Friday, December 4, 2009

Donation December: The Gift of Giving

Each week this month will focus on an artifact collection generously donated to the State Museum Section of Archaeology by an amateur archaeologist. Well documented collections with detailed provenience information are of particular significance because they have the potential to contribute the most information about Pennsylvania prehistory. However, archaeologists are able to compare and examine all collections to interpret broad cultural changes.

The most recent donation to The Section of Archaeology comes from Mr. James H. Armstrong and provides us with additional specimens from an important site in the Susquehanna River Valley. Mr. Armstrong received this collection from his grandmother and decided to donate the artifacts so that they would be preserved for future generations and to assist in the research of early occupants of Pennsylvania.

The projectile points in this photograph were made by native peoples who occupied the Lower Susquehanna River. The points date from the Archaic Period (8000-1800 B.C.) thru the Late Woodland Period (800 -1550 A.D.). These periods are defined by changes in technology and changes in lifeways. The points at the bottom of the photo are the earliest, Archaic, and the points at the top represent the Woodland Period.

The stone tools in this photograph are representative of the Archaic and Middle Woodland Periods. During this time native peoples were evolving from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to one more dependent on horticulture. The notched net-sinkers would have been used along the river for securing fishing nets. The other tools function as wood-working implements such as the grooved axe (top), and the celt (second row, right) and chipped stone axe (second row, left). The third row includes three unfinished bifaces, left to right, which are essentially “blanks” for projectile point production. On the far right is a pick possibly used for carving steatite vessels dating to the Transitional Period (1800-1200 B.C.).

Archaeologists know the function and age of these artifacts through careful excavation of stratified archaeological sites and analysis of the levels at which these artifacts are found. We have blogged the past few weeks about the C-14 and AMS dating of artifacts and how archaeologists determine the age of artifacts. By compiling data from lots of sites and artifacts we are able to determine the point styles associated with the Archaic and Woodland Periods. Stratified excavations that then yield points produced by the same techniques as the dated points are considered contemporary. Changes in shapes of points indicate a change in technology or function over time.

Hunters prior to the Late Woodland Period are using a spear thrower or atlatl and the points are notched in various forms to allow for hafting to the spear shaft. In the Late Woodland Period the change in shape of projectile points indicates a shift to bow and arrow technology.

Please consider donating your collection to The State Museum to further our understanding of the heritage of our Commonwealth and Preserve our Past for the Future.

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

1 comment:

  1. I have stone tools that were found near indian god rock in parker pennsylvania apx 30 years ago. While researching what they were used for with a student i found that there is ongoing investigations in the area that these may be paloe indians items, i have a fluted spear head, a scraper and several other items, also what apears to be a peyrified large animal tooth.who can i contact who may be able to identify items