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 .