Friday, March 13, 2009

The Fort Hunter Site has been occupied for over 9000 years

These two projectile points were unexpectedly recovered from excavations at the Fort Hunter site, located just north of Harrisburg. This project is being conducted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission and the goal is to locate the remains of the French and Indian War era supply fort that was at this location between 1757 and 1763. Numerous 18th century artifacts and features have been recovered and some of these may be part of the fort occupation. However, the stockade and the blockhouse have yet to be located and our investigations are continuing.

Both of these artifacts date to the Early and Middle Archaic Periods and were probably propelled using an atlatl or spear thrower. The one on the left is classified as a Palmer type. This specimen is made of chert and this style is distinguished by its “Christmas tree” shape, small corner notches, small serrations and grinding on the base. When found at other sites, it has been consistently dated by carbon 14 methods to between 9800 and 9200 years ago.

The projectile point on the right is classified as a St. Albans type. It is made on rhyolite that was quarried from the South Mountain area of Adams and Franklin counties. When found at other sites, it has been consistently dated by carbon 14 methods to between 8900 and 8300 years ago. These were used as spear points in hunting.

Although there are many other prehistoric tools representing later periods, these two artifacts are the oldest thus far recovered from the site. They document how this location has been visited over a period of almost 10,000 years. The confluence of two streams was a favorite camp site for Native Americans and this is situated at the confluence of Fishing Creek and the Susquehanna River. It is no surprise that this site was continuously visited by Native Americans throughout prehistory. Further, the same characteristics attracted the first Europeans and this site was occupied as early as 1740 during historic times.

Both of these projectile points were found close to the surface and in an area of the site where the sediments are thin and not well stratified. The 2008 excavations exposed an area closer to the river where the soil is over four feet in thickness. This suggests that these earlier occupations may be found buried under the fort artifacts.

This excavation takes place as part of Pennsylvania’s Archaeological Month celebration in September and October. We will continue the excavations in 2009 and we encourage the public to visit. For more information on Fort Hunter or the prehistory of the Susquehanna Valley, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .


  1. very cool.

    i dug at/am still doing work on an early cayuga indian village in new york... and just a few days ago i visited the state museum and was pleasantly surprised with the exhibit on excavations and ties to anthropology.

    thanks for all the hard work you guys do!

  2. Didn't there used to be a project on City Island in Harrisburg? When can we expect a report or publication on that project? Why did you move the project to Fort Hunter? Whose idea was that?

  3. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) conducted an Archaeology Month out reach program on City Island from about 1992 through 2005. Our work was an extension of an investigation conducted by the City of Harrisburg that recovered significant data on Native American cultural adaptations from the period of 3000 to 4000 years ago. A report on the City’s work has been completed and I would imagine they could supply you with a copy.
    The PHMC investigation on City Island was mainly a public outreach effort but added data to the City’s work. We usually had over 5000 school children visit each year along with thousands from the general public. Unfortunately, the logistics were complicated (ripping up the parking lot during baseball season) and it was expensive to excavate. For these reasons, we moved to Fort Hunter for our Archaeology Month program. We are still working on the report for the City Island project.