Recently I was able to participate in an archaeological excavation with The State Museum of Pennsylvania. I’m fortunate that my mother is an archaeologist and curator at the museum. They have been conducting archaeological excavations at Fort Hunter since 2006. They are only able to be in the field for one month, the other eleven months they are busy being curators taking care of other people’s artifacts from excavations. For one month of the year though, they are busy searching for structural evidence of the French and Indian War fort that gives Fort Hunter its name.
The next owner, Daniel Boas, bought the house in 1870, then left it to his daughter and son-in-law, also known as the Reily’s. The Reily’s built the last and biggest addition to the house in the late 1800s. The Reily’s ran a successful dairy farm for 50 years. Since they never had any children, they had many pets, such as dogs and cats. They also had some extravagant pets, like peacocks, a parrot, and a Macaque monkey.
They later left the farm to their nieces and nephews, one of which being Margaret Meigs. Margaret recognized the historical value of the land and set out to make it a museum. In 1956, she along with her family set up the Fort Hunter Foundation. With their hard work and dedication, they were able to restore the land and create an educational program. Now the land is owned by Dauphin County, and you are able to tour the estate to learn more about its great history, or to just simply enjoy the scenery.
The Section of Archaeology for the State Museum of Pennsylvania has been working at Fort Hunter Park since 2006. They are looking for the remains of the French and Indian War fort, Fort Hunter. They have not found any structural evidence of the fort yet, however they have found other evidence such as a cannon ball, musket balls and gun parts among other things. They have also found the old farm well, which was connected to the milk house by a small pipe. The
pipe allowed cold water to run through the walls of the milk house keeping their food cool. They also found a unique octagonal smokehouse that was built by Mr. McAllister. There was a pet cemetery left from the burials of the Reily’s many beloved pets. They have also found numerous prehistoric artifacts, such as projectile points, prehistoric pottery (cordmarked or plain in decoration), and a prehistoric grooved stone axe dating back 4,000 years. These artifacts give evidence of at least 9,000 years of human occupation of the landscape we now call Fort Hunter.
Even as a small child I was intrigued by archaeology, my mother saw my interest and allowed me to come with her to watch her work. I was six years old the first time I visited an excavation, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to visit and participate every year since then. In the beginning I just observed how precisely they would take the layers of soil down. It was not until I was nine years old that I was able to get into a unit. This was the year that they discovered the pet cemetery behind the milk house. I was in the unit with my mother helping her write the bags, take measurements and draw the unit.
Archaeological excavation is a destructive science, the soils can never be put back the way you found them, so it is very important to know where artifacts are discovered. A grid is laid out over the site so north south coordinates are assigned to every unit and measurements are taken both horizontally and vertically to know where each artifact is recovered from.
|Assisting with measurements|
In the following years I learned how to screen the dirt, and how carefully you have to do it or else artifacts might fall through the screen. I also learned how to use a trowel and how to carefully take down a soil level. The first time I was able to get in a unit and dig I was fourteen. While I was digging I found a prehistoric grooved axe, in situ, which means “in its original placement” and that is extremely rare. This year I was able to screen all the dirt and I found many artifacts, like flake chipping debris, pottery and glass, among other things.
I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to develop these skills at such a young age, and I hope that I am able to further my skills and knowledge in this field.
This is Archaeology Month in Pennsylvania and a great opportunity to seek out programs in your community that explore the cultural heritage of your region. The archaeology at Fort Hunter is an opportunity for us to engage with the public and provides an outlet for students to learn about the archaeological process. Excavations have ended for 2019 but with the discovery of many 18th century artifacts this year, we have already begun preparing for next year. Stay tuned this winter as we research the many artifacts recovered this year and share some of our discoveries on our blog.
We also invite you to attend our annual Workshops in Archaeology program on November 9th, 2019. This day long venue is a continuum in our exploration of tribes who inhabited Pennsylvania from pre-historic through the 18th century. Building on our program last year that explored the Susquehannock Indians, this years’ theme of Monongahela Indians promises to be as informative and interesting as last year. Discussion of maize agriculture, disease and conflict amongst tribes and European colonists are just two of the subjects scheduled for discussion. Registration is available on-line or by check through the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation.