Friday, February 26, 2016

The Mullen Collection

Jack Mullen had planned to be a history teacher when he returned from World War II, but instead shared his passion for history with his own young sons. 

Anna Mullen and Jim Herbstritt the day she donated her husband's collection

 The Mullen’s were acquainted with Leroy Funk who owned and farmed a portion of the land now referred to as the Strickler site (36La3).  In the late 1960’s Jack and his sons would visit the site collecting artifacts unearthed as Mr. Funk plowed.  Unfortunately, there are no detailed notes about the provenience or discovery location of these artifacts other than the Funk portion of the Strickler site. This activity was an opportunity for the children to form fond memories with their father as they learned about the area’s previous inhabitants.

The Pennsylvania Historical Commission (precursor to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, PHMC) began an investigation at the Strickler site in 1931 under the direction of Donald Cadzow, then the State Anthropologist/Archaeologist.  Since then a number of excavations have taken place by “curio collectors”, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) members and professional archaeologists.  In 1967 Pennsylvania Power and Light Company became interested in purchasing a large swath of land that included the Strickler site.  Their intended activities would eventually destroy the site.  A mitigation plan to fully investigate and excavate the site prior to its destruction was developed and implemented in 1968, 1969 and 1974.  These excavations and the culture history of the Susquehannock Indians are discussed in detail in Barry C. Kent’s book Susquehanna’s Indians.

The Strickler site is the largest of the Susquehannock sites encompassing over 10 acres within its stockade, which exhibited European style bastions on at least two of its corners. 

Strickler site (36La3) map (White, 2001)

Based primarily on evidence of postmolds associated with longhouses, cooking hearths and trash middens it is estimated that over 4,000 people lived there between 1645-1665 (Kent, 1989: 364). This site is considered the peak of the Susquehannock population and represents “the height of Susquehannock political and economic power” (Kent, 1989:367).  It is believed to be the only Susquehannock village at this time encompassing two previous villages within its walls.  Kent paints a mental picture of everyday life at the Strickler site on page 367 of his book:
The competition over the fur trade with the Iroquois to the north and the English in Maryland made this a contentious time; and at least once, in 1663, Strickler was attacked by more than 800 Iroquois.  The increased interactions with Europeans led to an increased dependence on their trade goods as they gradually began to replace native made items leading to a decline in native craftsmanship. By 1665 sickness and warfare had shrunk the population significantly, the fields and woodlots were exhausted and it was time to move on to establish a new village.

It is this site where the Mullen’s recovered these significant artifacts exemplifying a time when cultures were colliding mixing old native ways and ideas with “new” European concepts in an effort to adapt and survive. 

Strickler Cord-marked pottery noting the classic Strickler flared and rounded rims
Brass Kettles were replacing native pots during this time and the two occurred in almost even numbers at the Strickler site
The bottom of two brass kettles, note the concentric circles on the lower example created by the spinning process that produced the kettles.  Also not the patch on the upper example, "Holes in kettles were frequently repaired with a patch of brass that was riveted to the walls or bottom" (Kent, 1989: 204) 
Iron artifacts: scissors, bracelets, a key and a knife/spear; examples of European goods replacing native tools and accessories
Brass artifacts: bracelet, button, brass patch with rivets and a spoon
A variety of glass, catlinite/slate and shell beads

All of these artifacts and more were graciously donated by the Mullen family to The State Museum of Pennsylvania where they can be preserved and studied.  This collection also complements and enhances our existing collection from the Strickler site.  These privately held collections can contribute significantly to our understanding of the past and we appreciate and acknowledge their contribution to our archaeological heritage.  If you have a similar collection that you wish to donate please contact the staff of our Section to make donation arrangements.  If you would like to learn more about this site, or any of the Susquehannock sites please see Barry Kent’s Susquehanna’s Indians or peruse past TWIPA blogs for more information.

Kent, Barry C.
        1989      Susquehanna’s Indians. Anthropological Series,
                      Number 6. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum
                      Commission, Harrisburg.

White, Sharon
        2001       To Secure a Lasting Peace: Diachronic Analysis 
                       of Seventeenth-Century Susquehannock Political 
                       and Economic Strategies. PH.D. Dissertation, 
                       Pennsylvania State University.

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

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