Friday, July 12, 2013

A role model for Archaeology

Doris Freyermuth, 1962

This week we are taking a break from our travels by county through the archaeological heritage of Pennsylvania to recognize a special individual - Doris Freyermuth. Doris is a lifelong member of the Forks of the Delaware, Chapter 14, of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA). Over a span of 50 years, she has participated in several significant archaeological excavations and she has also amassed a large collection of her own. We are honoring her at this particular time for her diligent care and recordation of her archaeological collection and on the occasion of this collection being donated to the State Museum of Pennsylvania. The other people who played important roles for this collection are Doris’s husband Benni and their daughter, Karen.  Without their love, support and understanding of their wife and mother, Doris wouldn’t have been able to pursue her passion for archaeology.

Doris and Benni Freyermuth

Members of Chapter 14 were “family” to Doris for many years and she delights in sharing the stories of their excavations. On a recent visit with Doris she shared the story of her first excavation in 1962 under the guidance of Earl P. Williams.  She and Benni along with Elinore Fehr, William Strohmeier, John Kulac and others spent two months excavating at 36Nm1, the Michaels Farm site with additional guidance from John Witthoft, archaeologist at the State Museum. Every artifact was carefully recorded and cataloged, insuring that all of the provenience information was retained. Maps were drawn, measurements taken and the site was recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) files.  This excavation was conducted at a very professional level and it was this early experience that laid the ground work for Doris and Benni’s collection. They realized that mapping and recording information was the heart of archaeological research.

John Witthoft and the Freyermuths

In the fall of 1962, Bethlehem Steel leased five acres of land for a sand removal operation.  Thankfully, Bill Strohmeier a member of the Chapter happened upon these activities and with Bethlehem Steel’s permission was able to organize an excavation with other chapter members. Some of these chapter members included Virginia Lopresti, Elmer Erb and Lou Farina who have also donated their collections to the State Museum.

projectile points and other stone tools from the Overpeck site (36Bu5)

Between 1963 and 1967, Chapter 14 excavated at the Overpeck site (36Bu5) along the Delaware River. This is a very significant, stratified, multi-component site and the type site for Overpeck pottery. Previous posts on this blog site can be accessed for additional information on the Overpeck site and in the journal Pennsylvania Archaeologist, Vol.50, Number 3, September 1980.

Overpeck type prehistoric ceramic vessel

Members of Chapter 14 worked with John Witthoft, Lafayette College staff and other professionals to insure that the site was properly excavated, recorded and interpreted. Penny Lippencott served as the field director and oversaw the daily activities of the excavation. They set a high standard that continued when the group excavated their next major project at Sandts Eddy (36Nm12).

left to right: Penny Lippencott, John Witthoft and Doris Freyermuth

36Nm12 was initially investigated in 1969 as a salvage archaeology project by Chapter 14.  Construction of a boat ramp along the Delaware River by the Pennsylvania Fish Commission had drawn the attention of Doris and Elinor Fehr. They recognized the potential for an archaeological site at this location. They observed stains in the soil but not many artifacts. However, with the assistance of other members of the chapter, investigations were conducted over several weekends. The discovery of Transitional period artifacts and a series of potential post-molds prompted a call to Barry Kent, State Archaeologist at the State Museum.

flat shoveling at Sandt Eddy 36Nm12

This turned out to be a major Transitional period occupation, with numerous projectile points, fire-cracked-rock features and five caches of bifaces. A report was prepared by the chapter (Fehr et al. (1971) and included comments by Barry Kent. Kent summarized the question of the ‘post-molds” by stating that “no positive conclusions can be drawn with regard to the validity of the postmold-like stains, the configurations which they seem to create, and their relationship to the Transitional period occupation of the site.  He goes on to state that “these postmold-like features and the configuration created by their distributions cannot be interpreted as house patterns”.

"turtle back" preform cache from Sandts Eddy (36Nm12)

Chapter 14’s research at the Sandts Eddy site was instrumental in leading to additional excavation when, in 1985, Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corporation planned a major gas pipe line through the site. A series of excavation were conducted to test the site and mitigate the impacts of construction. These produced very significant data but from a much earlier time period dating to over 9000 years ago. At over eight feet in depth, a single hearth was uncovered. This was associated with a small assemblage of tools, including a bifurcate projectile point, all probably representing a single nuclear family occupation.

Newspaper coverage of Freyermuth collection from Sandts Eddy site (36Nm12)

The lesson here is the importance of recording sites and sharing information with the archaeological community.  The important role Chapter 14 assumed as archaeologists and preservationists demonstrates how effective chapters of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology can be in helping the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) record sites and the data they contain. It is apparent in the collections donated by Doris and other chapter members that they understand the true value of an archaeological site is in the analysis and interpretation that occurs which helps us to better understand how people lived in the past. Doris and Benni’s collection represents their lifelong love for the science of archaeology.

Doris and fellow Chapter 14 member Barry Kresge

Over the years, Doris continued to walk fields and collect artifacts. Benni carefully made over 40 wooden “books” or boxes to house her collection. Doris donated over seven hundred projectile points in these books, each organized by site and assigned a number from the PASS files. Each book has one or more 3x5 card describing the artifacts and the site. We couldn’t ask for better documentation from surface sites. Doris told us that there were a few artifacts that she had saved for herself and one special clear quartz projectile point that she had saved for Benni- his favorite from the collection.  Doris has similar “books” of sites located in New Jersey which will be donated in the next few weeks to their State Museum. Preservation of these collections is important to Doris and Benni, this is their legacy and one to be proud of.

framed artifact collection complete with card catalog information

Thank you Doris and Benni from the State Museum and the archaeological community! You are outstanding archaeologists and excellent role models for others.

Doris excavating in her trademark feathered hat, with husband Benni and Elenor Fehr

Additional Reading:

Overpeck site (36Bu5)
Forks of the Delaware Chapter 14
The Overpeck Site (36Bu5) Pennsylvania Archaeologist, Vol. 50 No. 3, September 1980.

Overpeck Site blog posts;

Sandts Eddy (36Nm12)
Unpublished Manuscripts housed in the Section of Archaeology, State Museum of Pennsylvania;
Weed, Carol S., Parish and Cruse
Cultural Resources Investigation of Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp. 6.79 Mile Leidy Natural Gas Pipeline Extension, MP29.51-MP36.30, Warren Co., NJ & Northampton County, PA. April 1991.

Bergman, Christopher A., Doershuk and Kimball
Arch. Data Recovery for Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Corp.'s 6.79 Leidy Natural Gas Pipeline Expansion. February 1996.

Northampton County, Sandts Eddy blog information;

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

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