Friday, August 17, 2018

Public Programs with the Section of Archaeology 2018

Here we are, summer is ending, school is starting for many across the state of Pennsylvania and our busiest time of year is just beginning. Each year the Section of Archaeology attends and hosts several public programs to spread the word about Pennsylvania’s archaeological history.
September 1st – 3rd
City Island, Harrisburg

The kick off public program is Labor Day weekend’s Kipona Festival. Kipona, meaning, “To be upon the sparkling water,” is held each year on City Island, surrounded by the Susquehanna River. Our booth will be located on the west side of the Island, behind the baseball field. Along with knowledgeable staff and volunteers available to answer questions, our booth will highlight the over 8,000-year-old Native American archaeological record excavated on the Island.  Artifacts on display from these excavations include numerous spear points, some of which have been carbon-14 dated along with a cache of 4,000-year-old axe blades and celts. As usual, we will also be exhibiting our ever-popular 20-foot dugout canoe. This replica is based on the real dugout on display in the Archaeology gallery of the State Museum. For those interested in experimental archaeology, the stone tools, called adzes, which we made and used to “dig” out the canoe will be available for examination. Finally, there will be a variety of free brochures with information on hand summarizing the archaeology of Pennsylvania. 

Section of Archaeology staff burning and scraping log to create the dugout canoe.

This year we will also be raffling off a chance to win a behind the scenes tour of the State Museum’s Section of Archaeology laboratory! Stop by our booth to take a “ride” in the dugout canoe, marvel at the more than 8,000-year-old artifacts from right beneath our feet on City Island and fill out a raffle ticket for your chance to win!  

The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology booth at Kipona 2017.

Fort Hunter
September 5th-October 5th
Mondays-Fridays (9am-4pm)

Shortly after the end of Kipona each year, the Section of Archaeology gears up and heads to Fort Hunter Mansion and Park for our month-long excavation. This year we will be heading out to begin setting up and opening our excavation units during the first week of September with true excavations starting the following week on September 10th. As in past years, we will be excavating in the backyard behind the mansion, looking for physical evidence of the French and Indian War period fort that was supposedly built somewhere in what is now the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park. Our excavations are open for the public to visit and to speak with the archaeologists and volunteers about what we have found and what we are looking for. Unless it rains, we will be excavating from 9:00 am to 4:15 pm Monday through Friday until October 5th. We will also be working Sunday, September 16th on Fort Hunter Day. This is an annual fall celebration and craft fair sponsored by the Park. For more information on the Fort Hunter Day visit the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park website calendar of events here:

Guests listening to staff discuss what is going on in the excavations at Fort Hunter Day 2017

Also available at Fort Hunter during Fort Hunter Day and our weekly excavations are brochures and pamphlets on Pennsylvania archaeology as well as the new archaeology month poster and our registration pamphlet for the Section of Archaeology’s annual Workshops in Archaeology.

2018 Annual Workshops in Archaeology
Saturday, October 27, 2018
The State Museum of Pennsylvania
300 North Street Harrisburg, PA

October is archaeology month and as we wrap up our Fort Hunter excavations during the first week in October, we move straight into preparations for our annual Workshops in Archaeology program. We will be holding the Workshops program, on Saturday October 27, just a few days after International Archaeology Day, October 20,  (for more information on International Archaeology Day check out the website at:

International Archaeology Day Poster, available for download on the website.

The Workshops in Archaeology is a program designed to provide the public with an overview of archaeological discoveries across the Commonwealth. This year’s theme is John Smith’s Susquehannock’s: The Archaeological Context of a Native Culture and encompasses presentations from experts in the field, an ongoing flint knapping demonstration by master flint knapper Steve Nissly, and artifact identification and site recordation by the State Historic Preservation Office staff.

 SHPO staff member educating Workshops participant in recording sites.

 Brief summary of this year’s Workshops theme:
John Smith’s Susquehannocks:
The Archaeological Context
of a Native Culture
For more than 200 years, between 1550 and 1763, much of the Susquehanna River Valley was home to the Susquehannock Indian Tribe. This was a matrilineal society, different from many Indian societies, tracing kinship through the female line. They were dependent on maize agriculture, along with other domesticated foods, wild plants and animals. They lived in some of the largest Indian towns in Pennsylvania, containing one thousand or more people. Their impact on the Colonial period America was far-reaching, especially in the fur trade during the 1600s. Capt. John Smith, founding father of the English colony at Jamestown, Virginia, was the first European to describe the Susquehannocks in detail. During his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay in 1608, he stopped at the mouth of the Susquehanna River, where he made contact with sixty Susquehannocks and stated that they “are the strangest people of all those countries, both in language and attire.” At the height of the fur trade during the mid-1600s, competition with Iroquoian groups, namely the Seneca and Mohawk, led to upheaval and discord. By the late 1600s, conflict between these Indian tribes, as well as with Europeans, led to the Susquehannocks dispersal and eventual disappearance from the Susquehanna Valley in the late 1700s. The story of the rise and fall of the Susquehannocks was the fate of many Indian tribes in the eastern United States.

We welcome archaeology and history enthusiasts to this informative program that will provide insights into this fascinating period in our nation’s history. Admission to The State Museum of Pennsylvania is included with registration.

Flint knapping demonstration by Steve Nissly at 2013 Workshops in Archaeology.

So come out and join us this fall to celebrate the rich archaeological heritage from all around us. We look forward to seeing you at one of our informative programs: the Kipona Festival, our excavations at Fort Hunter and the Workshops in Archaeology where you can learn more about how you can help preserve our past for the future.

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

Friday, August 3, 2018

News from the Lab, The Fred Veigh Collection

Fred Veigh at Bonnie Brook site (36Bt43) photo credit: J. Herbstritt

About this time in August of 2017, we highlighted the Robert and Jim Oshnock Collections from Western Pennsylvania. This year the lab is concurrently processing another donation from the Western region of the Commonwealth, the William Fredrick Veigh Collection. With continued gratitude to Bob Oshnock, Brian Fritz and other Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) members who assisted in preparing this substantial collection for transport and donation, we are celebrating the completion of the preliminary box inventory earlier this summer. We take this opportunity to honor Fred Veigh’s contribution to Pennsylvania archaeology and The State Museum as we begin the task of cataloging and inventorying the artifact assemblage.

Riker mount of artifacts from Squirrel Hill Bottom Lands (36Wm35)

Fred Veigh (December 29, 1949-January 25, 2016) was a prolific archaeological collector and surveyor, and an active member of the SPA for most of his adult life. Receiving his education and training in archaeology at the University of Pittsburgh facilitated Fred’s participation as a field crewmember on Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) investigations in the 1970s, and as an independent Field Associate in Anthropology of the Carnegie Museum in subsequent years. Fred authored and co-authored numerous articles in the Somerset County Archaeological Society (SCAS) SPA Chapter quarterly newsletter while serving as its secretary, and continued as a member of the Westmoreland Chapter in his later years. Mr. Veigh meticulously labeled his artifacts and thousands of artifact boxes, containers and bags with topographical site information and a number designation system he developed to keep track of each surface collected location by county. Throughout his life, he participated and consulted on local and international excavations in addition to countless avocational hours spent surface hunting and documenting archaeological sites.

Temporary storage of Veigh collection

Due to the sheer number of individual sites and collection areas in this 258 box and 31 Riker Mount donation, it has taken several months with the assistance of our energetic volunteers to identify how many locations the collection contains. We can now report that Mr. Veigh’s donation represents prehistoric and historic artifacts from over 250 sites recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files and an additional 1,867 loci, the majority of which he documented on topographic maps. From these maps, we have begun the process of matching his unrecorded finds with pre-existing sites in CRGIS, and are recording new sites when possible. It is highly likely that the Veigh Collection will contain around 2,000 previously recorded and newly recorded archaeological sites after laboratory processing is completed. This is an astounding accomplishment for an individual and testament to Mr. Veigh’s passion for preserving our shared cultural history.

Map transcribing

The majority of the donation derives from Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties. Also present in the collection are minor assemblages from surface hunted sites in Adams, Allegheny, Bedford, Butler, Cambria, Chester, Clinton, Columbia, Erie, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Lehigh, and Venango Counties.

So far, we have focused on processing recorded sites with large artifact assemblages containing diagnostic prehistoric or historic artifacts. The McCoy Pottery site (36So56) is a rare example of rural commercial ceramic production during the Civil War Era. Hiriam D. McCoy owned and operated the pottery from the 1850s to 1870s. The McCoy site and colorful life of its proprietor—a self-taught man with only nine months of formal education, pottery craftsman and entrepreneur, civil war veteran, eventual hotel owner and elected judge (King, 1986)—will make an interesting subject for a future blog. Mr. Veigh participated in the 1975-1976 SCAS excavations at the pottery and later retained the collection for the chapter. It contains numerous examples of kiln furniture, saggers and examples of jars, crocks and bowls made with locally derived clays in addition to stoneware production of similar vessel forms. Pictured below, one of the few complete saggers recovered during SCAS investigations is on exhibit at the Somerset County Historical Society (Hoffman, 1976, reprint 2000).

Sagger from the McCoy site (36So56) on exhibit at Somerset County Historical Society

Sagger vessels, like kiln furniture are products created and consumed during the firing process to properly space and stabilize a variety of ceramic forms, and ensure an even glaze and easy extraction after the kiln has cooled. Sagger forms can vary depending on the potter’s preference and type of finished vessel it is designed to support, but often has a similar appearance to ceramic spittoons with side vent holes for proper air circulation during firing.

Taking notes at Nash site (36Cn17)

Fred was a member of the field crew during the 1972 PHMC excavations at the Nash site (36Cn17) on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and surface hunted during his breaks and down time. The Nash site is multi-component late Middle Woodland to early Late Woodland village, with occupational phases from the Clemson Island, Shenks Ferry and McFate/Quiggle cultures. The PHMC investigated the site as part of the Susquehanna River Archaeology Survey to define the Clemsons Island culture in eastern Pennsylvania (Smith, 1977; Smith and Herbstritt, n.d). Jim Herbstritt, Section of Archaeology staff archaeologist, also revisited Nash between the years of 2000 to 2004. The prehistoric pottery assemblage from Mr. Veigh’s surface finds reflects the presence of all three cultural groups at 36Cn17 and compliments the research he helped to conduct with the PHMC and the later work of Mr. Herbstritt.  

Nash site field form recorded by F. Veigh

The Veigh collection is significant not only for the volume of artifacts and breadth of documented geographic distribution, but also for the types of artifacts Mr. Veigh collected. Many surface hunters bias their collection strategies toward complete tools and diagnostic projectile points. Fred was also meticulous about collecting and retaining non-diagnostic chipping debris (the waste material from making formal stone tools), prehistoric and historic pottery sherds and other small artifacts—evidence of human activity usually disregarded or discarded by the casual collector. In addition to the Nash site, we have inventoried a whopping 25,092 pieces of chipping debris from only a handful of processed prehistoric sites from the Veigh colleciton. Varieties of chert present include locally derived Shriver, Uniontown, Brush Creek, Monongahela, and Ten Mile as well as out-of-state sourced chert, such as Onondaga (NY), Flint Ridge (OH) and Upper Mercer (OH). South Mountain Metarhyolite is also a common source material in the Somerset County sites and likely was transported or traded along Nemacolin’s and the Turkeyfoot Paths, Indian trails that crossed through this territory between Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania and the western part of the state (Means, 2013). In that sense, the Veigh collection, demonstrates the value of well-documented surface collections and provides a relatively accurate depiction of the type and variety of lithic sources utilized in prehistoric activities over much of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Uniontown chert debitage from the Ross site (36Wh271)

If you are interested in learning more about the Veigh Collection and other current projects in the Archaeology Laboratory, please join us in The State Museum Nature Lab next Thursday, August 9th at 11:30 am. Our laboratory managers, Andrea Carr and Callista Holmes will be on hand to demonstrate laboratory methods and answer questions about how we preserve our past for the future through artifact conservation and documentation. It was the purpose of this post to honor the life Fred Veigh and his enormous contribution to archaeology. We would like to close by saying it is our honor to work with collections like the Oshnock brothers and Mr. Veigh—the collections of individuals whom have dedicated much of their lives to preserving the archaeological heritage of Pennsylvania for all through documenting, organizing and donating their finds to The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology.


Hoffman, Vera Jane
1976       “The Real McCoy” SPAAC Speaks. The Society for Pennsylvania Allegheny Chapter No. 1 Newsletter 12:1. Reprinted in The SPA Somerset County Archaeology Society Chapter No. 20 Newsletter 2:3.

King, Ruth Alison
1986       McCoy family history letter to the Laurel Messenger, April 21, 1986, c/o The Somerset County Historical Society. On county file (36So56) at Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Means, Bernard
2013       “Somerset County: Birthplace of the Monongahela Culture Concept”, This Week in Pennsylvania History, August 16, 2013.                     

Smith, Ira F.
1977       The Susquehanna River Valley Archaeological Survey. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 47(4):27-29.

Smith, Ira F. and James T. Herbstritt
nd.         Clemson Island Studies in Pennsylvania. Unpublished manuscript at the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

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

Friday, July 20, 2018

T is for Turtle

As we enjoy this beautiful summer weather, walking or driving down country trails and roads, be sure to keep an eye out for turtles.  Turtles have been revered by cultures around the world.  They are often viewed as wise beings, symbols of longevity, messengers between this and the spirit world or as some northeastern indigenous people believed in the creation of our world on Turtle Island.  Many eastern tribes, including the Lenape and Iroquois, had similar creation stories.  They believed that in the beginning the world was covered entirely with water. There was an island in the sky where the Sky People lived.  No one died or was born there, and all was well.  Until Sky Woman fell through a hole toward the sea where she landed on grandmother turtle or Turtle Island.  Various water animals took turns diving to the bottom of the sea trying to bring mud to spread on the turtles back.  Eventually one succeeds (depending on the version of the story as to which animal succeeded), but they did and when placed on the turtle’s back it created land that grew and grew eventually becoming the size of North America.  This over simplification of the creation story is derived from several versions and from several tribes, this and in other legends about turtles can be found here. 
Turtles appear repeatedly throughout native legends demonstrating their relevance to human society.  This respect is recognized in the archaeological record by the many pendants, ornaments and effigies discovered on Northeastern sites.  Kinsey (1989) suggests that reptiles “constitute 15% of the Susquehannock [study of zoomorphic images] sample and less than 4% of the Seneca sample and these are limited to turtles and snakes; the former is the most common”.  In Pennsylvania, turtle pendants are more prevalent than pipe effigies, but there have been several found in other states.

There is a very interesting pendant that was recovered from the Flint Mine Hill site in New York.  This site is described as “a vast industrial complex consisting of numerous quarry pits, quarry and production refuse piles, small campsites, and extensive workshops where chert was knapped” (Lenik, 2010).  The pendant depicts a turtle surrounded by a snake and is carved on both sides.  Suggested interpretations are that it is an amulet meant to drive away demons by depicting a snake devouring another animal (Parker, 1925) or as perhaps the snake invoking a guardian spirit to protect the wearer who was of the turtle clan (Lenik, 2010)

Not only are turtles represented on portable artifacts, but they are also found as petroglyphs and as effigy rock features.  Petroglyph sites in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia were documented by James Swauger, many of which exhibit designs interpreted as turtles.

There are also several examples of effigy rock features in North Dakota and the Lake of the Woods region of Canada.   

It is clear that turtles have been revered by indigenous people since at least the Archaic period (Pearce, 2005), by the variety of specialized images presented.  Physical turtle shells are also represented in the archaeological record.  Their shells were used as utilitarian objects like bowls and scoops.  

They have been found in ceremonial contexts like the burials at Serpent Mound, where unmodified turtle shells were found next to human skeletal remains (Pearce, 2005).  Rattles made of turtle shell have been found on numerous sites and are ethnographically documented in ceremonial use, such as the False Face Society. 

Turtles have been esteemed by cultures around the world, so it is no surprise that Native Americans respected this now often-overlooked creature as well.  So, keep in mind the special turtle as you explore mother nature this summer and if by chance you see one along the roadside maybe give this noble creature some respect and if safe, a hand in crossing.

Kinsey, W. Fred
1989       Susquehannock Zoomorphic Images: Or Why the Seasons Change. In New Approaches to Other   Pasts edited by Fred W. Kinsey and Roger W. Moeller. Archaeological Services, Bethlehem,     Connecticut
Lenik, Edward J.
2010       Mythic Creatures: Serpents, Dragons, and Sea Monsters in Northeastern Rock Art. Archaeology   of Eastern North America 38:17-38
Parker, Arthur C.
1925       The Great Algonkin Flint Mines. Researches and Transactions of the New York Archaeological        Association. 4(4):105-125
Pearce, Robert J.
2005       Turtles from Turtle Island: An Archaeological Perspective from Iroquoia. Ontario Archaeology      79/80:88-108
Swauger, James L.
1974       Rock Art of the Upper Ohio Valley. Akademische Druck- u. Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

The Late Woodland Period Chesapeake Shell Trade

Marine shells were an important medium of exotic exchange among native societies of the Middle Atlantic and Upper Ohio Valley societies during the Late Woodland (1000 – 1550 AD). The recovery of shell from archaeological sites of this period is archaeologically traceable well into the Appalachian Mountains and other far flung regions of Pennsylvania’s interior. These areas are principally centered on the lower Upper Ohio Valley at sites in the Monongahela -Youghiogheny drainage of southwestern Pennsylvania -  the headwaters of the Potomac Valley that reach to the rugged mountains of Fayette and Somerset counties and; the waters of the Susquehanna above the Blue Mountain water gap located a few miles above Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Evidence of the Late Woodland shell trade in these various geographic regions of Pennsylvania becomes obvious by the locations of archaeological sites. Ornaments made from different species of marine shell are principally obtained from the Chesapeake’s intertidal and coastal environments. We should hasten to note that some later Woodland groups obtained fresh water shells from the shoals of large fresh water river systems for ornamental use. We will, however, save this topic for another time and focus on the marine species found at archaeological sites.

 Mercenaria mercenaria or “hard clam” shells collected from lower Chesapeake Bay in 2018.

There are five principal species of marine shell that made their way inland through trade from the Chesapeake region. These species are distinctive in morphology and used differentially as personal objects of adornment such as bracelets and necklaces. Among the more common, widely distributed forms, were the tiny disk-shaped beads fashioned from the thin sections of quahog a.k.a. hard clam shells Mercenaria mercenaria. Quahogs occur all along the Atlantic coast and constitute a valuable source of protein among sea food connoisseurs. Several different species of marginellas can be found from Cape Henlopen, Delaware (Lowery 2012) south to the West Indies. Both of these were popular among the lower Susquehanna Valley’s Shenks Ferry, Mason Island and Monongahela groups of the Piedmont and Allegheny Mountain/Lower Upper Ohio Valley regions of Pennsylvania (Heisey and Witmer 1964; Mayer-Oakes 1955).

Beads made from a variety of shells recovered from Late Woodland sites in Pennsylvania.

Another less common bead type found at some of their habitation sites was made from Olivella (sp?) a more southern variety of gastropod that occurs from North Carolina to Florida. These resemble the classic shape of an olive-shaped fruit, however, they are somewhat larger than marginella shells.

Busycon or whelk shell objects found in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic areas are generally considered rare objects of the Late Woodland period. Busycon contrarium or lightning whelk and Busycon canaliculatus a.k.a. canaliculatum or channel whelk are the most common and occur from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to Cape Cod, Massachusetts to St. Augustine, Florida, respectively - a very wide distribution, indeed.

Engraved shell gorget associated with the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (Weeping Eye motif). 

            Busycon shells were made into drinking cups and tube-shaped beads of various lengths. West and south of the Middle Atlantic region anthropomorphic/zoomorphic engraved gorgets were worn around the neck. Carved from the large dorsal cup-shaped part of the Busycon shell, these impressive shell objects are principally found in Fort Ancient and Mississippian contexts that date to the circa 1000 – 1600 AD period. The engraved Busycon shells are a principal artifact type of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex (Waring and Holder 1945).

Section of a wampum belt illustrating the variety of color design combinations.

            Wampum shell beads, characterized by their short cylindrical shape, appears to be most common after the close of the Late Woodland period around 1550 AD.  Suffice is to say that the English called this type of shell bead peag, a shorter version of the Massachusetts Algonquian word wampumpeag. White, purple and, rarely black, are the principal colors of wampum with slight gradations within these colors. The Dutch and French referred to wampum as zeewant and porcelaine, respectively (Bradley 2011). These colorful beads were typically fashioned out of quahog or hard clam and whelk shells.

            The Chesapeake Bay and its inter- connected river systems was the main corridor for the spread of marine shell onto the Pennsylvania landscape during the Late Woodland period. Although adjacent states can document a longer period of use (Lowery 2012), and this probably applies to Pennsylvania as well, currently the evidence of marine shell use in Pennsylvania is limited to the Late Woodland period. Preservation of these objects is largely determined by the site’s environmental context. Unfortunately, marine shell is a material that is rarely preserved in most situations leaving few records.

            We hope that you have enjoyed reading about the different kinds of marine shells, their distribution through trade and how they were used by the Indians who once lived in Pennsylvania centuries ago. Please join us another time as we present another interesting topic relating to Pennsylvania and its archaeology.  

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

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 .