Friday, July 21, 2017

Upcoming Events Hosted by the Section of Archaeology

July and August

The Nature Lab summer series is in full swing at The State Museum of PA every Wednesday and Thursday starting at 11:30am. Program event fees are included in the regular cost of admission.

We are more than half way through our Thursday archaeology series, however, there are three more opportunities between July 27th and August 17th to meet the curators and take part in hands-on-activities and informational sessions on your next visit to The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Also, check out the ecology series on Wednesdays, as well as periodic paleontology focused sessions.

7/27       Flint Knapping, Kurt Carr
Next Thursday, Kurt Carr will demonstrate hard hammer, soft hammer and pressure flaking flint knapping techniques using raw source materials that Native Pennsylvanians used to make their stone tool kits. You may even get the opportunity to try your hand at the ancient art of flint knapping too.

 8/10       Discovering Petroglyphs in Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Wagner and Melanie Mayhew
In August, discover how Native Americans shared stories and marked the passage of time through carving symbols on stone. Make your own story, tracing cut outs with crayons of selected symbols representing petroglyph sites found on rock outcrops in Pennsylvania. Learn more about Pennsylvania petroglyphs and afterward visit a Safe Harbor petroglyph on display in our second floor gallery.

 8/17       Prehistory thru Artifacts, Janet Johnson
Explore prehistory with fun hands-on activities for kids and an artifact guided introduction to 16,000 years of Pennsylvanian Native American material culture. Try your hand at corn grinding, making holes in shell using a “pump-drill”, and see what it was like to heft a stone axe.
If you are unable to attend Nature Lab activities this year you will have the opportunity to view earlier events from the summer in a broadcast coming to the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) this fall. Keep checking our blog for airdates.  Other archaeology topics previously covered this summer:

 Pots in Clay and What They Say- Jim Herbstritt, our resident prehistoric pottery expert, and Kimberley Sebestyen led a lively presentation on the evolution of pottery through time and use in Pennsylvania Native American cultures. Attendees were given the opportunity to create a clay vessel using the ancient methods of pinch, coil and paddle, and slab construction techniques.

Who’s Digging PA- Dave Burke and Elizabeth Wagner discussed current archaeology projects happening in Pennsylvania and how they are curated by The State Museum. In their last presentation they focused on the historic sites impacted during the construction of the Museum of the American Revolution in Old City Philadelphia next to Independence Hall. 

Forget Me Not- Labeling Artifacts for the Future- Andrea Carr and Callista Holmes and Section of Archaeology volunteers provided a behind-the-scenes look into our lab and the equipment used to process donated collections at The State Museum. They demonstrated best-practice conservation for artifact labeling and why cataloging and record keeping is important in the field of archaeology. Participants were able to help wash historic artifacts from Ephrata Cloister and sort projectile points from a recently donated Fred Veigh Collection of Western Pennsylvania.


Mark your calendars to come see us at outdoor events this fall.  

Weekdays, 9/11-10/6/2017
9am to 4pm

photo credit: Don Giles

*Special Weekend Event*
Sunday, 9/17/2017
10am to 5pm

We return to Fort Hunter September, 11th to continue excavations and kick off October Archaeology Month celebrations in Pennsylvania. The investigation is open for public visitation on weekdays and on Fort Hunter Day, a special event on Sunday, September 17th. Come and learn about our shared hidden past that can be discovered below the ground surface—from early 20th century farming practices and domestic life, early American frontier cottage industry, French and Indian war-time fortifications, colonial period settlers, to Native American prehistoric cultures.


 Program planning is under way for the annual Workshops in Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania on Saturday, October 28, 2017.  This year our theme will focus around immigration, ethnicity and multi-culturalism and its presence in the archaeological record. The program highlights evidence of ethnic diversity and change amongst the immigrants who populated our Commonwealth from its beginning as “Penns Woods”. Presentations are designed to engage the public in research topics that appeal to all ages. Keep watch on our blog for additional registration information in early September.

We hope you can join us at one of these events and learn about the past through our archaeological heritage. Remember, it is up to us to Save the Past for the Future

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Archaeology for the Museum of the American Revolution

In April of this year The Museum of the American Revolution opened in Philadelphia.  It was constructed “in the heart of the oldest part of Philadelphia” (Yamin et al., 2016), along Chestnut Street and a mere two blocks from the Delaware waterfront.  Realizing the history of the chosen plot archaeology commenced and Commonwealth Heritage Group (formerly John Milner Associates) conducted Phase III excavations in 2014 and briefly in the spring of 2015 and 2016. 

The excavations exposed Philadelphia’s history from the earliest seventeenth-century residential plots, through the commercialization of taverns and printing offices of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, to the construction of the Jayne building in 1849/1850.  The Lippincott button factory represented yet another transition to industrialization in 1907; and finally, the property became institutional by the construction of the National Park Service Visitor Center in 1970 (Yamin et al., 2016).

William Carter received a patent from William Penn shortly after his arrival in 1682 for land surrounding the project area.  Carter later added to that parcel by purchasing a north-south lot in 1701/1702.  It was this later property that would encompass a quarter of the project area for the new Museum of the American Revolution.  This is the parcel that was divided into 74, 76 and 78 Chestnut Street by 1750.

74 Chestnut Street (36Ph194) was purchased by William Smith, a tanner by trade, in 1749 from the Overseers of the Public School that included William Carter’s trustees.  There were two features found on this parcel that represented the early colonial occupation of the project area “generating over 25,000 colonial-era artifacts” (Yamin et al., 2016). 

Feature 28 was a privy located at the back of the lot.  Near the bottom of the privy laid two Westerwald jugs.  

While the privy contained relatively little tableware or food remains there were several drinking vessels and bottles.  The feature also contained over 1,400 fruit pits.  

Yamin et al., suggest that perhaps no one lived in the “alley house” but instead, may have been used for some commercial related activity.  Evidence of the tanning industry was suggested by “horn pieces, leather scraps, modified wood and bark fragments” (Yamin et al., 2016).

Feature 32 was another privy, 

located in the middle of the lot straddling the property line of 74 and 76 Chestnut Street.  76 Chestnut Street (36Ph195) was occupied by Samuel Garrigues, a barber.  Unlike Feature 28 this privy contained a large quantity of table and teawares, including Chinese Export porcelain

locally made redwares, slip-decorated earthenware 

and stoneware.  

There were also many Kaolin or ball clay pipes and pipe stems (180) as well as a large volume and variety of faunal food remains.  These clues point to the privy use by tavern clientele as opposed to strictly domestic use.  The “terminus post quem” for this deposit is 1760 and although no tavern license can be found for either 74 or 76 Chestnut Street at that time there was a tavern across Chestnut Street (Yamin et al., 2016).  Another possible explanation for the volume of non-residential fill may be related to an act passed by the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1763 dictating the depth of privies with regard to distance from the Delaware River.  Possibly trash was collected and dumped into the privy in an attempt to reduce the depth to the newly acceptable level (Yamin et al., 2016).

The information produced from this excavation gives us a window into our country’s earliest days as well as its evolution through the twentieth century; this brief presentation hasn’t even scratched the surface (so to speak) of the archaeological history of the project area.  It’s an incredible site and we hope you enjoyed this glimpse of our shared American heritage as we celebrate its birthday.  We also hope you’ll check back for future posts dedicated to other components of this excavation.


Yamin, Rebecca, Alexander B. Bartlett, Tod L. 
Benedict, Kevin C. Bradley, Juliette Gerhardt, 
Timothy Mancl, Claudia L. Milne, Meagan Ratini, 
Leslie E. Raymer and Kathryn Wood

2016     Archaeology of the City - The Museum of the American 
            Revolution Site, Archaeological Data Recovery, Third 
            and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
            Prepared for the Museum of the American Revolution,
            Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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

Friday, June 23, 2017

Charnel Structures, Petal Structures and the Disappearing Monongahela Culture

Figure 1

The Monongahela were a Late Prehistoric group of people who lived in the lower Upper Ohio Valley of southwestern Pennsylvania from circa A.D. 1050 - A.D. 1615/35. Many of their settlements were built on bluffs overlooking large river systems while others were hidden away on low terraces adjacent to smaller waterways. The typical Monongahela village can be described as a single or double ring of small round houses (domestic/storage/burial zone). Many of the houses also had a semi-subterranean pit that was free-standing or attached to the wall (Figure 1). Houses were built around an open plaza (communal zone) encircled by one or more gated palisades (defensive zone). An encircling ditch-trench, surrounding the palisade, was used as a convenient place for discarding trash (disposal zone) (Figure 2). Most villages covered an acre or more though some were enormous, approaching  nine acres in size. Village locations were re-used over time as is indicated by overlapping palisades and midden features of accumulated trash at some sites (Figure 3).

Figure 2

Figure 3

               During the 15th century the internal composition of Monongahela villages changed to include a single, larger-than-average, round house, a pattern that over time appears to have moved toward the outermost ring of houses. This type of structure was a place where some of the dead were interred, frequently exceeding more than 10 individuals (Figure 4). These so-called charnel structures may have been reserved principally for individuals, who were perhaps considered prominent members of the community i.e. headmen or others serving special roles or perhaps members of a certain lineage. There was, however, no general preference as to the gender or age of the interred individuals. By the late 16th century houses for the dead disappear from the archaeological record and infants and children are the only classes of individuals being continually interred in the common village household. Adult and elderly Monongahelans were evidently buried elsewhere which marks a defining moment in Monongahela mortuary practices from earlier times.

Figure 4

                Curiously, by the proto-Historic period circa A.D 1550/75 Monongahelans began building large round-shaped buildings with semi-subterranean petal-shaped appendages at some of their settlements (Figure 5). Petal structures, like the smaller size Monongahela households had a centrally placed hearth where residents prepared and processed food. At colder temperatures, the hearth became the sole source of radiating heat both in households and petal structures. The archaeology at these sites suggests that newer petal-structures were often rebuilt on or very near the footprint of older ones thereby demonstrating a desire to reuse the same general locations through time.
Figure 5

The number of appendages associated with petal structures varied widely. For example, at Sony, Throckmorton and the Foley Farm sites, archaeologists found as few as 11 to as many as 24 appendages attached to petal structures. An opening or doorway always appears on the northeast to southeast side of the petal structure. When petal structures were first incorporated into the ring of houses, as at the Throckmorton site, the doorway always faced toward the village plaza (Figure 6). The appendages associated with houses and larger petal structures are recognizably different in that the latter generally had a greater length ratio of nearly 2 to 1.
Figure 6

There is a long-standing assumption by archaeologists that semi-subterranean structural features, whether free standing or otherwise, were used for storage of perishable foods and, no doubt, a resident’s personal effects. The function and purpose of Monongahela petal structures may never be satisfactorily explained since their morphology is generally comparable to Monongahela dwellings. That petal structures abruptly appear in southwestern Pennsylvania at the very end of the Late Prehistoric period when goods of the European trade begin to filter into the region from the eastern coast of North America seems clear from the archaeological evidence. With these changes in village architecture came disease, sickness and often death, to people who had little resistance to biological vectors of calamity.

In summary, it is interesting to note that Monongahela villages grew from small settlements containing a half dozen or so houses to enormous settlements covering many acres followed by a recognizable reduction in village size in the closing years of the Late Prehistoric period with the appearance of petal structures and the disappearance of charnel structures in the Monongahela core area of southwestern Pennsylvania. These archaeologically deduced observations leave us with many unanswered questions regarding the driving forces that forever changed the settlement, community and mortuary patterns of a disappearing people called Monongahela.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse into the past at the Monongahela peoples who occupied Pennsylvania during prehistoric times and invite you to visit other blogs on TWIPA which discuss the Monongahela.   Understanding and exploring our archaeological heritage is pivotal to our understanding of human behavior and our ability to change and adapt over time- just as the Monongahela peoples did for hundreds of years.


Davis, Christine E. and Amy K. Wilks
1997       Phase III Data Recovery Sony Site, 36WM151, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. A Cultural Resource Management Report prepared for the Westmoreland County Industrial Development Corporation.

Dragoo, Don
1955     Excavations at the Johnston Site. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 25(2): 86-141.

            George, Richard L.
1983       The Gnagey Site and the Monongahela Occupation of the Somerset Plateau. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 53(4): 1-92.

Herbstritt, James T.
2003       Foley Farm: The Importance of Architecture and the Demise of the Monongahelans. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 73(1): 8-54.

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

NPW Consultants, Inc.
1983       Excavations at Two Monongahela Sites: Late Woodland Gensler (36GR63) and Proto-Historic Throckmorton (36GR160). Report submitted to Consolidation Coal Company, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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