2019

TWIPA turns 10!

This week marks a major milestone for TWIPA – it has been a full 10 years since we began blogging about all things archaeology in Pennsylvania. After nearly 400 posts covering all manner of archaeological interests, it can be difficult to keep the creative inspiration flowing, and we feel like this is quite an accomplishment. 

We’ve shared with our readers a comprehensive overview of the archaeology of each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties, and posted about topics for literally (and yes, we mean literally) every letter of the alphabet.

We’ve highlighted Cultural Resource Management projects that have been curated at the State Museum of Pennsylvania, as well as several artifact collections generously donated to the museum from a number of avid avocational archaeologists. 

Some posts focused on the meat and potatoes of prehistoric projectile point and ceramic typologies, and still others have drawn attention to more recent, yet out of the ordinary archaeological finds, like a “Frozen Charlotte”, a mechanical toy beetle, and an 1852 U.S. three cent silver coin.

We’ve also kept our readers abreast of the happenings at regional archaeological conferences such as MAAC, ESAF, SPA, and of course the annual Workshops in Archaeology. Local high school classes conducting their own simulated archaeological excavations, or mock digs, have been showcased on TWIPA as well.

Posts about public outreach efforts undertaken by the Section of Archaeology such as our participation in the Kipona Native American Pow-wow and the Pennsylvania Farm Show appear like clockwork, year in and year out, like the changing of the seasons, as do detailed updates every Fall about our excavations at Fort Hunter.

Some posts are longer than others, some more data driven than others. Some rely on figures and photos more so than dense text. Once cobbled together, composed and formatted, the one thing they all have in common is the desire to share this information with you, our readers. You are the reason we put our fingers to the keyboard, and we hope you’ve found our posts interesting and enjoyable.

So, with all due respect to David Letterman and his famous “Top 10” lists, below you will find our 10 most viewed posts since we began way back in February 2009.


Take a moment and reflect on how your own life, indeed the world, has changed in the last 10 years, and what it might possibly look like in another 10.  What artifacts will future archaeologists unearth that will be unmistakable hallmarks of the second decade of the 21st century?

Be sure to check back in two weeks when we'll debut a new look to our blog page!

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