Friday, September 6, 2013

State Museum Archaeologists are Out and About in Central Pennsylvania

Kipona exhibit on City Island

We are taking another break from our archaeological journey by county across Pennsylvania to update our followers on recent and upcoming public outreach activities.  We started off our activities over the Labor Day weekend with our exhibit at Harrisburg’s Kipona Festival.  Our designated spot has been the same area the past few years adjacent to the American Indian Pow-Wow.  We brought along the ever popular Native American dugout canoe and some display cases relevant to the City Island excavations of the mid to late 1990’s.  This local festival has changed over the years since I moved to the area some 20 years ago, and in preparing this blog I decided to see how long the Kipona Festival had been around and just exactly what the origin of the word “Kipona” was and its meaning. 

Riverfront Park, Harrisburg 1916
( image source;

Turns out that the Kipona Festival dates back to September 4, 1916! I recall the roar of boats racing through the river on Labor Day Weekends back in the mid-nineteen-nineties, but what I didn’t know is that the event originally drew crowds of over 100,000 people and involved elaborate celebrations on the “sparkling water”.  An account printed in 1921 of the festival describes the carnival as a “night in the Orient.” A 1500 foot floating stage with Japanese costumed performers, 500 decorated canoes with streamers, lanterns and balloons, four bands, orchestras and several choruses and the finale was “marked by a blaze of light from bursting rockets and aerial bombs.”  Wow!  That of course was before the Great Depression, multiple recessions and the present bankruptcy of our Commonwealth’s Capitol city, Harrisburg. 

Kipona is reportedly a Native American word for ‘sparkling water”, although the various references checked didn’t confirm the origin or tribal affiliation. Water in the Seneca language is o’neganos, Shawnee...nippee,   Delaware...mpi [ni].  Whatever the source, this event is essentially a celebration of the beautiful Susquehanna River and the wonderful resource it provides to residents today, the same as it has for thousands of years.

Maiden voyage of the dugout canoe down the Susquehanna River 

We witnessed the power once again of Mother Nature when a severe thunderstorm struck the island Sunday night and destroyed our EZ-Ups. This unfortunately is the third year in a row that we have suffered from storms traveling through the river valley. Thankfully the storms passed and Monday was another good day for visitors at our display- we counted about 2500 people that we spoke to about archaeology and the
State Museum of Pennsylvania in a course of three days!

Volunteer Brad Miller (a.k.a.-Santa Claus) was ready to assist with storm damage clean-up. 
Thanks to Brad and  his wife, Deb!

It is September, so as we have done for the past seven years, the Section of Archaeology at the State Museum began our work at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park in Dauphin County. The purpose of this project is to investigate life in a French and Indian War fort. In addition this is part of our Archaeology Month celebration which is geared towards public involvement in their archaeological heritage. Many volunteers from the community assist us in these excavations and the public is encouraged to come out and visit the excavations.

 Since beginning the investigation in 2007, we have uncovered a bake-oven from the period, numerous dietary remains and an assortment of military items.  All of these are evidence of the occupation of soldiers at the site, but as of yet, we have not uncovered structural remains of the fort such as the ditch that surrounded it. In March, you may recall from a previous blog, we conducted a very promising backhoe testing program and were able to locate a long trench/road feature in the front yard.

 We are anxious to continue testing this area but the Fort Hunter Days  program also takes place in the front yard on Sunday September 15 and (understandably) Julia Hair (our favorite site administrator) won’t let us dig in this area until after the event

Visitors at Fort Hunter Days in 2012

In the mean time we are re-opening the well block next to the icehouse. At the end of last year's investigation, along the north end of this block, a feature associated with mid-18th artifacts was partially uncovered. The area immediately adjacent to the icehouse has consistently produced artifacts associated with the fort and we wanted to continue excavations in this area. 

Jim , intern Adam and Dave busy with clean-up activities

So far, we have mostly been cleaning up the site by removing the vegetation, laying in the grid stakes and screening minor amounts of wall slump. Although we finished digging in the well, we left it open at the end of last season to act as a drain for the rain water. It drained the block reasonably well although three large stone blocks from the sidewalk slid onto the floor. Five of us managed to flip them out of the unit and back to the surface. While cleaning up the slump, we found large quantities of artifacts from the “A” horizon of N95E0. The artifacts included ceramics including redware, mocha ware, white ware and yellow ware, nails, widow glass, and the most interesting find was a candle snuffer. We opened two new 5X5 units directly behind the icehouse. 
French pistol gunflint

The discovery of a French gunflint in one of the units reaffirmed that this is a promising area. Two more units will be opened to the west of this area to investigate a possible rock wall foundation. As the 250th anniversary of the French and Indian War comes to a close, we are optimistic that our explorations will reveal more information about life on the frontier during this turbulent time in our history.

Weather permitting, meaning no torrential downpours, we will be working weekdays 9:00 - 4:30, until Friday, October 11. Please come out and visit, this is a great opportunity to observe an archaeological investigation and explore your archaeological heritage! If you are interested in scheduling a tour, contact Kurt Carr at 717-783-9926.

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

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