Friday, April 28, 2017

Items of Personal Adornment: How Small Objects Make a Big Impact

As archaeologists, we are often asked to describe the best or oldest artifact we have found. People want to see the nicest point or the complete pot. But sometimes the small and insignificant objects can also give us important information on the people who have come before us. Two such objects are buckles and buttons. These objects mean little to us in today’s world, other than as functional items to hold our clothing together, but in the 18th century buckles and buttons were symbols of wealth and status.

First we will look at buckles, which were the primary type of fastener for both shoes and clothing through most of the 18th century. Metal buckles were largely produced in England and exported to America to be sold, although a small number of buckles were made by local silversmiths and clockmakers. Buckle frames were made most commonly of copper alloys, tin, and gilded brass; however, they were also produced in silver, gold, iron, blued steel, Sheffield plate, pinchbeck (a form of brass resembling gold), and close-plated iron (silver foil plated), as well as being embellished with wood, glass accents, gems, and ceramic inlays. They could be found in a wide range of shapes and sizes, in an almost limitless range of designs and decorations. Buckles were worn by men, women, and children to secure knee breeches, girdles, spurs, boots/garters, hats, sword belts, stocks (a man’s neck cloth), and most commonly, shoes.

Iron Shoe Buckle with Scalloped Decoration (Photo by PHMC)

Buckles are commonly found on archaeological sites from the 18th century because they were so widely used by all ranks of society. In addition to being a way to hold together clothing and shoes, buckles were considered to make an important fashion statement. Social status can be noted in the type of material and extent of decoration on buckles, with more expensive metals and ornate decorations being attributed to the wealthy. Portraits of the time period, which could normally only be commissioned by the rich, show large and ornate buckles on the shoes, knee buckles holding the breeches to silk stockings, and luxurious textiles decorated with expensive buttons.

Portrait of Maryland Governor William Paca, Showing Shoe and Knee Buckles and Cloth Covered Buttons from Maryland State Art Collection, Maryland State Archives  (

(Top row left to right:) Brass Stock Buckle Fragment, Knee Buckle, Brass Buckle Roll, Brass Buckle Tongue; (Bottom row:) Plain and Fancy Brass Buckle Frame Fragments (Photo by PHMC)

Account books from the late 1700s from two stores in Pennsylvania indicate the difference in price between ornate buckles and more ordinary buckles. A pair of “plated buckles” sold for £0-3-5, while a pair of “Silver Diamond Cut Shoe Buckles” was bought for £2-15-0. In a time period of constant change, especially during and after the Revolutionary War, when different forms of currency were used, buckles could also be exchanged for goods and services as a form of money.

By the end of the 18th century, buckles were beginning to go out of style in America and would be replaced by ribbons and shoe strings in the early 19th century.

Another small item that can provide information when found on archaeological sites is the button. As with buckles, buttons served as clothing fasteners and as a fashionable form of personal adornment through the 18th century. Buttons were used as early as the 12th-14th centuries but did not become common until the 16th century. Again as with buckles, most buttons were produced in England and exported to America. Buttons were made of numerous materials including various metals, ivory, pearl, conk shell, wood, bone, inlaid glass, horn, porcelain, leather, stone, and tortoise shell.

Examples of 18th Century Buttons: (Left to right:) Shell, Wood, Brass, Gilt Tombac Crown, Tombac, Brass, Silver-plated Copper (Photo by PHMC)

 In the 18th century, buttons were worn primarily by men on their breeches, coats and waistcoats, sleeves, cloaks, stocks, and handkerchiefs. Women would begin using buttons more commonly in the 19th century. Types of material and quantities of buttons on a man’s outfit could indicate social status. Buttons were purchased separately from the garment and added on later, so personal taste could dictate how the garment was decorated. A wealthy gentleman may have purchased large quantities of expensive metal, bejeweled, or thread or cloth-wrapped buttons to line his coat and waistcoat, while a poorer man may have settled for a few pewter buttons. Along with expensive cloth and buckles, buttons were a visible expression of wealth for a man in the 18th century. Buttons were also utilized by the military as a form of decoration on the uniform but also to identify the service branch and often the regimental designation. 

(Left to right:) Brass Stamped , Crown with Floral Design, Flat Pewter with Floral Design, Shell Crown with Brass Shank , Glass Inset Sleeve Button, Brass Sleeve Button Marked “1773”, Octagonal Brass Sleeve Button (Photo by PHMC)

 Buttons can often be dated by type of manufacture. Early buttons produced between 1700 and 1760 were cast as one piece with the eye drilled out afterward. Later, the shank was added by attaching or soldering to the back of the button. This process altered over time and is traceable, allowing the button type to be dated. Because buttons are very often recovered archaeologically, this can assist in the dating of a site.

Types of Button Shanks: (Left to right:) Cast and Drilled Shank, Cone Shank, and Alpha Shank (Photo by PHMC)

 With changing fashions and styles, buckles would pass out of high fashion by the mid-19th century and today are used mainly as belt fasteners. Buttons, although still in use, are no longer indicators of wealth or status. The advent of the zipper and the use of plastic buttons on pre-made garments have relegated the button to the simple status of a closure. Today’s fashions are ruled not so much by quality of materials and decorative embellishments, but by brand label and celebrity endorsement. So, we can see the importance of finding these types of artifacts on historic archaeological sites.

18th Century Gentleman with Spur Buckles, Fancy Coat Buttons, and Knee and Waistcoat Buttons (Photo by PHMC)

Hopefully, this has given our readers a new respect for some of our smaller and less visually exciting artifacts. To the archaeologist, all artifacts are significant in some way for what they can tell us about a site - and buckles and buttons have their own stories to tell…

Hume, Ivor Noel
1970   A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY.

Maryland State Archives
2017   Maryland State Art Collection website. Maryland State Archives, Found at

White, Carolyn L.
2005   American Artifacts of Personal Adornment; 1680-1820. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., Lanham, MD.

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

Friday, April 14, 2017

How Geography Influences Settlements in Eastern and Central Pennsylvania

This past weekend marked the 88th annual meeting of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology. Individuals from The State Museum of Pennsylvania presented on a variety of topics ranging from using LiDAR to document archaeological and historic sites; attribute analysis of 18th century ceramics; examination of a contact period collection and an analysis of Washington Boro face effigy pottery.

This got me thinking - what is it about south central and eastern Pennsylvania that has drawn people here for thousands of years, a trend that is especially visible since the arrival of Europeans to the area. The answer lies in the geography of the region. Harrisburg is situated at the crossroads of the Susquehanna River and the Great Valley, which have been major trade routes since prehistoric times. This region of Pennsylvania is also situated just west of the fall line, which divides the Piedmont physiographic province from the Atlantic coastal plain. These geologic features have affected human settlement patterns throughout the past, and they continue to do so today.

The geologic feature known as the fall line acts as a natural barrier between the coastal plain and the regions to the west; It is most visible in rivers where waterfalls mark the location of this geographic feature throughout states along the East Coast. At these locations, fish migrating upstream to spawn are slowed and easily trapped in nets. The falls at Trenton on the Delaware and at Conowingo on the Susquehanna during the Late Archaic through Early Woodland periods were heavily occupied by Indians exploiting this resource. In addition, at the fall line, prehistoric settlements and historic cities would have served as a transitional point for goods being transported inland. The Great Valley Section of the Ridge and Valley Province has been an important north-south trade and migration route since before the arrival of Europeans.

The division between the Coastal Plain and Piedmont physiographic sections and an illustrated cross section of the fall line.
Source: (top) The National Atlas of the United States, (above) Encyclopedia Britannica

The Great Valley

Contact Period Settlements in Southeastern Pennsylvania
The Susquehanna River provides a passage to the west from settlements on the East Coast through the Appalachian Mountains. The Late Woodland (1550 AD-1000 BP) and Contact period sites (1780 AD – 1550 AD) located on the Lower Susquehanna River acted as a hub for trade between European settlements on the coastal plain, and regions controlled by native populations further inland. The Susquehannocks, a contact period tribe, used their strategic location in the Lower Susquehanna Valley (in the area between what is now called Harrisburg and Safe Harbor, PA) to control the fur trade in the region. The Iroquois Confederacy, who were competing with the Susquehannocks for the fur trade, realized the strategic significance of this location and in the 1670’s attacked and eliminated the Susquehannocks from the trade.

Indian paths of Pennsylvania overlaid on a digital shaded relief map of Pennsylvania
Source: Paul Wallace, Indian Paths of Pennsylvania overlaid on DCNR digital shaded relief map

The Effects of Geography on Modern Settlements
Many of the East Coast’s largest cities (historic and modern) are located along the fall line, including Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City and Washington D.C. to name a few–It’s no coincidence that these locations were used by prehistoric people prior to the arrival of Europeans. Most of the cities mentioned above still serve as ports. Baltimore and Philadelphia both played major roles on settlements in the Lower Susquehanna Valley.

Harrisburg which, as previously mentioned, is located at the crossroads of the Great Valley and the Susquehanna River still sits at a strategic location for the transportation of goods throughout the region. The path that existed in prehistoric times through the Great Valley followed a route that is very similar to the modern corridor for Interstate 81. There are many other considerations that have factored into human settlement patterns in the Lower Susquehanna Valley, but the area has proven to be a strategic trade location abundant with natural resources.

Prehistoric trade routes and modern interstates show the role that geography plays in navigation.
Source: (top) Encyclopedia of North American Indians, (above) Google Earth

A basic understanding of the natural forces that shape where we live adds context and helps us to understand the ways in which human habitation has been shaped by our natural environment throughout time. Archaeologists examine these landscapes to better understand settlement patterns of the past and predict future settlement patterns.  Although much has changed since Europeans landed on this continent, the geography remains much the same. As a result, modern populations are still being shaped by their surrounding landscape.

We hope you have enjoyed this discussion of our rich Pennsylvania landscape and the impact of land formation on settlement patterns.  We invite you to consider the geography of your community and consider its natural resources.  This is your heritage and embracing the cultural and environmental resources of our earth are an important part of Preserving the Past for the Future

Jennings, F. (1966). The Indian Trade of the Susquehanna Valley. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 110(6), 406-424. Retrieved from

Kent, B. C. (1984). Susquehanna's Indians (No. 6). Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

Merritt, J. T. (2011). At the Crossroads: Indians and Empires on a Mid-Atlantic Frontier, 1700-1763. UNC Press Books.

Wallace, P. A. (1993). Indian Paths of Pennsylvania. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission.

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

Friday, March 31, 2017

88th Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Annual Meeting

Spring has finally seemed to have sprung which in the world of archaeology means the annual spring conferences are in full swing. The Society for American Archaeology meetings are this weekend (March 29-April 2, 2017) in Vancouver, B.C. and we reported on our last blog on  the Mid-Atlantic meetings. Our focus this week is on the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology’s (SPA) annual meeting. Next weekend, April 7-9, 2017 the 88th annual SPA meeting, hosted by The Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology will be held at the Radisson Hotel in Camp Hill, PA. This year’s theme, Patterning the Past: Current Contributions to Pennsylvania Archaeology promises to be informative and encompassing topics from prehistoric to historic site and artifact interpretations, technology in archaeology as well as artifact curation.

As usual, the meeting will begin Friday afternoon with the Pennsylvania Archaeology Council (PAC) symposium. This year’s theme is Public Outreach- Preserving the Past with New Technology. These papers cover a range of topics that discuss different forms of public outreach, the importance of public outreach and how technology is currently used for new platforms and formats in public outreach.  Sharing methods for engaging the public in archaeology and increasing their awareness in their archaeological heritage and site preservation is at the heart of this session.

The SPA annual meeting registration table is open on Friday at 12:00 pm, walk-ins are welcome! The program for the 2017 annual meeting includes presentations in three sessions from Saturday morning through Sunday morning. A poster session Saturday afternoon will highlight research by students at the undergraduate and graduate level.  Primitive games allow participants the opportunity to test their skills at firestarting, atlatl accuracy and the hammerstone toss. The annual dinner banquet Saturday night will feature  guest speaker Dr. Robert D. Wall, Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice at Towson University sharing research on the Barton Site  ( , followed by the awards ceremony and live auction. Cordier Auctions will conduct the fund raising auction which benefits the Society.   Also, the bookroom is open throughout the day on both Friday and Saturday.  Book titles include Ice Age People of Pennsylvania , Indian Paths of Pennsylvania, The Moravian Mission Diaries of David Zeisberger 1772–1781 and First Pennsylvanians.  If you are interested in archaeology or history, there are many titles of interest.

The annual awards ceremony recognizes individuals for a number of achievements in Pennsylvania archaeology including outstanding avocational archaeologists, most archaeological sites recorded in the past year, and for other significant contributions to Pennsylvania archaeology.  Student scholarships are also awarded from the Hatch Scholarship fund and the Kinsey fund.  The Lifetime Achievement award recognizes an individual who has been an active member of the archaeological community for at least 25 years and has made significant contributions to furthering both the Society and our archaeological heritage in Pennsylvania.(  The auction is a popular and exciting SPA tradition, so be sure to bring a few extra bucks to bid on books, archaeological field equipment, and gift baskets. Money raised will go to benefit the Society, Elmer Erb Permanent Fund and Kinsey Scholarship fund.

The program concludes on Sunday morning with another series of presentation session containing papers focused on the curation and research of archaeology collections.
Please join us for an educational and entertaining weekend. We hope to see you at the meeting!

For more information on the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology and the annual meeting please visit the website at:

The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc. was organized in 1929 to: Promote the study of the prehistoric and historic archaeological resources of Pennsylvania and neighboring states; Encourage scientific research and discourage exploration which is unscientific or irresponsible in intent or practice; Promote the conservation of archaeological sites, artifacts, and information; Encourage the establishment and maintenance of sources of archaeological information such as museums, societies, and educational programs; Promote the dissemination of archaeology by means of publications and forums; Foster the exchange of information between the professional and the avocational archaeologists. 

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

Friday, March 17, 2017

Recent Past, Present and Future Archaeology Events hosted and partnered by the State Museum of PA

A Day at the Museum
Over a thousand visitors attended Charter Day at The State Museum on Sunday, March 12. Janet Johnson, curator, and archaeology volunteers were on hand to lead children and the young-at-heart through the petroglyph drawing activity featured at this year’s Farm Show exhibit in the Nature Lab.

Photographer Credit: Don Giles

You’ll have an opportunity to meet archaeology staff at future museum events this summer during the popular Nature Lab series on Wednesday afternoons from late June to early August. Check the State Museum Events Calendar for more details.

March 16-19th, 2017
Virginia Beach Resort and Conference Center
2800 Shore Drive
Virginia Beach, Virginia

It is not too late to attend. Walk-in registrants are welcome through this Saturday, March 18th at 4pm.
Kurt Carr and member volunteers at the MAAC Registration Table. Photographer Credit: Judy Hawthorn

Conference activities kicked off on Thursday with a conservation and gallery tour of the Mariners’ Museum and Park, Newport News, Virginia, and a Coastal Plain Woodland Pottery Workshop in the afternoon. 
Marcey Creek pottery featured during yesterday’s Coastal Plain Pottery Workshop, Photographer Credit: Judy Hawthorn

Today, regular paper sessions begin featuring Paleoindian research; Ethnoecological approaches; Conservation practices; Climate Change, Natural Hazards and Archaeological Sites; Fairfax Co., VA Archaeology; Prehistoric Archaeology; Montpelier;  and a honorarium session for Dr. Douglas W. Sanford. Kurt Carr, Senior Curator at the State Museum will be reprising his dissertation work at the Thunderbird site as the final morning contributor to the Paleoindian session at 9:40am. Additional activities include the Student Committee Coffee Hour, “Afternoon Knapping”- Experimental Archaeology with Jack Cresson, and the evenings Plenary Session- Augmented reality: how we transformed a reality show into a unique teaching and learning opportunity,  with Dr. Bill Schindler, who will discuss his experience with the National Geographic series, The Great Human Race.

Lucy Harrington, Mercyhurst University presenting during the Paleoindian Session this morning. Photographer Credit: Judy Hawthorn.

Saturday’s paper and workshop sessions continue with topics ranging from Historic Sites; Archaeological Survey; the Biggs Ford Site; Connecting museum collections in news ways with the public audience in the digital age; Current Research at St. Mary’s College of Maryland; Gender Identity in the Archaeological Record; Sherwood Forest Plantation, Stafford Co., VA; Domestic Archaeology in an Early Industrial Context; Public Sites and Parks; to a honorarium session for Leverette Gregory.  The poster session will run Saturday afternoon and the evening  General Business Meeting  is capped with the festive Student Committee Mixer at 7:30pm and Reception at 8:30pm.
The conference ends with concurrent Sunday morning sessions—the Indigo Hotel Site; the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; and Specialized Analysis of Historic Sites and Artifacts.  

Follow the provided link to read the complete program and speaker abstracts.

The Society for Pennsylvania 88th Annual Meeting will be featured in our next blog, however, we don’t want those interested to miss their chance to pre-register for the event online or call to reserve a hotel room. Click here for a program listing of the SPA session contributors and presentation titles.

The Pennsylvania Archaeology Council (PAC) Symposium and
The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) 88th Annual Meeting
April 7-9th, hosted this year by Section of Archaeology
Radisson Hotel Harrisburg
1150 Camp Hill Bypass
Camp Hill, PA 17011
(717) 763-7117

This year’s PAC symposium, Public outreach- Preserving the Past with New Technologies, was organized by Bernard Means. The Annual meeting presentations begin Saturday morning and will feature the research of several of our staff curators—Melanie Mayhew, Kurt Carr, Kimberley Sebestyen, and Janet Johnson—as well as SPA members and professional archaeologists from across the Commonwealth. Other highlights from the weekend meeting include the banquet speaker, Dr. Robert D. Wall, Towson University, presentation of Paleo to Susquehannock in the Upper Potomac Valley: The Barton Site, and the ever popular Primitive Games to be held late Saturday afternoon on the hotel grounds. The games are an opportunity to test your flint and steel fire making skills, your spear throwing accuracy with an atlatl, or how far you can toss a hammerstone to name a few of the friendly competitions you can participate in as a meeting attendee. Cordier Auctions has agreed to conduct our ever popular fund raising auction on Saturday evening which is sure to hold many a treasure. We hope to see you there!

Atlatl spear throwing, Fort Hunter Indian Day 2013

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

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Children’s Story: Kids tell their story using petroglyphs at the Pennsylvania Farm Show

As many of our dedicated followers will recall, this year’s Farm Show exhibit featured the petroglyphs of Pennsylvania.  Petroglyphs are images that have been chiseled into stone and are found throughout the world.  Many people associate the American southwest with this cultural phenomenon but there are 42 petroglyph sites currently recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files, most of them located in the Ohio watershed.

There are many different designs depicted.  Some symbolic or animal in nature, others more abstract in design and some undefinable. 

The chart above describes some of the symbols but there are many more beyond these and not all of them so easily interpreted.  I believe its human nature to look at these pictures and speculate about the story that inspired someone to spend the amount of time necessary to carve these designs into solid rock.

With all of this in mind, this year’s children’s activity invited the children to tell us their story.  After spending time looking at the exhibit and hearing a little about petroglyphs

we provided a large sheet of paper, a dozen templates of various documented petroglyphs from Pennsylvania and a box of crayons…

The kids seemed to enjoy the activity and it was interesting to see their response.  As promised to the children, here are some of those responses…

One repeated theme is the name.  People throughout time have felt the need to leave their mark.  Whether it was the symbols used by Native Americans, or the modern graffiti of “B Weaver”, people want to say “I was here”.

The story depicted by the red circle is reminiscent of a hunting story on Little Indian Rock at Safe Harbor Dam.

I think it’s also interesting to see the kids’ reflection on home, either for the natives as depicted in the blue circle above or perhaps in a more personal way.

The activity was enjoyable for the kids; and gave them an opportunity to apply their newly found thoughts on petroglyphs.  It also afforded us a chance to observe the behaviors of these little humans telling stories with pictures.  After all anthropology is the study of human behavior.    

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

Friday, February 17, 2017

Houses of the Past

Artist rendition of a Monongahela Foley Farm phase village

Humans, world over, used some form of shelter to insure survival. The type of shelter is normally influenced by a combination of geographical, environmental, ecological and social conditions though other mitigating factors also play into the equation. During the Late Woodland and Late Prehistoric periods A.D. 700-1550, native peoples living along the rivers and streams of Pennsylvania employed certain types of architecture that changed little over time. Archaeology is the principal tool that scholars employ to decipher the past, and it is precisely archaeology i.e. postmolds that contribute to our understanding of Native American architecture and settlement patterns. Archaeological sites linked to these periods, yield clear evidence of the type(s) of houses and their arrangement within a settlement. Anthropologically, this is fundamentally understood as the community pattern. Observed differences in community patterning can be demonstrated for different parts of Pennsylvania.  For this discussion, we will use three major physiographic regions to illustrate the diversity of Native American architecture that scholars have identified across the landscape through archaeological studies.

Glaciated/Unglaciated Plateau (western Pennsylvania)
In this region of Pennsylvania houses were principally round-shaped structures organized around a central plaza and surrounded by a palisade. Houses were vaulted wigwams with bark covering and sometimes had a semi-subterranean appendage built onto the sidewall. This type of architecture was common to the McFate, Meade Island and related people from A.D. 1000 – A.D. 1400. Longhouses, likely constructed with vaulted roofs and sheathed with bark were used by Iroquoians on the Upper Allegheny and Lake Erie Plain. These were encircled with palisades. Monongahela and other groups in the lower Upper Ohio Valley and Allegheny Mountains built wigwams and a curious form of house having straight to slightly out-sloping side walls and a conical roof of bark. Arranged around an open plaza and protected by a palisade both types had the semi-subterranean appendage feature, others were free-standing. After A.D. 1575, a plaza centered petal-structure consisting of a large circular structure with multiple appendages began to appear on Foley Farm phase settlements.

Artist rendition of a wigwam

Experimental reconstruction of a Monongahela house with conical roof

Appalachian Mountains/Susquehanna Lowlands (central Pennsylvania)
Late Woodland house types in the central and upper Susquehanna were stereotypically vaulted longhouses. There was a tendency for this form of dwelling to increase in length over time. Early in the Late Woodland Clemson Island Early Owasco periods, these were better described as “short houses” resembling a cube in shape. The community pattern appears to have been a loosely organized one. By A.D. 1300 dwellings achieved the greater lengths of northern Iroquoian style, hence the term – “longhouse”. These longhouses were arranged in rows of eight or more to a settlement and surrounded by one or more palisades. The semi-subterranean feature associated with the houses of the Upper Ohio Valley were never attached to the side-walls of longhouses in this region of Pennsylvania.

Experimental reconstruction of a small longhouse and semi-subterranean structure

Experimental reconstruction of an Iroquoian arbor roofed longhouse (under construction). 

Blue Mountain/Great Valley/Piedmont (south-central and south-eastern Pennsylvania)
Longhouse architecture has not been identified for the Late Woodland/Late Prehistoric periods in this section of Pennsylvania. As with the lower Upper Ohio Valley and Allegheny Mountain sections wigwam-shaped houses were the preferred form of architecture in the Great Valley section during the Mason Island, Montgomery and Luray phases. However, none have been identified as having the attached appendage nor have any been linked to a palisaded settlement.  This settlement model appears to mirror the early Clemson Island habitation of central Pennsylvania where the houses were loosely organized in linear formation, near small streams. South of the Blue Mountain water gap, the community pattern of the Shenks Ferry culture evolved from unplanned to planned settlements. During the early Blue Rock phase the pattern was evidently like the Great Valley settlement pattern where houses were circular-shaped and loosely organized. By the later, Lancaster and succeeding Funk phases, Shenks Ferry houses evolved into oval-shaped short longhouses with vaulted roofs.  Well organized into a planned arrangement of one or more house rings having many houses, the settlements were fortified by one or more palisades. A large circular-shaped structure, of an unknown function, was built in the center of these later settlements.

Experimental reconstruction of a Shenks Ferry house (under construction)

As we have seen, Pennsylvanian’s Late Woodland/Late Prehistoric period houses varied from region to region. The environment and social organization of a culture were major dictates as to the type of dwelling being created. Experimental archaeologists provide us with some detail and guidance relative to how houses were constructed by people of the distant past. The primary building materials available to them would have been poles for the framework and bark for hafting the pieces together and to cover the building. These resources were harvested from trees growing in the nearby forest. Raw materials would have been manipulated with stone celts, adzes and other tools. Although houses could be built during all seasons of the year, the spring would have been better suited when trees were easily debarked and the softness of the ground made securing the poled framework into the earth an easier task. Because of their size, smaller wigwam structures took less effort while the large longhouses of 100 feet or more in length would have been a corporate task undertaken by most of a settlement’s population.

We hope that you have enjoyed reading this bi-weekly addition to This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology and encourage you to visit us again at this web site for more fascinating information about Pennsylvania archaeology. 

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

Friday, February 3, 2017

Girl Scout STEM Outreach

This past weekend the State Museum of PA’s Section of Archaeology participated in a Girl Scout STEM career day, hosted by Community 165 at the Newport High School in Perry County. For our readers who have not kept pace with the ever-growing litany of acronyms out there, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.

For decades, women in the workforce have been under-represented in STEM professions, and this event was designed to expose the scouts to vocational avenues they may not have considered, been aware of, or unfortunately, may have been passively or actively discouraged from pursuing. In the words of the event coordinator, Marla Steele, “This program is to plant the seeds of possibility”.

As a sub-discipline of anthropology (the study of humans), archaeology is generally considered a social or “soft” science. Prerequisites of traditional science classes such as physics and organic chemistry are normally absent from college curricula when obtaining a degree in archaeology. Additionally, research questions archaeologists seek to answer are often social in nature. However, it is the system (empirical method) by which they attempt to answer those questions that aligns the field with what is popularly thought of as science.

 Archaeologists rely heavily upon a variety of science specialists for data collection. Geomorphologists, zoologists, botanists, and not least of which carbon 14 dating laboratories, all contribute towards the goal of creating a broader understanding of past human behavior. Anthropology, in this multi-disciplinary sense, stands at the nexus between the humanities and the sciences, combining the theories of the former with the methods of the latter.

As the fifty girl scouts broke into smaller groups and made their way from station to station learning about civil engineering, micro-biology and environmental science, our display emphasized what archaeology is and is not (sorry, no dinosaurs), why it is important, and how it is conducted. Throughout the afternoon, several of the girl scouts posed thoughtful questions and shared anecdotes about artifact discoveries they’ve made in their own backyards and nearby fields.

Thanks again to Ms. Steele for inviting us to participate in this worthwhile program!

The Section of Archaeology was recently notified that our blog has been chosen as one of the top 50 Anthropology blogs in the world by FeedspotWe are actually number twenty-four on the list along with blogs by ScienceDaily, Huffington Post and the American Anthropological Association. Criteria for selection included the “Quality and consistency of posts” along with popularity on Google, Facebook and other social media.

Our blog is an opportunity to connect with the public and provide thought provoking, educational posts. We’ve covered the archaeological heritage of Pennsylvania for all 67 counties, compiled two alphabetical lists of archaeological topics and shared our research discoveries and programs with our blog followers for the past eight years and almost 350 posts.

 As archaeologists and museum curators our goal is to provide reliable, educational content in a format which appeals to a broad audience. We would like to think that this award is one measure of our success. So if you’ll keep reading, we’ll keep blogging!  Thanks to Feedspot for the recognition and most importantly thank you, our faithful followers and readers! 

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

Friday, January 20, 2017

Promoting Archaeology at the 2017 Farm Show

The staff of the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania just completed a very busy week at the 2017 Pennsylvania Farm Show. Our theme for this year’s exhibit was Pennsylvania Petroglyphs – a rare glimpse into the minds of ancient Native Americans.  

 The exhibit represents a major investment of staff and volunteers, but there is no question that our presentation makes a difference in Pennsylvania archaeology. We continued to see excitement in the eyes of children and adults as they sat in the dugout or as they stood gazing at the banner illustrating the Little Indian Rock petroglyphs or rubbing their hands over the resin cast of the Parkers Landing Water Panther petroglyph. 

 The dugout is still the place to take the annual family picture and thousands were taken. We spoke to over 30,000 visitors and distributed over 13,500 archaeology brochures and over 3600 temporary tattoos, free planetarium passes and magazines, including 750 copies of American Archaeology magazine, 1100 Archaeology Month posters and 670 back issues of Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine. These were especially important in promoting the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the State Museum, and the Heritage Foundation. In addition, the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc (SPA) had a table for distributing information on archaeology and accepting new memberships.

Our principal goal at the Farm Show is to always share highlights of Pennsylvania archaeology with the citizens of the Commonwealth and encourage visitation to the State Museum where the learning experience continues about Pennsylvania’s archaeological past. We also strive to promote the preservation of archaeological sites in our state so that future generations can benefit from these valuable resources. The high volume of attendance is a testimony to the quality of the exhibit, the initiative of our volunteers in engaging the public and the public’s interest in archaeology. 

Pennsylvania has an outstanding wealth of archaeological resources that we believe can enhance the lives of all citizens.  Our exhibit on the petroglyphs and the information that was disseminated is another step in communicating this heritage to the citizens of our Commonwealth.  This year, visitors were fascinated with the mystery and meaning of the petroglyphs.  As you know, the archaeological resources of Pennsylvania are being destroyed at an ever-increasing pace. We need help in slowing this destruction and the Farm Show exhibit is a significant vehicle for the dissemination of information and for increasing public awareness to the threats to archaeological resources. 

Our exhibit was well received and we are beginning to plan next year’s theme and reflect on how we can improve the presentation. For example, we are considering an exhibit featuring a Susquehannock longhouse. The theme has been suggested several times in the past and it would coincide with planned upgrades in our Indian village gallery - we are open to suggestions. 

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

Friday, January 6, 2017

Archaeology Exhibit at the 2017 Pennsylvania Farm Show

  Here we are again; it is January and The State Museum of Pennsylvania is setting up our annual exhibit at the Pennsylvania Farm Show. This is our biggest public outreach program of the year and, according to the Farm Show web site, it is the “largest indoor agricultural exposition in the nation, with nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibits.”  Our goal is to engage the public in a discussion of the value of archaeology and to encourage visitation to the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at the State Museum. As in past years, the State Museum’s exhibit is set up in the Family Living section, located in the main exhibition hall of the Farm Show Agricultural Complex next to the MacClay Street Lobby across from the carousal. The 101st annual Pennsylvania Farm Show begins Saturday, January 7, 2017 and runs through Saturday, January 14.

            Our theme for this year’s exhibit is Pennsylvania Petroglyphs – a rare glimpse into the minds of ancient Native Americans.  It features a life size, 20 X 9 foot, banner depicting the Little Indian Rock Petroglyphs and a resin cast of the Parkers Landing Petroglyph.  We have a brochure on the Petroglyphs of Pennsylvania, including a map of Pennsylvania petroglyphs and a detailed reproduction of Little Indian Rock. This petroglyph is part of a group of seven rock islands, located just below the Safe Harbor Dam, 10 miles south of Columbia or 40 miles south of Harrisburg. The site contains approximately 300 petroglyphs and is one of the largest clusters of such carvings in the Eastern United States.

      The resin cast is named “Missibezhieu” (Mish ee pa zu) or, the underwater panther.  This was a mythical creature found in Ojibwa stories.  It is part of the Parkers Landing petroglyph site located on the Allegheny River in Clarion County. 

            The other related handouts are a Heritage Magazine article about the making of the petroglyph banner and a connect the dots handout for children. Finally, we have a petroglyph rock art activity – Connecting with the Past -  where young children can trace images from the Little Indian Rock Petroglyph thereby creating their own petroglyph.

            The banner is derived from a rubbing ( by Paul Nevin of Little Indian Rock.  It took Paul two days to transpose the designs onto several large pieces of paper.  The rubbing was then digitized ( by the Publications Division of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) under the direction of Ted Walke, former PHMC Publications Chief.  Now that this petroglyph is in an electronic format, it will significantly facilitate the analysis of these designs by researchers. 

             The exhibit is a cooperative endeavor by the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc. (SPA), the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council (PAC), and The State Museum of Pennsylvania.   Members of the SPA will be on hand offering information about the organization and answering questions. If you are interested in joining the SPA; new memberships include the biannual journal Pennsylvania Archaeologist, announcements of the annual SPA meeting, newsletters and a special Farm Show bonus of three previous issues of the journal will be included. So, stop on by and see what SPA is all about!

Finally, don’t forget that our 20-foot-long replica dugout canoe is also featured in the exhibit. Everyone is welcome to stop and test it out by climbing in and imagining how it would have been to live thousands of years ago, when this was one of the main modes of transportation. While taking a “ride” in the canoe you can read our poster and look at the photos about how dugout canoes were made and how the State Museum’s archaeologists and volunteers made the exact canoe you are sitting in through traditional methods with traditional stone tools. While you are at it, get a picture of the family in the dugout.

Visit our exhibit at the Farm Show; learn about Pennsylvania archaeology and have fun with the family. 

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