Thursday, August 6, 2020

Uncovering what the metarhyolite quarries in the South Mountain area meant to Native Americans

This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology comes to you from archaeologist Robert Bodnar with help from geologist Robert C. Smith II and archaeologist Hettie L. Ballweber. Mr. Bodnar and colleagues have been investigating metarhyolite quarries in the South Mountain area of Adams and Franklin Counties of south-central Pennsylvania for many years. The following is a preliminary report on their recent work at one quarry location.

By way of background, metarhyolite (commonly listed as rhyolite in the older literature) is a metamorphosed volcanic rock found in different colors, most commonly dark blue or banded but this quarry is located in the less common, purple variety. The material flakes well and is good for stone tool manufacture. Native Americans began using it at least 10,000 years ago and beginning 4000 years ago, it was intensively used and traded in the Susquehanna, Delaware and Chesapeake Bay drainages. The research presented below is the initial step in understanding how groups of Native Americans used these quarries and how this material was distributed throughout the Middle Atlantic region.

Mr. Bodnar can be contacted at with any questions you might have. We hope you enjoy this presentation.

Seeing Purple: Archaeological Investigations of a Prehistoric Metarhyolite Quarry on South Mountain in Adams County, Pennsylvania.

On June 16, 1994 an article was published in the Gettysburg Times titled: County’s First Industry: Rhyolite Richness. It was written by the late Dr. Louis S. Morgan of Wichita, Kansas. Morgan grew up on a farm in Adams County, Pennsylvania and attended high school in Gettysburg. It was during his childhood that he was expected to follow behind his family’s horse-drawn plow. During this arduous task, he had fun collecting the prehistoric artifacts (he notes sometimes made from purple rhyolite - aka metarhyolite) that the plow would turn up. 

Presumed Selby Bay/Fox Creek Point (purple). Possibly, manufactured from metarhyolite that originated from the South Mountain quarry currently under investigation. (Morgan Collection, Adams County Historical Society #127).  Photo scale rectangles are 1 centimeter long.
Presumed Selby Bay/Fox Creek Point (purple). Possibly, manufactured from metarhyolite that originated from the South Mountain quarry currently under investigation. (Morgan Collection, Adams County Historical Society #127).  Photo scale rectangles are 1 centimeter long.  

The metarhyolite stone artifacts (spear points, etc.) that Dr. Morgan happily collected were the finished products of an industrial process that began at one of the prehistoric metarhyolite quarries that dot the landscape on South Mountain in Adams and Franklin Counties in Pennsylvania.

 A prehistoric quarry, as defined by George Odell, is a specific location on a landscape at which a lithic resource was extracted. They are usually characterized by huge quantities of waste material resulting from this process. Such is the case with the metarhyolite quarry (designated as 36AD0576 in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files managed by the State Historic Preservation Office, of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) now under investigation on South Mountain. This prehistoric industrial site was initially identified by the presence of scattered cultural surface material that included large amounts of purple waste flakes, hammerstones, hammerstone fragments, discoidal cores, preforms, and their rejected and broken forms – think of all the debris scattered around a modern limestone quarry. Also visible at the quarry site were metarhyolite outcrops that included a large float boulder (a large block of stone that has broken away from the bedrock). Some of these boulders show signs of being culturally modified or worked. Initially, two discernable quarry pit features (large shallow depressions in the ground surface) were also observed. These two pit features were circular in nature and measure approximately 9’ and 25’ in diameter, respectively. A field investigation was initiated with permission from the owner.  During the summer of 2019 an east/west Trench, 1, was excavated through the center of the 9’ quarry pit and beginning in June of 2020 an east/west Trench, 2, was excavated through the center of the larger 25’ quarry pit. The following is a preliminary report of the initial results of the 2019/2020 excavations although the excavations and analyses are still ongoing.

Trench 2 looking west across the approximate 25’ quarry pit feature. A large culturally impacted metarhyolite float boulder approximately 5’6” long and 1’6” thick protrudes from the northern wall. Hammer mark scars are visible on the radius of the exposed float portion and numerous large diabase hammer fragments, sometimes greater than 18lbs., were located near the float.

Trench 2 looking west across the approximate 25’ quarry pit feature. A large culturally impacted metarhyolite float boulder approximately 5’6” long and 1’6” thick protrudes from the northern wall. Hammer mark scars are visible on the radius of the exposed float portion and numerous large diabase hammer fragments, sometimes greater than 18lbs., were located near the float.

Based on the analysis thus far, it is postulated that a Middle Woodland, Selby Bay phase (dating 1800 to 1100 years ago), single component quarry site was discovered. Thomas Mayr (1972) first defined the Selby Bay phase characterized by Selby Bay points. Henry Wright (1973) recorded some variants of the Selby Bay point (stemmed, lanceolate, and side-notched) among other things. With respect to the quarry under investigation, Curry and Kavanagh (1991) as well as Mayr (1972) note that one of the most common Selby Bay traits is their almost exclusive use of metarhyolite for their flaking material. The Selby Bay quarrymen traveled from the coastal plain areas to the distant Catoctin and South Mountains for their desired metarhyolite, although some trading cannot be ruled out. A radiocarbon date of A.D. 410 +/- 30 was obtained from Trench 1 in 2019. The dated charcoal sample was removed from a burning event located near the bedrock at 93 centimetres in depth. This date fits well within the Selby Bay Cultural Complex A.D. 300 – 700 (Wright 1973) and A.D. 200 – 900 (Inashima 2008). In addition to the radiocarbon date, five Selby Bay related artifacts have been recovered from the two trenches.

Selby Bay/Fox Creek diagnostics recovered at quarry site 36AD0576. The first two artifacts are from Trench 2 and the third artifact was recovered from Trench 1. The third artifact is also metarhyolite, but not of a metarhyolite type that is known by this author to occur in place near the quarry under investigation. The quarrymen likely brought it with them to the site and then lost or discarded it.
Selby Bay/Fox Creek diagnostics recovered at quarry site 36AD0576. The first two artifacts are from Trench 2 and the third artifact was recovered from Trench 1. The third artifact is also metarhyolite, but not of a metarhyolite type that is known by this author to occur in place near the quarry under investigation. The quarrymen likely brought it with them to the site and then lost or discarded it.  

Two thinned bifaces recovered in Trench 2 that resemble what Henry Wright called Selby Bay Phase rough metarhyolite bifaces (Wright 1973 Figure 7m). It is possible, based on their thinned forms, that they were used as tools. Edge wear analysis has not been completed.
Two thinned bifaces recovered in Trench 2 that resemble what Henry Wright called Selby Bay Phase rough metarhyolite bifaces (Wright 1973 Figure 7m). It is possible, based on their thinned forms, that they were used as tools. Edge wear analysis has not been completed.

Based on the evidence gathered thus far, the Selby Bay quarrymen were likely following an industrial quarry site procedure consisting of: material extraction, reduction and removal of low grade material, and rough-out/preform production (Sullivan and Rozen 1985). Some limited final tool production also took place. The target “ore” here seems to be an aphanitic phase of the circa 564 million year old Catoctin Metarhyolite (Aleinikoff et al., 1995). This formation began as a near surface volcanic flow that was later metamorphosed forming metarhyolite. The matrix appears to be a dusky purple and the interstitial igneous flow breccia with various, more reddish hues (personal communication Smith II, 2020). In Trench 1 the target ore was dusky purple in the form of buried float slabs near the bedrock interface. In Trench 2 the target ore seems to be a dusky purple with more reddish hues occurring as float.

Heavily worked float boulder protruding from the northern wall of Trench 2. The photo scale is one meter.

Heavily worked float boulder protruding from the northern wall of Trench 2. The photo scale is one meter. 

When interpreting the extraction process that took place, research from Hatch (1993) lends some guidance. His quarry development model proposes three stages of extraction which seem to fit, with modification, the evidence that is being uncovered at the current quarry site.

Stage one involves the quarrymen detaching a suitable piece of material from an exposed bedrock source or simply selecting useable surface material. Cresson (2015 personal communication) states that the quarrying of exposed surface material is common during the Middle Woodland period (2100 to 1100 years ago). To aid in the detachment process, large hand held hammerstones were most likely employed. Hammerstones are the principle quarry tool being found at the site. Ritchie (1929) states that “the hammer is the tool of tools. No single implement was more indispensable to primitive man”. The quarry site hammerstones were made predominantly from diabase, but metarhyolite, quartz, metabasalt, and quartzite were also observed in decreasing amounts. Most of the hammerstones are broken and many are very fragmented. Two types of diabase hammerstones were used. The most common type was medium-grained York Haven Diabase, and the second type was a fine-grained Rossville Diabase (personal communication Smith II, 2020). Interestingly, the nearest diabase source is many miles distant and some of the fragments weigh up to 19 pounds. Tremendous effort was put forth by the quarrymen just to get the diabase hammerstones to the site. 

Diabase hammerstones: 19 pound medium-grained quarry boulder left, smaller Rossville Diabase pictured
Diabase hammerstones: 19 pound medium-grained quarry boulder left, smaller Rossville Diabase pictured 

Stage two of Hatch’s quarry development model would involve the quarrymen digging around a near surface exposure in order to get at the targeted ore. Two hoe-like metarhyolite digging tools were recovered from the quarry excavation which would help with this task. Hatch states that stage two can be a progression into stage three. That would depend on the surface exposure’s size, and whether targeted ore was encountered as bedrock.

Finally, stage three, as Hatch describes, would be a progression to larger, deeper, and more labor-intensive quarry pits.

Initial data from Trench 2 indicates that the quarrymen began digging at an exposure (stage two) and then followed the targeted ore vertically and horizontally. As the quarry workers exposed, extracted, and reduced the targeted ore, they discarded their waste behind them leaving a larger deeper pit (stage three) filled with the debris of their labor.

Two different reduction technologies (tool making strategies) were likely being employed at the site: discoidal core reduction (Terradas 2003) and staged bifacial reduction (Callahan 1979). During the Selby Bay Middle Woodland Period both technologies were used (Stewart 1992 and Cresson n.d.). Evidence of discoidal core reduction at the site included numerous discoidal cores, trihedral platform flakes, and flake preforms. 

Basically, this reduction method is straight forward: hit then flip, hit then flip in a circular fashion. When the core is flipped, the flake scar on the reverse side becomes the next striking platform (Clarchaeology 2013).

Example of flake preform (personal communication Nissly, 2020).

Example of flake preform (personal communication Nissly, 2020).

Exhausted discoidal cores were numerous at the site. Sizes varied from large 11+” in diameter to smaller 2.5” in diameter.

Exhausted discoidal cores were numerous at the site. Sizes varied from large 11+” in diameter to smaller 2.5” in diameter. 

The staged bifacial reduction technology is used when the quarrymen want to reduce a block of stone to a single finished artifact. The mass goes through a series of steps that includes shaping and thinning. Unwanted and surplus material is removed during this process creating a lot of waste (Crabtree 1985).

Evidence of the staged bifacial reduction technology from the site.

Evidence of the staged bifacial reduction technology from the site.

Dr. Morgan ended his article in the Gettysburg Times with a hope that his donation of thousands of artifacts (some purple) might someday be beneficial to a person wanting to learn more about the great rhyolite industry that drew a distant people, like the Selby Bay, to a place now called Adams County, Pennsylvania.




Aleinikoff, J.N., Zartman, R.E., Walter, M, Rankin, D.W., Lyttle, P.T., and W.C. Burton

1995    U-Pb ages of metarhyolites of the Catoctin and Mount Rogers Formations, central and southern Appalachians: Evidence for two pulses of Lapetan Rifting, American Journal of Science, v. 295, p. 428-454.



Callahan, Errett

1979    The Basics of Biface Knapping in the Eastern Fluted Point Tradition: A Manual for Flintknappers and Lithic Analysts. Archaeology of Eastern North America 7(1):1-180.



2013    August, 24 Discoidal Core Reduction (with commentary) by Dr. Chris Clarkson.

https: //



Crabtree, Don, and John D. Speth

1985    Experiments in Flintworking Vol. II. Special Publication # 10. Experiments in Replicating Hohokam Points. Vol. 16: 1 (1974) Reprinted From Tebiwa.


Cresson, J.

N.D.     Fox Creek Reduction Strategies. Ms. available through the author, Moorestown, New Jersey.


Curry, Dennis C., and Maureen Kavanagh

1991    The Middle to Late Woodland Transition in Maryland. North American Archaeologist 12(1): 3-28.


Hatch, James W.

1993    Research into the Prehistoric Jasper Quarries of Bucks, Lehigh and Berks Counties, Pennsylvania, Report submitted to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, PA.


Inashima, Paul Y.

2008    Establishing a Radiocarbon Data Based Framework for Northeastern Virginia Archaeology. Quarterly Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Virginia 63(4): 251


Mayr, Thomas

1972    Selby Bay in Retrospect. Maryland Archaeology 8(1):2-5.


Odell, G.H.

2004    Lithic Analysis. New York: Springer.


Ritchie, W.A.

1929    ‘Hammerstones, Anvils, and Certain Pitted Stones’. In L. H. Morgan Research and Transactions of the New York State Archaeological Association VII, 2.


Stewart, R. Michael

1992    Observations on the Middle Woodland Period of Virginia: A Middle Atlantic Region Perspective. In Middle and Late Woodland Research in Virginia: A Synthesis, edited by Theodore R. Reinhart and Mary Ellen N. Hodges, pp. 1-38. Archaeological Society of Virginia, Special Publication No. 29.


Sullivan, A. P., III and K. C. Rozen

1985    Debitage Analysis and Archaeological Interpretation. American Antiquity 50:755-779.


Terradas, X.

2003    Discoid flaking method: Conception and technological variability. In M. Peresani (ed.), Discoid Lithic Technology: Advances and Implications, pp. 19-31. BAR International Series 1120. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Wright, Henry T.

1973    An Archeological Sequence in the Middle Chesapeake Region, Maryland. Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Geological Survey, Archeological Studies No. 1.




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

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Archaeology and the Importance Inventory Digitization

“. . . to foster understanding. . .”

I like this phrase because it is at once both purposeful and aspirational. The words are found towards the bottom of a poster hanging on a wall in my studio apt. The image in the poster is a rendering of world-renowned artist Christo’s massive art installation, “Wrapped Reichstag”. In the context of the poster, the phrase refers to a renewed effort to nurture communication and understanding between the young people of North America and Germany in the years immediately following the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

 “Wrapped Reichstag”

Lately, during the last four months specifically, a broadened interpretation of this phrase has become a source of inspiration for me during the many hours of monotonous and repetitive data entry. And that has been the order of the day for months now: data entry. More specifically, the digitization of artifact inventories on paper, many of them handwritten 35, 50 or more years ago. Line after line, site number, catalog number, northings and eastings, depth, artifact description, quantity and so on. Why is this important to do? Ah yes, look to the poster!

The purpose of this inventory digitization is twofold. The first is digitization as a means of preservation. Paper yellows and becomes brittle, ink and pencil fade over time, and information would eventually be lost were it not transferred to another medium. The second purpose is accessibility. One cannot know if information is applicable or relevant to their lives if they do not have access to it. Digitization is a first step toward facilitating greater availability of this information to everyone. Fewer gates, and fewer gatekeepers.  A democratization of data, perhaps which, with a healthy dose of optimism has the potential (you guessed it) - to foster understanding.

And therein lies another aspect of this quote – as it is a call to action.  This call to action has only been partially realized by the opening up of stored information that was once restricted to those of a certain socio-economic pedigree (read education). In other words, the careful control of information flowing in a top down fashion as many institutions tend to do, oftentimes protects a prevailing narrative/interpretation that reinforces their own legitimacy within the larger societal structure, for better or worse.

To fulfill this call, the equally necessary flip side of this imperative is to engage in the act of listening to multiple interpretations. Listening is often viewed as a passive behavior, but if we are truly striving “to foster understanding”, participants must engage in active listening. Active listening is not always easy. It requires patience and empathy and a willingness to be exposed to experiences and ideas that are divergent, or even outright antithetical to one’s own worldview, which understandably can be uncomfortable. It is a skill set like any other, that must be developed and maintained in order to be effective. The reward for this effort is the possibility of creating not only a more inclusive and thereby more accurate narrative, but also a more meaningful one.

Archaeologists are concerned about the preservation of sites and have strived to serve as stewards of archaeological sites and the associated data. Why shouldn’t this data (excepting sensitive location information) be freely shared with others? How are site security concerns of archaeologists balanced with the curiosity of the general public? Preservation of sites and data are at the core of the Historic Preservation movement enacted by law in 1966 and a key component to our training.  If we protect these resources from destruction either through development or looting- we preserve them for the future.  We don’t know what our immediate future will look like, but as in all measures of preservation, we are protecting resources for hundreds or thousands of years to come. Evaluating human behavior through the scientific analysis of the archaeological record is critical for our ability to prepare and predict adaptation and culture change in an ever-changing world.  Sharing data regarding these sites and resources requires an open communication process that understands the desire to learn and in exchange, garners the respect and understanding of the scientific analysis produced. 

Both personally and professionally, this phrase, just three words long, has served as a strong foundation for me these past several months of uncertainty and upheaval, and it is my pleasure to share it with you. I hope it inspires you “to foster understanding” in your endeavors as it has me in mine.

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Identifying Patriotism through Archaeology

Many of our blogs since quarantining have been related to the pandemic; how the staff of the Section of Archaeology works from home, updates on lab projects, a virtual tour of publicly accessible archaeological sites around Pennsylvania, and the effects of epidemics on Native American populations in the past. The pandemic has changed much of our daily routines and forced us to examine our priorities in an effort to avoid crowds and exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Unfortunately, not all of us have chosen to follow the guidance of scientists and doctors who universally advise social distancing and above all - wearing a mask. Protesters have argued that this guidance is an infringement on personal rights - a violation of the Constitution. Some have identified masks as a political tool or a sign of weakness. The upcoming July 4th holiday- Independence Day in the United States is an opportunity for us to examine the archaeological record for evidence of the social unrest and patriotism that gave birth to our nation. The following are several examples from the City of Brotherly Love.

Philadelphia was the largest city in North America in the 18th century and home to a diverse community of European skilled laborers and professionals. The city’s location on the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay provided an important port for commerce in the developing Commonwealth and contributed to its role in early Colonial government. Penn’s vision for religious freedom and his Quaker beliefs placed these pacifists in the middle, as protests erupted prior to the French & Indian War. The Quaker government, known as the Provincial Council, chose to avoid conflict, despite pleas from settlers to control the Indian tribes living in the region. Virginia wanted to control lands in the Ohio River Valley for future expansion and wanted Pennsylvania to assist in removing the French from the north west corner of the Commonwealth.

An important political figure of the time was Ben Franklin. Archaeology conducted at his home and printing press yielded artifacts that supported his role as a scientist. He had many interests, including paleontology based on a mastodon tooth recovered in these excavations. This discovery links Franklin’s interest in science to the social and economic events of his time and the general dissatisfaction with the British government ruled by a king located 3000 miles away. The colonies were not dominated by the old traditions of Europe, but rather new concepts of government were emerging including democracy and self-rule. Franklin’s role as the first Postmaster and his printing of the Pennsylvania Gazette were an opportunity to spread ideas of independence and publish his experiments with electricity.

Mastadon tooth.
Credit: Philadelphia Archaeology Forum

Franklin’s role within the Provincial government increased as the tensions between colonists and Native Americans escalated. He saw a need to unite the colonies in their effort to control territories. His political cartoon Join or Die and accompanying editorial “The Disunited State” published in 1754 called for the colonies to join with the British to defeat the French and the Indians. He essentially implored us to come together to defeat our enemies or we will fail.

Join or Die.
Credit: Library of Congress

(The Benjamin Franklin History website was created by the Benjamin Franklin Historical Society as part of of the University of Massachusetts History Club )

Franklin needed to inspire the Quaker pacifists to take action and for the other colonies to take up arms in a united effort. His political cartoon was the first one published and led the way for others to push for funding and support of a militia.

Franklin had limited military experience but, with the assistance of Conrad Weiser, was instrumental in organizing the Pennsylvania Militia and was significant in his multiple roles during the French & Indian War (1756-1763). The costs of fighting a war in the Americas and around the globe during the Seven Years War took a toll on Britain’s economy. This led to multiple taxes imposed on the colonies to raise revenue. The 1765 Stamp Act was initiated to raise monies for British troops and required the purchase of stamps for all official documents. Opposition to the Act was illustrated in newspapers, political cartoons and even teapots. Fragments of teapots have been recovered at several archaeological sites in the Philadelphia area.

Stamp Act Tea Pot
Credit:  W

This remarkable punch bowl was recovered during excavations for the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. Produced in England and based on research of digitized American and British newspapers by the archaeologists, the story of this bowl was revealed. The bowl was likely produced to commemorate the launch of a new ship or to mark a voyage. The December 1, 1763 edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette carried an advertisement for merchants Robert Lewis and Son, located on Front Street in Philadelphia, where they offered an assortment of goods just imported on the “Triphena, Captain Smith, from Liverpool.” It is certainly no coincidence that Captain Smith’s travels on the Triphena over the next few years regularly carried him to Liverpool, the place where the punch bowl was made, as well as Philadelphia, Charleston, and the West Indies.

Punch Bowl
Credit:  Philadelphia Archaeology Forum

The slogan Success to the Triphena on the interior of the bowl demonstrated support of the merchant trade and the dependency on trade. The Triphena also played a role in the protests of the Stamp Act by colonists. In late 1765, Captain Smith carried a notice from the merchants and traders of Philadelphia addressed to the merchants and manufacturers of Great Britain, asking assistance in pressuring Parliament to repeal the offensive act. The Act was repealed in March of 1766 but tensions between England and the colonies continued to grow, eventually leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Franklin’s appointment during the Revolutionary War to the Committee of Safety led to the installation of a series of chevaux-de- frise in the Delaware River to defend Philadelphia. The assistance of France in our efforts to defeat the British was significant in developing and engineering this line of defense to protect Fort Mifflin and Fort Mercer which were positioned south of Philadelphia. The sharp pointed tip of the chevaux-de-frise was not visible at high tide but at low tide was intended to puncture the hull or at minimum, slow the approaching British ships. Unfortunately, British forces were able to navigate through the defense and attack and defeat both forts before occupying Philadelphia in the winter of 1777.

Map of Chevaux-de-frise
Credit:  Library of Congress
Hurricane Sandy in November 2012 stirred up debris from the bottom of the Delaware River and wreaked havoc on communities. The clean-up effort by the Anchor Yacht Club of the river at Bristol, PA yielded a single cheval de fries. Their discovery of a 28’8” long oak post with the iron tip intact is the longest example recovered to date. It’s diameter tapers from 13.6” at the base to 6.2” at the tip.

Cheval-de-Frise installed at Brandywine Battlefield
Credit: PHMC
Franklin’s Committee of Safety had recognized this form of land defense as a potential method for defending Philadelphia from British forces, but they didn’t factor in loyalists who might provide the British with locational information which would allow for navigation around the obstacles. The placement of these massive logs required large wooden cribs (some 40 x 45 foot) and tons of stone to secure the posts. There were attempts to keep their installation secretive, but they couldn’t be installed without observation by loyalists. The wealthy merchants of Philadelphia stood to lose if trade between England and Philadelphia ceased. Historians suggest that between twenty and thirty percent of the citizens were loyalists (Tories) and about the same number were Quaker pacifists who were unwilling to fight. Raids by Loyalist troops on households confiscated goods intended for Washington’s troops. In 1778 the state legislature in Lancaster passed the Act of Attainder to confiscate the properties of all who joined or supported the British. When British troops fled Philadelphia at the end of June 1778, an estimated 60,000 loyalists had fled the country. British supporters still here lost their properties, many fled to Nova Scotia and African Americans who sided with the British were returned to slavery in the Caribbean.

Political divide continued to define Pennsylvania well into the 19th century and artifacts that illustrate that support or divide from England continued to be produced. This glass tumbler was recovered by archaeologists prior to the construction of Independence National Historical Park. The simple political message- LIBERTY, expresses the support of the struggles for independence. It also provides a personal connection to the German baker who lived in the house where this tumbler was recovered. His privy yielded household goods reflective of a simple lifestyle with a few upscale goods, commonly found in colonial house lots.

Credit: Philadelphia Archaeology Forum

These are just a few artifacts that illustrate Pennsylvania’s role in the development of our democracy as we know it. There are still divides amongst us ranging from rural and urban, conservative and liberal, wealthy and poor, white and non-white. Our passion for political causes and issues are at the root of who we are as a Commonwealth. Note that we are not a State, we are a Commonwealth, defined as a community formed for the common good and welfare of all. Wow- the Common Good and Welfare of All. Those are strong, meaningful words- they were in the 18th century and they still are today. As I write this blog and think about the artifacts illustrated here and the passionate causes they represented, I have to wonder what future generations will think of our artifacts that illustrate current viewpoints. Can we come together as a community and be mindful of our need to social distance and wear masks? I think we can if we can think about the determination and conviction of our forefathers in leading us to be an Independent Nation, it seems like a small sacrifice to wear a mask.

We thank you for continuing to follow our blog and hope that you’ve found this post of interest as we continue to telework at home. Keep checking our collections on the PHMC Collections page and following our blog. We thank all of you who support preservation of our past so we can share this material with you and generations to come. Enjoy our freedoms and celebrate July 4th, 2020 wisely – stay safe and healthy!

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

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The New Normal in the Section of Archaeology of the State Museum of Pennsylvania

We are beginning Week 15 of telecommuting from home and remain quarantined. Access to our lab and offices has been restricted for safety reasons but plans are in the works for this to change. The following is a reflective description of the past more than three months, of how we are functioning and some predictions for the future. A date for returning to work in the Archaeology lab has not been set, but plans are being made for how we will return to the lab and museum. The overriding philosophy is to continue practicing social distancing and keep interactions with people to a minimum while still fulfilling our responsibilities. The tentative plan is that telecommuting will be encouraged for those employees who are able. To avoid crowds in the building (especially the Keystone building where the Archaeology labs are located), the staff going into the lab may be divided into teams working alternate days. Some staff are anxious to return to working in the lab (their work assignments, such as cataloging artifacts require this), while other staff can work from home with periodic visits to the lab to retrieve necessary materials. In addition, to avoid crowds while entering the building and crowds in the parking garage, we may even alter start and finish times. However, for the foreseeable future, telecommuting may be the norm rather than the exception.

As you have read in several of our previous blogs, the staff of the Section of Archaeology have been busy at home and actually have learned new ways of using our collections for the benefit of the public and researchers. Just before we left the lab on March 13th (it seems like years ago), we moved commonly used and necessary data to a platform that was accessible from our home computers. This allowed us to continue to process collections so that they were readily available to the interested public and researchers. Andrea Carr has continued working with the Veigh collection, adding or updating 132 sites from this collection to the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files (PASS). This involves over 136,000 artifacts. Prior to the quarantine, Calli Holmes had finished cataloging the artifacts from the 2019 excavation season at Fort Hunter and while at home, finished creating maps of the features and artifacts from different time periods. As she explained in our blog of June 6, this allows us and others to better analyze how the site was used during different time periods. Currently, she is plotting the distribution of fire-cracked rock reflecting Pre-Contact Native American activities.

As was described in our blog on May 11, the Argus project is one of the top priorities for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC). There are two components or goals of this initiative. First, it is a collections management program. It will bring all the collections (history, science, fine arts etc...) into one database so we will know exactly what we have and where it is located. This will greatly facilitate loans, exhibit development, outreach and, obviously, research. For archaeology, loading all nine million artifacts (actually, we don’t know the exact number) into this electronic database will be a huge task requiring years of work. Melanie Mayhew has spent several years converting the various electronic spread sheets and databases into a single data platform. She has made significant progress with those conversions. As of this date, more than four million artifacts from over a thousand separate sites have been converted to a single database platform. This has been a heroic accomplishment. Archaeologists have been using electronic spread sheets for decades, so we are ahead of the game compared to other collections. However, the time-consuming task is just beginning. Processing the old collections that were created prior to the use of electronic databases will take years. These consist of typed or handwritten lists of artifact inventories that need to be manually entered into Excel spread sheets. The lists were previously typed up by our volunteers and many staff (notably Kim Sebestyen), have worked on this project but currently, Dave Burke is the primary person typing thousands of artifacts into Excel spread sheets so they can eventually be moved to the Argus platform. 

A second goal of Argus is to place artifacts online to offer the public a sample of what can seen in our galleries. Janet Johnson, Liz Wagner and Kim Sebestyen have been focusing on developing short descriptions including a photograph of all of the artifacts in our gallery creating a virtual museum gallery. They have finished the Susquehannock case and most of the pipe case and they are starting on the 18th Century case. The images can be found on our PHMC website under Explore PHMC’s Museum Collection. We have added well over a hundred new artifacts to this page from our gallery and hundreds more will be added in the coming months.

The artifacts in the Susquehannock Exhibit are now on-line. 

As for our normal day to day activities, we are still receiving requests to identify artifacts. People from all over Pennsylvania and beyond send us pictures of items they have found and request help in getting them identified. In many cases they are just rocks that fit perfectly in one’s hand but other times, they are real Native American artifacts and result in significant new data. We welcome these inquiries. We also continue to advise archaeologists around the state on how to best curate in-coming collections.

We have been in contact with our colleagues around the Commonwealth concerning archaeological research. There are small pockets of field work taking place and some of it is very interesting – a stratified Archaic and Woodland site, a stratified Paleoindian through Contact period site and a quarry site. We are anxious to visit these sites in the near future and will report their progress. Several staff members were fortunate to have their articles and a book published and other research projects and publications are in the works.

A few of the publications authored by staff over the past 15 weeks. 

The coronavirus caused the cancellation of several state and regional conferences. Initially, these were postponed until the summer and then to the fall and now some have been moved until the spring of 2021. The consequences of hundreds of people in one room are just too dangerous. There are discussions of doing these conferences online. We have all learned how to Skype or Zoom and we would like to learn Microsoft Teams, but teleconferencing will require something more sophisticated and comprehensive. Archaeologists are a gregarious bunch and seeing old friends is part of the function of these meetings. In addition, it is simply easier to share research issues with colleagues in person, meeting face to face, in a friendlier atmosphere holding a beer in one hand than on a computer screen. However, the discipline needs to develop a convenient mechanism to exchange new research quickly, and I am sure we will figure a way.   

We do not have a date for when the State Museum galleries will be open to visitors, but detailed plans are being developed. Masks will be required along with social distancing throughout the galleries. The number of visitors at any one time will be monitored, and reservations will be encouraged. A variety of programs are being planned for the Nature Lab and Curators Choice as videos, but these have not been finalized. 

For the immediate future, our plans for field work at Fort Hunter, outreach at Kipona, the Workshops in Archaeology, the Eastern States Archaeological Conference, and the Pennsylvania Farm Show are problematic.  These activities are dependent on how the virus continues. Pennsylvania’s response to Covid-19 has been reasonably successful. We closed early, stayed quarantined and practiced social distancing. Predictions vary widely, but one scenario assumes social distancing will continue this summer and the number of cases will decrease slowly until at least October when the virus may return with a vengeance. With this window of opportunity, we may be able to carefully work at Fort Hunter in September, but our other public programs are in jeopardy.  

Finally, our dear friend and colleague, Steve Warfel passed this spring after a long illness. We summarized his career and contributions to Pennsylvania archaeology in our blog of May 24. This week, his wife, Barb, graciously donated his “dig bag” containing field tools that he used for decades in the investigation of numerous Pennsylvania archaeological sites. This will be on display in our excavation area in the gallery. We sincerely appreciate this donation and it will be a constant reminder of his contributions.

Steve Warfel’s dig bag on display in the Excavation Exhibit in our gallery at the State Museum 

In summary, we have done well in the Section of Archaeology in terms of managing our collections, public outreach, and research. The staff will be able to return to the archaeology lab sometime, but many will continue to work from home; it is the new normal. At times, it is awkward and un-natural and makes us feel anxious (a new term has been introduced into our lexicon - re-entry panic syndrome) but I am sure we will adapt and in the long run, be more successful. Teleworking has been discussed for years; there are a variety of advantages to the employer and the employee, especially in this hectic world we live in, but we were afraid and intimidated to make the change. A deadly virus has been the motivating factor. There are many issues that need to be resolved but having an office at home is going to be the new normal, at least until we develop a successful vaccine and probably longer.  

Adaptation and change are difficult, but our research of past cultures demonstrates it is necessary for survival. We hope our followers will continue to practice the CDC Guidelines and stay safe and healthy- it's important for all of us and necessary for survival.  We’ll keep in touch; be sure to check out our collections on-line and be safe. 

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Fort Hunter in Quarantine

In these difficult and strange times, the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s archaeologists have been continuing to do our best to find ways to remain productive from home in order to continue to preserve and share Pennsylvania’s archaeology. One of the important tasks we do each year is to process the artifacts and data collected from our annual Fort Hunter (36Da159) excavations. We have been investigating this multi-component site located just north of Harrisburg in Dauphin County for thirteen years in September and early October as part of our Archaeology Month activities.  Our main research interests have been life on the “frontier” during the mid-1700s and especially the French and Indian War period supply fort at this location.  With the help of our loyal volunteers, we have been working on this task since we returned in the office after our work in the field back in October.

Fieldwork for the 2019 season was completed nearly eight months ago and the final processing of the artifacts for curation in the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s archaeology lab was completed just before the start of our Covid-19 quarantine. We recovered 6,688 artifacts at Fort Hunter this year with 218 dating from the 18th century. Features 172, 173 and 192 from the N60W45 unit produced a high percentage of the 18th century artifacts. It is these features that our previous blog identifies as possible remains from the French and Indian War period fort or an even earlier structure (check out: These features reflect a hole that was dug into the ground during the 1700s that may represent part of the fortifications or a cellar from a mid-18th century building. Many of the interesting and possibly fort related artifacts found within these features include several pieces of scratch blue and tin-glazed ceramic fragments, glass emerald cuff-links, lead shot, and glass trade beads.

Artifacts recovered from Feature 173, including a crucible fragment (top left), scratch blue white salt-glazed stoneware, glass cuff buttons, large tin-glazed base fragment, brass buckle fragment (bottom left), lead shot, white trade beads and a flint strike-a-lite.

With the artifacts processed, the statistical artifact information collected and the data collected in the field, different kinds of maps are created to help us understand the overall site and how different excavation areas compare to one another. Knowing the relationship of artifacts and features on the site provides the foundation that archaeologists use to develop explanations for how past humans lived on and used the landscape. In order for archaeologists to do this, we must map the location of all artifact and features both horizontally and vertically. Recording the location of where artifacts, features and structures are located is so important because once removed from the ground there is no way for us to put artifacts and features back in their exact place again.

Artifacts in situ in the field: lead shot (left) and white glass trade beads (right).

In order to preserve this locational information, sites such as Fort Hunter, are excavated based on a grid set from a datum (a known fixed point). This allows archaeologists to go back to a site and re-establish the grid, whether it is from year to year or fifty years from now. With good documentation and a re-established grid, archaeologists can determine what areas had been previously excavated at any archaeological site. The grid also provides the horizontal locational information of artifacts and features that have been removed from that area. At Fort Hunter, our grid is in 5 by 5 foot squares each of which are referred to as a unit. We identify our units using the northing and easting (for example N90E10) of the most southwest corner of a square. This designation allows us to easily reference that unit and track all of the data associated with that area. 

Map used to show units that we have opened over the years.

Creating and updating the various maps we use each year is very important in providing us a more complete understanding of what is happening in our excavations. We create maps that show the outlines of each of the features, which illustrates to us where different features and activities are located in relation to one another. We also create artifact distribution maps, which visually display how many artifacts of a certain type were recovered from each unit. With maps like these we are not only creating additional records of artifact and feature locations, but we are also providing ourselves a graphic indication of what was happening on the landscape at different periods of time. These maps also help guide our decisions on what units are providing significant information for helping us find the Fort Hunter fortifications and therefore aid us in deciding where to excavate. Finally, maps also provide a great illustration for the public on how we interpret an archaeological site. 

Feature map identifying the locations of the features uncovered within each unit.

                                   Prehistoric artifact distribution map.

One of the most useful maps we make each year is the 18th century artifact distribution map.  This map illustrates where we uncovered higher amounts of 18th century artifacts, which could indicate the likelihood of French and Indian War period structures or activities. Since the beginning of quarantine, I have worked on creating and updating all of these maps and we are especially excited to see the high concentrations of 18th century material coming from unit N60W45 and the adjacent units. Though we remain home for everyone’s safety, we hope we can expand our excavations in this area at Fort Hunter this fall in order to learn more about the activities present in these features and units. 

18th century artifact distribution map. 

We hope you have enjoyed learning about how we use archaeological data to create various types of maps and how we use those maps to better understand an archaeological site and past cultural behavior. Archaeology is a destructive science, which requires documentation of all of the excavation methods and processes that occurred in the investigation. These maps are an essential part of the documentation of the site analysis and insures the preservation of the archaeological record for any given site.

We hope you are all remaining safe and healthy as we continue to telework and remain quarantined.   Our various projects are focused on preserving Pennsylvania’s past for its future. We are continuing to respond to your questions and to answer them via email.  Thank you for continuing to follow our activities through our blog and we hope to see you all in the future. 

For additional information on our 2019 excavations check out:
Sebestyen, Kimberly M. and Kurt W. Carr
2020      2019 Excavations at the Fort Hunter Site (36Da159): Have we Finally Found the Fort? Pennsylvania Archaeologist 90(1):53-62.

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

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sharing the Legacy of the Steve Warfel

Our blog for Memorial Day 2019 was written as a tribute to Barry C. Kent, former Senior Curator at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. In that blog, we identified the history of Memorial Day as a time to honor those men who had died in the Civil War, but it has since become a day to remember all those whom we have lost from our lives. It is with a heavy heart that we share our news of the passing of another former Senior Curator and archaeologist, Stephen G. Warfel on May 14, 2020. Once again, we have lost a friend, a colleague and a talented archaeologist far too soon. This blog will share some of Steve’s significant contributions to archaeology, and his legacy as an educator and mentor for so many archaeologists.

Steven G. Warfel at Franklin & Marshall College 

Steve’s career in archaeology began at Franklin & Marshall College (F&M) (1967 - 1971) in Lancaster, PA. It began, as with many of us, at a summer field school. An investigation conducted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and F&M at the Strickler site (36La3), Lancaster County exposed him to the fascinating heritage of the Susquehannock Indians. Under the guidance of Dr. Kent, Steve discovered a passion for archaeology. In his words- “Archaeology is fascinating because it involves true detective work and problem-solving. It also provides a perspective on the past which is not solely dependent on documentary sources.” Steve continued to work with Barry Kent during the 1970’s on many of the Late Woodland/ Contact period Susquehannock investigations conducted through this period. Steve’s graduate training at Brown University concentrated in historical archaeology and when an opportunity to join Barry at the State Museum arose in 1980, Steve was quick to accept a curatorial position in the Section of Archaeology. 

Byrd Leibhart, Susquehannock site,1970

His first field project as a curator was part of an ongoing interest by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) in French and Indian War period sites.  In addition, a desire at the local level to discover and preserve the fort, led to an investigation at Fort Loudoun in Franklin County. The excavations under Steve’s direction led to the uncovering of the entire stockade, interior building and  the discovery of a well with preserved contents dating it’s use to the period of the fort.  These artifacts and the information gleaned from the investigation led to the first installation of exhibit space focused on historical archaeology in the gallery of the State Museum.

Field crew at Fort Loudoun

Fort Loudoun bucket, 36Fr107

Steve’s interest in historical archaeology was an asset to many of the historical sites operated by the Museum Commission (PHMC) including French Azilum in Bradford County, Old Economy Village in Allegheny County, Joseph Priestley House in Northumberland County and his long-term research interest at Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County. Steve’s passion for archaeology and his willingness to share his knowledge with others made him an ideal educator for students, volunteers and visitors to his excavations. Most of these projects incorporated a summer field school for college students, providing them with the training and experience necessary to become an archaeologist.  Steve’s incredible patience, his meticulous excavation and documentation methods and his encouragement of individual talents and abilities were essential to these successful programs.

Field School in cellar at Ephrata Cloister, 36La981

Archaeology at the JosephPriestley House produced broken fragments of laboratory test tubes that contained residues directly linking their use to testing Priestley was conducting relative to his discovery of oxygen before immigrating to Pennsylvania from England. These fragments were recovered in an area just outside of the laboratory window and door, indicating discard of the broken test tubes at the time of use. These tubes are the tangible evidence of the activities of Priestley and an important contribution to the interpretive story at this historic site. This is but one example of a site that benefitted from Steve’s expertise in uncovering the archaeological record and enhancing or correcting the historic interpretation.

The curatorial duties of the Section of Archaeology were rapidly increasing due to changes in preservation laws which required investigations of known or potential archaeological sites and the curation of these collections. These changes resulted in an influx of archaeological collections and required an organized approach to the curation process and the ability to provide research material for scholars. Steve reorganized the entire assemblage of artifacts by their recorded archaeological site number and began reviewing and recording collections submitted for curation. When Barry retired in the mid-1980’s, Steve was appointed to the position of Senior Curator.

Curatorial tasks benefited from Steve’s organizational talents and he oversaw numerous changes and improvements to the exhibits in the State Museum including updates to content, lighting and presentation. Efforts to make the exhibits more engaging included audio presentations in the Susquehannock case and tactile content for the popular Schultz diorama.  Steve’s thoughtful approach in discussions concerning changes to the museum was acknowledged as an important asset by colleagues, he was known for his knowledge of the history and archaeological heritage of the Commonwealth and the mid-Atlantic region.  

Student Visitors at Ephrata Cloister

Public programs expanded under Steve’s direction and he often provided programs sharing the results of archaeological investigations and the subsequent research associated with these projects. Publication of his investigations in journals, books and annual reports of his work at Ephrata Cloister were important in informing the public of his findings and increasing their awareness and appreciation for these sites. Steve’s support of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) was important at a critical time in that organization. His contributions in organizing and leading the group through a difficult time both in membership and financially were crucial to its survival.  His creation of the Workshops in Archaeology program at the museum became a popular event to disseminate information, and except for a brief hiatus has continued to provide registrants with comprehensive discussion of various topics in archaeology.

Steve retired in 2007 from the museum, but certainly not from archaeology. He excavated the French & Indian War site of Fort Morris in Shippensburg, Cumberland County. Here he was able to locate evidence of foundations and supplies used by the troops stationed here and correct conflicting documents as to the site location. He returned to the site of a Revolutionary War period prison camp in York County. Camp Security had been previously recorded by Barry Kent and Steve had participated in early efforts to discover foundations or artifact concentrations relative to the site, but none had proven successful. Threatened by development and supported by local citizens to preserve the site, Steve researched archival records, interviewed local residents and employed new investigative techniques in his search for physical remains of the camp. Unfortunately, no foundations were discovered but his methodical approach laid the groundwork for future investigations at this site and provided an increased appreciation for the site to countless volunteers and visitors.

Steve had an ability to bring archaeology to everyone and his passion encouraged others to see the value of our profession in their communities.  He inspired so many people with his enthusiasm and love of archaeology and the discovery of the past. Volunteers from his projects, students from his field schools and colleagues from the Commission all benefited from his expertise and the ability to share it so passionately with others. He was a mentor for many of us throughout our careers. We benefited from his expertise and thoughtful perspective, but beyond that we knew him as a good people person. His laughter, compassion and understanding of others are qualities to live by and strive to replicate.

Presentation at Workshops in Archaeology Program

For many of us the COVID-19 pandemic has had a lasting impact on our lives and has given us a reason to pause and evaluate and prioritize our needs. What was important to us 3 or 4 months ago may not seem so significant now. Communities are coming together in new ways to restore social activities. Steve was a people person- he loved being with people, talking, laughing, enjoying food and drink in social settings. Evaluating what is important to me during this pandemic has reminded me of people I value in my life that are still with me and those I have lost. Steve’s passion for life and community will be remembered and missed by all for a very long time. His legacy as a teacher and mentor in the archaeological community will endure as evidenced in the many archaeologists whom he inspired and loved. 

Steve and Barry were excellent mentors and great resources for archaeology but at their core was the fact that they were good people. They cared about others and inspired others to care about community and heritage. Take a moment today to think about your heritage and appreciate the work conducted by archaeologists in your community in our efforts to preserve the past for the future. 

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