Friday, July 31, 2015

The Schultz Site Diorama – The Oldest Exhibit on Display in the Archaeology Gallery at the State Museum of Pennsylvania

The first incarnation of the State Museum of Pennsylvania was located in the Executive office building (now the Ryan Building) attached to the State Capitol. Due to limited expeditions by the museum, this first archaeology gallery contained items primarily donated from local collectors. Subsequent excavations sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (now the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) were some of the first to produce provenienced collections that offered reliable insight into the lives of Pennsylvania’s prehistoric inhabitants.

Using information gathered from 1931 excavations at the Schultz site and historical accounts of other Susquehannock and Iroquoian village sites, museum preparators Linneaus G. Duncan and Charles Andes crafted the display we now know as the Schultz site diorama. The wax figures stand approximately 6 inches tall and were created from plaster molds. Once extracted from the mold, the models were posed and details such as clothing, hair, and color were meticulously added by Mr. Duncan, the museum’s chief preparator. In the photograph below, Linneaus Duncan sculpts one of the figures, note the plaster mold in the foreground with figures in varying degrees of completion arranged behind it.
(Photo: PHMC Collections)

Oil paints were used to add color, and small pieces of leather and fur were used for clothing. Often overlooked details of this display are the miniature deer skins - one is tacked to the exterior of the structure and another is draped across a log. Upon closer inspection, these tiny pelts are revealed to be the furs of mice. Among the materials used by the preparators during the time of the diorama’s construction were various chemicals, oils, shellac, varnish, various paints, plasteline clay, beeswax (likely the material used to make the figures), and assorted brushes and tools. These items were indicated on a supply list dated 1932.

Linneaus Duncan (right) and Charles Andes (left) prepare the area outside the stockade village
(Photo: PHMC Collections)

Completed by 1933, the Schultz site diorama was intended to give museum visitors a view into prehistoric life that left no detail to the imagination. The craftsmanship and care taken in the display’s creation is still evident today. In the 1960s, the diorama was deemed “too good not to use”, and was moved to its current location for the opening of the William Penn Memorial Museum (now the State Museum of Pennsylvania) in 1965.

The Schultz site diorama in its original location at the old State Museum
(Photo: PHMC Collections)


Since the 1930s, our knowledge of the Susquehannock culture has expanded considerably. The Schultz site (36La7) was a mid to late 16th century Susquehannock village located in Lancaster County. The first excavations at this site were executed by Donald Cadzow in 1931 and were sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission. These excavations yielded, among other things, ornamental objects and pottery from features. Subsequent excavations in 1969 revealed extensive detail about the Susquehannock culture of the 16th century. Among the records from the latter excavation are maps of excavations revealing the stockade and the shape and layout of house structures. Contrary to the diorama, house structures were often rounded at the ends, as opposed to squared.  In addition, we do not really know the height of the stockade or if it held a firing platform. Finally, we now know that the Susquehannocks buried their dead in cemeteries and not mounds as depicted on the far right of the diorama. Susquehannocks occupied village sites in the Susquehanna River valley (shown in the diorama’s background) in central Pennsylvania from the 16th century to the time of European contact.

(Photo: Don Giles, State Museum of Pennsylvania)

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

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