Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Analyzing Stone Axes

       Hello my name is Tamara Eichelberger, and I was an intern during the spring semester with the Section of Archaeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. I have been interested in anthropology since I was a kid after I picked up a copy of National Geographic. I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in anthropology in high school and became a Sociology-Anthropology major at Elizabethtown College. While at Elizabethtown, I participated in archaeological digs at the Washington Boro site in Lancaster County and also in Trim, Ireland. I also worked for two weeks at the Museum of Copenhagen helping to wash, catalog, and analyze a collection of human skeletal remains. I got to spend my final spring semester of my senior year at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, and it was such a wonderful experience for me.

Recording catalog information in preparation for analysis.

            While I spent some time organizing some documents donated to the museum at the beginning of my internship, the majority of my time was spent working with the collection of Native American axes housed at the museum. There are over 700 axes in the collection which were donated by private individuals in the early years of collecting. These collections were not cataloged and organized to today’s standards and had never undergone a comprehensive analysis. It was my job to go through over 50 boxes and make sure each axe had a unique catalog number and to measure and analyze the different features of the axes. The ultimate aim of the project is not only to catalog and measure the axes so the Museum has a record of them, but to also to do research on these axes. There have been few studies done on Native American axes in Pennsylvania so this project will add to our knowledge of stone tools in the area.
Tray of axes which illustrates the variety of axes analyzed.

         Before coming to the Section of Archaeology, I did not have much experience with stone tools or curation in general. I worked closely with Dr. Kurt Carr and several of the other staff throughout my time at the museum. I learned about the cataloging process for the State Museum and was able to wash and label over 250 previously un-cataloged axes. After washing and labeling, we worked to create an Access data base so we could record the different features and measurements of the axes. This was the most difficult part of the process as time and time again we came across an axe that stumped us and forced us to add in new variables to the analysis. I learned a lot about the manufacture of the axes and the variety of different uses they could have had. There was so much variety in the different axes that it felt almost impossible at times to fit them all in to the data base. However, this catalog will help us to learn more about the varieties of axes so I am excited about what we can learn once it is completed.

Measuring and weighing each axe with electronic calipers.

My favorite experience this semester was working in the Nature Lab in the State Museum. The Nature Lab is a place where different divisions of the museum can share the work they do with visitors to the museum. Three times during my internship, I packed up a cart full of scales, axes, diagrams, and other tools and set myself up in the Nature Lab. I was able to talk to many interested visitors about the axe project and what kind of work I was doing as an intern. For me, the most rewarding part of archaeology is being able to share findings and history with others, and the Nature Lab allowed me to do just that. Many of the people who visited the Nature Lab were children who were on field trips to the Museum for the day. I loved to watch their eyes light up with amazement every time I told them that the axes I passed around to them were thousands of years old. They also asked many great questions about the axes, archaeology, and Native American culture. I can only hope that they will continue to be interested in learning more about the past in the future.
Sharing my research in the Science Lab at The State Museum of Pennsylvania.
I could not be more grateful for all of the help that everyone gave me at the Museum during the semester. After working with the Section of Archaeology, I realized that I could see myself working at a museum as a curator in the future. I gained so many valuable hands-on skills that will help me in the future as I head off to graduate school for bioarchaeology in the fall. Although my internship at the museum has ended, and I will be graduating from Elizabethtown College very soon, the axe project has not been fully completed. The next intern with the Section of Archaeology will pick up on the project where I left off. After spending a whole semester working with the axes, I want to continue to help with the project and hope to visit the Museum again in the summer as a volunteer.

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

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