This week, the letter “F” is dedicated to the memory of a true friend and advocate for Middle Atlantic Archaeology, Fred Assmus. Sharon, Fred’s loving wife and partner of thirty-three years, donated the Assmus Collection in the summer of 2013 to The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology. Transported in over sixty boxes and three travel display cases, the collection embodies over fifty years of volunteer service to avocational archaeology associations in the tri-state region of Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. In 2007, Fred was recognized as the Archey Award recipient by the Society of Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc. (SPA) for his significant lifetime contribution to the society. He remained an active chapter member of the Incorporated Orange County Chapter of the New York State Archaeology Association (IOCCNYSAA), serving as a Trustee, program chair and as Treasurer in the later years of his life after relocating to Middletown, NY.
Fred and Sharon Assmus at the 2009 IOCCNYSAA annual banquet receiving an award, image courtesy of IOCCNYSAA.
A husband and wife team, Sharon continues their legacy as a leading member in the IOCCNYSAA, acting as program chair for annual banquets, securing speakers for chapter meetings, and organizing community outreach events. She was elected to the office of correspondence secretary and has served in this position for numerous consecutive terms. Both Fred and Sharon have received many accolades for their years of service to the Orange County Chapter, and have been honored with membership in the “order of the trowel” at annual recognition events.
Fred’s love for natural history and prehistoric cultures began at an early age when his family moved from Brooklyn, NY to the scenic town of Milford, PA in the Delaware Water Gap. As a young boy, Fred and his brother collected fossils and prehistoric artifacts from the banks of the Delaware River and its local tributaries. Bill Leiser, a high school teacher and member of the Lenape Chapter 12 of the SPA, took the budding amateur geologist and archaeologist under his wing when Fred was in his teens. Fred joined Mr. Leiser, David Werner, Lyman Vandermark, William DeGraw and family, and other chapter members to survey and excavate sites endangered by the Tocks Island Reservoir Project throughout the 1960s and 1970s. As he came of age, Mr. Assmus served as Treasurer for the Lenape Chapter for many years.
Fred Assmus excavating at the Zimmermann site in the 1960s.
The bulk of the Assmus collection is from the Lenape Chapter’s undertakings in PikeCounty, Pennsylvania and Sussex County, New Jersey. Donated materials of significant number were received from the Zimmermann (36Pi14), Eshback (36Pi8), Snyder (Schneider- 36Pi40), Davenport (28Sx27), Minisink Island (28Sx28), Bell-Philhower/Bell-Browning (28Sx48), and Herring (28Sx428) sites. For more information regarding Lenape Chapter 12 excavations, the Werner Collection, and the Zimmermann site (36Pi14), visit our previous tribute to David Werner. We are currently processing the Assmus collection in the lab, ensuring its preservation for future research.
A proposed rotating exhibit in the Archaeology Gallery will also highlight the contributions of the Lenape Chapter 12 excavations. It is our intention to pay further tribute to Mr. Assmus by including several of his reconstructed prehistoric vessels in honor of his interest in steatite bowl morphology and Woodland Period pottery.
The Garoga vessel above, recovered from Sussex County, New Jersey, was a particular favorite of Mr. Assmus. An example of Iroquoian influence in the Upper Delaware Valley, its presence supports the view that the Upper Delaware was a dynamic middle ground for cultural interactions between local Algonquian cultures and neighboring Iroquois prior to and during historic contact with European settlers (Stewart, 1993). Garoga decorative motifs are ascribed cultural affiliation with proto-historic Iroquoian village sites in New York State. The type site, on which the Garoga cultural phase was defined by Ritchie (1965; Ritchie & Funk 1973), is located in the Mohawk Valley. Pottery from the Upper Delaware Valley excavated from proto- Munsee contexts distinguishes itself from other Late Woodland Algonquian pottery found on sites in the lower Delaware Valley and coastal region. The stylistic choices of high, castellated collars and incised geometric designs—vessel morphology and decorative motifs that mimic Iroquois pottery types (Kraft, 1986: pp. 146-149; Leslie, 1973)—further suggest cross-cultural influence and interaction in the region between these two peoples of different linguistic origins.
Fred shared these interests at chapter meetings, public outreach events and archaeology conferences, generously displaying his artifacts and speaking on topics of local prehistory whenever called upon. He was a further resource to professional archaeologists and historians, contributing his knowledge and providing images of his artifacts for publications. Amanda C. Batko, township historian at Montague, Sussex County, NJ, lists Mr. Assmus among her acknowledged mentors in her 2009 local historical account, Images of America, Montague. The Garoga vessel pictured above as well as a Munsee incised reconstructed vessel were featured in Kraft’s 1986 publication, The Lenape (Fig. 36h,f: 150). Additional vessels and stone tools from the Assmus collection are also pictured in Kinsey (1972), Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley). Link to our Pike County blog for more information relating to the archaeology of this collection and to see replicated figures from The Zimmermann site report (Werner 1972: 55-133). The Munsee incised rim from the Davenport site (Fig. 36.2) is part of the Assmus Collection.
Fred Assmus sharing his collection at an IOCCNYSAA function in 2008, image courtesy of IOCCNYSAA.
Fred’s warm hearted presence, enthusiasm and dedication to historic preservation are dearly missed in the archaeology community. We are proud to carry on his spirit and intent at The State Museum of Pennsylvania through the preservation and celebration of his collection and its significant contribution to our understanding of prehistoric cultures in the Upper Delaware Valley.
Batko, Alicia C.
2009 Images of America, Montague. Arcadia Publishing.
Kinsey, W. Fred
1972 Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
Kraft, Herbert C.
1983 The Lenape, Archaeology, History, and Ethnography. New Jersey Historical Society.
1973 Faces in Clay. T. Emmett Henderson.
Ritchie, William A.
1965 The Archaeology of New York State. The Natural History Press.
Ritchie, William A. and Robert E. Funk
1973 Aboriginal Settlement Patterns in the Northeast. The New York State Museum and Science Service.
1993 Comparison of Late Woodland Cultures: Delaware, Potomac, and Susquehanna River Valleys, Middle Atlantic Region. Archaeology of Eastern North America 21:163-178.
Werner, David J.
1972 The Zimmermann Site. In Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley by W. Fred Kinsey. pp. 55-130, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.