Monday, March 16, 2020

Update from the Audit Desk

The nature of cultural resource management, particularly with respect to the Section 106 process, is such that the boundaries of proposed development projects end up dictating where archaeologists can look for sites. Most archaeological sites identified in Pennsylvania over the last 10 years (or longer) have been discovered in places where archaeologists were directed to survey based on the location of state and federal projects such as roads, industrial parks and pipelines. This is in contrast to broad coverage surveys conducted by universities that might provide a less biased view of site densities or overall site distributions within a watershed or larger regional level. In this sense, archaeologists usually don’t get to choose where they might want to look for sites, but indeed they are looking.

Proof of their efforts arrives regularly at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in the form of carefully processed artifact collections and associated report documentation. Within the first three months of the new year, several collections were submitted for curation from a variety of constructions projects. Below is a brief overview of a select few.

Test unit at site 36Lh371 showing stacked buried A horizons

Penn DOT, in its seemingly never-ending quest to maintain and improve roads and bridges frequently submits artifact collections related to their ground disturbing activities across the state. A bridge replacement project for State Route 22 over the Jordan Creek in Lehigh County discovered a low-density, although stratified, site with jasper chipping debris recovered from two distinct soil horizons. While the local municipality chose to retain ownership of the 20 artifacts, the field forms, artifact inventory with provenience information, digital photographs and final report were submitted to the State Museum for future reference.
 Projects requiring permits from federal agencies like FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) and Army Corps of Engineers, as well as state agencies, include archaeological considerations in the planning stages. Natural gas pipeline corridors, compressor stations, equipment staging areas and access roads are surveyed for archaeological sites prior to construction. With two new collections from pipeline survey work recently submitted, development in the energy sector appears to continue the trend in playing a role in identifying archaeological sites across Pennsylvania.

Line N to Monaca pipeline corridor
Most recently submitted to the museum, the Line N to Monaca pipeline project in Beaver County, a 4.5-mile long corridor with associated outbuildings, identified the SJ Exploration site, 36Bv402. Typical artifacts recovered from this late 19th to mid-20th century domestic farmstead include utilitarian ceramics such as redware and whiteware, bottle glass, and architectural debris including window glass and brick.
The Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project – a large multi-county pipeline corridor running through Lancaster, Lebanon, Columbia, Northumberland, Wyoming, Luzerne, Lycoming, Schuylkill and Susquehanna counties was also recently submitted for curation. A massive project with nearly 18,000 shovel test pits excavated across nearly 200 miles of pipeline corridor, this survey identified over 30 archaeological sites – truly a Herculean task! Two sites were recommended as potentially eligible to the National Register of Historic Places, and proper planning afforded the option to reroute the pipeline in order to avoid the sites altogether. This option avoided costly data recovery excavations or other mitigation steps and preserved the site for future generations of archaeologists. 
A third type of project spurring archaeological investigation arose from the awarding of a Housing and Urban Development grant to revitalize the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Larimer. Prior to construction of 350 new housing units in a decades long neglected part of the city, archaeologists recorded and recovered a sample of early 20th century architectural and domestic artifacts from 520 and 522 Larimer Ave. Archaeology often conjures up images of exotic field locations in jungles or deserts. Closer to home, American’s cities have a potential wealth of information underneath a few layers of concrete and asphalt.

Backhoe trench exposing foundation feature associated with 520/5220 Larimer Ave. properties
While these sites (or the portions within project boundaries) may not qualify as archaeologically significant, the submitted artifacts and associated documentation represent the completion and fulfillment of a developer’s obligations under Section 106 to identify and evaluate cultural resources, which is, ultimately, intended to be to the benefit of us all. 
For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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