Friday, January 18, 2019

Congratulations and thank you to everyone

The staff of the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania just completed a very busy week at the 2019 Pennsylvania Farm Show. The weather was cool but no snow.  We seemed very busy, especially the first weekend. However, based on our sampling system, we estimated that approximately 33,000 people visited our exhibit. This is down slightly from last year. This high volume of attendance is a testimony to the quality of the exhibit, the initiative of our volunteers in engaging the public, and the public’s interest in archaeology.

2019 Farm Show 

We would like to sincerely thank you for your personal contributions and hard work.  There is no question in our minds that this exhibit and your efforts make a difference in Pennsylvania archaeology. We continued to see excitement in the eyes of children and adults as they sat in the dugout and as they stood gazing at the artifacts in the display cases, wondering what it must have been like to live in Pennsylvania many, many years ago.

Archaeology Section staff in the dugout canoe 

The dugout is becoming the place to take the annual family picture. You spoke to thousands of visitors and distributed over 6900 archaeology brochures, 755 copies of American Archaeology magazine and 765 back issues of Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine.  You also handed out, 1435 Planetarium tickets, 498 Archaeology Month posters and 1548 tattoos. These were especially important in promoting the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the State Museum and the Heritage Foundation.

The Farm Show presentation is a great way to advance the goals of our respective agencies and organizations. For most, if not all of us, this event represents the most intensive interaction with the public that we have all year. Our primary goal is to promote the archaeology of the Commonwealth and visitation to the State Museum. However, it is also an opportunity to share highlights of Pennsylvania archaeology with our fellow citizens and to promote membership in the Heritage Foundation and the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology. 

PHMC Executive Director Andrea Lowery enjoying the hands-on corn grinding activity

Pennsylvania has an outstanding wealth of archaeological resources that we believe can enhance the lives of all citizens.  Our exhibit on the archaeology of Susquehannock Indians and the information you disseminated was one step in communicating this heritage to the people of Pennsylvania.  This year, we felt the public had some knowledge of this Indian tribe and our conversations were much more interactive.

 As you know, the archaeology of Pennsylvania is being destroyed at an ever-increasing rate. We need help in slowing this destruction.  We feel the Farm Show exhibit represents a significant vehicle for the dissemination of information and for increasing the public’s awareness of the threats to their archaeological resources. 

We are very interested in everyone’s comments on how to improve the Farm Show presentation, so please send us your thoughts.  We have not picked a topic for next year’s Workshops or the Farm Show so if you have suggestions, please let us know.

Thank you again. 

            The staff of the Section of Archaeology, the State Museum of Pennsylvania 

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

Friday, January 4, 2019

103rd Pennsylvania FARM SHOW 2019

It’s January and the start of a new year for us at the State Museum of Pennsylvania and we are excited about all the great programs coming up this year. We start off every January with our trip to the largest indoor agricultural fair in the United States! Held each year right here in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This event draws hundreds of thousands of visitors and our booth is visited by about 40,000 of those visitors! That’s a lot of interest in archaeology and our cultural heritage.

Our exhibit theme this year is “Discovering the Susquehannock Indians”.  The focus is on tracing the cultural evolution of the Susquehannocks of central Pennsylvania covering the period from just before European Contact, (AD 1500), through the period of Conestoga Town (AD 1763). The exhibit features four large panels and two cases of artifacts which provide an overview of the transition from Native made goods to a reliance on European trade goods. One exhibit case contains a sample of pre-European Contact artifacts and the other contains a sample of Susquehannock artifacts from the Contact period obtained from Europeans. The panels and supporting artifacts, demonstrate a culture in transition and the impact of European influences on their lifeways.

European contact significantly impacted the Susquehannocks and other Indian groups living in the region. The introduction of diseases, conflict with other Indian tribes competing for the fur trade with the European, and the invasion of the land by the English, Dutch and Swedes on their territories greatly reduced the populations of Susquehannocks and the other Indian tribes.  Up until about 1660, the Susquehannock’s controlled trade with the Europeans. However, disease and competition with other Indians forced them to seek refuge with the English in the Chesapeake Bay area. By 1680, they returned to their former homeland but this time as refugees. Their native lifeways were replaced by European traditions. At the end of the French and Indian War, they were massacred by a group of vigilantes from the Harrisburg area. Their story is one shared by many Indian tribes along the east coast.

                 The artifacts selected for this exhibit offer tangible evidence of the changes described above. Early Susquehannock clay pottery, bone and stone tools, smoking pipes and bone ornaments are later supplemented or replaced by trade goods such as brass kettles, glass beads, kaolin smoking pipes and stylized Susquehannock pottery. This change includes a transition from a traditional long house to a log cabin type structure.  This is a fascinating story of change and adaptation by Indian groups who encountered Europeans and how they dealt with this cultural impact on their lifeways.

                As in years past, the dugout canoe will be at the Farm Show for the children to sit in and imagine paddling down the rivers of Pennsylvania in prehistoric times. The dugout canoe is our WOW artifact and it draws a lot of interested folks to our booth.  It is a replica of a dugout canoe that is on exhibit at the museum. The original canoe was found in Luzerne County and has been preserved to insure its longevity. It radio carbon dates to about 800 years ago, well before European contact. Our replica is a 20 ft. long, white pine canoe that has navigated the Susquehanna River and Gifford Pinchot Lake. Sitting in this massive canoe and imagining yourself on a river or lake is a unique experience- not one that you can do every day.

Our booth includes an opportunity to grind corn using a pestle and stone mortar, much the same as Indians would have done. The process is popular with young and old alike and gives you a sense of the labor involved in making cornbread. The Susquehannocks were drawn to the lower Susquehanna valley not only for its location on the river and Chesapeake Bay, but also for the rich fertile soils that supported agriculture during the Late Woodland period.

Visitors often ask what we do when we aren’t out digging at Fort Hunter. Here is your opportunity to win a Behind the Scenes Tour of our lab. A one hour guided tour of the lab and gallery with a curator is a rare chance to see our research, observe the artifact processing labs and chat with our archaeologists. Be sure to enter your name for this drawing while visiting our Farm Show exhibit.  The American Archaeology s and Pennsylvania Heritage magazines are popular and free to our visitors along with the archaeology brochures developed over the years in connection with our research and exhibits. In addition, visitors can purchase a few of our publications- including Native Americans in Contemporary Pennsylvania by Troy Richardson, The Tutelo Spirit Adoption Ceremony by Frank Speck, and Folk Medicine of the Delaware and Related Algonkian Indians by Gladys Tantaquidgeon  - $2.00 each or three for $5.00.

            Everyone loves the food court and the wonderful potato donuts, fresh cut fries, breaded mushrooms, maple syrup ice cream, beef sandwiches, chicken tenders, and the famous milk shakes. What the food court offers is a look at all of the great products our farmers grow in Pennsylvania. We are so fortunate to have a strong farming heritage and we need to support our farmers. The buy local initiative is important to their survival and farm land preservation provides countless benefits to the commonwealth.  This show offers visitors a tiny slice of the farming industry that employs nearly half a million people and contributes $185 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy every year. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this review of our Farm Show exhibit and that you will visit our booth located along the McClay street side of the Farm Show building. The period of interaction between the first Europeans and native peoples was a complex time of cultural change and an important period in the development of our Commonwealth. If you’d like to learn more about the Susquehannocks we encourage you to refer to the references below and visit the Anthropology and Archaeology gallery of The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Visitors to our museum can view some of the spectacular trade objects referenced in this blog and gain a sense of the importance of preserving our past for the future.

Additional Reading
Kent, Barry C.
2001    Susquehanna’s Indians. Anthropology Series Number 6. Pennsylvania Historical and
Museum Commission. Harrisburg.

Kraft, Herbert C.

2001    The Lenape-Delaware Heritage: 10,000 BC to AD 2000. Lenape Books
For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, December 21, 2018

Fort Halifax: Supply Depot for Fort Augusta

The Section of Archaeology has highlighted the excavations at Fort Hunter on many occasions, but Fort Hunter was only one link in a chain of French and Indian War-era blockhouses, forts, and stockades located along the frontier of Pennsylvania. Another one of these forts was Fort Halifax, located approximately 18 miles north of downtown Harrisburg along the Susquehanna River. Along with Fort Hunter, Fort Halifax served as a stopping point and supply depot for Fort Augusta, located in Sunbury another 35 miles upriver. Excavations and searches for evidence of Fort Halifax over the last few years have led to a better understanding of its role in the defense of Pennsylvania’s frontiers during the war. 

The land upon which Fort Halifax would be built was settled in the early 1750s by Irish immigrant brothers Robert and Alexander Armstrong. The Armstrong’s warranted 100 acres of land at the mouth of a small run that would come to be known as Armstrong’s Creek and here they set up a farm and saw mill. Robert and Alexander were among the first residents of this area and no roads yet existed to their farm; instead the river provided the main means of transportation.

In October of 1755, the massacre of settlers at Penns Creek on the west bank of the Susquehanna River, just below what is now Selinsgrove, sent the inhabitants of the frontier rushing back to Lancaster, Philadelphia, Carlisle, and other “civilized” parts of Pennsylvania. Locally, residents of Paxton Township began construction of a fortified structure at Hunter’s Mill, later to be known as Fort Hunter, and John Harris stockaded and strengthened his house at Harris’s Ferry in anticipation of trouble with the Indians. Continued attacks in the winter and spring of 1756 led the government to approve the construction of a line of forts and stockades running from the Pocono Mountains southwest toward Pittsburgh along the frontier.

In addition, a large fortification was to be constructed at Shamokin to provide an extra defense of the Susquehanna River and calm the fears of the local Indians who had traditionally been allies of the English. In April of 1756, Colonel William Clapham was ordered to assemble local men and supplies for the trip to Shamokin to begin working on Fort Augusta. In June, they marched north and searched for a mid-way point to place a secondary fortification. Arriving at Armstrong’s they quickly set about erecting a square log fort nearby with walls approximately 160 feet long and corner bastions. Clapham decided this location was,

“the most convenient Place on the River between Harris’s and Shamokin for a Magazine on account of its good natural Situation, its Situation above the Juniata Falls the vast Plenty of Pine Timber at Hand its nearness to Shamokin and a Saw [mill] within a Quarter of a Mile (Hunter 1960).”  

Possible plan of Fort Halifax
(Egle 1853)

Clapham and most of the regiment continued on to Shamokin leaving Captain Nathaniel Miles and 30 men to complete barracks, a storehouse, and shooting platforms in the bastions. The fort was named by the Governor in honor of the Earl of Halifax. For the next year, the fort was garrisoned by approximately 30 men and served as a supply depot for the movement of food, equipment, and other supplies to Fort Augusta. However, in the fall of 1757, Fort Halifax was deemed to be obsolete and it was abandoned in favor of Fort Hunter.

Although it was only used for a short period of time, Fort Halifax would have had many people passing through on military business and thus has the opportunity for important information to be recovered from this site. The exact location of the fort has been sought for years with little luck. Several archaeological investigations have been conducted to locate the fortifications and determine the construction methods as well as to identify archaeological evidence of the soldier’s daily lives. Investigations were conducted from 2011 through 2013 by PennDOT, metal detecting in 2015, and additional fieldwork was performed for a master’s thesis. Investigative measures included surface collection, ground penetrating radar (GPR), excavation, mechanical stripping, metal detecting, archival research, and geomorphology. Although these were all unsuccessful in locating the physical remains of the fort, many artifacts were recovered that point to the site of the fort being close by.

A variety of gunflints and musket balls of various sizes were found, indicating the possibility of military activity in the vicinity.  Lead musket balls were used in muskets, a smoothbore gun popular in the eighteenth century, and came in different sizes. The musket balls in the photo below are .72 cal., .61 cal., .53 cal., and .39 cal. as well as two lead sprue or disfigured balls that may have been fired. In addition, a square grey, English gunflint was recovered.

Various sizes of musket balls and two flattened balls with an English gunflint

Clothing fasteners such as buttons and buckles were also recovered from these excavations. The men garrisoning this fort would likely not have been issued British uniforms, instead wearing a jacket or linen smock (long overshirt), breeches or trousers, a waistcoat, shirt, leather shoes, stock or cravat at the neck, and a hat – clothes they would have had at home. These items of clothing generally fastened with or were decorated with buckles and buttons of various materials such as brass, wood, bone, and pewter.

Eighteenth century brass and metal buttons and buckles

The men would have been fed with supplies provided by the Colonial government, usually consisting of fresh or dried meat, Indian corn, bread or biscuits, and a daily ration of rum. Tableware was not standardized and would have consisted of whatever was available, possibly some of it brought along with the soldiers. Many types of ceramics that would have been common at the time were found at Fort Halifax.
Common 18th century ceramics: Salt-glazed stoneware, redware, white salt-glazed stoneware, scratch-blue white salt-glazed stoneware, and Westerwald stoneware

The soldiers would also have carried personal items with them to the fort, including things like combs, mirrors, pocket watches, coins, rings and jewelry, smoking pipes, and musical instruments. Two personal items that were recovered from the Fort Halifax excavations included pieces of a kaolin clay smoking pipe and a Jew’s or mouth harp. Clay smoking pipes were very common and were easily breakable and so are found on virtually all sites of this time period.  The brass Jew’s harp was a small musical instrument, played by placing it to the lips and “plucking” the metal tongue (missing on this example).
Fragments of a clay smoking pipe and a Jew’s harp recovered from Fort Halifax

These are just some of the artifacts recovered from the excavations at Fort Halifax. And although the physical fort has not yet been found, artifacts recovered from investigations of the area indicate that archaeologists are likely in the close vicinity of the former structure. The collection, although small, is important for its research potential. Artifacts are similar to those in collections from other forts, such as Fort Hunter, and add to the collective information on Pennsylvania forts of the French and Indian War period. Continuing research into the location of the fort and study of its artifact collections should help in its eventual discovery and add to the overall knowledge of Pennsylvania fort sites. 

We at the Section of Archaeology wish everyone a terrific Holiday season! We hope to see you all at the Section of Archaeology exhibit at the 2019 Pennsylvania State Farm Show, January 5th – 12th.

References and further reading:
Baker, Joseph and Angela Wentling
2012    Archaeological Reconnaissance at Fort Halifax Park. PennDOT Highway
Archaeological Survey Team. Submitted to Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission.
Copies available from PennDOT Highway Archaeological Survey Team, Indiana.

Baker, Joseph and Laura Kaufman
2013    Supplemental Testing at Fort Halifax Park (36DA008). PennDOT Highway
Archaeological Survey Team. Submitted to Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission.
Copies available from PennDOT Highway Archaeological Survey Team, Indiana.

Colonial Records
1851    Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, Vol. 6, April 2, 1754, to January 29th, 1756. Harrisburg: Theo. Fenn & Co.

1851    Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania, Vol. 7, January 28th, 1756, to January 11th, 1758. Harrisburg: Theo. Fenn & Co.

Egle, William
1853    Pennsylvania Archives, Selected and Arranged from Original Documents in the Office
of the Secretary of Commerce, Conformably to the Acts of the General Assembly, February 15, 1851 & March 1, 1852., Volume II. Joseph Severns & Co, Philadelphia.

Hunter, William A.
1960    Forts on the Pennsylvania Frontier, 1753-1758. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, PA.

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