Friday, October 12, 2018

Fort Hunter Wrap-up and Archaeology Month Events

3rd in the 'berg at Fort Hunter 2018

The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology wrapped up its annual public archaeology excavation this past Friday, October the 5th. Despite this year’s overall soggy season, the program continues to be successful in providing an opportunity for the public to observe an archaeological dig up close, and to learn more about the historic and prehistoric inhabitants that called what is now Fort Hunter Mansion and Park home.

These students are shovel-ready!

Middle school and High school students, college undergraduates as well as home-schooled individuals were introduced to modern survey methods used to establish the site’s grid coordinate system, excavation techniques using traditional hand tools such as spade shovels and mason’s trowels, and the basics of artifact identification while screening soil.

Learning what to look for in the screen

Casual visitors to the park, not wishing to get their hands dirty, were treated to a detailed history of the property as known from the historical record and, how we have come to understand the site archaeologically.

Attentive crowd during Fort Hunter Day 

Avid followers of TWIPA will recall that our last post contained somewhat of a cliff-hanger concerning a linear feature that had been identified in two excavation units adjacent to the rear of the 1860’s addition to the mansion. Tantalizing fragments of French and Indian War period ceramics such as delft tin-glazed earthenware and scratch blue salt-glazed stoneware, and a few pieces of lead swan shot stoked imaginations that the feature might be associated with the fort’s stockade, or perhaps a ditch dug around the fort to enhance its defenses. Such a recommendation had been noted in the historical record in the form a letter:

PA Archives, Vol. III, page 488 – G. Price to Gov. Denny, Fort Hunter, ye 22nd July, 1758
“I was left in the Garrison of Fort Hunter, and received Orders from Genl Forbes to repair it, and sent and Engineer to inspect into the condition, who found necessary to Stockade it, for which purpose I was to get the Country People; and accordingly apply’d to the several Justices of the Peace for the Townships of Paxton and Donegal, which latter I never had any answer from, but was inform’d by Parson Elder, of Paxton, whose word is the same wth that of the Justices, as they act in conjunction in such affairs that till harvest be over the Country People can do nothing; therefore thought propper to acquaint you of this, as a duty incumbent, also that I am relieved, and that should be the work of the fort be Pospon’d till harvest be over, ‘twill be yet three weeks before they begin.
P.S. – the Stockades are cut.”

Continued excavation of the suspect feature ultimately revealed itself to be the trench for a clay sewer pipe, likely dating to the second quarter of the 20th century with the arrival of modern plumbing to the mansion. A pipe dream indeed, much to the crew’s dismay. One silver lining of the deflating discovery late in the dig, is that it at least spares us the next eleven months of speculation about the feature’s origin.

trench feature visible in cross-section and clay sewer pipe

With the field season quickly drawing to a close, final levels were completed in the excavation block and then each profile, or wall, of the individual units was photographed and carefully hand mapped on graph paper to scale in order to record their stratigraphic sequence.

measuring and mapping profiles in unit with pvc drain pipe

The site was then “put to bed” by lining the walls and floors of each unit in the excavation block with heavy black plastic and weighted down with stone. The Fort Hunter ground crew has it all backfilled  for the safety of the park visitors during the rest of the year. 

overview of 2018 excavation block, looking West

The saying goes “you just can’t find good help these days”. In our case we have found good help, in the form of our dedicated volunteers. We can’t emphasize enough, the amount of work completed would not have been possible, nor as enjoyable without you, and we thank all of you for your enthusiasm and hard work!

Looking forward to more Archaeology Month events happening soon, Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village is hosting Archaeology Day tomorrow, Oct. 13th from 11AM to 5PM. Be sure to check their website for details.

Thursday, October 25th from 10AM to 1PM the Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia will host a workshop on historic ceramic identification and its importance to archaeologists. More information can be found by clicking here.

And finally, just two weeks away, The State Museum of Pennsylvania will host the 2018 Annual Workshops in Archaeology series on Saturday, October 27 from 8:30AM to 6PM. This year’s topic, the culture history of the Susquehannock Indians from an archaeological context, will be explored in detail by nine 30-minute presentations throughout the day followed by a question and discussion forum, and concluding with light refreshments. Additional programming includes a flint knapping demonstration, artifact identification, and instruction on recording sites with the State Historic Preservation Office’s Cultural Resource Geographic Information System. 
Early registration discount ends Oct. 19th. Program abstracts and registration form can be found here

We hope to see you there!

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

Friday, September 28, 2018

Rain drops keep falling on my head, but that doesn’t mean we won’t continue at Fort Hunter

The 2018 field season at Fort Hunter Mansion & Park is coming to a close soon and it has been a wet one! Last year we marveled at not having a single rain day, this year is quite the opposite. It has been a terrific year for visitors, the press, social media and just general interest in our excavation. Fort Hunter Day was one of those rare beautiful days when everyone was eager to get outside and enjoy the sunshine as demonstrated by the more than 3,000 visitors at the site.   We welcome everyone to visit and observe our excavation but especially, to ask questions.

Some of our visitors have been following us and our progress every September and early October since 2006 so they know the routine.  Others are visiting for the first time and are new to the archaeological process. Most of our visitors stand off to the side, a little unsure whether to come closer. Once they see that we’re just harmless, crazy archaeologists, the exchanges between visitors and staff demonstrate that there is an increasing interest in archaeology and our heritage in central Pennsylvania.

As with any job, once you have done something for a while you take for granted the process and begin to overlook some of the minutia of the task. You complete the process without really thinking about how or why you do things a certain way.  For an individual who has never visited an archaeological site or had an opportunity to observe the process, it can be confusing and perhaps a bit overwhelming. This is the challenge of public archaeology; make it understandable and relative to the general public.  So, some of the questions that our visitors ask may seem insignificant to us but are obviously important to their understanding of archaeology.  This blog will address some of the questions we’ve received and hopefully some of our followers have had these or similar questions of their own that will be answered.

PHMC archaeologist Janet Johnson speaks with visitors to the site during Fort Hunter Day.
(Photo: PHMC, Section of Archaeology)

Probably the most common question- what are you looking for?

Our immediate response is something to the effect of “We’re archaeologists with The State Museum of Pennsylvania and are looking for evidence of the French & Indian War period fort that stood here between 1755 and 1763.” It’s true we began this project in 2006 with hopes of finding a stockade trench and a blockhouse described in historic documents. However, while this was and is our ideal, the search goes far beyond the French and Indian War period.  Fort Hunter Mansion and Park has been used for thousands of years and we are literally peeling back the soil to discover the lives of the Indians, colonists, industrialist, farmer and businessman who left their trace.

Why are you digging here?

The initial area of excavation was prompted by ground penetrating radar that indicated areas of ground disturbance that seemed most promising. The discovery of a feature interpreted as the bake oven in 2006 was facilitated by that technology. Subsequent investigations were based on soil changes and trenching that provided a window into activity areas for which we later explored.  Our investigation is also guided by the archaeological evidence recovered in previous excavations, the artifacts and features. Artifacts are the tangible evidence of the past- their presence in undisturbed soils, as identified stratigraphically, is priceless.  So when asked, “Why don’t you dig down on the bank, closer to the river and Fishing Creek?” the answer is all about the stratigraphy and that undisturbed soil.

As stated earlier, lots of people have lived on this piece of ground and all of them have dug in the dirt, had campfires, disturbed soils and left their “mark” or presence on the landscape. It is all this activity that is challenging to sort through and identify the intact soils and the undisturbed stratigraphy. This year, we have uncovered an undisturbed living floor that dates to the Woodland period, 1000- 2900 years ago.  Significant not only for its integrity as an intact soil package but also for the picture of the past provided. Envision Indians sitting around a campfire cooking fish or game recently caught while they sharpen their projectile points (arrowheads) and polish a stone axe.  Our evidence of this picture comes in the form of lithic flakes, fire-cracked rock, broken pottery and a stone axe- tangible evidence of the past.

This drawing depicts indigenous people sitting by a camp fire.
(Drawing: Jonathan Frazier)

Another frequently asked question “What are those colored pins in the ground- the red and blue things?”  The soil markers designate stratigraphy- soil layers- within our excavation unit. Red pins define natural soil changes while the blue pins designate incremental soil levels of .25/10ths or 3 inches. Archaeology is a destructive process and it is only through careful excavation that we can examine the soils and identify anomalies we refer to as features. Features are activities that leave evidence in the soil- a cooking hearth is a feature identified by charcoal flecks and fire cracked and reddened rocks. 

The red pins define a natural soil change in the wall of this excavation unit
(photo: PHMC, Section of Archaeology)

What happens to the dirt that you dig out?

Dirt is screened through quarter inch mesh to identify artifacts that may have not been recovered during excavation. This process can be time consuming but is so very important to ensure that we don’t overlook artifacts or indicators of activities. The backdirt piles (sifted soil piles under the screen) are eventually used by the grounds crew at Fort Hunter to fill in the excavation units.

Staff and volunteers screen dirt through 1/4" wire mesh at Fort Hunter.
(Photo: PHMC, Section of Archaeology)

What happens when you stop digging for this year?

The units (5x5 square) that we have opened are covered over with a heavy black plastic. The grounds crew at Fort Hunter will use soil from the back dirt pile to fill in the open units and the black plastic is a marker for us should we wish to return to a unit the following year.

Where do the artifacts go?

The artifacts go to the archaeology lab of the State Museum for processing which involves washing, labeling, and identification.  Research and analysis of all the artifacts is conducted over the winter and spring prior to permanent curation. Conservation treatment is preserved on the most fragile or corroded of the artifacts. Specialized treatment aids in the preservation of these artifacts and ensures stability for many years to come.

What do you do if it rains?

This record-breaking year of wet weather has taken a toll on excavations and a frequent question has to do with how we deal with bad weather. We are able to continue excavations if the rain is light, but any periods longer than a few minutes create a muddy mess that is more likely to damage features. We screen the soil in our buckets, bag any artifacts and cover the units with plastic to preserve the exposed floor. The next day we bail out water from the top of the plastic and then carefully remove the plastic to see if we were successful in our endeavors to save the units from damage.  

Water from overnight rain sits atop the black plastic used to cover excavation units.
(Photo: PHMC, Section of Archaeology)

What have you found? What’s the most interesting thing you’ve found here?

We have found many artifacts that represent the activities of Fort Hunter and several of them provide interesting stories of the residents of this site.  No one object tells the story of Fort Hunter so there is not an easy answer as to the most interesting or important artifact. This year’s recovery of a stone axe will be a highlight since these are rare discoveries during excavation.  The volume of musket balls and swan shot are of particular interest and further analysis will look for density of these materials this year as compared to other years and locations.

A full grooved stone axe recovered during 2018 excavations at Fort Hunter.
(Photo: Don Giles)

This historic reference to supplies issued in December of 1755 references Swan Shot and the delivery of twenty-five pounds to the site. There are spent (used) and unused shot present in the excavations adjacent to the summer kitchen at the rear of the mansion.
“Decemr 9 [1755], By Thomas Forster Esqr & Thos McKee, at Hunter’s Fort,                                                                                                                                              12 ½ lb. Powder and 25 lb Swan Shot

An intriguing feature has appeared in the excavation block that has created a lot of questions and speculation by our team. A linear ditch or trench approximately a foot wide was exposed that runs through at least two of the units. The depth of this feature is being investigated and careful screening of the artifacts conducted. Unfortunately no artifacts have been recovered in this feature that provide a solid date of its construction or indicate its purpose.  Reference to the ditch at Hunter’s is made in the following;

PA Archives, Vol. III, page 442 – Engineer Rich’d Dudgeon to Gov. Denny, Carlisle , 7th July, 1758
“Pursuant to an Order Received from Genl Forbes, the 5th Inst., I have been to Inspect the State of Fort Hunter, & am of Opinion that Stockading of it, & Opening & Deepning the Ditch, according to the Scheme left with the Commanding Officer there, will be  Genls Order, is to see the Work Executed, by imploying the Country People. But as it’s apprehended he may meet with difficultys in calling this assistance, I am desired by the Genl to signify this to you.”

Further investigation of the linear feature is necessary to understand it’s use and time period of construction, but for now we are happy to explore the possibility that this may be a portion of the ditch referenced above.

The lighter colored soil running across the units near the top of the photo indicates a yet unexplored linear feature. (Photo: PHMC, Section of Archaeology)

We only have a week left for the 2018 field season; our last day is October 5th .  With a forecast of a dry weekend we can only hope that the trend will continue into next week and we’ll be able to explore these questions and others before the plastic goes on and we let the site rest until next September. We hope you will find the time to visit us and observe the process of discovering the archaeological heritage of Fort Hunter Mansion & Park, Dauphin County. We encourage you to continue to check the blog for updates on the analysis of the artifacts and data throughout the winter months as we explore the story of this important site.

One last question that visitors ask- What are your jobs or tasks when you go back to the office?

The analysis and processing of the artifacts is only a portion of our jobs as we curate over 9 million artifacts from across the Commonwealth. We also conduct a major outreach program at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in January. There is an exhibit to design, brochure to develop and print and labels to prepare for artifacts on display during this event. Our most immediate attention will focus on preparing for the Workshops in Archaeology program on October 27th. This one day event will focus on the Susquehannock Indians who lived along the river and interacted with Captain John Smith in the Chesapeake Bay in 1608. The story of their tribe as seen from an archaeological perspective and through their artifacts is fascinating.  We invite you to check out the registration information and program information for 2018 Workshops in Archaeology.

It’s not raining today and we have school groups scheduled so it’s time to dig! Hopefully you’ll stop by to see our progress and ask a few of your own questions. 

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

Friday, September 14, 2018

A report by our summer intern on her experience in the Section of Archaeology

This week’s blog comes to you from our college intern this past summer. Working two to three days a week, she processed a huge amount of data and gained practical experience in the analysis of lithic artifacts. She was a quick learner and we enjoyed her stay.

My name is Alaina Helm. I am a sophomore at Oberlin College, and planning to major in Archaeological Studies and Geology. Over the summer, I volunteered with the State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology. I have been fascinated with anthropology and archaeology for as long as I can remember, dragging my family through natural history museums whenever the opportunity arose. As the spring semester drew to a close, I wanted to do something productive and educational over the summer, so I contacted the museum, where I was welcomed and given the wonderful opportunity to learn about the cataloging, processing, and analysis of archaeological artifacts.

Alaina Helm and Dr. Kurt Carr examining lithic material from Kings Quarry (36Lh2)

Most of my time at the museum was spent analyzing stone or lithic artifacts systematically surface collected in three-meter squares from a jasper quarry site in Lehigh County called Kings Quarry (36Lh2). The artifacts were mainly the chips from the making of stone tools rather than the tools themselves. While at first glance the lithics may appear to be regular rocks, at closer inspection you can identify signs of production or how they were made. Evidence of reduction with differing types of percussion instruments such as hammerstones or antler batons reflect all stages of tool making – from the harvesting of raw material from the quarry to the retouching of edges on already formed tools.

 Closely examining a piece of flaked jasper

Under the Direction of Dr. Kurt Carr, I learned to recognize types of percussion and predict the stage of production of a given artifact. After first sorting through a group of artifacts to sort out pieces showing signs of utilization or containing an intact striking platform, I would go through each artifact with an intact platform to determine if they were entire or proximal (broken). I could then determine what type of bulb of percussion was present, the angle of the platform, whether the platform had been ground or flaked, number of flake scars, amount of cortex material, and amount of thermal alteration. After recording each of those pieces of information, I would then make a judgement as to what stage of production likely created the piece and record that too. Sorting through over 7000 pieces, I was able to garner a comparison over different parts of the site to determine if certain types of production activities were occurring in specific areas.  I used an excel spread sheet to record all my data which enabled me to produce analytical graphs for each excavation unit.  These graphs allowed the areas to be compared to each other to determine the location of different types of reduction activities. One of our initial conclusions is that almost 90% of the tools and utilized flakes came two excavation units and these were correlated with a previously discovered fluted point. This suggests a Paleoindian occupation.

A pie chart showing each type of lithic material from Kings Quarry (36Lh2)

 I also spent some time helping to wash and process artifacts in the lab towards the beginning of the summer, a fundamental process for curation. Towards the end of the summer, I also worked on inventorying a collection of artifacts related to the Sheep Rock Shelter (36Hu1) recently donated to the museum.

Alaina showing off a piece of flaked jasper she analyzed

Prior to working with the Section of Archaeology I had very little experience studying and identifying lithic materials. Working with the state museum staff, I learned to identify the different aspects of knapping and the tool making techniques. Sorting through what sometimes felt like mountains of jasper, I learned to identify reduction methods utilized by Pennsylvania natives long ago. Although the summer has ended, and the next semester will begin shortly, only a portion of the surface collection was analyzed. I hope that in the future, analysis of the collection can be completed, and if I get the chance whenever I am next home in Pennsylvania, I would enjoy resuming the project.

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

Friday, August 31, 2018

2018 Fort Hunter Excavations

It’s that time of year again! No, not time for everything pumpkin spice. It’s time to gear up for the annual archaeological dig at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park, just north of Harrisburg. For the last 11 years, the Section of Archaeology of the State Museum of Pennsylvania has explored the Fort Hunter property in search of remains of the French and Indian War fort that once was located there. We have found many clues to the presence of the fort, including a cannonball, numerous military items, and a possible bake oven; but, not the fort itself. However, we know from research that the fort was in existence for only seven to eight years out of the nearly 300 years of historic occupation of this site and we have uncovered artifacts that tell us much about the other residents of this property. Not to mention the thousands of years of occupation by Native Americans.  Many of the TWIPA blog posts have dealt with the various Fort Hunter finds and you can access these by typing Fort Hunter into the “Search” box on the blog page.

The 2017 dig season focused on fully uncovering the stone foundation of what we believe to be a smokehouse from the early 1800s and reopening the block excavation behind the kitchen addition of the Mansion house that we investigated in 2016. The foundations of the smokehouse, an octagonal structure in which meats were smoked to preserve them, were carefully excavated to try to determine how it was constructed and to recover any artifacts that might have been associated with it to aid in its interpretation. As the foundation stones were removed, samples of rock and soil in the bottom of the smokehouse were taken to conduct further analyses. Following the mapping and removal of all the stones, this area was backfilled.

Area of the smokehouse foundation partially removed 

Come out and see what we find! This is an opportunity to learn about this important historic site and embrace our Commonwealth’s heritage. Artifacts will be on display and archaeologists will be on hand Monday-Friday, 9am-4:30pm (weather permitting) to answer questions about the site and how field archaeology is conducted. In addition to weekdays, excavation will take place on Fort Hunter Day on Sunday, September 16, 2018. Excavations will close for the year on October 5, 2018. 
 Excavations of the foundation revealed clues to its construction, including how the builder’s trench was dug and how the stones were fitted together without mortar to form a strong base for the wooden superstructure. Some stones that were removed even appeared to have been shaped with steel tools so that they fit together better, creating a stronger foundation.

Smokehouse foundation, partially removed, showing the builder’s trench

Stones removed from the smokehouse foundation that were shaped with tools to fit tightly together

The block excavation in the rear of the kitchen addition had been filled in following the 2016 excavations but was reopened last year because of the discovery of some interesting artifacts from the 1700s. Although 2017 excavations in this area did not end up producing much in the way of fort-related artifacts, some exciting finds were made. A ground surface believed to be the original surface during prehistoric time periods was found roughly 2 feet below the current ground level. This surface, called a buried A-horizon (a dark-colored, heavily organic soil), was covered by years of natural and manmade (fill) buildup. This A-horizon yielded several hundred native-made artifacts including pottery, stone weights for fish nets, projectile points (arrowheads), part of a native-made clay pipe stem, and chipping debris from making stone tools.

Excavations in the side yard behind the Mansion’s kitchen addition

 In addition, other aspects of the shape, size, and composition of the side yard were discovered. While this doesn’t sound very exciting, these factors can help the archaeologists reconstruct the landscape over time. For instance, we know that portions of the property along both the Susquehanna River and Fishing Creek were affected by flooding over the years, especially by Hurricane Agnes in 1972. This flooding caused portions of the yard to slump into the river and destroyed some of the small outbuildings. Could it have taken portions of the fort too? We can also see where someone tried to shore up the bank along the creek side of the yard with a fill of rocks, concrete, slag, and garbage at some point and then attempted to shore it up again in later years. The more recent fill layer included a wrapper from a local bread company, foil food packaging, and plastic garbage as well as light bulbs, bricks, painting supplies, linoleum fragments, and even a pair of boots! It was surmised that, following Hurricane Agnes repairs to the house were necessary and when the work was completed, the debris was thrown in the yard along the washed-out bank.

Edge of yard above Fishing Creek showing distinct fill layers. Note the upper fill layer of bricks and garbage and the lower layer of concrete, rock, and slag.

This year’s excavations begin on September 5 and will again focus on the area of the side yard behind the kitchen addition. We will uncover some of our blocks from 2017 and will expand them south toward the back (south) foundation of the Mansion. This back addition was built in the 1870s during the Boas/Reily family occupation of the house. Based on oral tradition, the house is generally believed to have been built over top of the fort’s blockhouse, so the archaeologists will try to get as close to the house as they can. By doing this, we hope to find remains of the fort or palisade, as well as to determine construction techniques of the house foundation and recover additional artifacts related to both. In addition, the Native American occupation level appears to continue south and we hope to recover additional artifacts and discover features related to this occupation.

Excavation filled at the end of 2017 season and area at rear of the house to be excavated in 2018

 Come out and see what we find! This is an opportunity to learn about this important historic site and embrace our Commonwealth’s heritage. Artifacts will be on display and archaeologists will be on hand Monday-Friday, 9am-4:30pm (weather permitting) to answer questions about the site and how field archaeology is conducted. In addition to weekdays, excavation will take place on Fort Hunter Day on Sunday, September 16, 2018. Excavations will close for the year on October 5, 2018. 

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

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 .