Friday, June 22, 2018

Upcoming Archaeology Programs in the Nature Lab

After a long school year, for many, summertime conjures up images of long sunny afternoons spent basking by the pool, perhaps taking a leisurely hike through the woods, or, of course the quintessential road trip to the beach.

However, with each passing day, for students and parents alike, thoughts of classrooms and homework (and unfortunately some of the lessons learned throughout the year) begin to fade from memory.

But the beginning of Summer doesn’t have to mean the end of learning! Let the State Museum of Pennsylvania help you and your family flex your gray matter to combat the effects of “summer brain drain”, with the 3rd annual series of educational programs, “Meet the Experts”, in our Nature Lab.

Beginning at 11:30 A.M. next Thursday, the 28th, the Section of Archaeology staff will be offering hour-long, fun and informative presentations in a relaxed, informal setting. Topics to be covered include a flint-knapping demonstration, a review of archaeological collections recently submitted to the museum from development projects in Pennsylvania, children’s toys found on archaeological sites, and more.These programs are included with the price of general admission to the museum.

It’s important to note that many other programs, such as Lunch N’ Learn Fridays and Wildlife Wednesdays, are also scheduled throughout the summer, so be sure to check out the museum’s calendar of events web page for the complete list to choose from, and have a great Summer!

Flint Knapping -  6/28
Which one doesn’t belong? Join Sr. Curator Kurt Carr and Curator Janet Johnson to learn about what materials Native Americans used for flint knapping of projectile points and making of stone tools.

Native American Bone Tools -  7/12
Which one doesn’t belong? Join Janet Johnson, Curator of Archaeology and Callista Holmes, Archaeology Lab Manager, to discover the many ways animal bones were used everyday by Native Americans.

Who’s diggin’ PA? -  7/19
Join David Burke and Elizabeth Wagner, Curators of Archaeology, to explore new collections coming to the State Museum’s Archaeology Section from state and federal projects.

Toys through Time – 7/26
Children’s toys are often recovered at archaeological sites.  Join Elizabeth Wagner and Kim Sebestyen, Curators of Archaeology, to explore how these children’s artifacts are helping to tell the stories of those often left out of the history books. (You can also check out an archived blog post about toys found on archaeological sites by clicking the link here.)

Preserving our Past Archaeology Lab-  8/9
Join Andrea Carr and Callista Holmes, Archaeology Lab Managers, to explore how museums curate archaeological specimens to preserve for research and interpretation.

History of Digging Fort Hunter -  8/16
(photo credit: Don Giles)

Join Jim Herbstritt and Kim Sebestyen, Curators of Archaeology, to hear about their discoveries from excavations at Fort Hunter Mansion & Park. Learn how artifacts recovered at Fort Hunter help to tell the story of daily activities of Native Americans 9,000 years ago, through the colonial period to present day.

One final note – this weekend the Haldeman Mansion is celebrating the 300th anniversary of Conoytown, an early colonial trading post along the Susquehanna River. Dr. Kurt Carr will be on hand to answer questions about the archaeology of the region and the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s replica dugout canoe will also be on display. Click here for a link to Dan Robrish’s article in the E-town Advocate for more details on this special event.

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

Friday, June 8, 2018

Weddings, Marriage and Cultural Traditions

As we enter the early months of summer many of us are attending or planning weddings which brings to mind the many customs and traditions practiced by various cultures surrounding marriage. One of the most basic questions asked is “what is the most popular month for weddings”? 
 In Roman mythology the goddess Juno (for whom June is named) was the protector of women and marriage. In Latin, Junius means young. June is also the first month of summer in the northern hemisphere and the month associated with rose blossoms.  Roses, especially red roses, are symbolic for their role in Greek and Roman mythology and the goddess of love, Aphrodite (Greek)Venus (Roman).

Athenian vase depiction of the procession of a married couple on the way to their new home.
Ca. 550-530 B.C. The Metropolitan Museum of Art   

The idea of June weddings also comes from the Celtic calendar. On the Cross-Quarter Day of Beltane, or May Day (May 1), young couples would pair off to court for 3 months and then be wed on the next Cross-Quarter Day (Lammas Day, August 1). Youths being impatient, the waiting period was shortened to mid-June, and the popularity of June weddings was ensured.
Marriage and the significant role that women played in Native American societies of North America were equally important to these tribes. Creation myths often center around women as do myths relating to food- the three sisters, and those involving mother nature. 
Marriage was necessary for the survival of the tribe and occurred as early as 12 or 13 years of age. Girls had already learned many of the skills necessary to operate the household or longhouse. In Delaware and Iroquois societies, the social organization of a household was matrilineal and matrilocal. The husband moves into the home (longhouse) of her clan and he follows the decisions of his wife’s family, especially those of the clan mother and grandmother. (Kraft)

Matrilineal social organization aids in breaking up male rivalries and in part keeps order and peace in the village. Anthropologists have analyzed the organization of matrilineal and patrilineal societies to understand the dynamics of these communities. In patrilineal societies which is the order of most households, the man brings a woman into his family and she accepts his family traditions. Patrilineal groups tend to be more aggressive internally, arguing amongst themselves with less outward aggression against others than in a matrilineal society. Matrilineal groups are often more aggressive towards outsiders, thus better able to expand regionally than patrilineal groups. (Snow)  

The Iroquois tradition of wedding bread “Goniataoakwa” involved the baking of twenty-four corn cakes.  A young girl’s maternal grandmother presented the bread at the door of the maternal grandmother of a young man. If the receiving grandmother approves of the union, she tastes the bread and tells her daughter that her son is to marry the young girl.  Other versions of the ceremony involve the young woman bringing the cakes to her future mother-in-law as a symbol of her skill in cooking and in turn she received a food offering of meat or fruit to give to her mother. An exchange of food and a symbol of the man providing meat or fruit was a simple ceremony or ritual.  Marriage was necessary to ensure that there was a young man capable of hunting and procuring meat. Women tended the gardens and harvested food crops but relied on men for hunting and fishing. When the new bride and her husband joined the family in the longhouse, an addition was added on to essentially extend the longhouse and provide living space.   These arranged marriages were also important in insuring marriage outside of your clan.

The concept of marrying from outside of one’s family lineage is an important tool for survival of the tribe or clan. Marrying outside of your blood relations was likely a reason for the origin of arranged marriages by so many cultures.   It was, and is, in modern society considered a taboo to marry within your lineage.

The wedding traditions that have carried over into modern day can be traced to some of these early practices- approval of the mother in the selection of a husband or wife, the offering of food, specifically cakes or bread parallels with our modern wedding cake. The veil is sometimes associated with the arranged marriage traditions in that the bride and groom would meet on their wedding day. The veil covered the features of the bride until the ceremony was complete to insure the groom couldn’t change his mind.  Arranged marriages are still the practice of some cultures and the use of veils and head coverings is important.

Karakachan (Bulgaria) bride with elaborate veil

Late Woodland cultures were aware of the benefits of many plants and herbs and would incorporate these into medicine, cooking and scents to ward off evil spirits.  Our desire to incorporate flowers in wedding ceremonies can again be traced to some of these early cultural practices. Research into the need for new garments was not discovered in Late Woodland cultures. However, once exposed to European practices there does appear to be a desire for new beadwork and moccasins associated with marriage.  A beaded cloth skirt of the 18th century would have been an appropriate garment for the occasion. Wedding attire is a cultural preference, but clearly the desire to look nice and to present yourself to your new spouse is widely practiced.

Delaware beaded moccasins

The common theme among all marriage and wedding traditions is community.  Late Woodland groups married as part of their social organization to ensure survival of community and clans. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians placed importance on marriage to insure the continuation of aristocracy and control. The coming together of communities to celebrate the union has been depicted in early paintings on vases and pottery vessels, signifying the importance of these events to societies.  Celebrating life and family are important in our acceptance of other people, cultures and customs.

We hope you have enjoyed learning about the traditions of marriage in Woodland culture groups and that it will inspire you to research your own cultural traditions as they relate to your heritage. Preserving the past is important in understanding human behavior and predicting how societies will adapt and change in the future, it begins with us individually and collectively it spreads to our communities. 


Ember, Carol R., Melvin Ember, Cultural Anthropology, Hunter College of the City University of New York, Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey,1973.

Kraft, Herbert C. , The Lenap-Delaware Indian Heritage: 10,000 B.C. – A.D. 2000, Lenape Books, 2001.

Morgan, Lewis H. League of the Iroquois, Dodd, Mead and Co.,New York, 1904.

Snow, Dean R., The Peoples of America, The Iroquois. Cambridge, MA; Blackwell Publishers, 1996.

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

Friday, May 25, 2018

Projectile points types of the late Middle Archaic Period – the missing years

            The period between 6000 and 8000 years ago is the most poorly understood time in the prehistory of the Middle Atlantic region. The reason it is difficult to recognize, is that the usual diagnostic artifacts, such as projectile points are not very distinctive and are easily confused with point types from other periods. We are dependent on radiocarbon dates to confidently identify this period in the archaeological record and C-14 samples are not always available. This week’s blog will review the projectile point types associated with this period in Pennsylvania, highlighting the problems with their identification.

The Middle Archaic period dates between 9000 and 6000 years ago and begins during the warm and dry Boreal climatic episode. A pine and birch forest was gradually changing to a pine-oak forest during this time. The beginning of this period is characterized by bifurcate based projectile point types such as MacCorkle, St. Albans and LeCroy types. These are distinguished from other points by a bifurcated base - a deep notch in the base of the point. They are very distinctive and although there is a great deal of variation in the shape of the blade and the nature of the bifurcation, there are no other projectile points like these in the eastern United States and in Pennsylvania they date between 9000 and 8100 years ago.  We know this because charcoal associated with bifurcate points has been radiocarbon dated at several sites and except for a few outliers, the dates fall within this time range. This pattern established from tested sites, allows us to assign them to the Middle Archaic, even when they are found on the ground surface and not associated with carbon 14 dates. Therefore, they are very useful as chronological markers and dating archaeology sites.

Bifurcate projectile points are diagnostic for the period between 8100 and 9000 years ago. These are from the Lewistown Narrows site (36Ju104) along the Juniata River

Around 8400 years ago, the climate changes to the warm and wet Atlantic climatic episode that signals a significant increase in food resources, especially acorns for Indian populations in Pennsylvania. Edible seeds, nuts, berries, roots, fish, waterfowl and a variety of mammals were very common. In fact, the late Middle Archaic period is the beginning of a 4000-year period of optimum conditions for hunting and gathering populations adapting to the temperate climate, deciduous forest. Bifurcate based points gradually decrease in frequency and are replaced by Kanawha stemmed type. This is the beginning of a projectile point sequence that is not especially distinctive and therefore this time is difficult to identify. The Kanawha point type is described as having a small triangular blade with a short rounded and shallow notched base (Broyles 1971:59). Although considered by some to have a bifurcated-base, the notch is diminished, and this author considers the base more concave than truly bifurcated. These are found from West Virginia to the Atlantic coast and date between 8200 and 7700 years ago.  

In the archaeological record of Pennsylvania, the Kanawha type is replaced by stemmed points that are generally more narrow than bifurcate points. These are defined as Stanly or Neville types. The Neville point was defined by Dena Dincauze in New Hampshire (Dincauze 1976:26-29) and the Stanly type by Joffre Coe (1964: 35-36) in North Carolina. A large number of these points were found in a stratified context at the West Water Street (36Cn175) and Memorial Park (36Cn164) sites in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania along the West Branch of the Susquehanna river dating to between 8200 and 7600 years ago. The problem with the Kanawha and the Stanly/Neville types is that they are basically stemmed points, sometimes with a concave base and sometimes not. They can be easily confused with each other or other stemmed points that have been re-sharpened such as the Piney Island type that commonly dates later to between 5000 and 2000 years ago or even re-sharpened Lehigh broadspears. At the Memorial Park site, Stark and Merrimack points were found above the Neville points. The stemmed Stark point is characterized by a long narrow blade, a short contracting stem and a relatively thick cross-section. Merrimack points are also long and narrow but with a longer straight stemmed base. These date to approximately 7000 to 6000 years ago. Again, unless found in a stratified context, these are easily confused with a variety of point types that date between 5000 and 2000 years ago such as Bare Island, Lehigh, Piney Island, Poplar Island, and Lackawaxen types.

Neville/Stanly projectile points from the West Water Street site (36Cn175) illustrating the variety of shapes characterizing this type

To complicate the situation further, at this same time, triangular points known as Hunterbrook, Beekman or simply Archaic triangles are found with the stemmed points. Triangular shaped points are the hallmark of the Late Woodland period and have long been regarded as arrow points. However, it is now recognized that triangular points have been found in stratified contexts at sites throughout the Middle Atlantic region dating from Middle Archaic to Transitional times. Archaic triangles are not found in high numbers at any one site but begin to occur with other point types beginning at approximately 8000 years ago and extend to the end of the Late Archaic at 4300 years ago. There has been an effort to distinguish Archaic triangles from later Woodland triangles however, Katz (2000) presents extensive data that demonstrate that Archaic through Early Woodland triangles are difficult to distinguish from Late Woodland triangles.

Archaic Triangles from several levels of the P-12 site, associated with Neville, Otter Creek Brewerton and Stemmed projectile point types

Finally, Otter Creek points appear about 6000 years ago. Ritchie (1965: 85-86) considered this side-notched type to be the diagnostic projectile point type of the Vergennes Phase, Laurentian tradition, and it was associated with the ground slate semilunar knife, gouge, adze and the winged atlatl weight. This is a relatively distinct point type with a squared off base. Ritchie (1961: 40) describes this as a narrow to medium wide point with a distinctive squarish tang. The base is usually concave, sometime straight but squarish and relatively thick. They frequently exhibit extensive re-sharpening resulting in a smaller, sometimes asymmetrical blade but with a squarish base.

Otter Creek points from the Fort Hunter site (36Da159)

Interestingly, notched points of the Brewerton tradition begin to appear at about 5800 years ago during the same occupations as Otter Creeks and Archaic Triangles. Brewerton side-notched and Brewerton Corner-notched usually outnumber the Otter Creeks and Archaic triangles but they are frequently found in the same occupations. At the Memorial Park and Raker I (36Nb58) sites along the Susquehanna river, Otter Creek points were found with Hunterbrook/Beekman triangles and Brewerton corner-notched projectile points. At the East Bank site (36Nb16), Otter Creek points were found in several strata, but they are concentrated in Stratum IV dating between 6220+40 BP. and 5510+40 BP. (East et al. 2002). Hart et al. (1995) suggest that the Otter Creek type dates slightly earlier than and overlaps with the Brewerton series. An average of three radiocarbon dates from this site produced a date of 6022 BP. for the Otter Creek-dominated Early Laurentian level. At Raker I, these three types (triangles, Otter Creek and Brewerton) were all found in the same level (Wyatt et al. 2005).

Brewerton notched points from the P-14 site (36Ju93) associated with Archaic triangles and Otter Creek points

Some archaeologists have suggested that the Brewerton type functioned as the spear point, the Otter Creek functioned as a knife and the Archaic triangles as arrow points. Testing this hypothesis would require a systematic microwear study of these artifacts. The Otter Creek type seems to disappear by at least 5200 years ago or much earlier. After this time, traditionally defined as the Late Archaic period, in the Susquehanna and Delaware drainages, narrow contracting stemmed or straight stemmed points such as Bare Island, Piney Island, Poplar Island, and Lackawaxen types dominate artifact assemblages along with a few Archaic triangles. In the Upper Ohio Valley, Brewerton notched types remain common. This is the beginning of the Late Archaic period and projectile point types continue to be problematic in dating sites because they seem to be used over a two to three-thousand-year time spans.
We hope you have enjoyed this discussion of the confusing projectile point types of the late Middle Archaic period.  Perhaps, you have your own thoughts on these issues that you would like to share. Also, please visit our other blog posts where we discuss the projectile points of the Paleoindian (7/14/11) and Early Archaic (1/19/18) periods or other point types such as the bifurcates, broadspears, the Meadowood (5/12/17), Hellgrammite (5/12/17), Jacks Reef and triangular types (9/15/17).
Please join us in preserving our archaeological heritage and if you do actively collect artifacts, please record your finds in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files (PASS) . This data is important information for archaeologists in understanding the past and developing these point typologies.

References and Additional Readings

Broyles, Bettye J.
1971    Second Preliminary Report: The St. Albans Site, Kanawha County, West Virginia, 1964-1968. Report of Archaeological Investigations No. 3, West Virginia Geological and Economic, Morgantown.
Carr, Kurt W., and Roger W. Moeller
2015    First Pennsylvanians: The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania.
            Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Coe, Joffre L.
1964    The Formative Cultures of the Carolina Piedmont, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, New Series, Vol. 54, Part 5. 

Dincauze, Dena F.
1976    The Neville Site: 8000 Years at Amoskeag, Manchester, New Hampshire.  Peabody Museum Monographs No. 4. Harvard University, Cambridge.

East, Thomas C., Christopher T. Espenshade, Debra R. Langer and Frank J. Vento
2002    Northumberland and Union counties, Pennsylvania, I80, Section 52D, Bridge Expansion and Highway Improvement Project, Phase I/II/III Archaeological Investigations, E.R.#99-8000-042, Volume III: Interpretations and Conclusions. Submitted to the Pennsylvania depart of Transportation, Engineering District 3-0, Submitted by Skelly and Loy, Inc., Monroeville.

Hart, John P., David L. Cremeens, Jeffrey R. Graybill, Michael G. Spitzer, John P. Nass, Nancy
Asch Sidel, Cheryl A. Holt, Grace Brush,
1995    Archaeological Investigation at the Memorial Park Site (36Cn164) Clinton County, Pennsylvania. Submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, Baltimore by GAI Consultants, Inc. Monroeville.

Katz, Gregory
2000    Archaic Period Triangular Projectile Points in the Middle Atlantic Region. Paper
            presented at the 65th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology,

Ritchie, William A.
1961    A Typology and Nomenclature for New York Projectile Points. New York State Museum
            Science Service, Bulletin No. 384, Albany.

1965    The Archaeology of New York State. Natural History Press, Garden City.

Wyatt, Andrew, Robert H. Eiswert, Richard C. Petyk, Richard T. Baublitz

2005    Phase III Archaeological Investigations at the Raker I Site (36NB58), Route 147   Climbing Lane Project, S.R. 0147, Section 061, Upper Augusta Township, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, Er#00-6173-097, Volume I – Text. Prepared for:      Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Engineering District 3-0, 715 Jordan Ave, Montoursville, Pennsylvania by McCormick Taylor, Inc., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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

Friday, May 11, 2018

To Be Ore Not To Be: Crucibles are the Answer

Another fascinating aspect of the investigations at Fort Hunter has been revealed – the possibility that metalworking was taking place at the site. Fort Hunter, a county park located approximately 6 miles north of the capitol in Harrisburg along the Susquehanna River, was the site of British fortifications during the French and Indian War (1755-1763). Fort Hunter served not only to protect the local inhabitants, but also as a supply station for Fort Augusta, located 40 miles north in current Sunbury, Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.

Fort Hunter’s history doesn’t begin or end with its role in the war however. It also served as a home, a farm, and an agricultural-industrial site for more than 200 years. The earliest European residents of this spot, the Chambers brothers, erected a grist and saw mill along Fishing Creek near its confluence with the Susquehanna. The success of this enterprise led to others such as a blacksmithing/gunsmithing shop.

It has been difficult to determine that smithing activities were taking place at Fort Hunter since metal objects recovered here could also relate to the occupation of the military fort. However, materials recovered in the last few years of excavation could help shed a new light on the subject - small bits of metal and crucible fragments. Crucibles are sturdy ceramic vessels capable of withstanding high temperatures that are used in the melting of metal ores and the creation of metal objects. Historically, crucibles were made of clay, fireclay, graphite, and silicates or combinations of these materials. Today, crucibles are made of any materials that can withstand high heat.  

Image of a crucible in use in a furnace (Courtesy of Pixabay free downloads)

Crucibles have been in use for thousands of years, likely from the very beginnings of metal making. Early metallurgists used crude clay crucibles to produce and form metals with low melting points, such as copper, lead, or bronze. As metal making advanced to materials with higher melting points and the study of alchemy became widespread, crucibles made of fireclays mixed with graphite and silicates became more common. Some of the best graphite crucibles were produced in Germany from the Middle Ages through the eighteenth century.

Base of a graphite crucible recovered from a site in Philadelphia (photo courtesy PHMC)

  Depending upon the amount of metal being produced and its intended use, sizes of crucibles can vary from very small to very large. Industrial-sized crucibles are used in the production of steel beams while tiny crucibles can be used when making delicate jewelry or other very small objects.

Very small crucible recovered from site in Philadelphia (photo courtesy PHMC)

 A number of fragments of crucibles were recovered from several years of excavation at Fort Hunter. These fragments appear to come from relatively small containers of differing shapes. Only one base fragment was recovered so it is unclear if all the crucibles had similar flat bottoms; however, varying thicknesses and slight differences in the rim fragments indicate that three or more different crucible vessels are represented. The majority of the pieces exhibit buildup on the interior and exterior vessel walls and most of them also show signs of miniscule green blobs on the interior. The presence of green residue, or verdigris, indicates that the metal being worked contained copper. 

Fragments of crucibles recovered from Fort Hunter excavations (photo courtesy PHMC)

A possible reason that these crucibles were used at Fort Hunter is that gunsmithing was taking place here in the mid-eighteenth century. Research indicates that James Chambers and his sister’s husband, William Foulkes, were making Pennsylvania (or Kentucky) long rifles at Fort Hunter in the late 1750s-early 1760s. William apprenticed in Lancaster City, possibly to Mathias Roesser, before ending up at Fort Hunter. Since a smithy is believed to have been in operation at Fort Hunter since the 1730s or 1740s it would have been easy for James and William to have taken over the business.

James Chambers was killed during Pontiac’s Rebellion and the 1764 inventory of his possessions reveals his occupation. Chambers, whose profession is listed as a gunsmith, had tools and items relating to that business including “Riphel Barrels”, bullet molds, files, gun locks, cast munitions, and “Old Gunsmiths tools” as well as blacksmiths bellows and tools, anvils, iron, steel, and “Beak Iron”. If Chambers and Foulkes were making and repairing rifles at the site, it is possible they would need to cast elements such as side plates and other small brass pieces, some of which have been found at the site. The small crucibles are likely all that was needed to make these parts. 

Possible brass gun sideplates recovered from Fort Hunter (photo courtesy PHMC)

One hurdle to the Chambers-Foulkes gun shop theory is that it is not known that any structure(s) stood in the location the crucibles were found prior to the fort’s construction. So, was there a previously unknown structure standing here prior to the fort? Another theory is that the fort itself employed a smith to keep the military guns in repair. This fact has not yet been noted in any of the primary documentation that has been found.

More work needs to be done on this subject, including conducting additional research into the Chambers-Foulkes gun making enterprise and having the crucible’s residues tested to determine exactly what was being melted in them. In addition, there are no known examples of Chambers or Foulkes work. If a marked piece were to be found in future excavations it could help to identify the location of their forge.   

The identification of the crucible fragments at Fort Hunter have allowed us to expand the activities that were conducted at this site and tell a more accurate story. Now we need to more accurately date this activity – is it related to the Chambers-Foulkes occupation or the military occupation.

Come visit our excavation at Fort Hunter this fall. We work weekdays from 9:00 until 4:30. The site will be opened September 5th for visitors and we close on October 5th.

For additional reading on gunsmithing and blacksmithing:

Crews, Ed
2018   The Gunsmith’s Shop. Colonial Williamsburg Journal website, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

Heckert, Wayne and Donald Vaughn
1993   The Pennsylvania-Kentucky Rifle: A Lancaster Legend. Science Press, Ephrata, PA.

Lasansky, Jeannette
1980   To Draw, Upset, & Weld: The Work of the Pennsylvania Rural Blacksmith 1742-1935.     Oral Traditions Project of the Union County Historical Society, Lewisburg, PA.

The Kentucky Rifle Foundation
2018   The Kentucky Rifle Foundation website. As found at:, accessed May 10, 2018.

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

Friday, April 27, 2018

Journey to the Petroglyphs: Rock Art in Pennsylvania’s Lower Susquehanna River Valley

A previous blog identified the Lower Susquehanna River as containing one of the largest concentrations of prehistoric petroglyphs, or rock carvings, in the Northeast. Out of the multitude of these sites which were once accessible in the area, only a small handful remain intact. Although several publications discuss the images found on these petroglyphs, fewer accounts convey the beauty and natural wonder of their surroundings.

The golden hour on the Susquehanna. In the background, you can see people standing on Little Indian Rock, the most well-known of the petroglyph sites in the Lower Susquehanna.

 Despite the looming presence of Safe Harbor Dam and the alarms which signal dam releases at frequent intervals, the water just down river remains relatively calm. It is important to remember that the river landscape of today is drastically different from what existed before the construction of several hydroelectric dams along the river. This section of the Susquehanna was once described by Donald Cadzow as having numerous rapids only navigable by canoe, quite a difference from the glassy waters that are found here today. From the confluence of the Conestoga and Susquehanna Rivers, a paddler can make their way past numerous rocky outcrops (some containing petroglyphs) and islands blanketed with thick vegetation. It’s not difficult to imagine why this was a place of significance to the prehistoric people who visited and lived here for thousands of years. Wildlife, resources, and natural beauty abound.

The petroglyph sites in this area of the Susquehanna were first documented in 1863 by professor T. C. Porter of the Linnaean Society of Lancaster County. Since then there has been periodic interest in the sites, which for many years were thought to have been lost behind Safe Harbor Dam. Unlike the abstract glyphs documented on Walnut Island, now submerged behind Safe Harbor Dam, those found on Little Indian Rock are more naturalistic and represent identifiable animals such as birds, humans, snakes, and quadrupeds.

A composite photograph showing numerous glyphs on the northern face of Little Indian Rock at sunrise.

 At first glance, it is apparent that Little Indian Rock has numerous carvings on its surface, but it isn’t until closely examining the site under optimal light that the sheer number of glyphs on this rock become apparent. No doubt that an immense amount of time was spent creating them. Although no definitive age has been established for the creation of these sites, they are thought to have been made no more recently than around 500 years ago but are possibly much older. It is agreed upon that they are of Algonkian origin as they bear similarities to other petroglyph sites and motifs of the expansive culture group that once inhabited this area.

Big Indian Rock at sunrise.

The other prominent petroglyph site in the Lower Susquehanna, Big Indian Rock, exists just downstream of Little Indian Rock. This location contains numerous, but less distinct glyphs and more widely spaced images than Little Indian Rock. Many of the glyphs on Big Indian Rock are nearly impossible to see without ideal lighting. This site is unique, not only for the motifs which adorn it, but also for its prominence in the river. It is the tallest and largest of the rocky outcrops in this section of the Susquehanna. From atop Big Indian Rock, individuals experience a breathtaking vista that stretches for miles.

The modification of these petroglyph sites extends beyond their most prominent petroglyph panels. Understandably, maps have failed to capture the full scope of the ways in which humans have modified these sites. The preservation of these sites has largely been attributed to their remote location in the three-quarters of a mile-wide Susquehanna River. As with any significant historic or prehistoric site, vandalism is always a concern. When visiting petroglyph sites care should be taken to avoid impact. With proper respect and conservation, these awe-inspiring sites will exist long into the future.

-          Do not touch the petroglyphs, even small amounts of oils from your hands can darken and destroy the carved images

-          Photograph and sketch the images but avoid taking rubbings which can hasten the deterioration of the petroglyphs. The best time of day for viewing petroglyphs is early morning or evening, when the Sun is low on the horizon.

-          Do not introduce any foreign substance to the rock surface such as paint or chalk, these actions can damage the image.

-          Do not repeck, recarve or deface the images in any way, these actions destroy the original image. Many rock art sites have been destroyed by the addition of historic graffiti.

Thank you for visiting our blog, we encourage everyone to learn about the archaeological resources in your community. We ask you to join us in ensuring that our archaeological heritage is preserved by supporting public programs and preservation laws so that we can protect the past for future generations. 

Additional Resources:

Cadzow, Donald A. Petroglyphs Rock Carvings in the Susquehanna River Near Safe Harbor. Pennsylvania... Vol. 3. No. 1. Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1934.

Carr, Kurt W. and Nevin, Paul A., Advanced Technology Rubs Ancient Past. Pennsylvania Heritage, Vol. XXXIV, No. 4, Fall 2008 (

Diaz-Granados, Carol, and James R. Duncan, eds. The rock-art of eastern North America: Capturing Images and Insight. Vol. 45879. University of Alabama Press, 2004.

Lenik, Edward J. Making pictures in stone: American Indian rock art of the Northeast. University of Alabama Press, 2009.

Vastokas, Joan M., and Romas K. Vastokas. Sacred art of the Algonkians: A study of the Peterborough Petroglyphs. Mansard Press, 1973.

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

Friday, April 13, 2018

Sharing and Preserving the Archaeological Record

The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology staff are the stewards of the archaeological record for the state of Pennsylvania. As such, the staff undertake numerous tasks to preserve the artifacts and records from sites across the state that have been donated to the museum. Many of the duties performed in the Section of Archaeology have been discussed in detail throughout previous posts of this blog, but one major responsibility that each of us has is to preserve site information, catalogs and artifacts for use in future research. Researchers use the data collected from us to develop conclusions on theories or ideas and present their findings at conferences and through publications, which can then further our understanding of Pennsylvania’s rich history. 

Over the past few weeks, staff members and archaeologists from across the state have been attending annual conferences and meetings. Presentations at these meetings discuss any number of topics including new artifact or site studies, more accurate or efficient methodologies and tests, and new insights on previously studied sites or collections. As was noted in our previous blog, several staff members recently attended this year’s Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) annual meeting. Once again, this conference was a success with topics covering prehistoric population movement, numerous site analyses, ceramic and bead analyses and much more. With the SPA annual meeting now over, our sights are set on another conference, taking place right now.

The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) annual meeting began on Wednesday April 11, 2018 and is running through Sunday April 15 in Washington D.C. The SAA meeting brings together archaeologists from across the country to continue sharing knowledge and developing a more in-depth understanding of the archaeological record across the continent. After a quick glance through the extensive conference program, staff in the archaeology lab recognized a few names. As is mentioned above, one of the principal goals of the Section for preserving artifacts and documentation is to open our doors to researchers who would like to use the collections to further our understanding of the archaeological record through various forms of analysis. Two of our more recent researchers, Lucy Harrington and Amy Fox, who spent long hours performing such research will be presenting at the SAA meeting. These young women are finalizing their projects and will be sharing the results with the archaeological community.

Amy Fox presenting her research at the SAAs

Past intern John Garbellano presenting poster at SAAs

Researchers like Lucy and Amy are some of the most common type of researchers we have at the Section of Archaeology, college students working on advanced degrees. Lucy and Amy both analyzed different types of projectile points in order to determine various aspects of their use. Both young women built upon older methods, using different types of measurements and/or three-dimensional imaging to analyze the projectile point attributes. Other recent student researchers examined animal bone assemblages from different archaeological sites to understand the use of different animal species in a culture and how domestic animals were transported across the landscape. We have benefitted from an array of research subjects from very specific topics, looking at one attribute of one type of artifact to more broad scope topics, such as comparing assemblages between sites.  

Dr. Bernard Means 3-D scanning turtle carapace from Monongahela site in Somerset County, Pa

 Other researchers frequently using the collections at the State Museum are professionals, who prepare papers, do background research for other projects or continue long-term projects. One such example is, Dr. Bernard Means a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who has a close working relationship with the Section of Archaeology. He has been working with us to 3-D scan various types of artifacts for his Virtual Curation Laboratory. With the data he has collected from our collections Dr. Means has been able to provide us with 3-D printed examples of some of these artifacts, which we use for outreach programs. Dr. Means will also be seen sharing information on his work at the SAA meeting this week. Finally, research is also performed in house. The Section of Archaeology staff are often found doing further research on various subjects for presentations and other public outreach programs. This and last year several staff members presented on various projects at the annual SPA meeting and two staff members are participating in the currently ongoing SAA meeting. 

Protecting and preserving Pennsylvania’s archaeological collections is what the staff of the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology do on a daily basis, but in order to increase the knowledge about Pennsylvania’s past we encourage researchers to take an interest, perform research, develop ideas and share them with the world. It is through research and sharing that we learn and develop a better understanding of the archaeological record. By doing this we can truly Save the Past for the Future.

If you are interested in researching a specific type of artifact or site we encourage anyone with a scholarly research project to submit a research request for access to the collections. For additional information or to make a request, please contact Janet Johnson at, or Kurt Carr at

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