Monday, August 21, 2023

Analyzing the Sheep Rock Shelter Collection

Hello, my name is Gwen Michaels, and I am an Anthropology major, with an Archaeology concentration, from Gettysburg College. I will soon be going into my senior year; however, I started studying Archaeology during my freshman year. During my sophomore year at Gettysburg, I took a class on Pennsylvania-specific Archaeology. This class along with an excavation of site 36AD592, the Jack Hopkins House in Adams County, helped grow my interest in both Pre-contact and historic archaeology. These interests are what led me to apply for the internship with the Section of Archaeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. During my time here, I have been able to work with vast collections of artifacts from all over Pennsylvania and learn more about processing and interpreting artifacts. I’m incredibly grateful for the past 10 weeks and all that I have learned; this experience has truly encouraged me to continue in Archaeology after completing my time at Gettysburg. Although it is hard to pick what my favorite task has been, the past few weeks that I have spent with the Sheep Rock Shelter (36HU1) collection will remain one of my most prized experiences as an intern.

Gwen Michaels

The Sheep Rock Shelter (rock overhang) was formerly located in Huntington County, however, construction of a dam along the Juniata River in 1973 has since submerged the site, making it inaccessible. Despite this, excavations led by the Pennsylvania State University and Juniata College from the 1950s and on allowed for the collection of thousands of distinct artifacts. What makes this site so remarkable is the immense preservation of botanical and other organic materials. Unlike most caves in Pennsylvania, the Sheep Rock Shelter was dry, leading to the preservation of organics that would normally have perished in the humid climate of Pennsylvania. Due to this, artifacts like leather, vegetation, animal bone, and more were preserved in time, creating a unique opportunity for modern Archaeologists to study them.

Animal Bone Recovered from Sheep Rock Shelter

During my time in the department, I have been helping to fix the original catalog of artifacts. Unfortunately, the electronic artifact and location inventories contained errors and omissions. To fix this, I have been going through the various drawers and shelves of the collection and taking notes on where materials and each accession number can be located. It has been incredible looking through the different preserved artifacts. Some of my favorite artifacts include turtle eggs, a fully preserved salamander, and dietary items like corn, beans, and more. Although it is hard to choose any one thing as the most remarkable, I enjoyed looking through faunal remains like the turtle eggs, turtle shells, various animal bones, and even fur. The chance to better understand and embody past people through seeing their relationships with animals and the land was a unique and fulfilling experience. 

Turtle Egg Recovered from Sheep Rock Shelter

Working with the Sheep Rock Shelter artifacts has helped me gain better insight into the work of Archaeologists and important principles of collections management. With this collection and all the ones that I’ve worked with, I have seen the necessity of creating precise catalogs for the security of the artifacts and the sanity of everyone who works with them. More specifically to the Sheep Rock collection, this experience has augmented details of professional Archaeology that will stay with me into my future career. First and foremost, I’ve come to truly appreciate and take in the rarity of being able to work with collections like the Sheep Rock Shelter. The chance to work with such well-preserved organic materials is an opportunity that I cherish. Overall, my time as an intern with the Section of Archaeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania has been an incredibly formative experience. I am incredibly grateful for the time I have spent with various collections from Pennsylvania and everyone who has helped me throughout my time. 

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

Thursday, August 10, 2023

State Museum of Pennsylvania Archaeology: What’s Next?

We have taken a break from our bi-weekly blog (TWIPA), and are brainstorming about what will be next: new media platforms, new excavations, new processes for handling collections, and maybe some new staff?  The one thing that is certain is that we will be holding our annual archaeology month Workshops in Archaeology in October. This year, the 2023 State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Workshops in Archaeology theme will be Discovering The Past: The Sciences Of Archaeology.

Archaeology is the study of past people and cultures through objects preserved and excavated from the ground. These material remains allow archaeologists to reconstruct the activities and lifeways of people, from our earliest inhabitants to present. Archaeologists also incorporate scientific methods and rely on other disciplines to help tell a more complete story. Technical applications such as radiocarbon dating (C14), analysis of plant and animal remains, soil chemistry, geospatial data (GIS), and non-intrusive survey methods such as Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), are just a few examples that archaeologists draw upon. In addition, refinements in scientific methods are applied to reexamine artifacts already in museum storage. Studies such as these have furthered our understanding of change over time and the adaptation and movement of people across the landscape.

Scheduled for Oct. 28, 2023, this year’s Workshops in Archaeology will feature experts in GIS, C14 dating, GPR survey, geoarchaeology, and more. Please join us as we explore how these specialized analyses are conducted and how the results enhance our understanding of the environmental and human past.

Look for additional information and early registration via the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s website in the upcoming weeks.

Scheduled for October 28, 2023, this year’s Workshops in Archaeology will feature experts in GIS, C14 dating, GPR survey, geoarchaeology, and more. 

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

Monday, May 1, 2023

Teshoa: A Chipped Stone Tool of Many Uses

This week in Pennsylvania archaeology (TWIPA) has defined many different types of stone tools found on Pre-Contact archaeological sites over the years. Tool-types like spearheads, arrowheads and axe heads are easily recognized by their distinctive forms while other stone tools, are frequently misidentified or overlooked by professional and avocational archaeologists alike. This week, we recognize the teshoa, one such often overlooked artifact in the prehistoric tool kit. Teshoas are simple multi-purpose hand-held flake tools most commonly made from river cobbles of quartzite, siltstone, or sandstone. Used in a variety of ways — to butcher meat, cut reeds and grass, scrape animal hides, and scale fish, to name a few — their presence in the archaeological record dates back in time many millennia.  

Nineteenth century first-hand accounts document Shoshone women from the North American southwest using cobble flake tools to process buffalo skins (Leidy 1873). It is from these accounts and others of the Shoshone tribes that the tool name was derived. The word teshoa linguistically originates from Shoshonean words tossawi [Fort Hall Shoshone tribal language] and tocawig [Washakie Shoshone tribal language] (Gatschet 1888; Schmidt-Wartemberg 1889). Frances Eyman (1968), who has done extensive research on teshoa tools, stated that both terms have a shared meaning for what archaeologists call a teshoa today. Joseph Gebow (1868) and Harry Hull St. Claire II (1902) associate the root of the word tsekah or tcikaa, “to cut”, with the term teshoa.

More than a century after ethnographic and linguistic information was published, examples of teshoa tools were recognized at archaeological sites in different parts of eastern North America. According to Herbert Kraft, the tool form has a broad distribution, “. . . from the Delmarva peninsula through New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and eastern New York and New England . . .” (Kraft 1966). Restricting this discussion to Pennsylvania-based archaeological discoveries, we’ll review the presence of ‘teshoa’ tool forms to the Delaware and Susquehanna valleys.

Examples of teshoa tools have been found up and down the Delaware and Susquehanna River shorelines. These are frequently overlooked because of their water worn appearance.

Teshoas recovered from the Susquehanna River shoreline, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Image courtesy Kelly Baer.

The first formal recognition of the teshoa in Pennsylvania archaeology was John Witthoft and the Forks of the Delaware Chapter 14, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) investigations at the Overpeck site (36BU5) located near Kintnerville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  

Teshoas from Overpeck; middle row left – teshoa pebble core. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The Early and Late Woodland soil strata at Overpeck contained teshoa tools and the cobble cores from which they were made along with the diagnostic artifacts such as pottery and projectile points that demonstrated clear cut cultural associations. Subsequently, teshoas and teshoa-like tools have been reported from other investigations at Pre-contact sites in the Delaware River valley and elsewhere.

        Prior to the proposed construction of the Tocks Island Reservoir, archaeological excavations conducted by Herbert Kraft, Seton Hall University (1972), David Werner, Lenape Chapter 12, SPA, and Fred Kinsey, Franklin and Marshall College (1972) recovered teshoas and teshoa related tools from the Miller Field, Zimmermann, and Faucett sites, respectively. Other sites in the region continue to yield these unique tools in similar Delaware Valley contexts.

          Stone tools that fit the teshoa description are also found on Archaic and Woodland age sites located in the Susquehanna Valley of central and southeastern Pennsylvania. One of these is the Parker Site (36Lu14), a Wyoming Valley Complex Late Woodland settlement dating to the 15th century C.E., located on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. The site was investigated in the early 1970’s by Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) archaeologists (Herbstritt 2019; Smith 1973). Apart from a single teshoa core of granitic rock, all teshoa tools from Parker were made from indurated siltstone and sandstone cobbles. 

Pebble core and teshoas from Parker. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

         Archaeological excavations at a site near Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, occupied around the same time as 36Lu14, also recovered an assemblage of teshoa tools manufactured from silt and sandstone cobbles.

Teshoas from Clinton County, Pennsylvania. West Branch Susquehanna River Valley. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Teshoas recovered from PHMC excavations at the deeply stratified Archaic site on Piney Island, in the lower Susquehanna valley were made from a greater diversity of stone material (Kent 1970).  Locally sourced quartzite and diabase cobbles were the preferred raw materials used to manufacture teshoas and teshoa-like cobble tools at the Piney Island site. .

Teshoas from Piney Island. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

             Experimental archaeology research into teshoa tool use and function provides further insights into the archaeological and ethnographic/linguistic record. Lithic technology experimentation with replicated teshoa tools has assisted with interpreting the potential functions of this class of artifact as it applies to stone tool use in prehistory (Coles 1973; Roberts and Sant 1983). Comparing the distinct wear patterns from cutting different materials such as wood, bone, skin, etc. on experimentally replicated tools to the wear patterns on archaeologically recovered teshoa tools can help identify and infer an artifact’s function or multiple functions over its use-life.  

Replicated examples of teshoa tools and pebble core. The State Museum of Pennsylvania. 

We hope that you have enjoyed this blog on a unique, and often overlooked artifact type in the archaeological site record. Please visit us next time for another topical presentation from TWIPA.


Coles, John

1973    Archaeology by Experiment. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New York


Eyman, Frances

1968    The Teshoa: A Shoshonean Woman’s Knife: A Study of American Indian Chopper Industries. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 34(3-4):9-52.


Forks of the Delaware Chapter 14

1980    The Overpeck Site (36BU5). Pennsylvania Archaeologist 50(3):1-46.


Gatschet, Albert S.

1888    Words of the Shoshone Language, as Spoken at the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho Territory, May 1888. MS, Archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 749. Washington


Gebow, Joseph A.

1868    A Vocabulary of the Snake or Sho-sho-nay Dialect. 2nd edition. Green River City. Wyoming.


Herbstritt, James T.

2019    Becoming Susquehannock: The West Branch and North Branch Traditions in: The Susquehannocks: New Perspectives on Settlement and Cultural Identity. Edited by Paul A. Raber. The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Kent, Barry C.

1970    Diffusion Spheres and Band Territoriality Among the Archaic Period Cultures of the Northern Piedmont. Doctoral dissertation. The Pennsylvania State University.


Kinsey, W. Fred III

1972    Faucett Site 36-Pi-13A Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley: A Study of the Cultural Chronology of the Tocks Island Reservoir. W. Fred Kinsey, III. Anthropological Series No. 2, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.


Kraft, Herbert C.

1966    Teshoas and Elongated Pebble Tools. The Archaeological Society of New Jersey. Bulletin Number 23: 1-6.

1972    The Miller Field Site; Warren County, New Jersey in: Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley: A Study of the Cultural Chronology of the Tocks Island Reservoir. W. Fred Kinsey, III. Anthropological Series No. 2, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.          


Leslie, Vernon

1973    Faces in Clay: The Archaeology and Early History of the Red Man in the Upper Delaware Valley. 1st Edition, T. Emmett Henderson, Publisher, Middletown, New York.


Leidy, Joseph

1872    On Remains of Primitive Art in the Bridger Basin of Southern Wyoming. In: A Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, 6th Annual Report, edited by F.V. Heyden, pp.651-54. Pls. 7-12. Washington


Roberts, Daniel G. and Mark B. Sant

1983    A Preliminary Replicative Analysis of Teshoa Flake Production. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 53(1-2):28-41.      

Smith, Ira F.

1973    The Parker Site; A Manifestation of the Wyoming Valley Culture. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 43(3-4): 1-56


St. Claire, Harry Hull, II

1902    Shoshonean Dictionary. MS, Archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 2948A, pp.74-266. Washington.


Schmidt-Wartemberg, H.

1889    Shoshone, Waskakie, Box Elder Creek, Utah. (On Powell’s printed vocabulary Schedule sheets.) MS, Archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 789. Washington.


Werner, David

1972    Zimmerman Site 36-Pi-14 in: Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley: A Study of the Cultural Chronology of the Tocks Island Reservoir. W. Fred Kinsey, III. Anthropological Series No. 2, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.


Witthoft, John

n.d.      Overpeck and Diehl Site Report. Unpublished manuscript on file at the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

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