Friday, August 12, 2022

New Market Site Ceramics - A Philadelphia Discovery

For the last several weeks, our blog posts have focused on the 50th anniversary of Tropical Storm Agnes and its impact on archaeological sites and cultural resources in Pennsylvania. This week, we would like to turn back to happier subjects and have a look at some of the beautiful ceramic vessels from a site discovered in the city of Philadelphia.

In the 1970s, construction of portions of I-95 and urban redevelopment projects occurred in the oldest sections of the city near the waterfront, prompting archaeological investigations in the areas that would be affected by demolition and construction activities. Several new historic archaeological sites were discovered as a result of these investigations, including the New Market site, 36PH0015.

In the 18th century, the public market, consisting of a row of covered shed stalls, ran along the middle of Second Street between Pine and South streets. The area surrounding the market was marked by the homes of the wealthy and influential. Thousands of artifacts recovered from excavations in this area yielded information on the diet, lifestyle, and economic status of the people who once lived and worked there. 

Some of these artifacts went on display in Philadelphia as part of the collections of the Atwater Kent Museum; however, after a time the collection was put into storage in the city. While in storage, the boxes of artifacts were damaged by water and vandalism and many objects ended up being dumped from their original boxes and bags, losing their context or connection to the original site. They were later donated to The State Museum of Pennsylvania, where they are currently curated.


Map of the City of Philadelphia c. 1802 Showing the Early City and Delaware River Waterfront (public domain) 

During the early years of settlement of the city of Philadelphia, most of the ceramics that people used were imported from Britain or Europe. A popular type of ceramic that was introduced to Europe in the 16th century was porcelain from China. English attempts to reproduce Chinese porcelain in the early to mid-1700s were unsuccessful but resulted in new types of ceramics, including tin-glazed earthenware and salt-glazed stoneware.

Many types of ceramics were recovered from Site 36PH0015 including lovely, delicate tea and table wares made of salt-glazed stoneware. These wares are marked by thin vessel walls and an orange-peel-like surface appearance and were very popular in the 18th century.  Other examples of scratch blue (and black) decorated salt-glazed stoneware have geometric or floral designs etched into the vessel body.

Examples of Delicate Salt-glazed Stoneware Tea and Table Wares from 36PH0015 (photo by PHMC)

Examples of Floral Designs in Scratch Blue and Black Salt-glazed Stoneware from 36PH0015 (photo by PHMC) 

Another common type of ceramic found at site 36PH0015 was red earthenware or redware, so-called due to its red color. Redware has been made for centuries and continues to be produced to this day. Although the first redware would have been brought to Philadelphia from England and Europe, local potteries were soon established. Clay sources were discovered within the city itself that were used for manufacture of bricks and for making redware pottery.

These large redware serving plates, or chargers, are typically highly decorated. Decorative elements on these chargers include colored glazes and slips, combed slips, and depictions of figures, animals, and flowers, as well as geometric designs.

Decorative Redware Chargers from Site 36PH0015. Charger at Left Displays a Horse and Rider Scene (photo by PHMC)

Decorative Redware Chargers from Site 36PH0015 (photo by PHMC)

Other forms of decorative ceramics from 36PH0015 include bowls, candlestick holders, figurines, mugs, pitchers, chamberpots, and other objects. A lovely polychrome painted redware bowl in the collection may be an example of work from 18th-century Moravian potters. 

Decorated Redware Bowl, Staffordshire Candlestick Holder, and Polychrome Painted Redware Bowl (photo by PHMC)

Other objects are more utilitarian and less decorative, including these three small glazed redware pieces. The small size of the mug indicates that it may have been for a child.

Small Redware Jugs and Mug (photo by PHMC)

Dishes, mugs, and cups often featured bright colors and whimsical designs such as the creamware pieces pictured below. Popular designs included using metallic oxides to make ‘clouded’ and ‘tortoiseshell’ color palettes and fruit and vegetable shapes such as the melon tureen and cauliflower-shaped teacup. Creamware was highly fashionable at the turn of the 19th century and wealthy Philadelphians would have bought these flashy and unique ceramics to keep up with trends. 

Examples of Decorative Creamware: Wieldonware Plate, Stylized Sprig-molded Melon Tureen Lid, Cauliflower Teacup, and Striped Teacup (photo by PHMC)

These are just a few of the many different types of ceramics that were recovered during excavations at this site. Due to the number of archaeological projects and recorded sites in Philadelphia, there are also many other site collections that contain these types of ceramics. As always, the New Market artifact assemblage and other collections held by the Section of Archaeology are available for use by anyone with scholarly research objectives.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about these beautiful ceramics and the important information that they hold for archaeologists in understanding the daily lives of early Philadelphia citizens. Below is a list of some of the many publications relating to archaeology in Philadelphia. We hope you will be inspired to examine the archaeological record of your community and help us to preserve the past.


For Additional Reading:

Carpentier, Donald and Jonathan Rickard 

2001    Slip Decoration in the Age of Industrialization. Ceramics in America 2001. Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, WI. 


Cotter, John L., Daniel G. Roberts Michael Parrington

1992    The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia Pa.


Liggett, Barbara

1978    Archaeology at New Market Exhibit Catalogue. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.


Myers, Susan H.

1980    Handcraft to Industry: Philadelphia Ceramic in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology, No. 43. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.


Orr, David G. 

2003    Samuel Malkin in Philadelphia: A Remarkable Slipware Assemblage. Ceramics in America 2003, pp. 252-255 (  


Yamin, Rebecca 

2008    Digging in the City of Brotherly Love: Stories from Philadelphia Archaeology. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. 


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

Monday, August 1, 2022

So Long, Agnes

With this blog we say good-bye to our series on Tropical Storm Agnes and her impact on the Commonwealth.  The previous blogs have traced her path through the major river basins of Pennsylvania, leaving behind massive destruction and hardship.  Cultural resources – churches, museums, libraries, and cemeteries- were significantly impacted, but the communities surrounding them rallied together to help salvage these resources. Improved preparation and planning by many of these institutions were implemented in anticipation of the potential for future floods. Flood protection programs that had been proposed decades prior to Agnes were finally approved, funded, and constructed by Army Corp of Engineers who recognized that flood events were happening more frequently, and their impact was becoming increasingly destructive.

Figure 1-Aerial view of Cowanesque Dam, Tioga County.
Image By Bjoertvedt - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The archaeology conducted in the aftermath of Agnes provided a broader resource for examining the past. Rural areas and previously undeveloped landscapes yielded evidence of cultural activity over thousands of years and improved our understanding of movement and settlement patterns by Indigenous peoples.  This could be viewed as a positive outcome from such a destructive event. Archaeological sites are often destroyed by private construction projects, natural disasters, or careless destruction by those digging for “treasures”, preventing systematic investigations that ends with the loss of cultural heritage.  Unfortunately, some of the destruction from Agnes could not be rectified.  The displacement of cemetery burials at Forty Fort, in Luzerne County couldn’t be repaired, but the monument dedicated in memory of the individuals from this gravesite is a reminder of the destruction. and our need to plan and prepare for the future.  Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is currently developing a multi-year project to address flooding in the Wyoming Valley. Development within the watershed has led to storm water runoff reaching the river faster and with the increased frequency and intensity of storms, the threat of flooding intensifies.

Figure 2 Wilkes Barre, Luzerne County
Image courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives

State and Federal agencies have put many planning tools in place since Agnes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dedicates funding to implement flood mitigation projects, to improve planning and assistance for communities.  Flood insurance programs have expanded to assist homeowners and businesses impacted when these events occur. Improved land management practices have been put in place to control run off from paved surfaces. Flood plain management programs are updated and revised as development occurs which also impacts communities. These measures are important tools for protecting our resources and preparing for the potential of future flood events. The impact of climate change has already been realized in flash flood events and extreme fluctuations in temperature-by rapidly melting snowpack due to a sudden spring thaw.

Archaeologists have examined climate change over time and the impact on cultures, but how did they adapt and change due to changing conditions? Our climate has evolved since the first Ice Age 1.8 million years ago to the present, marked by extreme temperatures and drought. In the Paleoindian and Early Archaic periods, characterized by low population density, humans responded to changes in climate by moving to more favorable regions. During the Middle and Late Archaic periods families occupied all the river valleys and movement was generally not an option to offset population increase. Instead, incremental technological improvements were incorporated to obtain food resources more efficiently.

 The decrease in precipitation and relatively high population density during the Sub-Boreal episode (5800-2850 years ago) required significant changes in Native American technological systems. Technology was not the only solution and changes certainly occurred in social organization that resulted in groups that could exploit the environment in a more organized and efficient manner. Hunting and gathering was supplemented with the gardening of seed plants of the Eastern Agricultural Complex. By 900 AD, gardening could not maintain pace with a growing population and maize based agriculture became the dominant subsistence pattern. After 1350 AD, the Little Ice Age created some level of stress among Native American farmers, especially those occupying the northern regions of Pennsylvania where frost -free growing seasons were reduced. High fertility soils and settings with more frost-free days would have been very important in this environment and competition for these settings may have contributed to the widespread social stress among groups.  

Figure 3 Schultz site (36LA0007) diorama. 
PHMC image.

In the 21st century, our high population density, a global economy, and an advanced technical society are part of a delicate interrelated cultural system. Climate is part of that system. Global warming will cause sea levels to rise. Populations will be displaced inland. Some cities may be abandoned. In the United States, a decrease in rainfall is predicted for the western corn belt and that will result in reduced food production. An increase in hurricane activity is predicted along the East coast and this will result in costly disasters. Competition for agricultural land and the resources to farm this land will increase and result in our own instances of social stress. As in the past, we will have to develop technological and economic solutions to produce more foods. Scientists, farmers and concerned individuals are already coming together to examine current agricultural practices and crop yield and where changes can be made to better utilize our resources. Sustainability of our food resources is vital to population growth, implementing best practices for management of these resources is just one step we can take now.   Archaeologists have seen cultures adapt and change over thousands of years and that belief that we, as a society made up of many communities, will adapt and change for the future is promising.

We hope you have enjoyed our Agnes series, for some it reminded us of a significant event in our past, for others it was a picture into the past and an event that helped to form many of our land use and flood protection programs across the Commonwealth. Preservation of our cultural resources continues as an initiative of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).  We encourage you to learn about the resources in your community and support the preservation of the archaeological and historic sites that enrich our lives.  We remind everyone of the need to have an emergency plan in place for your household and to engage in discussions within your community for emergency preparedness and land use practices.  

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

Monday, July 18, 2022

Tropical Storm Agnes in the Allegheny River Valley

If you have been following our series on the effects of Tropical Storm Agnes in the various river drainages of Pennsylvania, you may have noticed a pattern of devastating damage followed by the resilient recovery of the people and properties affected.  In many cases recovery included construction of reservoirs and other flood control projects to protect against future flooding events.  As part of the planning and construction of these facilities, archaeology was often required to mitigate damage to possible archaeological sites.  As a result, many new sites were discovered and both new and previously known sites were more thoroughly excavated than would have been possible without the flood control initiative. 

 The Allegheny River Valley was positioned differently than the other river basins previously featured in this series.  The St. Patrick’s Day flood of 1936 caused devastation throughout the region and hit Pittsburgh particularly hard.  More than 63 inches of snow received over the course of the winter began to melt and combined with the increased rain on March 16 led to a major flooding event.  Described here by the U.S.Geological Survey’s Water Supply Paper 799:

“During the period March 9-22,1936 there occurred in close succession over the northeastern United States . . . two extraordinarily heavy rainstorms. The depths of rainfall mark this period as one of the greatest concentrations of precipitation, in respect to time and magnitude of area covered, of which there is record in this country. At the time of the rain there were also accumulations of snow on the ground over much of the region that were large for the season. The comparatively warm temperatures associated with the storms melted the snow and added materially to the quantities of water to be disposed of by drainage into the waterways . . . the total quantity that had to be disposed of . . . ranged between 10 to 30 inches.”

The Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers converge at the point in Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River.  The water crested more than 20 feet over flood stage to 46 feet which left much of downtown Pittsburgh underwater, and millions of dollars of damage in its wake.  It also left 62 dead, more than 500 injured and approximately 135,000 people homeless throughout the region.  This was the impetus for Congress to pass the Copeland Act in 1938 allotting the funds for the construction of levees and reservoirs in the Allegheny and surrounding drainages. 

Area of the Kinzua Dam Project

The Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir were a product of this construction and are credited with significantly lessening the impact of Agnes on Pittsburgh thus fulfilling its promised function. The lessened impact still created considerable damage to Pittsburgh with the rivers cresting at 35.8 feet.  The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission had recently opened the Fort Pitt Museum in 1969 on Pittsburgh’s “Golden Point”.  It was inundated with 45 inches of water damaging the structure as well as the artifacts and exhibits causing it to close for almost two years for repairs.  Other towns and cities throughout the region were severely impacted by Agnes.  The town of Freeport in Armstrong County is situated between the Allegheny River and Buffalo Creek and had what one resident, PaulWhite, described as “double flooding”.  

Unfortunately, the construction of the Kinzua Dam also had a significant downside.  It caused the displacement of Pennsylvania’s last group of Indigenous people.  The Seneca that occupied approximately 10,000 acres of their Allegheny Territory had been deeded this land as part of the Treatyof Canandaigua, signed by President George Washington in 1794. The Allegheny River was known as the “Beautiful River” or “Good River” in Seneca language Ohi:yo’.  It was the source of food, plants, and medicines for thousands of years and culturally significant to the Seneca Nation peoples living in the Allegheny Territory and those living on the Cornplanter Grant.    After many years and many legal battles, the government eventually used the right of eminent domain to claim the land and removed the approximately 600 Tribal members living there to the Allegheny Reservation in Salamanca, New York

The Seneca Nation Onödowá'ga:' (oh-non-doh-wah!-gawh!), which means "People of the Great Hill” have created an exhibit that relays their story of this event to educate others at their museum (

Soon after the passage of the Copeland Act the Pennsylvania Historical Commission(PHC) examined areas that would be impacted by construction of the dam.  In 1941 a Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) project was conducted on the Pearl Smith farm located two miles north of Kinzua, Warren County.  The investigation led to the recovery of materials representing activities from the Middle Woodland period  (1000- 2400 years ago).  Additional archaeological investigations were conducted in 1942 in a midden area associated with the village component of the Sugar Run site (36WA0002). Unfortunately, this work was halted due to the outbreak of WWII and call to duty of the excavators.  This multi- component site has been linked to similar sites in New York and Ohio, demonstrating complex social networks.

Blades made of Flint Ridge Chert from the Sugar Run Village Site (36WA0002), from the collections of The Pennsylvania State Museum.

Corner-Notched Points made of Onondaga Chert from the Sugar Run Village Site (36WA0002), from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The construction of the levees and reservoirs that resulted from the Copeland Act predate the enactment of The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 which required (and continues to require) the consideration of impact on archaeological and historic resources from federally funded construction projects.  Hence, there was no legal requirement for archaeological investigations prior to implementation of the flood control projects.  Fortunately, in 1950 the Carnegie Museum initiated the Upper Ohio Valley Archaeological Survey.  Its purpose was to create “a basic framework of information covering all of man’s time in the area” (Mayer-Oakes, 1955).  This comprehensive survey laid the groundwork for our understanding of the precontact and historic occupations of the area.   

Kinzua Phase Pot found in Cold Spring, New York and curated by the Seneca Iroquois

National Museum Salamanca, New York. (Myers, 2019)

The National Park Service sponsored survey and testing in the area that would be inundated by the Allegheny Reservoir in September and October of 1958 by William A. Ritchie (New York State Museum) and Don W. Dragoo (Carnegie Museum).  Most of the initial survey was confined to surface testing because the land was still privately owned and much of it was being actively farmed.  After the land   was purchased by the U.S. Government, a more thorough investigation could be conducted.  One site of particular interest was the Kinzua site (36WA0053).  Only a few chert flakes (debitage) had been found at this location during the initial surface survey.

Stanley Lantz of the Carnegie revisited the site in 1965, as the dam was nearing completion.  A large portion of the site had already eroded away by the lapping waters of the rising reservoir, revealing pottery sherds associated with the Allegheny Erie Tradition (A.D.1100-1300) (Lantz 2020).  Full scale excavations commenced in 1965 with the mechanical removal of topsoil exposing the precontact indigenous occupation.  The remaining portion of the site, approximately 1,200 m2, was excavated and found to be a stockaded village complete with houses, hearths, storage pits and artifacts attributed to a community whose economy was based on agriculture, hunting, and fishing.  The Kinzua site, like many other sites within the Allegheny Reservoir  impoundment area are now under water.  Thankfully a few of them were thoroughly excavated with National Park service funds providing a window into Pennsylvania’s past. 

Tropical Storm Agnes’s effects in western Pennsylvania were devastating but they were less severe than they might have been due to construction of flood control projects following the deadly St. Patrick’s Day flood 36 years earlier. The construction of similar flood control projects in central and eastern  Pennsylvania were not implemented, for the most part,  until after those communities suffered the wrath of Agnes.

If you missed our Learn at Lunch program on the impact of Agnes on cultural resources,  the link is provided here to watch the recorded program.


Dragoo, Don W.

1965       Archeological Investigations in the Kinzua Area of the Allegheny Basin of Western Pennsylvania During 1965, Manuscript on file, The Pennsylvania State Museum Section of Archaeology, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Lantz, Stanley W.

2020       The Allegheny Erie Tradition. In The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania Volume 2 edited by Kurt W. Carr, Christopher A. Bergman, Christina B. Rieth, Bernard K. Means, and Roger W. Moeller, pp. 465 – 482, University of Pennsylvania Press.

Mayer-Oakes, William J.

1955       Prehistory of the Upper Ohio Valley; An Introductory Archeological Study. Carnegie Museum Anthropological Papers, No. 2. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

McConaughy, Mark A. and Janet R. Johnson

2003       Sugar Run Mound (36Wa359) and Village (36Wa2): Hopewell/Middle Woodland in Warren County, Pennsylvania. Foragers and Farmers of the Early and Middle Woodland Periods in Pennsylvania, Recent Research in Pennsylvania Archaeology, No.3, PHMC, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Myers, Andrew J.

2019       The Cold Spring Pot: An Allegheny Erie Tradition Vessel Found in the Upper Allegheny Drainage. In Pennsylvania Archaeologist 89(1):25 – 44.

Making History: The Heinz History Center Blog


Online Resources:


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