|Image from The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Anthropology & Archaeology Gallery|
Processing the hide was a multi step progression that required sharp tools to cut the hide away from the carcass and remove the fleshy material attached. This allowed for the initial stretching of the hide and scraping. The subsequent stages of processing were labor intensive and involved stretching the hide, then scraping and pounding, soaking the hide in deer brain and washing and stretching again.
Smoking pits are identified archaeologically as small, slightly oval basins, marked by an upper layer of gray loamy soil were utilized in the final step. Beneath this gray layer, are multiple levels of charred and carbonized plant and vegetable remains. Historic accounts from the 17th and 18th century confirm the use of smoke for tanning of hides.
Recent excavations in Tioga County uncovered features identified as smoking pits.
Our earliest examples of processed leathers were excavated from the Sheep Rock Shelter site (36Hu1)in Huntingdon County. These fragments have been pierced with a sharp tool, likely a bone awl. Bone awls are sharp fragments of splintered bone which were utilized for piercing the hides for sewing into moccasins, pipe bags or garments.
|Bone awls for punching thru hides|
|Leather strips from Sheep Rock Shelter (36Hu1)|
This beaded pipe bag
from the 20th century
and bears a remarkable
likeness to the
|Scalloped leather fragment from Sheep Rock Shelter|
|Hide fragments from Sheep Rock Shelter identified as Mocassin|
|Scene from inside early tannery From Pennsylvania and Its Manifold Activities, 1912|