Friday, April 24, 2015

Highlights from 1965 at The State Museum

 The State Museum of Pennsylvania is celebrating its 50th Anniversary at 300 North Street, Harrisburg; directly across the street from the State Capitol.  In conjunction with this celebration the Section of Archaeology will be highlighting some of the excavations, artifacts, publications and exhibits that have contributed to the history of our institution.  
The museum was originally named the William Penn Memorial Museum when it was dedicated on October 13, 1965.  John Witthoft was the State Archaeologist at the time and was well known for his research of Paleoindian artifacts from the Shoop site (36Da20) in Dauphin County and his ethnographic fieldwork with the Seneca and Eastern Cherokee Indians. His involvement with the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) and local chapters of the organization was valuable in providing professional assistance with excavations, most notably at Overpeck (36Bu5) and the Diehl site (36Bu1).
 His publication in 1965 Indian Prehistory of Pennsylvania was a comprehensive “handbook” to our past as it was understood at that time.  Witthoft developed the foundation for Pennsylvania’s culture history sequence, much of which has stood the test of time.  Some of the earliest occupation periods identified at archaeological sites such as Sheep Rock Shelter and Meadowcroft Rockshelter had not been fully excavated and analyzed when he developed this sequence.   His identification of Paleoindian tool types are still in use, although the Paleoindian period has been extended from his estimate of 8,000-16,000 years old to the current 11,700 to 19,800 years ago.  
Paleoindian tools from John Witthoft's publication Indian Prehistory of Pennsylvania
The Section of Archaeology was also overseeing field investigations at three of the properties of the  Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) during this time; Ephrata Cloister, Graeme Park  and Hope Lodge . Excavations were undertaken with funding from the federal government’s Neighborhood Youth Corps with assistance from seasonal archaeologists and young boys enrolled in the program.  Archaeology conducted at Ephrata Cloister, Lancaster County, sought to document the structure known as the Bethania or the Brother’s House.  Little documentation of the location for the Bethania existed and determining the exact location of this building which dated to 1746 was a primary focus of the investigation.  Adjacent to Bethania was a second structure identified as the Saal (chapel). This building was demolished in 1837. There were no drawings or pictures of this structure and the team also sought to document the foundation. Excavations revealed the Bethania foundation at 74’ x 36’ with stone walls up to a foot deep.  This structure was divided into cells by shallow limestone walls ranging from several inches to a foot.  This investigation uncovered an archaeological foundation much different than previously depicted by historians. 
John Witthoft -back far left- during the excavation at Ephrata Cloister (36La981) in 1965
In addition to field investigations and publications, the museum was working to install the culture history area of the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology in the new museum.  These dioramas were the only cases installed in the gallery and the artwork of Jerry Connelly and John Kucera have been featured often in publications and brochures produced by the Section.  Development of the remaining exhibit spaces would wait until 1966 when Barry C. Kent joined the museum. 

Paleoindian diorama at The State Museum painted in 1965

We hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into the early history of the Section of Archaeology and invite you to return on a regular basis to trace the activities of the Section over the past 50 years.         

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

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