Friday, August 16, 2019

Eelskin Rockshelter Lithic Debitage Analysis

My name is Alaina Helm, I am a Junior at Oberlin College in Ohio and a Keystone intern in Archaeology for this summer.  Over the past several weeks and for a brief month-long stint back in January, I have been working on a flake refitting project here in The State Museum of Pennsylvania,  Section of Archaeology. The project was supervised by Dr. Kurt Carr, Senior Curator, and  consists of an argillite debitage cluster collected from the Eelskin Rockshelter (36Bu59) that was theorized to have been created over a single knapping event.

Steve Nissly flint knapping


                Analysis began with the organization and cleaning of the entire assemblage of debitage. Artifacts were cleaned using warm soapy water and a Sonicor ultrasonic cleaner, similar to a jewelry cleaner. We also experimented with the use of diluted vinegar water to remove patination, but it was found to be no more effective so was not done on all pieces. Once cleaned, flakes were uniformly laid out on trays for refitting by type as entire, proximal, medial, or distal pieces. A small quantity of other materials was found amongst the debitage and separated out that includes jasper, quartz, bone, and chert. A wide range of colors was noted in the argillite which is generally black. We also found two biface fragments, a proximal utilized flake, and an end scraper among the debitage.




 Several weeks were spent attempting to fit pieces together where flakes had come off each other or flakes had broken apart.  If successful, refitting a flake cluster back together would allow for the study of stone tool creation through flake reduction techniques. In the case of this cluster from the Eelskin Rock Shelter, only five refits were found over several weeks of searching through the hundreds of pieces in the collection. Methods used in attempting to match related flakes together included; grouping by color, grouping by texture, and grouping by type. Type attributes included the shape of the bulb of percussion (Lipped, bulbar, etc.) and the shape/ size of flake (length, width, thickness). These groupings did not reveal the relatively large number of matches that could be expected in a chipping cluster.


The majority of the debitage demonstrates late stage and baton reduction techniques. Late stage reduction is the process of reducing an already acquired raw material into a complete tool. Almost all flakes are thin with several dorsal flake scars. 68.4% of the proximal or entire flakes are lipped. Lipped flakes are a key indicator of late stage baton production technologies. 




Due to the small quantity of matched pieces found and the variations in color and texture, there is a good chance that although the lithic material first appeared to belong to a single chipping event, it instead represents several knapping events. This conclusion is additionally supported by the fact that there is a small amount of lithic materials other than argillite present, as listed above.  Other potential explanations for the high quantity of debitage found together could include that the materials were part of a rubbish pile or that several short knapping events occurred in the same location.               

example of color variation


This comparative analysis was an exercise well suited for my studies, as it brought together my interests in archaeology and geology. It provided useful experience in lithic analysis, and although sometimes tedious and frustrating when days were spent with no matched flakes found, was valuable in determining that the lithics cluster found at the Eelskin Rockshelter was not the refuse of a single toolmaking event. This project was ultimately beneficial to my own learning while also letting us learn a little about the activities being performed on the site.

Thanks for reading my blog and I hope you will check back for another blog post from me about the experimental archaeology test I conducted on stone scrapers.

Bibliography

Justice, Noel D.
1987       Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points of the Midcontinental and Eastern United States. Indiana University Press.

Anonymous
n.d. Eelskin Rockshelter-36Bu159, anonymous manuscript housed in the County Files, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg Pennsylvania.

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

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Fred Veigh Collection, Lab Update

This time last year we discussed the William Fredrick Veigh collection: some of what the collection contained and its’ importance. A year has passed, we have processed last year’s Fort Hunter collection and we continue to process the Veigh collection. As was mentioned last year, “Fred Veigh (December 29, 1949-January 25, 2016) was a prolific archaeological collector and surveyor, and an active member of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) for most of his adult life. His collection is vast in both the volume of artifacts as well as in documentation”. With the immensity of his collection in mind, and after months of extensive organization of the collection, artifacts and maps the Section of Archaeology lab has now been able to fully process, identify and update several known and new sites with many, many more to come.

Trays of artifacts being processed on rack.

Veigh artifacts being labeled.

Currently, we are a little over one third of the way through the processing of this very large donation. To date we have a total of 93, 669 artifacts processed and inventoried and will likely be over one hundred thousand before the end of next week.

Veigh artifacts bagged and ready for inventory.

Example of inventory.

With the use of Mr. Veigh’s topographic maps, where he recorded known sites and his other collection locations, and his detailed labels on both artifacts and boxes we have thus far been able to process and identify 229 known and new sites. These are primarily from Somerset county, but also from Adams, Allegheny, Bedford, Butler, Cambria, Clearfield, Clinton, Erie, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Lehigh, and Venango Counties.

Volunteer helping to record and organize collection locations from Mr. Veigh’s topographic maps.

 In conjunction with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and our wonderful, hard-working intern Andrew we have been able to update 172 sites and add 57 new sites to the Cultural Resources Geographic Information System (CRGIS). One hundred and ten of these site updates and 49 of these new sites are concentrated in Somerset county as Mr. Veigh focused much of his collecting in this county as well as Washington and Westmoreland counties, which have not yet been processed.


Example of form used for updating and adding sites in CRGIS.


Our intern, Andrew entering new sites in CRGIS.

Thanks to Mr. Veigh’s diligent recording methods and persistent collecting throughout his life we have been able to increase not only the number of identified sites in many western Pennsylvania counties, but also add to the information already known of many others. As has been mentioned in previous blogs, artifacts are important to understanding the lives of past peoples, but having provenience, or locational, information for these artifacts provides the context needed to build a better picture of how these past peoples were living their daily lives and how the artifacts we find fit into that. Thanks to Mr. Veigh we have that provenience information which can help us better understand Pennsylvania’s Past while preserving it for the future. We thank Mr. Veigh and all of those who have dedicated their lives to preserving our heritage and have collected, documented and donated their collections in order to help us expand our knowledge base to better understand Pennsylvania’s past and provide additional resources for analysis and research.


Don’t forget the Section of Archaeology will be holding programs in the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Nature Lab at 11:30 am on Thursday August 8th and 15th

Also, look for us in other upcoming events at Kipona August 31st – September 2nd in downtown Harrisburg and our excavations at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park September 9th – October 4th.   

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

Friday, July 19, 2019

Upcoming Archaeology Programs in The State Museum

During the dog days of summer, The State Museum of Pennsylvania offers opportunities for all ages to beat the heat with special events and educational activities. This Week in Archaeology we invite you to take full advantage of our upcoming summer programming to get out of the sun and learn something new.

Once again, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11:30 AM through the month of August science curators and outside partners are presenting on a wide range of topics and providing hands-on activities in the Nature Lab with the cost of admission. Don’t miss out on free admission / pay as you wish every Friday during Learn at Lunchtime.


Archaeology staff begin their contributions to the programming next Thursday, July 25th bringing back by popular demand our mock lab artifact processing demonstration and chance for children ages 3 and up to handle and wash prehistoric stone tools and chipping debris from the William Frederick Veigh Collection. Follow the links and read further for a full listing of archaeology summer programs presented by The Section of Archaeology at The State Museum.

Thursday, July 25 Nature Lab, 11:30 AM: Preserving our Past: Archaeology Lab, Andrea Carr and Callista Holmes, Laboratory Managers and Andrew Shriner, Intern


Get a behind-the-scenes view and help process artifacts with the Section of Archaeology laboratory staff, interns and volunteers. While demonstrating conservation techniques, laboratory managers Andrea Carr and Callista Holmes will discuss artifact care, provide background about the current collections that are processed in the lab and how these collections fit into the larger picture of preserving our past for our future at The State Museum. This presentation is participatory and inter-active. Questions about recording archaeological sites, documenting and conserving artifacts, donating collections, and the Section of Archaeology’s essential function as the central repository for archaeological investigations in Pennsylvania are encouraged and welcome.

Thursday, August 1 Nature Lab, 11:30 AM: Measuring and Mapping in Archaeology with State Museum’s Section of Archaeology, Janet Johnson and Melanie Mayhew, Curators


Archaeologists use math and science in excavations and in analyzing artifacts. Participate in mapping and measuring artifacts and how science has helped us to interpret our past. This is a STEM activity geared toward first through sixth grade children. Math manipulative objects are provided for younger participants.


Friday, August 2 Learn at Lunchtime, 12:15 PM: Discovering the Past at Fort Hunter with Janet Johnson, Curator of Archaeology in The State Museum


Archaeologists will share their discoveries from excavations at Fort Hunter Mansion & Park. Artifacts recovered here help to tell the story of daily activities of Native Americans 9,000 year ago, it’s role in the French & Indian War through the colonial period to present day.


Thursday, August 8 Nature Lab, 11:30 AM: Chipped Stone and the Prehistoric Toolbox featuring Steve Nissly, expert flint knapper, and Section of Archaeology curators Kurt Carr, Dave Burke and intern Alaina Helm.

This demonstration of stone tool technology will illustrate the methods and materials used by Indians in producing chipped stone tools. In addition, Alaina Helm will present the results of her wood scraping experiment where she tested the durability of different types of stone commonly used by Indians in scraping activities.

Thursday, August 15 Nature Lab, 11:30 AM: Pots of Clay and What They Say with State Museum’s Section of Archaeology, Jim Herbstritt, Historic Preservation Specialist and Kimberly Sebestyen, Curator.


Take a look at the history of Native American pottery and its importance in Archaeology. Make your own clay pot using construction techniques from before the invention of the potter’s wheel.


We hope to see you at our upcoming summer series events at The State Museum, and thank you for your continued interest, effort and support saving our past for our future!

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