Friday, July 31, 2015

The Schultz Site Diorama – The Oldest Exhibit on Display in the Archaeology Gallery at the State Museum of Pennsylvania

The first incarnation of the State Museum of Pennsylvania was located in the Executive office building (now the Ryan Building) attached to the State Capitol. Due to limited expeditions by the museum, this first archaeology gallery contained items primarily donated from local collectors. Subsequent excavations sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (now the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) were some of the first to produce provenienced collections that offered reliable insight into the lives of Pennsylvania’s prehistoric inhabitants.

Using information gathered from 1931 excavations at the Schultz site and historical accounts of other Susquehannock and Iroquoian village sites, museum preparators Linneaus G. Duncan and Charles Andes crafted the display we now know as the Schultz site diorama. The wax figures stand approximately 6 inches tall and were created from plaster molds. Once extracted from the mold, the models were posed and details such as clothing, hair, and color were meticulously added by Mr. Duncan, the museum’s chief preparator. In the photograph below, Linneaus Duncan sculpts one of the figures, note the plaster mold in the foreground with figures in varying degrees of completion arranged behind it.
(Photo: PHMC Collections)

Oil paints were used to add color, and small pieces of leather and fur were used for clothing. Often overlooked details of this display are the miniature deer skins - one is tacked to the exterior of the structure and another is draped across a log. Upon closer inspection, these tiny pelts are revealed to be the furs of mice. Among the materials used by the preparators during the time of the diorama’s construction were various chemicals, oils, shellac, varnish, various paints, plasteline clay, beeswax (likely the material used to make the figures), and assorted brushes and tools. These items were indicated on a supply list dated 1932.

Linneaus Duncan (right) and Charles Andes (left) prepare the area outside the stockade village
(Photo: PHMC Collections)

Completed by 1933, the Schultz site diorama was intended to give museum visitors a view into prehistoric life that left no detail to the imagination. The craftsmanship and care taken in the display’s creation is still evident today. In the 1960s, the diorama was deemed “too good not to use”, and was moved to its current location for the opening of the William Penn Memorial Museum (now the State Museum of Pennsylvania) in 1965.

The Schultz site diorama in its original location at the old State Museum
(Photo: PHMC Collections)


Since the 1930s, our knowledge of the Susquehannock culture has expanded considerably. The Schultz site (36La7) was a mid to late 16th century Susquehannock village located in Lancaster County. The first excavations at this site were executed by Donald Cadzow in 1931 and were sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission. These excavations yielded, among other things, ornamental objects and pottery from features. Subsequent excavations in 1969 revealed extensive detail about the Susquehannock culture of the 16th century. Among the records from the latter excavation are maps of excavations revealing the stockade and the shape and layout of house structures. Contrary to the diorama, house structures were often rounded at the ends, as opposed to squared.  In addition, we do not really know the height of the stockade or if it held a firing platform. Finally, we now know that the Susquehannocks buried their dead in cemeteries and not mounds as depicted on the far right of the diorama. Susquehannocks occupied village sites in the Susquehanna River valley (shown in the diorama’s background) in central Pennsylvania from the 16th century to the time of European contact.

(Photo: Don Giles, State Museum of Pennsylvania)

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

Friday, July 17, 2015

Excavations at Sheep Rock Shelter (36Hu1)

We are continuing our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the opening of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.  This week will take us back a little beyond that 50 year window in an effort to set the stage for one of the most spectacular sites to be excavated in central Pennsylvania. 

In 1957, John E. Miller of Altoona, Pennsylvania was the guest of John Folk, also from Altoona, on a boat trip down the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River.  They enjoyed a conversation about the surrounding landscape mentioning that it was well suited for rock shelters.  Miller learned that there was such a place and upon visiting it that day dug a test pit toward the back wall of the shelter.  He quickly began recovering pottery, animal bones, mussel shells, charcoal and a stone hoe.  The following year he revisited the site with some other friends and dug a subsequent pit revealing many organic artifacts; corncobs, cornhusks, cornstalks, cordage and more.  
Corncobs, cornhusks and seeds

Cordage and woven mat or fabric

Cordage and fish hook

This is what makes Sheep Rock Shelter (36Hu1), as it came to be named, such a spectacular site.  It was a dry rock overhang enabling the preservation of organic material, something almost never found in the wet, humid climate of Pennsylvania. 

Archaeologist studying prehistory in Northeastern North America often speculate that the variety of stone tools we most often associate with prehistoric people actually represents only about 10% of their material culture.  The other 90% would have been made out of perishable or organic materials; and therefor lost to the ravages of time and decomposition.  Sheep Rock Shelter represents a small, local window into that rarely seen part of everyday prehistoric life.

Fortunately, these men realized the rarity of uncovering artifacts such as these; and that they needed professional guidance.  Miller entrusted his brother-in-law and co-excavator Melville Corl to take samples of the artifacts to a meeting of The Society of Pennsylvania Archaeology where he shared them with John Witthoft, the State Anthropologist with the Pennsylvania State Museum (currently The State Museum of Pennsylvania).

The first order of business was to find the landowner of the rock shelter, which proved to be more difficult than expected.  Permission was eventually granted and on July 14, 1958 the first systematic excavations commenced.  It was Melville Corl, E. J. Stackhouse, Raymond Zeak and Tommy Lukehart who were contributing to the original excavations.  Trudging through the woods with equipment and then boating the final leg to begin digging at the site. 

"Sheep Rock Shelter Dig Summer 1960, Entrance Way to Dig Showing
ledge going into the River" description from back of photograph

John Witthoft arrived on July 21 to inspect and participate in the dig.  Due to the volume and unique nature of the artifacts recovered, the threat of looting and the difficult logistics accessing the site, it was decided to turn the site over to the Pennsylvania State Museum.  In 1959, John Witthoft, the State Anthropologist and Fred Kinsey III, the State Archaeologist took responsibility, on behalf of the museum, for any future excavations at the site.   

"Sheep Rock Shelter, Site 36Hu1, July 1958
Celts where found in Crevases at back wall of shelter"
description from back of photograph

In the summer of 1959 Fred Kinsey excavated at Sheep rock with a crew of students, as a field school through the Pennsylvania State University.  The same arrangement continued for the following three years under the direction of John Witthoft.  During those years of excavation they dug to a depth of more than twenty feet within the shelter and produced an estimated 80,000 artifacts.  

They were also producing some very well trained archaeologists that continued a legacy of scientific excavation and publication in Pennsylvania archaeology.  Through these efforts the basis for our understanding of the occupation and geologic sequence of the region was formed.

There were no excavations the following two years until 1965 when Ira Smith, a former Sheep Rock field school student and later the State Field Archaeologist for the William Penn Museum (currently The State Museum of Pennsylvania), conducted a survey of the area.  Plans had been made by the Army Corp of Engineers to build a dam which would flood the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River, covering Sheep Rock Shelter with more than one hundred feet of water.  Smith’s survey was responsible for finding 35 additional sites that would have been lost. Excavations, especially in the Archaic levels, of the shelter resumed. 

Excavations continued the following year, again as a field school but this time as a joined effort of the Pennsylvania State University and Juniata College under the direction of Joe Michaels and Ira Smith. 

Sheep Rock Shelter remains one of the most amazing sites excavated in Pennsylvania.  It harbored some of the most unique artifacts of everyday prehistoric life for thousands of years.  Keeping them dry and preserved as a result of its unique geological conditions.  Although the real site is inaccessible now in the depths of Raystown Lake you can get a sense of what it was like by visiting the Anthropology/Archaeology gallery at The State Museum of Pennsylvania.  Exhibited just to the left of the open excavation you can see what the shelter was like.  The back wall of the exhibit was created from a mold of the actual back wall of the shelter.  Also exhibited in the Technology area of the gallery are the bark basket, fabric, cordage, netting, canoe paddle, and fire making kit all recovered from this remarkable site.

Bark Basket

Please feel free to search through our past blogs for more information about Sheep Rock Shelter, or see the following sources used in this week’s editions of TWIPA.

Edgar J. Stackhouse and Melville W. Corl
1962   The Discovery of the Sheep Rock Shelter (Site 36Hu1)
Pennsylvania Archaeologist 32(1):1-13

Joseph W. Michaels and Ira F. Smith
1967   Archaeological Investigations of Sheep Rock Shelter, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania

Kurt W. Carr and Roger W. Moeller
2015   First Pennsylvanians, The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission 

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

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Turnbaugh's West Branch Survey

This week, we continue our celebration of the 50thanniversary of the opening of The State Museum of Pennsylvania in 1965 with a trip down memory lane to the early 1970s. The 1970s were fruitful times for the Pennsylvania archaeology as interest in the less explored areas of PA arose. A major climatic disaster hit much of the eastern coast of the United States including a large area of central Pennsylvania. In late June of 1972, Tropical Storm Agnes tormented Pennsylvania with torrential rains lasting for a week.  Agnes struck with winds between 25-45 mph and heavy rains across the area, causing rivers and creeks to rise at alarming rates.   Flooding removed large amounts of earth and buried artifacts from archaeological sites were cropping up to the surface, causing great concern for the loss of this culture history.

 For one curious archaeology student, William Turnbaugh, the Lycoming Creek Valley and section of the West Branch Valley of the Susquehanna River in Lycoming county was one of those archaeologically untapped regions of Pennsylvania. Turnbaugh became interested in archaeology and basketry in particular in the early 60s when he was given the opportunity to handle the remains of the collections from the Lycoming County historical society as he assisted in the moving of the collections to the New Museum, now the Thomas T. Taber Museum, after a fire at the previous location. By 1967, as a high school student, Turnbaugh became vice president and acting president of the New Museum and in 1970 he left for a college education at Harvard University. So, with an interest in north-central Pennsylvania and specifically Lycoming county and growing up there Turnbaugh turned this interest into his doctoral dissertation.

After receiving an NSF grant he began his dissertation in 1972 just two days after the peak of the Agnes flooding. He describes the scene as,

 “Scores of vacant windows stared from towns of muddy homes, apartments, stores and churches, all looking out onto lawns and trees and streets filled with yet more of the stinking oily mud… One marveled at the boats and campers and travel trailers and cars cluttered together at various eddy points… Everywhere there were trees and other natural debris; houses, chicken coops, outhouses and barn roofs; jewelry, silverware, typewriters, television; mementos and family photos and books.” (Turnbaugh 1973; 66-67)

Turnbaugh’s survey which is known as the West Branch Survey spanned over a large area of Lycoming and eastern Clinton counties focusing on localities near the river and streams. The survey covered more than 160 miles of terrain and uncovered 53 prehistoric sites ranging back as far as the Paleoindian period (11700 BP-19800 BP) through the Contact period (1650 AD-1550 AD).  Artifacts recovered included projectile points from throughout all of our time periods as well as pottery and other stone tools. 

various points from Turnbaugh's survey

net sinkers and groundstone tools from Turnbaugh's survey

prehistoric ceramics from Turnbaugh's survey

knife/scraper and broken drill base from Turnbaugh's survey

Overall, William Turnbaugh played a major part in our understanding of how geology and the environment factors into site development in this region of the state.   He also developed and improved our understanding of the prehistoric cultural history  of the region and recording extent archaeological sites from the Susquehanna River basin.


Turnbaugh, William
1973       Cultural Prehistory and Demographic Patterns in North-Central Pennsylvania. Manuscript on file, Section of Archaeology, State Museum of Pennsylvania.
1977       Man, Land, And Time; The Cultural Prehistory and Demographic Patterns of North-Central Pennsylvania. Unigraphic, Inc., Evansville, Indiana.
United States Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
1973       Final Report of the Disaster Survey Team on the Events of Agnes: A Report to the Administrator. Natural Disaster Survey Report 73-1. Copy available at 

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