Friday, June 7, 2019

Notable Women of Archaeology: Frances Dorrance

Tuesday, June 4th was an important anniversary.  It marked a century since the United States Congress passed the 19th Amendment which guaranteed the right for women to vote.  One remarkable woman that lived during that time was instrumental in Pennsylvania’s archaeological heritage.  Frances Dorrance would have been 41 years old at the time and had already accomplished much.  She was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on June 30, 1877 to a prominent family.  Her affluence allowed her to attend Wyoming Seminary graduating in 1896 and Vassar College where she graduated in 1900.  She also received a degree from the New York School of Library Science at Albany (Kent, 1975).


Frances worked in several libraries over the years, but it was in 1922 that she became the director of the Wyoming Historical and Geologic Society.  It was in this capacity that she became interested in archaeology.  At that time, knowledge of Pennsylvania’s prehistory was very lacking “in view of the scientific necessity of such a comprehensive study and exploration of the territory, since less is known about the Indian occupation of Pennsylvania than about that of almost any other state in the union” (Dorrance, 1927). 



In 1924, Ms. Dorrance began a three-part plan to investigate the eastern part of Pennsylvania, including the 47 counties from the Delaware River to the Allegheny Divide.  To begin this endeavor an archaeological survey/questionnaire was developed. More than 13,000 survey questionnaires were sent to “postmasters, foresters, grange and society officers, leaders of groups of people, Boy and Girl Scout leaders, individual collectors and known experts in the region” (Dorrance, 1927).  Of the 13,000 distributed, roughly 2,000 were returned with a range of information from offers of assistance, ownership information of more than 1,200 artifact collections and the locations of trails and 1,900 sites.  A map of site locations was generated from this information.   By 1927 the Pennsylvania Historic Commission (precursor to the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC)) took over the responsibility of the Wyoming Valley Survey and included the remaining 20 counties.  This was the beginning phase of the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey or PASS files.


The second part of the plan was to investigate the newly identified sites.  Many professional organizations offered assistance including the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, the National Research Council, the American Museum of Natural History, and many more. 

The scientific integrity of the investigations was very important. The third part of the plan was that “An administrative body is to be formed of representatives of the contributing organizations and individuals, and the actual investigations are to be made by trained workers under a Director General” (Dorrance, 1927).  This organization would become The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology that is still going strong today.  Frances served as chairman of a committee in 1929 to organize a group of people interested in Pennsylvania’s prehistory.  Invitations were sent to about 200 people, of these 19 attended the first meeting of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology on May 6, 1929 at the State Library in Harrisburg.  Dr. J. Alden Mason was elected the first president and Frances was elected secretary (Mason, 1930).  A position she held until 1934 when she was elected president.

Frances was also instrumental in organizing the EasternStates Archaeological Federation (ESAF).  Knowing that the early native inhabitants did not recognize the political boundaries of state lines several state societies decided to join in this federation to share information.  She was also a member of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission from 1929-1955 (Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, 1967).  In 1952 she was named one of the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania and in 1954 she was the first woman in the country to receive the Distinguished Service Citation from the American Legion. After a long and notable life, Frances Dorrance passed on January 6, 1973 (Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, 1973).



We hope you have enjoyed this profile of this important woman in Pennsylvania’s archaeological heritage and the significant contributions she made to preserving the past. Preservation of our archaeological resources is important to our heritage. Please join us in supporting the efforts of Frances Dorrance in recording and preserving our archaeological sites in Pennsylvania. To learn more about recording sites, please visit https://pahistoricpreservation.com/shpo-electronic-submissions-online-data-entry/


Dorrance, Frances
1927       Archaeological Field Work in North America During 1926. American Anthropologist 29 (2):313-     337
1934       Presidents Letter. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 4 (1):2

Kent, Barry
1973       Frances Dorrance, 1877-1973. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 45 (1-2): 104-105

Mason, J. Alden
1930       How and Why the Society was Organized. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 1 (1): 4

Wilkes Barre Times Leader
1967       Frances Dorrance “90 Years Young”. The Evening News, Wilkes-Barre Record 29 June Page 12

1973       Miss Frances Dorrance, Member of Distinguished Family, Dies.  The Evening News, Wilkes-Barre Record 7 January Page 14



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

Friday, May 24, 2019

Barry C. Kent

This weekend, May 25-27,2019 is Memorial Day weekend and generally referred to as the beginning of summer. Many of us will have plans for picnics and outdoor activities and may attend a memorial service honoring our military who died in service. Most of us have forgotten or never knew that Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day and was created to honor the thousands of men who died in our nation’s Civil War.  As the United States engaged in additional wars, the remembrances were expanded to all of our fallen soldiers.  Since many will visit cemeteries to pay tribute to these individuals it is also a time to remember other family members as well. We recently lost an important member of our archaeological community, Barry C. Kent. The blog this week will share some of his notable contributions to Pennsylvania’s archaeological heritage, his endearing friendship and his legacy of stewardship.


Barry was a native of York County and reminisced about his discovery as a young nine-year-old of an arrowhead while attending a YMCA hike on an island in the Susquehanna River. It was an experience that nearly every archaeologist can relate to- that first point or significant discovery!  Barry attributed this discovery and other subsequent finds as a camper at Camp Minqua along the Susquehanna, to his interest in anthropology and archaeology.  John DeBarbadillo was the Camp Director and Barry’s mentor in those early days. Barry’s mother also influenced his interest in the past in her role as a curator at the historic Gates House and Plough Tavern in the city of York, York County, PA.  His mother was clearly proud of his accomplishments, especially in his future role at the William Penn Memorial Museum (now The State Museum of Pennsylvania) and had saved many newspaper articles about Barry’s experiences. 


Barry met John Witthoft in 1953 at Indian Steps Museum in York County. John was the curator at the State Museum and was installing new exhibits on loan to Indian Steps. It was during this time that he met Fred Kinsey, also associated with the museum’s archaeology department. These important figures in Pennsylvania archaeology left a huge impression on Barry and no doubt influenced his career path after high school.  Barry and good friend David Hally discovered the Kent-Hally site on Bare Island and conducted test excavations on Piney Island. The significance of Piney Island was its deeply stratified deposits which provided radiocarbon dates associated with the Archaic period. Additional excavation experience at Sheep Rock Shelter (36Hu1) in Huntingdon County, in 1959 provided another opportunity to explore remarkable sites in Pennsylvania prehistory.  Barry completed his undergraduate studies in 1961 at the University of Pittsburgh, his master’s at the University of Michigan in 1964 and in 1966 he was hired as the State Archaeologist at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

His research of Archaic period spear point types in the lower Susquehanna valley was the foundation for his Ph.D. dissertation (Pennsylvania State University, 1970).  Partially based on his work on Piney Island, he classified points from this region based on geometric attributes and grouped them by drainage basin. The signature Bare Island point from the named site, is of the Late Archaic Piedmont tradition. Described as generally produced in quartz lithic material and is characterized by its “narrow width, irregular outline, thick cross-section, and minimal shoulders” (Kent 1996).
Barry’s position as State Archaeologist at the museum allowed for additional excavation experience, but it was also a critical period of development of the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at the newly opened William Penn Memorial Museum.  Fred Kinsey and John Witthoft had both developed concepts and preliminary content for the new gallery before leaving for other positions, but design, installation and labels were necessary to bring this comprehensive picture of Pennsylvania’s culture history together.  The gallery was formally opened in 1975 and has stood the test of time. It is still one of the more popular exhibit areas in The State Museum. 

While his early career focused on culture periods of some of the earliest Indian groups in Pennsylvania, it is his research and interest during the Late Woodland/ Contact period which left an indelible mark on our understanding of the Susquehannock Indians who lived in the lower Susquehanna River Valley from around 1550 to 1763.  Barry’s comprehensive examination of historic documents, excavation and artifact analysis have provided a culture history for a group of people whose story would have been lost had it not been for his incredible research.
It was during this research period that I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Kent to interview him for an undergraduate research project. It was his encouragement to apply for an internship with him the following year that led to my own career in archaeology. His ability to inspire young archaeologists never ended as he was always willing to answer questions and exchange thoughts- never judging another’s abilities or intellect.

During the 1970’s the effects of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was beginning to impact the workflow and duties of the Archaeology Section. The Act had placed responsibility on the states to identify and inventory significant prehistoric and historic sites. It also required recovery of data from these sites if they couldn’t be protected. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was the agency responsible for implementing these responsibilities and Barry developed Guidelines for what is now referred to as the Archaeological Site Survey in Pennsylvania or PASS files. These Survey Guidelines laid the foundation for Review Archaeology in Pennsylvania. These early survey projects along with site protection laws requiring excavation of impacted resources, led to an increase in the number of archaeological collections curated at the museum. Barry’s leadership and guidance of the program in the late 70’s and early 1980’s contributed to major surveys of our archaeological resources in Pennsylvania and the recording of much of our site data.  

The opportunity to review these projects and learn the review process from Barry was a rewarding experience which broadened my exposure to preservation laws and ultimately, curation of these collections.  Processing collections from excavations conducted by the Commission during the summer months was an opportunity to research Susquehannock material culture and the fascinating fur trade of the Contact Period. A primary focus of research during that internship resulted in the research publication of 18th Century Indian Towns and Villages in Pennsylvania. Kent, Rice, Ota 1982.  

Barry’s publication of Susquehanna’s Indians in 1984 is currently the only comprehensive publication of this culture group. His research has provided archaeologists with a sequence of events that impacted the Susquehannocks from their first encounters with John Smith through the attacks and massacre by the Paxtang Boys in 1763. His analysis of their pottery, trade artifacts and settlement patterns have been challenged by few, as our knowledge of Susquehannock sites has expanded through additional discoveries.  Barry humbly acknowledged that his research was just the beginning- others would have to continue.

There are so many stories and memories of this great man, he loved a good joke, a great burger and the outdoors. He loved people- enriched and broadened our knowledge of archaeology and these shoes will never be filled. We can only carry on the lessons that he taught so well of stewardship for collections, sites and the mentoring of young minds.  

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

Friday, May 10, 2019

Netsinkers

The theme of this week’s blog is focused on a group of implements labeled as netsinkers or more precisely, they are identified as notched cobbles or notched and trimmed implements. There are two general types or forms. Many archaeologists identify both forms as netsinkers i.e. being attached to a fishing net to weigh them down in the water or used on throwing nets to catch birds or small mammals. However, it is clear that these two types are made differently and hypothetically, they may have different functions. The purpose of this blog is to make some very preliminary observations on “netsinkers” in the collection of The State Museum of Pennsylvania in order to narrow down and identify function. Our database consists of random specimens from our collection and basic metric data from three netsinker caches.

The simple notched cobble is the most common “netsinker “ type and this is illustrated in a cache from 36Da11. This feature contained 80 specimens and the metrics are summarized in the table below. These are simple bi-notched cobbles with the notches generally placed at the mid-point of the long axis. They are made from sandstones and silt stones. The notches appear to be created by one or two blows from a hammerstone on either side of the cobble forming indentations ranging between 10 mm and 20 mm and 2 mm to 6 mm deep. These are relatively small for this type. Larger examples of this type are known averaging 60 mm wide and 100 mm long with notches 15 mm to 35 mm wide and up to 10 mm deep. This type is first identified during Middle Archaic times from sites along the major rivers of Pennsylvania dating to 7500 years ago and extending up through the Late Woodland period.


The netsinker cache from 36Da11.




Interestingly, we found a picture of a cache of notched cobble netsinker blanks from the Faucett site (36Pi13a).




The second type of “netsinker” is represented by two caches; one is a cache of 72 specimens from Santos site (36Pi37) from the Leiser collection and the second is a cache of 25 specimens from Tioga Point (36Br3). Both of these are distinguished from the first type or form as their edges are trimmed around most or all of the perimeter and exhibit a more regular shape. The majority of these tools are the result of splitting a fine-grained sandstone cobble longitudinally. Over half of the specimens from 36Pi37 retain the outer cortex of the cobble. The 36Pi37 specimens are generally rectangular and the 36Br3 specimens are generally round to sub-rectangular. The specimens in both caches are generally thinner than the notched type averaging 5 to 20 mm thick. Although many of the notches appear to be the result of hammerstone blows forming a rounded concavity, more commonly they have a more “V” shaped concavity suggesting they were created by a different type of hammer. Also, the edges on the ends of this type are frequently rounded. This rounding could result from abrasion against some other material or they may simply be the product of the trimming process although the latter seems less likely. This artifact type seems to only date to the Late Woodland period.

Notched and trimmed implements from 36Pi37



 Notched and trimmed implements from 36Br3




If these two types of artifacts both functioned as netsinkers, then what is the purpose of trimming the Late Woodland type into a consistent shape. This second type was found stacked in neat piles at 36Pi37 and at the Harry’s Farm site in New Jersey. The simple notched type is usually found in a randomly placed pile as they are less uniform. Maybe, the stacking allowed for a more organized form of transporting the net which prevented it from tangling. Or maybe the different sizes but regular shapes of the notched and trimmed type were actually part of making the net.

A once neatly stacked set of notched and trimmed netsinkers from the Harry’s Farm site in New Jersey ( Compliments of Kraft 2001 p269)


Alternatively, the notched and trimmed type may have functioned as digging hoes. This is mainly based on the rounded edges of many specimens of this type. The wear patterns on the edges need to be examined in detail but many have asked why are they found in caches? The Harry’s Farm cache contained 32 specimens – who needs 32 hoes and their size prevents them from being attached to handles.
These are just a few of the observations and questions that need to be addressed in determining the function of this artifact type. If you are aware of any “netsinker” caches, please send us pictures and allow us to take some measurements.  
This is just one example of the comparative research that archaeologists perform every day. By examining these changes in tool types and forms we can begin the process of understanding their function to better interpret the past. The benefit of the collections in the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum is that this large repository provides us with a lot of comparative data and aids in identifying the various forms of these tools. We hope to continue to analyze the differences in these notched implements and research other caches of this distinct tool. 

Dr. Barry C. Kent (center)



Finally, the staff of the Section of Archaeology in the State Museum, along with archaeologists throughout the Middle Atlantic region are deeply saddened at the passing of our dear colleague, mentor and friend, Dr. Barry C. Kent. He died on May 8th , 2019.  He was the Pennsylvania State Archaeologist between 1966 and 1986 and shaped what has become the statewide archaeological program for the Commonwealth. Barry implemented design concepts and developed much of the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum.  His extensive field work and research led to significant contributions in Susquehannock culture history, Woodland period pottery analysis, Archaic projectile points typology, gunflints, experimental lithic analysis and the formal establishment of the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files (PASS). His regional archaeology program organized at universities expanded site survey, assisted with compliance projects and enhanced the relationships between the professional and the avocational community. He also initiated public outreach programs such as the Archaeology exhibit at the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show. He was always the teacher and mentor, sharing his knowledge freely with professional and avocational archaeologists alike.

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