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 .

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