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 .

Friday, March 30, 2018

Lifetime Awards and Once in a Lifetime Experiences, Spring Archaeology Conferences 2018

The weekend of March 15th-18th heralded the 2018 Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference where our very own Dr. Kurt W. Carr received the Lifetime Achievement Award. This award recognizes an archaeologist who has made significant contributions for more than 20 years to archaeology in the Middle Atlantic Region. The recipient must meet four criteria of Ethics, Research, Outreach and Service.  We would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Kurt and honor his ongoing contributions to Pennsylvania and North American archaeology. As a staff archaeologist with the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission (PHMC) for 38 years, we also celebrate his contributions to the Pennsylvania Archaeology Site Survey (PASS), and encourage all to attend next week’s Pennsylvania Archaeology Council Symposium, Archaeologists Have History Too: Oral History of Pennsylvania’s Archaeology Site Survey.

Kurt began his career path as an archaeologist in high school at the age of 16, hitchhiking each summer from the northern suburbs of Philadelphia to join Fred Kinsey’s Franklin and Marshall College field school and survey crew in the Upper Delaware Valley. He continued his education with Dr. Kinsey, earning his B.A. in Anthropology from F&M in 1971, then branched out to earn his masters and doctorate degree in Anthropology from The Catholic University of America in 1975 and 1992. His graduate studies focused on Paleoindian and Early Archaic prehistory at Thunderbird and Fifty sites in Virginia. As a professional archaeologist, his post-graduate research and scholarship has broadened and continued in the areas of early hunting and gathering cultural adaptations, stone tool technology, settlement pattern analysis, geomorphology and environmental reconstruction.

He started his career at the Pennsylvania Historical Museum Commission (PHMC) as a cultural resource reviewer in 1980, eventually heading and overseeing the expansion of the department as the Chief of the Division of Archaeology and Protection from 1988 to 2005. He became the Senior Curator of the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum in 2007. Beyond his duties as a state archaeologist, Dr. Carr has served as a mentor to students of archaeology; taught courses at local community colleges; chaired committees and served in various leadership capacities for archaeology societies, councils and conferences; helped to organize annual meetings; delivered over 50 papers; and published over 25 peer reviewed journal articles and books, as well as over 13 technical reports.

One of Kurt’s many contributions to the archaeology of Pennsylvania is his participation in regional and statewide surveys as a college student and later as a PHMC archaeologist. State Museum archaeologists drafted the first standards, known as the PASS file, to record archaeological resources systematically in the 1950s.  This ongoing statewide campaign has recorded over 22,000 historic and prehistoric sites in the Commonwealth through the efforts of professional archaeologists from government, private and academic institutions, as well as avocational chapter members of The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA). Kurt has many on-the-ground stories to share from his college days of paddling the tributaries of the Susquehanna with a fellow student testing for, and recording sites on the floodplain. Not to mention, the months going door-to-door collecting landowner interviews in Lancaster County. He is also a wealth of knowledge from years spent guiding professional and avocational archaeologists through the site recording process.

Next weekend attendees of the Pennsylvania Archaeology Conference (PAC) Symposium will have the opportunity to hear Kurt’s experiences along with a comprehensive panel of Pennsylvania archaeologists whom have also devoted a lifetime of work toward creating and updating the PASS file system. Other representatives from the PHMC who are participating will be Noel Strattan, State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) CRGIS Coordinator as well as Section of Archaeology staff member, Jim Herbstritt along with former Senior Curator, Barry Kent. Speaking of lifetimes, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear an oral history of the Pennsylvania Archaeology Site Survey as well as learn about current archaeology projects happening in the state at The Society for Pennsylvania 89th Annual Meeting to follow.

The Pennsylvania Archaeology Conference Symposium and
The Society for Pennsylvania 89th Annual Meeting
April 6-8th, hosted this year by North Fork Chapter 29
Comfort Suites
10 Lakeside Avenue
Dubois, PA 15801
(814) 375-6028

The PAC symposium will kick off the weekend long conference on Friday afternoon. Saturday through Sunday morning, paper sessions begin with the SPA annual meeting. Representing the SHPO, Hannah Harvey will present during the Saturday morning session, The South Blairsville Industry Archaeological District: Exploring Western Pennsylvania’s Plate Glass Heritage. Past and present State Museum affiliated presenters include Barry Kent and Jim Herbstritt, who will be delivering concurrent papers to start the Saturday afternoon session—Images of Artifacts of Pennsylvania’s Past from Paleoindian to Historic Times, and Ethnogenesis and the Beginnings of Susquehannock. You can find further details at the SPA website, and link to the Preliminary Program for a complete listing of speakers and topics.

Walk-in registration is welcome at the door and there is still time to mail-in or register online for this year’s PAC Symposium and SPA Annual Meeting. Registration fees increase to $35.00 for regular SPA members and $25.00 for students as of this Saturday, March 31, 2018. Banquet fees remain at $32.00, for pre-registration and with limited availability for walk-in registrants. This year’s keynote banquet speaker is Dr. Michael Gramly, presenting Ritual Hunting of Proboscideans in the New World: Its Character, Inception, and Disapperance. Those interested in hotel reservations can reserve directly with the Comfort Suites. Reduced room rates are no longer available for conference attendees. 

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

Friday, March 16, 2018

Career Expo at Middletown Highschool

As our followers know we are always busy with a variety of tasks in the Section of Archaeology.  From excavations at Fort Hunter to the Pennsylvania Farm show, The Workshops in Archaeology program that we do in the fall and everything in between.  The common theme that runs through all these events is the importance of outreach to the people of Pennsylvania. A lot of people are interested in archaeology but many don’t realize how most archaeology is accomplished in Pennsylvania or how much history is right beneath their feet.  Our past is a non-renewable resource, so the more people are aware of that the better we are able to protect and manage our heritage.

Another form of outreach we participate in are school visits.  Yesterday we had a chance to speak with students contemplating their future occupations.  We were invited to attend the Career Expo at Middletown Highschool.  The students were divided by class, first the juniors then the seniors and so on.  As they entered the gym they were instructed to choose a career.  They were able to rotate to four careers during the classes allotted time.  We, along with numerous other professionals, engaged the students in small groups talking about our careers and answering questions.    It was a very nice well-organized program that allowed the kids to speak to a variety of professionals ranging from every branch of the military to physical therapy, nuclear science, archaeology and many, many more.

We shared with them some of the things we do here at the museum, including our role as the central repository for archaeological collections resulting from Cultural Resource Management (CRM) projects.  In 1966 the National Historic Preservation Act instituted the Section 106 process of mitigating the effects of federally funded construction projects requiring them to consider the archaeological consequences of their projects.  This consideration often requires excavation.  The Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania is the central repository for these collections and these projects are in large part the source of over 8 million artifacts (and growing) that we care for in the Section of Archaeology.   These CRM projects also employ fresh graduates of archaeology programs nationwide.  The requirements for a field tech position are typically a bachelor’s degree and a field school.  It would be impossible to display all our artifacts but they do go on lone to other facilities for exhibit and they serve as an invaluable resource to researchers. 

We also talked about opportunities available with the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission such as shadowing a curator and the KeystoneInternship program.  We have just finished going through the interview process with this year’s applicants.  I think it was a rewarding day for all involved and would like to both commend the program organizers Adam Shaffer and Michele Myers on a great program that gave the students an awareness of the many career options available to them; and we thank them for inviting us to attend. 

Before closing I would like to remind everyone that this weekend is the Mid Atlantic Archaeological Conference (MAAC) at Virginia Beach, Virginia.  It started yesterday so unfortunately if you’re not there you missed the Projectile Point/Lithic Workshop and tour of Ft. Eustis but it runs through Sunday March 18th so there is still a chance to enjoy some great presentations.    

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

Friday, March 2, 2018

Earliest European Trade Goods and the Susquehannock Indians

Archaeologists typically spend the winter months processing and cataloging collections. Along with this comes research which will result in presentations, papers and publications. Current research of the Susquehannock culture period has provided the subject of this week’s blog in which we explore early Indian-European trade in the mid-Atlantic.

Although the Vikings first established their settlement at L’ Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland around 1000 AD, it was another 500 years before regular contact between Indians and Europeans occurred. By the late 1400s, Basques and English fishermen began harvesting cod and whales from the coastal waters around Newfoundland and Labrador (Kraft 2001: 355-357).

 Exploitation of these maritime resources required a land base of operations for processing the fish and rendering oil in large cauldrons for later transport back to Europe. It was probably during these times that they began to trade European-made goods for meat and animal furs. One of these places was Red Bay, Labrador located at the north end of the Straight of Belle Isle (Tuck and Grenier 1989).

Red Bay, Labrador Canada

Interaction with foreigners, who, to the local native groups, dressed differently and spoke a strange language, would eventually culminate in the exchange of trinkets such as glass beads, colorfully woven cloth and metal objects for beaver skins. Initially, these commodities were traded face-to-face.  Eventually, as trade relations developed, native traders began acting as middlemen between Europeans and other native groups. Some of these objects would survive for centuries to be rediscovered by archaeologists.

In northern Pennsylvania, the earliest European derived trade goods are attributed to the Susquehannocks who, by the mid-16th century were living in small communities around the confluence of the Chemung and the Susquehanna’s North Branch rivers. At these places, trade items are extremely rare, consisting principally of metal ornaments crafted from copper and brass. Among these items are spirals and tubular beads made by annealing , then rolling, these metals into shape. A few glass beads of greenish-blue color, an occasional fragment of wrought iron and plaited textiles have been found that indicate some level of variety in the trader’s trade inventory.

By the late 16th century and into the early 17th century, the Susquehannocks were receiving a wider variety of European manufactured goods that suggests these interactions with traders was on the rise as the result of the Susquehannock’s participation in the beaver skin trade . By then, Europe had depleted their supply of beaver for the hatting industry.

This was also the period in history when the Susquehannocks began adopting the pattern of communal life in large fortified villages with many houses. A major shift of their settlements to the lower Susquehanna valley around Washington Boro, Pennsylvania occurs where the environmental setting is more conducive to a longer, frost free growing season for crops, access to a more direct migratory fowl route as well as a more strategic position for trade with the English on Chesapeake Bay. With these advantages then, it comes as no surprise to us that the quantity and quality of trade goods grew by leaps and bounds.

Although the Susquehannocks continued trading beaver skins and other furs for many different varieties of glass beads and copper/brass ornaments they also were successful in obtaining axes, hoes, knives, harpoons, chisels and other useful tools of iron from European sources and this is reflected in the archaeological record of  their settlements. Around 1630 the Susquehannocks began obtaining guns. Although guns and gun parts are present they are by no means common until the 1640’s when flint lock fowling pieces show up as important trade items on their sites.

 Bastion mounted swivel cannon were also desirable weapons of warfare for the Susquehannocks. In fact, iron and stone cannon balls were discovered at the Strickler site which was one of their villages of the 1640-1660 period (Kent 1984). One explanation frequently cited is the hostility that developed between the Susquehannocks and other northern Iroquoians for control of the beaver skin trade. Another is that small munitions were more effective in taking more beaver in less time than would have been possible with trap sets alone. 

Trade between native groups and Europeans began once the New World was recognized as a valuable source for beaver skins and other commodities that previously had been exhausted in Europe. The gold, silver and emerald resources of Central and South America were never to be found along the northeast coast of North America. Instead, in a sense the fur trade made up the difference. In both cases, however, it was the Europeans who benefitted most.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this examination of early contact amongst Europeans and Indians in the Susquehanna valley. It was a complex period of culture change and an important period in the development of our Commonwealth. If you’d like to learn more about the Susquehannocks we encourage you to refer to the references below and visit the Anthropology and Archaeology gallery of The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Visitors to our museum can view some of the spectacular trade objects referenced in this blog and gain a sense of the importance of preserving our past for the future.

Kent, Barry C.
1984       Susquehanna’s Indians. Anthropology Series Number 6. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.
Kraft, Herbert C.
2001       The Lenape-Delaware Heritage: 10,000 BC to AD 2000. Lenape Books
Tuck, James A. and Robert Grenier
1989       Red Bay, Labrador: World Whaling Capital A.D. 1550-1600. Atlantic Archaeology Ltd. St. John’s Newfoundland.

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

Friday, February 16, 2018

A recent submission to the Section of Archaeology

W.P.A. excavations during Winter at the Peck Site (36So1)

Winter in Pennsylvania is not typically a time of year that is well suited for archaeological fieldwork. That is not to say fieldwork in February does not happen. Indeed, it has and does, but it would be difficult to persuade anyone that conditions like the ones seen above are anything approaching optimal.  When the days are short, cold winds bitter, and the ground is well, frozen, archaeologists often take to the lab to process (that is to sort, clean, catalog, inventory, label and archivally package for curation) artifact collections from the previous season’s excavations.

Here at the museum, artifact collections that are the product of cultural resource management projects arrive year-round, although there does seem to be an uptick in submissions this time of year. Being centrally located as the State Museum is in Harrisburg, from time to time criticism bubbles to the surface that our efforts and attention can focus disproportionately on sites in the Susquehanna River Valley region. Given the diverse topography and size of the state, wide ranging archaeological research interests, and our own limited resources, this criticism is not without some merit. This week’s post attempts to kill two birds with one stone in that it highlights an artifact collection submitted for curation just two weeks ago (a “fresh” collection so to speak), and that also happens to come from Westmoreland County – a nod to our cohorts over the hills in the southwestern part of the state.

project overview photo with phase one shovel test in foreground (photo credit: McCormick Taylor, Inc.)

In 2016, McCormick Taylor Inc. conducted an archaeological survey and evaluation for PennDoT’s proposed improvements to the highway interchange of state routes 70 and 31 in South Huntingdon Twp., Westmoreland County. As a recipient of federal highway tax dollars PennDoT is obligated to make a good faith effort in identifying and evaluating cultural resources, and, if necessary, mitigating any adverse effects their undertakings may have on important historic and prehistoric sites.

modern disturbance and steep sloped portions of the project area not tested (photo credit: McCormick Taylor, Inc.)

After eliminating areas of the project determined to have low archaeological potential due to modern disturbances or steep terrain, a total of 228 shovel test pits and two 1m x 1m test units were excavated across 12 ½ acres of ground. As a result of their work, seven new archaeological sites were recorded (36Wm1113 – 1119). Four of these sites consist of just 2 to 16 pieces of debitage each of local or regionally sourced cherts.  The very low artifact density, and the lack of diagnostic artifacts or cultural features were cited as justification to recommend these sites as ineligible to the National Register of Historic Places, and no further work was performed.

representative sample of lithic debitage from the Davis site (36Wm1119)

The Tignanelli site, 36Wm1113, comprised of mostly early 20th Century kitchen wares, bottle glass and architectural material such as brick, window glass and iron hardware, also contained about a dozen flake fragments of local chert. This site too, was recommended ineligible to the NRHP, primarily due to a lack of integrity and significance. There was one artifact in the assemblage however, that did stand out amongst the 1200 more mundane bits that is unique and worthy of a moment in the spotlight.

1937 Radio Orphan Annie decoder pin from the Tignanelli site (36Wm1113)

"mint" condition example

The 1937 Radio Orphan Annie decoder pin is a wonderful object of popular culture that harkens back to the days before television, when radio was king. It is easy to imagine that this, for a time, was probably a child’s most prized possession, and of course it conjures up images of the classic movie A Christmas Story, with Ralphie feverishly cracking the code only to be rewarded with a reminder to drink more Ovaltine. Not the type of thing to stop a transportation project in its tracks, but a charming artifact all the same.

phase two excavation unit of the Davis site (photo credit: McCormick Taylor)

After the phase I survey, the final two sites, 36Wm1116 and 36Wm1119, were recommended to proceed to phase II, to determine their eligibility to the National Register. As is the case with most cultural resource management efforts, excavations were limited to the project’s area of potential effects, or APE.  For the Davis site, 36Wm1119, this meant a limited view at what McCormick Taylor acknowledges in their report as a site that in all likelihood extends beyond the project boundaries. The four phase two 1m x 1m test units yielded 48 chert flakes in addition to the 25 pieces recovered from the two phase one test units. Similar to the other sites identified for the project, no features or datable diagnostic artifacts were found at 36Wm1119, and consequently the portion of the site in the project area was deemed ineligible to the Register.

Finally, for the Markle site, 36Wm1116, PennDoT successfully modified the design of their project to avoid any potential impacts. In many situations, avoidance constitutes an agreeable solution for all parties involved, in that redesign is generally a less costly option for PennDoT as opposed to labor intensive data recovery undertakings, and, while no additional fieldwork is planned for, the site is nevertheless recorded and will (or, should) remain undisturbed, thereby serving the interests of the cultural resource community and ultimately the broader public.


(2017) Brewer, Allison; Cristie Barry; Amanda Rassmusem

Phase IB/II Archaeological Identification and Evaluation Investigations for the S.R. 0070 Section K10, S.R. 70/S.R. 31 Interchange Improvement Project South Huntingdon Twp., Westmoreland County, PA

-report on file Section of Archaeology, State Museum of PA

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

Friday, February 2, 2018

Whistle Pigs, Winter and Weather Predictions

As we enter the month of February for many of us our thoughts turn towards warmer weather and planning in the hope for an early spring. This happens to be Ground Hog day here in Pennsylvania and many a person will wait with great anticipation for Punxsutawney Phil to appear. Popularized by the movie Groundhog Day in 1993, this annual tradition has origins that go back much farther than one might think.

Punxsutawney Phil and his handler
(image: "Phil supports Candelora (Venice version)" by "Alessandro M." Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC-BY2.0). Accessed 1 February 2018.
Oral tradition places the origin of the ceremony on German immigrants who encountered an abundance of groundhogs upon their arrival in Pennsylvania. The belief that if this ground boring animal came out of his hole and saw his shadow, he’d scurry back inside as an indicator of six more weeks of winter. How did it come to be that a rodent would be considered an accurate predictor of the weather? It actually has origins in Europe and was likely a carryover from religious teachings.
February 2nd corresponds with the forty-day period after Mary gave birth on December 25th in the Christian church, known as the Purification of the Virgin.  Women had to wait forty days after childbirth before entering a church or Temple again due to "uncleanliness". Eastern Orthodox Christian churches continue to practice this belief today, and all Christian churches schedule the Christening for forty days after the birth in keeping with this ancient purification practice.  Observed in Catholicism, and by Anglicans and Lutherans, the Feast of the Purification is otherwise known as Candlemas. The Church blesses all the lights to be used in its ceremonies throughout the year, since it was at Christ’s Presentation at the Temple that Simeon called him "the Light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people."
Celebrated throughout Europe, Candlemas and its ties to weather and predictors of spring can be found in various poems and verses. Of German origin; For as the sun shines on Candlemas Day, So far will the snow swirl until the May.  The Scottish version; If Candlemas day be dry and fair, The half o' winter to come and mair, If Candlemas day be wet and foul, The half of winter's gone at Yule.  Lastly, the English version; If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, Winter, have another flight; If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go Winter, and come not again. Pennsylvania’s ethnic melting pot includes all of these European groups, who continue to carry on some of their European traditions.
While these beliefs and origins seem rather antiquated today in this world of modern technology and (mostly) accurate weather predictions, these and other predictors were a necessary tool for cultures throughout time. Archaeological evidence of mid-winter celebrations at sites such as Stonehenge supply an opportunity to examine these belief systems. Archaeologists believe Stonehenge to be associated with the winter Solstice and excavations have revealed evidence of feasts and celebrations to support these theories.
Here in central Pennsylvania, the petroglyphs in the lower Susquehanna river near Safe Harbor include symbols and alignments for the annual equinox and solstices as well. Jay Toth, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, of the Seneca Nation feels that many of these symbols are a reflection of the sky on the water and the images were then pecked and created in the rock.
Little Indian Rock at sunset
The Iroquois Midwinter Ceremony occurred in late January or early February, dependent on the midwinter new moon and lasted at least a week. Iroquois belief systems rely heavily on the lunar calendar and an appreciation for moon phases and constellations helped to guide their survival. The Pleiades, a winter constellation of seven stars is known as the seven sisters in Greek mythology. When the Pleiades appeared in the sky in North America, it was a sign for the male hunters to return to the village from their early winter hunt. The ceremony was a period for renewal and thanksgiving, an opportunity for the hunters to rest before returning to the woods. A celebratory time of gathering in preparation for the remaining weeks of winter.
Environmental changes such as tree buds, or sap running are indicators of spring and one that our maple sugar producers follow closely. Birds that migrate begin to return north and animals who hibernate begin to emerge. These changes in the season and the significance of animals and birds to Native groups is likely reflected in the effigy figures created. Bears, turtles, owls and geese appear in artifacts such as clay smoking pipes, carved stone and wood, or shell ornaments which honor their significance.
Left to right: shell geese from the Byrd Leibhart Site (36Yo170) [photo by Duane Esarey]; a carved wooden owl effigy with brass inlay from the Strickler Site (36La3); a carved steatite pipe bowl with bear effigy and attached pewter stem from the Oscar Leibhart Site (36Yo9) [photo by Vince Cassaro]
These rituals and ceremonies were a valuable tool for ancient cultures in planning for the remaining months of winter. Whether predicted by the moon phases, constellations, floral or animal behavior each of these indicators were a survival tool and a coping mechanism for the dark days of winter. The desire to add light either by honoring the solar system, building a fire, or lighting candles all produced the same effect of illuminating darkness. These cultural practices have changed and evolved over time, but at the core of these is the desire for light and that sense of renewal that comes with spring. 
We hope that you’ve enjoyed this reflection on our winter weather and that Punxatawny Phil’s prediction is for an early spring.  
Snow, Dean R., The Iroquois, The Peoples of America, Blackwell Publishers, 1996.

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

Friday, January 19, 2018

Projectile Point Types of the Early Archaic Period

            The Early Archaic period in Pennsylvania corresponds with the end of the Younger Dryas climatic episode and the beginning of the Holocene episode or the modern era at about 11,700 calendar years ago. This is a very interesting time because it witnessed the most significant environmental change of the past 40,000 years, although some argue that the current episode of global warming will turn out to be even more significant.  Additionally, we see radical changes in projectile points from the unique fluted points of the Paleoindian period to the more common notched points of the Archaic period. During the Younger Dryas, fluted points in the Northeast evolve from Clovis into points with longer flutes and a fishtail shape eventually leading to a decreased emphasis on fluting and finally to leaf shaped points with no fluting. Rather quickly, around 11,700 calendar years before present (BP), notched projectile points such as Thebes, Charleston, Palmer, and Kirk appear.

Environmentally, at 11,700 calendar years ago, this is a transition between the cold, harsh conditions of the Pleistocene to the warming of the Holocene. The temperatures rose rapidly to modern conditions, but it required approximately 1000 years for the open spruce pine forest of the ice age to evolve into the oak and pine forest of the early Holocene and 5000 more years to become the oak-hickory and hemlock forest of the later Holocene. For Paleoindians, the long winters and coniferous forest did not provide many plant food and probably 60% of their diet came from hunting small game, deer, bear, elk, caribou in northern Pennsylvania and fishing. The closed spruce pine forest of this transitioning period between 11,700 and 10,200 calendar years BP also did not provide many plant foods, although the winters were shorter and oak trees, with their supply of acorns were increasingly available for both human and animal consumption.

            The drastic change in projectile points has always perplexed archaeologists. The change from lanceolate forms to notched forms suggests radical changes in the way they were hafted to the shaft. Lanceolate points are found all over the world, but only in the Americas are they fluted. The mechanism for hafting fluted points is generally understood, but why the need for fluting is a mystery. Some archaeologists believe that the change in spearpoint shape was related to hunting with an atlatl in the dense coniferous forest of the Early Archaic period. However, others argue it is more difficult to throw with an atlatl in a forest, so the jury is still out on this issue. Hardaway and Hardaway-Dalton points are basially thinned and notched and considered by some to represent a transition between fluted points and Early Archaic notched points but these are very rare in Pennsylvania.

            Whatever, the reasons, the most common Early Archaic projectile point types found in Pennsylvania are: Palmer and Kirk, corner notched types; less common are Kirk side notched and Charleston corner notched types and lastly, the Thebes type has only been recovered from a few sites. Generally, they all have a ground base and are serrated. Like fluted points, most are made from chert or jasper, although metarhyolite and quartzite was also used.

Thebes Points (Justice 1987)
Based on stratigraphic associations, the oldest of these seems to be the Thebes type. This is a relatively large, side notched or diagonally notched point. The blade is generally triangular in shape and the overall thickness of the point is generally greater than other points of this era. A distinctive characteristic of this type is that one edge of the blade is usually beveled suggesting that it was also used as a scraper or knife. Some have argued that this was its primary function (Justice 1987). These have not been dated in the Middle Atlantic region, but at Graham Cave in Missouri, they were dated to 10,854+570 and 10,557+429 calendar years BP (Justice 1987).
Caption: Early Archaic points from the Wallis (36Pe16) Treichlers Bridge (36Nm142) and Lewistown Narrows (36Ju104) sites. (upper left – Kirk corner notched; upper right – Palmer; lower left 3 – Charleston; lower right – Kirk;)

Again, based on stratigraphic associations, the Charleston corner notched type occurs with the Thebes type and below Kirk and Palmer types (Justice 1987). These are relatively broad points compared to other types of this era. The blade is also frequently asymmetrical again suggesting they were used as knives or scrapers. Two Charleston points were dated to 11,408+750 at the St. Albans site in West Virginia (Broyles 1971).

The Palmer corner notched type is a relatively small point with a straight base and frequently with more pronounced serrations (Coe 1964). The shape of the blade has been compared to a “Christmas tree”. They have not been well dated in Pennsylvania, but at the Thunderbird site in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, they were dated to 11,468+566 calendar years before present (Verrey 1986). At the Richmond Hill site in New York, three Palmer points associated with a hearth were dated to 10,595+180 calendar years before present (Justice 1987).

Caption: a metarhyolite Kirk corner notched point dated to 10,334+302 calendar years BP from the Central Builders site (36Nb117).


The Kirk corner notched type has a large, generally triangular blade with a straight or sometimes convex base. Compared to the Charleston type, the blade is less frequently asymmetrical. In addition, these points are thinned by flakes that extended across the mid-line of the point (Justice 1987). This type has been dated at several sites in Pennsylvania to between 10,730+412 and 10,209+30 calendar years BP (Carr 1992). Kirk side notched points are sometimes found above corner notched types in stratified alluvial settings and usually below bifurcate base points, but there are few if any dates on this type (Carr 1992). Kirk stemmed points have been found in the same levels as bifurcate points at several sites (Daniel 2011).

The Early Archaic sequence presented above – Thebes, Charleston, Palmer, and finally Kirk seems reasonable based on stratigraphic associations. Daniel (2011) published a re-analysis of Coe’s (1964) work that essentially supports the above chronological sequence for these types. However, the radiocarbon dates do not support a sequence of dates for these types, but rather suggest several types were contemporary and were being used at the same time. Part of the problem is there are a limited number of dates and most of them cover a wide range of time. Or these types, in fact, overlap in time and were used throughout this period by different bands or had different functions. Obviously, it is necessary for archaeologists to obtain more dates from stratified contexts and use the most refined dating system available (ie AMS dates) to further our understanding of this time period.

            In conclusion, it is clear that the Early Archaic projectile point types were part of the adaptive strategy for exploiting the post-Pleistocene environment that was transitioning to a more diverse deciduous forest at about 10,200 calendar years BP. Although there is a slight overlap with Kirk points, bifurcate base points were the main lithic projectile point used to exploit this initial phase of the evolution of the deciduous forest in the Middle Atlantic region.

            We hope you’ve been inspired during these cold days of winter to consider the harsh environments that prehistoric peoples encountered and their survival techniques. A better appreciation and understanding of our past, helps us to consider change and adaptation for the future.  If you’d like to learn more about the Early Archaic period, please check out other posts on this blog or the references provided below.



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.

 1992   A Distributional Analysis of Artifacts from the Fifty Site: A Flint Run Paleoindian Processing Station. Ph.D. dissertation, The Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.

1998    The Early Archaic in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 68:42-69.

Coe, Joffre L.

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

Daniel, J. Randolph

2011    A New Look at an Old Sequence: Typology, and Intrusive Traditions in the Carolina Piedmont. In The Archaeology of North Carolina: Three Archaeological Symposia. North Carolina Archaeological Council Publication Number 30.

Justice, Noel D.

1987    Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points of the Midcontinental and Eastern United States. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.

Verrey, Robert

1986    Paleoindian Stone Tool Manufacture at the Thunderbird Site (44WR11). Ph.D. dissertation. Department of Anthropology. Catholic University of America, Washington D.C.

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

Friday, January 5, 2018

2018 Farm Show

This year is the 102nd anniversary of the Pennsylvania State Farm Show. 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.” 

The Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania will again host an exhibit, complete with an authentic replica of a 20-foot long dugout canoe. Our exhibit is entitled Foragers to Farmers, the Development of Agriculture in Pennsylvania. As you read in our last blog, Native Americans and then early settlers had a close connection to the land, which served to provide them with food and medicine. This exhibit explores some of those plants and how they were utilized by our ancestors and showcases some of the artifacts from Pennsylvania.

View of the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Booth at the Farm Show
Farming is more labor intensive than hunting and gathering and there is a debate in archaeology as to why early Indian populations in Pennsylvania gradually began focusing on seed plants such as goosefoot, lambs quarter, and maygrass for food; eventually growing these plants in gardens and finally adding maize to their diet. The dependence on maize in the diet begans about A.D. 1000 eventually leading to the  development of large villages and significant changes in social organization. During the 1700s, European farms began to dominate the region and farming changed to include livestock and grains. By the late 19th and early 20th century, farming became more mechanized and fed huge numbers of people. The artifacts on display document this change over the past 5,000 years. 

A corn grinding station utilizing stone tools allows visitors to experience the process used by native peoples.  Corn quickly became a food staple after A.D. 1200, spurring dramatic social changes.  Small egalitarian groups of people grew into tribal societies. Another station will share information on types of native foods still utilized today and some recipes that you can try at home.

Artifact Case at the State Museum Booth
This event is always an excellent opportunity for the State Museum staff to connect with the community.  We talk to an average of 40-50,000 visitors each year at the Farm Show and share our knowledge with interested citizens of the Commonwealth.  One of our goals in reaching out to the community is to share the significance of archaeology and to stress the importance of recording archaeological sites.  The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is the state agency for preserving our historical and archaeological heritage.  The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) records and maintains the files for all known sites across the Commonwealth.  This database of information enables state agencies such as PENNDOT to plan for highway projects that will have the least amount of impact on archaeological resources.  Archaeology is a labor intensive and an expensive undertaking.  Avoiding sites reduces the expense of building roads or bridges. 

The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) is also participating in our exhibit as they have in past years.  Representatives are on hand to answer questions about the Society and membership which includes the biannual journal, Pennsylvania Archaeologist, newsletters and meeting announcements.  As an additional benefit of joining at the Farm Show you will receive three past issues of the SPA journal.

Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Table at the State Museum Booth
Our booth will be located opposite the carousel in the Main Exhibition Hall of the Farm Show Complex.  The Farm Show runs from Saturday, January 6 through Saturday, January 13, and is open from 8:00 am to 9:00 pm each day except the 13th when it closes at 5:00 pm. Mark your calendar and plan your visit to the 102nd Pennsylvania Farm Show ( Be sure to join us at the State Museum’s booth and take a ride in the dugout canoe.

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