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: http://twipa.blogspot.com/2019/11/have-we-found-fort-at-fort-hunter.html). 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 PAarchaeology.state.pa.us or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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