Friday, October 19, 2012

Closing Thoughts and New Adventures

Final thoughts on this year’s excavation at Fort Hunter and upcoming activities of the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Closing shot from 2012 season- main excavation block.

As reported last week in our blog, we tested the bottom of the well at Fort Hunter and it does not seem likely that it contains any remains from the French and Indian War period occupation. However, there continues to be an issue concerning why the icehouse, built by Colonel William McAllister during the early 1790’s, was built so close to the well. The southwest corner of this structure overlaps the well and this corner is also the location of some irregularly placed foundation stones that project from the foundation wall. In addition, there is a mysterious pile of rock that extends from the southwest corner of the icehouse even further over the well. One scenario to explain this positioning of the well and icehouse is that the well dates to the French and Indian War or earlier; Colonel McAllister was not aware of its existence 30 years later when he built the icehouse and accidently placed it along the edge of the well. The irregularly placed foundation stones and the mysterious pile of rock may represent a weakening or collapse of the corner and subsequent repair of the icehouse wall.

Corner of icehouse, view of rock formation outside of wall and over well.

Another view of  these curiously overlapping features.

An alternative scenario to this connection between these structures is that they were intentionally constructed in this manner by Colonel McAllister. There is some indication in his writings that he contemplated running a pipe from his well, through the icehouse and into his milk house to cool the milk. The juxtaposition of the well, rock pile and the icehouse may have been an innovative method to extend the preservation of milk for his dairy business.
Linear featur in north end of excavation block.

In another development at the end of last week, more 18th century ceramics were recovered from the area of a second linear feature at the north end of our excavation block at the edge of the bluff. We have barely scraped the surface of this feature, however some probing suggests that it is at least 8 inches deep. Considering that only a five foot section has been exposed, a determination of its age or function will require opening adjacent five foot squares next year. Given its location on the edge of the bluff, some of this area has almost certainly eroded into the creek complicating the investigation. In an adjacent excavation unit to the southwest, there appears to be the corner of a stone foundation. In the 2013 season, both of these areas will be expanded to the east and west by ten or fifteen feet to evaluate their contents.

Based on the topographic setting, and the cultural remains discovered thus far east of the mansion, it has been suspected that the area west of the mansion could also contain significant historic remains. However, little was found in the 1960’s excavation conducted by Robert Ditchburn and Duncan Campbell. We auger tested this area on the last day of the field season and discovered a very different soil profile compared to other areas around the mansion. In all three auger tests, we recovered prehistoric materials just below the humus level but this is followed by relatively coarse sand extending to a depth of approximately six feet. We will resume auger testing this area next year but the lack of historic remains continues to be surprising.

In summary, the 2012 field season solved several problems and the results will be used to direct the 2013 field work. By completely excavating the prehistoric levels in the south half of the excavation block, we were able to more safely and easily excavate and auger to the bottom of the well. Based on the artifact content, the well was probably filled in one episode during the early 20th century when the mansion was hooked up to the public water system.

Although, Early and Middle Archaic diagnostic artifacts have been recovered from disturbed historic strata, the earliest prehistoric remains in the block excavation date to early Late Archaic times. The excavation unit at the far north end of the block has produced a possible 18th century, French and Indian War feature. This and the adjacent undated rock foundation will be a major focus of the 2013 season.

Augering between the mansion and the parking lot has continued to increase our understanding of the soil stratigraphy of the site and enabled the identification of areas that have been disturbed by cultural activity. These need to be investigated in 2013 and it is our hope that they represent the ditch or stockade surrounding Fort Hunter.

Finally, October is Archaeology Month in Pennsylvania and many other states nationwide. We have several events planned. To see other events scheduled throughout the state click on

Crowds gather around the archaeology exhibits at Cabela's in Hamburg, Pa.

Sunday, October 21 – In partnership with the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc. we will participate in public outreach event at the Cabela’s store located off of Interstate 78, at the Hamburg exit. Prehistoric artifacts will be on display along with our dugout canoe from the State Museum. We will distribute literature on Pennsylvania Archaeology and answer questions from the public. This event has attracted approximately 3000 people in past years.

Wednesday, October 31 – Archaeology Day at the State Capitol. In cooperation with the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council, the Section of Archaeology will have an information table in the East Rotunda. The goal is to share information with our legislators and publicize the importance of archaeological sites and the contribution of archaeological research to the citizens of Pennsylvania.

Archaeology Day at the State Capitol

Saturday, November 3 – The Annual Workshops in Archaeology Program at the State Museum. This is a day-long event for the interested public.

Captain John Smith's map of the Chesapeake Bay in 1612
depicts a Susquehannock Indian.

Contact, Conflict and Colonization:
The Archaeology of Penn’s Woods.

The Archaeology Section of the State Museum of Pennsylvania invites all archaeology enthusiasts to attend the Annual Workshops in Archaeology Program on Saturday, November 3rd from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Third and North Streets, Harrisburg. Designed for the non-professional, this year’s program features a review of the archaeology of the Contact Period through the Revolutionary War Period. This time essentially covers the process of Native American and European interaction mainly through trade; the eventual displacement of Native American populations; the formation of European colonies; competition among the European powers for the control of resources; and finally the formation an independent nation.

A huge amount of research has been conducted over the past 30 years and several new sites have been discovered. There will be three presentations on Native American culture during the Contact Period, two presentations on Native American and European interaction, two on the French and Indian War and one on the Revolutionary War. In addition there will be a flint knapping demonstration, French & Indian War/Revolutionary War re-enactors, and an artifact identification session. The Bureau for Historic Preservation will provide information and assistance in recording archaeological sites which is essential for protecting and preserving our archaeological heritage. Closing comments from Stephen G. Warfel will summarize the workshop sessions and reflect on this significant period in Pennsylvania history. The workshops will be followed by a reception in the Anthropology and Archaeology Gallery of The State Museum where the audience can interact with the presenters.
Flint knapper Steve Nissly with a workshop participant.

A pre-registration fee of $20.00 per person (required by October 31st), $15.00 for students; $15.00 for Heritage Society, SPA and PAC members covers the entire day. Registration at the door is $25.00. Pre-registration is strongly encouraged.

Included in registration are nine presentations in the auditorium, a morning and afternoon coffee break and a closing reception. Lunch is on your own. For more information call 717-783-9926 and click on the sidebar link for the 2012 Annual Workshops Program and registration form.

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


  1. Absolutely fascinating as always! I especially enjoy your posts on Fort Hunter. Is there anyway to find out if your archaeology uncovered anything from the Slave's residency at Fort Hunter in either this or previous investigations? It appears at least one slave, Sal, may have assisted with McAllister's dairy business.

  2. Good overview of the excavation. I am looking forward to the presentation on the the contact period and the colonization proess.