Friday, March 17, 2017

Recent Past, Present and Future Archaeology Events hosted and partnered by the State Museum of PA

A Day at the Museum
Over a thousand visitors attended Charter Day at The State Museum on Sunday, March 12. Janet Johnson, curator, and archaeology volunteers were on hand to lead children and the young-at-heart through the petroglyph drawing activity featured at this year’s Farm Show exhibit in the Nature Lab.

Photographer Credit: Don Giles

You’ll have an opportunity to meet archaeology staff at future museum events this summer during the popular Nature Lab series on Wednesday afternoons from late June to early August. Check the State Museum Events Calendar for more details.

March 16-19th, 2017
Virginia Beach Resort and Conference Center
2800 Shore Drive
Virginia Beach, Virginia

It is not too late to attend. Walk-in registrants are welcome through this Saturday, March 18th at 4pm.
Kurt Carr and member volunteers at the MAAC Registration Table. Photographer Credit: Judy Hawthorn

Conference activities kicked off on Thursday with a conservation and gallery tour of the Mariners’ Museum and Park, Newport News, Virginia, and a Coastal Plain Woodland Pottery Workshop in the afternoon. 
Marcey Creek pottery featured during yesterday’s Coastal Plain Pottery Workshop, Photographer Credit: Judy Hawthorn

Today, regular paper sessions begin featuring Paleoindian research; Ethnoecological approaches; Conservation practices; Climate Change, Natural Hazards and Archaeological Sites; Fairfax Co., VA Archaeology; Prehistoric Archaeology; Montpelier;  and a honorarium session for Dr. Douglas W. Sanford. Kurt Carr, Senior Curator at the State Museum will be reprising his dissertation work at the Thunderbird site as the final morning contributor to the Paleoindian session at 9:40am. Additional activities include the Student Committee Coffee Hour, “Afternoon Knapping”- Experimental Archaeology with Jack Cresson, and the evenings Plenary Session- Augmented reality: how we transformed a reality show into a unique teaching and learning opportunity,  with Dr. Bill Schindler, who will discuss his experience with the National Geographic series, The Great Human Race.

Lucy Harrington, Mercyhurst University presenting during the Paleoindian Session this morning. Photographer Credit: Judy Hawthorn.

Saturday’s paper and workshop sessions continue with topics ranging from Historic Sites; Archaeological Survey; the Biggs Ford Site; Connecting museum collections in news ways with the public audience in the digital age; Current Research at St. Mary’s College of Maryland; Gender Identity in the Archaeological Record; Sherwood Forest Plantation, Stafford Co., VA; Domestic Archaeology in an Early Industrial Context; Public Sites and Parks; to a honorarium session for Leverette Gregory.  The poster session will run Saturday afternoon and the evening  General Business Meeting  is capped with the festive Student Committee Mixer at 7:30pm and Reception at 8:30pm.
The conference ends with concurrent Sunday morning sessions—the Indigo Hotel Site; the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; and Specialized Analysis of Historic Sites and Artifacts.  

Follow the provided link to read the complete program and speaker abstracts.

The Society for Pennsylvania 88th Annual Meeting will be featured in our next blog, however, we don’t want those interested to miss their chance to pre-register for the event online or call to reserve a hotel room. Click here for a program listing of the SPA session contributors and presentation titles.

The Pennsylvania Archaeology Council (PAC) Symposium and
The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) 88th Annual Meeting
April 7-9th, hosted this year by Section of Archaeology
Radisson Hotel Harrisburg
1150 Camp Hill Bypass
Camp Hill, PA 17011
(717) 763-7117

This year’s PAC symposium, Public outreach- Preserving the Past with New Technologies, was organized by Bernard Means. The Annual meeting presentations begin Saturday morning and will feature the research of several of our staff curators—Melanie Mayhew, Kurt Carr, Kimberley Sebestyen, and Janet Johnson—as well as SPA members and professional archaeologists from across the Commonwealth. Other highlights from the weekend meeting include the banquet speaker, Dr. Robert D. Wall, Towson University, presentation of Paleo to Susquehannock in the Upper Potomac Valley: The Barton Site, and the ever popular Primitive Games to be held late Saturday afternoon on the hotel grounds. The games are an opportunity to test your flint and steel fire making skills, your spear throwing accuracy with an atlatl, or how far you can toss a hammerstone to name a few of the friendly competitions you can participate in as a meeting attendee. Cordier Auctions has agreed to conduct our ever popular fund raising auction on Saturday evening which is sure to hold many a treasure. We hope to see you there!

Atlatl spear throwing, Fort Hunter Indian Day 2013

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Children’s Story: Kids tell their story using petroglyphs at the Pennsylvania Farm Show

As many of our dedicated followers will recall, this year’s Farm Show exhibit featured the petroglyphs of Pennsylvania.  Petroglyphs are images that have been chiseled into stone and are found throughout the world.  Many people associate the American southwest with this cultural phenomenon but there are 42 petroglyph sites currently recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files, most of them located in the Ohio watershed.

There are many different designs depicted.  Some symbolic or animal in nature, others more abstract in design and some undefinable. 

The chart above describes some of the symbols but there are many more beyond these and not all of them so easily interpreted.  I believe its human nature to look at these pictures and speculate about the story that inspired someone to spend the amount of time necessary to carve these designs into solid rock.

With all of this in mind, this year’s children’s activity invited the children to tell us their story.  After spending time looking at the exhibit and hearing a little about petroglyphs

we provided a large sheet of paper, a dozen templates of various documented petroglyphs from Pennsylvania and a box of crayons…

The kids seemed to enjoy the activity and it was interesting to see their response.  As promised to the children, here are some of those responses…

One repeated theme is the name.  People throughout time have felt the need to leave their mark.  Whether it was the symbols used by Native Americans, or the modern graffiti of “B Weaver”, people want to say “I was here”.

The story depicted by the red circle is reminiscent of a hunting story on Little Indian Rock at Safe Harbor Dam.

I think it’s also interesting to see the kids’ reflection on home, either for the natives as depicted in the blue circle above or perhaps in a more personal way.

The activity was enjoyable for the kids; and gave them an opportunity to apply their newly found thoughts on petroglyphs.  It also afforded us a chance to observe the behaviors of these little humans telling stories with pictures.  After all anthropology is the study of human behavior.    

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Houses of the Past

Artist rendition of a Monongahela Foley Farm phase village

Humans, world over, used some form of shelter to insure survival. The type of shelter is normally influenced by a combination of geographical, environmental, ecological and social conditions though other mitigating factors also play into the equation. During the Late Woodland and Late Prehistoric periods A.D. 700-1550, native peoples living along the rivers and streams of Pennsylvania employed certain types of architecture that changed little over time. Archaeology is the principal tool that scholars employ to decipher the past, and it is precisely archaeology i.e. postmolds that contribute to our understanding of Native American architecture and settlement patterns. Archaeological sites linked to these periods, yield clear evidence of the type(s) of houses and their arrangement within a settlement. Anthropologically, this is fundamentally understood as the community pattern. Observed differences in community patterning can be demonstrated for different parts of Pennsylvania.  For this discussion, we will use three major physiographic regions to illustrate the diversity of Native American architecture that scholars have identified across the landscape through archaeological studies.

Glaciated/Unglaciated Plateau (western Pennsylvania)
In this region of Pennsylvania houses were principally round-shaped structures organized around a central plaza and surrounded by a palisade. Houses were vaulted wigwams with bark covering and sometimes had a semi-subterranean appendage built onto the sidewall. This type of architecture was common to the McFate, Meade Island and related people from A.D. 1000 – A.D. 1400. Longhouses, likely constructed with vaulted roofs and sheathed with bark were used by Iroquoians on the Upper Allegheny and Lake Erie Plain. These were encircled with palisades. Monongahela and other groups in the lower Upper Ohio Valley and Allegheny Mountains built wigwams and a curious form of house having straight to slightly out-sloping side walls and a conical roof of bark. Arranged around an open plaza and protected by a palisade both types had the semi-subterranean appendage feature, others were free-standing. After A.D. 1575, a plaza centered petal-structure consisting of a large circular structure with multiple appendages began to appear on Foley Farm phase settlements.

Artist rendition of a wigwam

Experimental reconstruction of a Monongahela house with conical roof

Appalachian Mountains/Susquehanna Lowlands (central Pennsylvania)
Late Woodland house types in the central and upper Susquehanna were stereotypically vaulted longhouses. There was a tendency for this form of dwelling to increase in length over time. Early in the Late Woodland Clemson Island Early Owasco periods, these were better described as “short houses” resembling a cube in shape. The community pattern appears to have been a loosely organized one. By A.D. 1300 dwellings achieved the greater lengths of northern Iroquoian style, hence the term – “longhouse”. These longhouses were arranged in rows of eight or more to a settlement and surrounded by one or more palisades. The semi-subterranean feature associated with the houses of the Upper Ohio Valley were never attached to the side-walls of longhouses in this region of Pennsylvania.

Experimental reconstruction of a small longhouse and semi-subterranean structure

Experimental reconstruction of an Iroquoian arbor roofed longhouse (under construction). 

Blue Mountain/Great Valley/Piedmont (south-central and south-eastern Pennsylvania)
Longhouse architecture has not been identified for the Late Woodland/Late Prehistoric periods in this section of Pennsylvania. As with the lower Upper Ohio Valley and Allegheny Mountain sections wigwam-shaped houses were the preferred form of architecture in the Great Valley section during the Mason Island, Montgomery and Luray phases. However, none have been identified as having the attached appendage nor have any been linked to a palisaded settlement.  This settlement model appears to mirror the early Clemson Island habitation of central Pennsylvania where the houses were loosely organized in linear formation, near small streams. South of the Blue Mountain water gap, the community pattern of the Shenks Ferry culture evolved from unplanned to planned settlements. During the early Blue Rock phase the pattern was evidently like the Great Valley settlement pattern where houses were circular-shaped and loosely organized. By the later, Lancaster and succeeding Funk phases, Shenks Ferry houses evolved into oval-shaped short longhouses with vaulted roofs.  Well organized into a planned arrangement of one or more house rings having many houses, the settlements were fortified by one or more palisades. A large circular-shaped structure, of an unknown function, was built in the center of these later settlements.

Experimental reconstruction of a Shenks Ferry house (under construction)

As we have seen, Pennsylvanian’s Late Woodland/Late Prehistoric period houses varied from region to region. The environment and social organization of a culture were major dictates as to the type of dwelling being created. Experimental archaeologists provide us with some detail and guidance relative to how houses were constructed by people of the distant past. The primary building materials available to them would have been poles for the framework and bark for hafting the pieces together and to cover the building. These resources were harvested from trees growing in the nearby forest. Raw materials would have been manipulated with stone celts, adzes and other tools. Although houses could be built during all seasons of the year, the spring would have been better suited when trees were easily debarked and the softness of the ground made securing the poled framework into the earth an easier task. Because of their size, smaller wigwam structures took less effort while the large longhouses of 100 feet or more in length would have been a corporate task undertaken by most of a settlement’s population.

We hope that you have enjoyed reading this bi-weekly addition to This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology and encourage you to visit us again at this web site for more fascinating information about Pennsylvania archaeology. 

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