Friday, September 29, 2017

If Rocks Could Talk; Unraveling the History of Fort Hunter

It’s September and our followers know that means we are at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park continuing our investigation of this complex archaeological site.  Our mission remains the same, discover the remnants of the French & Indian War fort (1755-1762) but in the process, we have uncovered a lot more relating to the activities and occupations of those both before and after the war.

Our current excavation units are located to the rear of the mansion on either side of the milk house.  On the west side, closest to the corner of the yard and at the confluence of Fishing Creek and the Susquehanna River, archaeologists are uncovering historic and prehistoric activities.  The construction activities are modern (post-1900) water and sewer pipes that bisect the units through two distinct levels. This construction disturbed the soils, but a corner of our westernmost unit was spared.  Digging through the layers of soil and time, this unit has produced pre-historic pottery approximately 1100 years old, a fire-cracked rock feature (cooking hearth), and two Late Archaic points.   Once again, the landscape is reminding us that this was an important spot for peoples for thousands of years and continues to attract visitors to the park.  

modern waterline cutting through unit N75 W35

Recovery of  Koens-Crispin broadspear

A beautiful jasper broadspear

On the east side of the milk house, we continue to investigate a foundation identified as Archibald McAllister’s smokehouse  which still is not yielding many artifacts.  Documentation indicates that this was an octagonal, wooden structure approximately 16 feet in diameter. It also indicates that it was set a foot or more above the ground.  Our examination of the foundation has yielded little in the way of artifacts that would aid in dating the construction of this building, but it has provided insight into the construction methods employed.   The stone foundation that appeared “a foot or more above the ground” was actually set on a rubble stone foundation below ground at approximately the same depth.  This foundation of laid stone consists of sandstone and diabase rock of varying sizes with the largest (10-12”) boulder type at the base with medium and small stones fitted around this base layer.  Intermittent fill of soils mixed with small pebbles and wedge or cut rock complete the foundation.  This random rubble construction consists of stone that are not uniform in shape nor size but were arranged to distribute the weight of the building.  The bottom of the builders’ trench has proven to be consistently level, allowing for a solid foundation for the smokehouse structure.  
Feature 99, smokehouse foundation during removal

The description of McAllister’s octagonal smokehouse doesn’t provide a height dimension for the structure but Carl Lounsbury, architectural historian at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation states that a sharply pitched roof is essential for containing heat and smoke.  He goes on to state that the more intricate the roofing timbers, the more places to hang meat.  Meats were hung in a variety of ways with pegs, nails, hooks and chains.  Smokehouses from the 18th century don’t seem to follow a prescribed design as some are rectangular, square, round, and our octagonal shape at Fort Hunter.  Building materials vary from brick, stone and wood and there seems to be no set height- other than the need for a pitch sufficient for hanging the meats.  Preparation of meats for smoking requires salting which in turn affects the construction materials.  In wood, the cells of timber become infused with salt which weakens the wood cell structure and causes the surface of the wood to soften.  Brick smokehouses show signs of degradation on the bricks and mortar and the surfaces become friable from salt intrusions.  The smokehouse that was constructed without sufficient ventilation had humidity problems which led to molds and potentially harmful meats.  To repel insects- the cured meat was either coated with pepper or hickory ash.  

The following recipe for curing hams is dated December 6, 1841 from the files of John Newberry, Columbia, NC

To 12 hams of common size
take  8 lbs. brown shugar, 1 ½ lbs. christalised salt petre, 5 lbs. fine salt

Rub them with this and let them lie in a cask with the skins downward. Then make pickle with the strongest coarse salt that will bear an egg. Add about two or three quarts of lie refined by boiling and skimming. When cold, cover hams with it and keep them down with a stone and let them lie three or four weeks according to their size. Then hang then up in the smoke house and after 24 hours smoke them with good sound hickory wood and repeat it every morning till that are sufficiently smoked. If dipped in ashes when first taken from the pickle it is useful in preserving them from the fly.

Colonial Williamsburg smokes meats as part of their programming and indicates that smoking usually lasts about two weeks but that hams, shoulders and bacons age inside a smokehouse for at least two years and may be exposed to multiple rounds of smoke curing.  This agrees with the references cited for the McAllister smokehouse that the meats were hung there year- round. It is curious as to why such a large smokehouse was used at the McAllister farm when most of the family were gone by the time of the 1828 visit.  Was this meat consumed at the tavern or sold in the nearby communities?  Research we will pursue this winter after our field season ends. 

The location of an external stove referenced in the documentation is a source for research as well since there is no indicator as to its size, shape or location only that smoke is “conveyed through a tube from the outside”.  The stones to the north of our circular foundation have been removed and we found little evidence of burning or heated surfaces.  Unfortunately, the artifacts were unable to provide a date of placement for these rocks and excavation didn’t reveal their purpose.  Additional soil tests planned for later this year may aid in identifying the method and heat source for the interior of the smokehouse. 
Rocks to the north of smokehouse foundation

The media coverage this season has been great with Fox 43 , and ABC 27 both featuring Kurt Carr, Senior Curator of Archaeology and our crew leader. PennLive interviewed Kurt and posted some great excavation shots.  This media coverage has brought lots of folks to the site and we’ve enjoyed meeting everyone and sharing the significance of archaeology and our rich local heritage.  The school groups who have helped us to excavate and screen dirt and all of the volunteers are amazing.  We only have one more week, excavations close on October 5th and we will be cleaning up and closing the site on the sixth.  

We hope you can join us at Fort Hunter as part of our Archaeology Month in Pennsylvania activities, but if you aren’t able to visit us here- perhaps you can check out other programs offered by the Pennsylvania archaeological community.  On October 28th be sure to join us for the annual Workshops in Archaeology program. This year’s theme is Ethnicity in the Archaeological Record and once again we have a terrific group of presenters scheduled for the day.   

Smokehouses, Foursquare and Stolid, These Buildings Were a Hardworking Adornment to the Colonial Backyard, Michael Olmert. CW Journal: Winter 2004-05. 

The Cultivator: A Monthly Publication, devoted to Agriculture- each No. 16 pages. Albany, June 1835.

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

Friday, September 15, 2017

A 2fer: Triangles and Archaeology

The Triangular Shaped Projectile Points
The First Week of Archaeology at Fort Hunter

The main topic for this week’s blog is a very common artifact in Pennsylvania, the triangular projectile point. It is especially oriented to the projectile point nerds in our audience - those readers who are fascinated with the shapes of projectile points and how they are grouped into types. To our readers who are interested in artifacts – their age, function and how they were made – this blog is for you.

Triangular projectile points or arrow heads are associated with the Late Woodland period - dating from 900 AD to 1550 AD. Archaeologists have long recognized that there seems to be two different shapes or types of triangles in the Northeast. The slightly larger form was named the Levanna type by William Ritchie (1961). This type is approximately as wide as it is long, like an equilateral triangle, and usually with a concave base. According to Ritchie (1961) they average 3.1 cm to 4.5 cm in length; they are usually well flaked and date between 900 AD and 1350 AD. It is assumed they were used as arrow points. In Pennsylvania, this type is associated with Clemson Island and Owasco pottery types. 
Levanna Points
The second type, first described by Scully (1951), is the Madison type. It averages 2.5 cm long and is more commonly isosceles in shape or longer than wide. Although the two types clearly overlap in time, Madison triangles are generally thought to date after the Levanna type from 1300 AD to 1600 AD. In the Ohio Valley of Pennsylvania, these are sometimes referred to as Mississippian or Fort Ancient points and they are associate with the Monongahela culture. A sample of 50 Shenks Ferry triangular points from the Quarry site in Lancaster County (36La1100) dating to approximately 1500 AD, averaged 2.1 cm in length. Interestingly, a study conducted by Graybill et al. found that there was a reduction in the width of these points between early Shenks Ferry and late Shenks Ferry.

Madisson Triangles from the Quarry site
   Although some archaeologists have argued that not all triangles could be pigeonholed into the Levanna or Madison type, it was believed that all triangular projectile points dated to the Late Woodland period and functioned as arrow points. However, in New England and New York, other types of triangular projectile point types have been found in Archaic contexts. The Beekman triangle is described by Ritchie (1971) as being associated with Late Archaic, Vosburg points in New York State dating to 4700 BP. He described these as equilateral in shape with excurvate or straight edges, and with moderate grinding of the base. On Martha’s Vineyard, Ritchie (1971) identified Squibnocket triangles in Late Archaic contexts, dating to 4200 BP. These were shaped like equilateral or isosceles triangles but with no grinding on the base. Hunterbrook triangles (Wingerson and Wingerson 1976) were defined based on the Hunter Brook Rockshelter along the Hudson River as equilateral in shape with excurvate edges and a ground and thinned base. However, Archaic triangles were rare and limited to New York and New England. For some archaeologists, there was a lingering question as to whether these were really Archaic in age or were they Late Woodland points that had washed into Archaic strata.
    Beginning in the 1990’s, the chronological interpretation of these points began to change with the excavation of a large number of triangles from stratified Archaic sites at the Abbott Farm Complex along the Delaware River in New Jersey. This was unequivocal evidence that triangular points were being made and used during the Archaic period.  The radiocarbon dates from the Area D site (28Me1-D) at Abbott Farm extended the age of these points back to 6500 BP. Since that time, a number of other sites in Pennsylvania, such as Memorial Park (36Cn164), West Water Street (36Cn175), East Bank (36Nb16), Mifflinville (36Co17), Raker (36Nb58), P-11(36Pe60) and the Wallis site (36Pe16) have produced dates on Beekman or Hunterbrook triangles ranging from 6500 BP to 3600 BP.

Archaic Triangles from the Abbott Farm Complex (Custer 2001)
   There has been an effort to physically distinguish Archaic triangles from later Woodland triangles at the Abbott Farm Complex. Stewart (1998) states that a “healthy percentage” of Archaic triangles can be distinguished from Late Woodland triangles by “1) a patterned approach to the pressure flaking of bases, and 2) the asymmetrical aspect of the basal edge angle.” In addition, they exhibit “finer workmanship, symmetry and thinness than later types” (Wall et al. 1996: 10). Katz (2000) on the other hand, presents data that suggest that Archaic through Early Woodland triangles are difficult to distinguish from Late Woodland triangles.
   There is one final lingering question. How were Archaic triangles used? Archaic triangles are indistinguishable from Late Woodland triangles so, logically, we might conclude that they also functioned as arrow points.
     Triangular points such as the Madison and Levanna types are practically synonymous with the Late Woodland period, the introduction of the bow and arrow, well-made pottery, the introduction of farming; and village life. The received wisdom is that Indian populations were increasing; they began growing corn to feed the additional people; the bow and arrow was a more efficient for hunting compared to the atlatl; and it was also a more effective weapon in warfare. However, it is now clear that this scenario is rather simplistic and the appearance of the bow and arrow occurred much earlier.

Opening Excavations for the 2017 Season at Fort Hunter
The excavations at the Fort Hunter site (36Da159) were opened on September 7th, delayed one day by rain. The main areas for this year’s work are the smokehouse and the western trench. The backfill was removed from the western trench and the walls were cut and the floor troweled in the smokehouse block. The western trench is situated directly north of the mansion. It was first opened in 2008 and subsequently expanded in 2016. It is an area that contains multiple layers of late 18th, early 19th century occupations over a series of prehistoric occupations. The area probably relates to either the fort period (1756-1763) or the early to middle McAllister period (1787-1830).
West block

In the smokehouse block, several suspected features from last year were more easily defined. These will be further investigated to better define the smokehouse structure and to determine if this was also the site of an earlier smokehouse. Towards the end of this season, the smokehouse foundation will be removed to recover artifacts that may more exactly determine the date of this structure.
Smokehouse block
We had a very interesting interview with Marcus Schneck of Pennlive that will be aired the week of September 18th.
Marcus Schneck Interview
This is going to be an exciting excavation season, so please join us. The site is open to the public from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm weekdays, weather permitting. Friday the 15th  (TONIGHT), we are celebrating 3rd in the Burg so the site will be opened until 6:00 pm.  This coming Sunday, September 17th is Fort Hunter Day and we will be open for public visitation and will be excavating from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm.
We hope to see you there!
Custer, Jay F.
2001    Classification Guide for Arrowheads and Spearpoints of Eastern Pennsylvania and the Central Middle Atlantic, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg.
Graybill, Jeffrey R., James T. Herbstritt, Andrea J. Carr and Melanie R.Wing
2014    Shenks Ferry Triangles, Seriation and Dating. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 84(2): 36-41.
Katz, Gregory
2000    Archaic Period Triangular Projectile Points in the Middle Atlantic Region. Paper  
            presented at the 65th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology,
Ritchie, William A
1961    A Typology and Nomenclature for New York Projectile Points. New York State Museum
            Science Service, Bulletin No. 384, Albany.
1971    A Typology and Nomenclature for New York Projectile Points. New York State Museum and Science Service Bulletin No. 384. Albany, New York.
Scully, Edward
1951    Some Central Mississippi Valley Projectile Point Types. Museum of Anthropology, University of Michigan
Stewart, R. Michael
1998    Archaic Triangles at the Abbott Farm National Landmark: Typological Implications
            For Prehistoric Studies in the Middle Atlantic Region. Paper accompanying an
            exhibit of Archaic-Age Bifaces at the Annual Meeting of the Middle Atlantic
            Archaeological Conference, Cape May, New Jersey. Sponsored by the Archaeological
            Society of New Jersey and the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
Wall, Robert D., R. Michael Stewart, and John Cavallo
1996    The Lithic Technology of the Trenton Complex. Trenton Complex Archaeology: Report 13. Prepared for the Federal Highway Administration and the New Jersey Department of Transportation by the Cultural Resource Group, Louis Berger & Associates, Inc., East Orange, New Jersey.
Wingerson, Roberta and Richard Wingerson
1976    The Hunter Brook Rockshelter.  Bulletin of the New York State Archaeological Association 68:19-28. 


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

Friday, September 1, 2017

Meet The State Museum Archaeologists at Kipona, Fort Hunter, and the 2017 Annual Workshops

Kipona Festival and Pow Wow on City Island
September 2nd-4th

This Labor Day weekend, State Museum archaeologists and volunteers will be out in the community to answer questions about the archaeology of City Island, prehistoric Native American lifeways, and our mission as stewards of Pennsylvania’s past. You will have the opportunity to learn more about experimental archaeology too.  As in previous years, our booth is located on the west, back side of the Senators Stadium on City Island. Look for the Archaeology banner flag.

Setting up on City Island for the big event.

The exhibit will highlight the over 8,000-year-old archaeological record of Pennsylvania Indians visiting and living on City Island. You can also take a journey back in time by sitting in our 20-foot replica dugout canoe, and handle some of the woodworking stone tools, called adzes, we made and used to carve out the dugout. The design and function of our replica tools was loosely based on a cache of 4,000 year-old celt and axe blades, discovered during archaeological excavations on City Island in the 1990s. The cache will be on display along with other representative artifacts recovered from earlier investigations.

How many archaeologists does it take to move an 800 lb. dugout canoe? Answer- 8.

Come visit us and learn more about the long cultural history of City Island and experience the music and dance of contemporary Native American cultures at the Pow Wow. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy a beautiful day on the “kipona” or “sparkling water” of the Susquehanna river and be part of a century old Harrisburg city festival that dates back to September 4th, 1916.

The Museum is also open on Saturday, September 2nd (9-5pm) and Sunday (noon-5pm). Stop by our booth and take advantage of the free Planetarium tickets we will have on hand before your visit to the Museum. Shows run Saturdays on the hour from 11am to 2pm and at 1 and 2pm on Sundays. On-the-street parking is free Sundays in Harrisburg.

If you’re not able to venture out, you can also catch repeat showings of The State Museum’s Nature Lab and Learn at Lunch programming on PCN, today through Sunday. Archaeology focused show times are highlighted below.

Friday, September 1
9:30 AM
Leadership of William Penn
10:00 AM
Researching PA Civil War Veterans
10:40 AM
Studying Pre-History Through Artifacts
11:00 AM
Stone Toolmaking
12:00 PM
Dinosaurs of the Eastern U.S.
12:45 PM
When Mammoths Roamed Pennsylvania
1:20 PM
Pennsylvania Snakes
1:45 PM
Evolution of Snakes
2:25 PM
3:20 PM
Turtles and Tortoises
3:45 PM
Pennsylvania Birds
4:35 PM
Leadership of William Penn
5:05 PM
Researching PA Civil War Veterans
11:00 PM
Studying Pre-History Through Artifacts
11:20 PM
Stone Toolmaking
Saturday, September 2
12:20 AM
Dinosaurs of the Eastern U.S.
1:05 AM
When Mammoths Roamed Pennsylvania
1:40 AM
Pennsylvania Snakes
2:05 AM
Evolution of Snakes
2:45 AM
3:40 AM
Turtles and Tortoises
4:05 AM
Pennsylvania Birds
4:50 AM
Leadership of William Penn
5:20 AM
Researching PA Civil War Veterans
2:30 PM
Studying Pre-History Through Artifacts
2:50 PM
Stone Toolmaking
3:50 PM
Dinosaurs of the Eastern U.S.
4:35 PM
When Mammoths Roamed Pennsylvania
5:10 PM
Pennsylvania Birds
6:30 PM
Pennsylvania Snakes
6:55 PM
Evolution of Snakes
7:35 PM
Turtles and Tortoises
Sunday, September 3
12:00 AM
Leadership of William Penn
12:30 AM
Researching PA Civil War Veterans
1:10 AM
Studying Pre-History Through Artifacts
1:30 AM
Stone Toolmaking
2:30 AM
Dinosaurs of the Eastern U.S.
3:15 AM
When Mammoths Roamed Pennsylvania
3:50 AM
Pennsylvania Snakes
4:15 AM
Evolution of Snakes
4:55 AM
5:50 AM
Turtles and Tortoises
6:15 AM
Pennsylvania Birds

Fort Hunter 2017 Field Season
September 11th-October 6th
Mondays-Fridays (9am-4pm)

Backyard visitors interested in seeing archaeologists in action at Fort Hunter Mansion & Park are welcome starting Monday, September 11th through Friday, October 6th. This field season we will continue to excavate the smokehouse builders’ trench and sample it’s interior, as well as follow higher density 18th century soil layers found in previous seasons in the mansion’s backyard.
Around the smokehouse, it is our goal to complete the builders’ trench excavation and further test the chemical composition of the soil inside the structure. It was observed last year that the interior soils were hydrophobic (water expelling or resistant) during and after rain storms. Rain water would drain, almost roll off the floor’s surface, rather than penetrate or absorb and moisten the soil. This was in stark contrast to the soil matrix on the rest of the site that showed the typical absorbent properties of a silt loam and remained wet for a long period when uncovered and exposed to the sun. One hypothesis is that dripping phospholipids released as rendered fats from smoking meats may have seeped into the dirt floor of the smokehouse and altered its chemical composition, making it water resistant. Another hypothesis may be that the sustained dry-heat used in the curing process was a primary factor that altered the soil. We sampled small portions of the hydrophobic floor surface last year and would like to increase our sample size this year to further test these competing or possibly complimentary hypotheses.

 The Smokehouse during 2016 field season. Note the dry soil inside the partially excavated circular stonewall compared to the wet soils surrounding this feature. Photographer Credit: Don Giles

At the same time, we will continue to chase the elusive 18th century component behind the mansion in hopes to discover evidence of the French and Indian Period fort. This has been the primary focus of our initial research goals since Archaeology Month excavations began in 2006 at Fort Hunter. A 20 x 30’ block excavation will be opened behind the Mansion that will encompass a 2.5’ x 35’ trench excavation that was initially investigated in 2008. While this earlier investigative trench documented several modern disturbances of utility, sewer, and water lines running from the existing house through the backyard, there were several lenses of intact 18th century deposits we hope to further explore this year.
Overview of the 2008 trench excavation behind the mansion.

Outlined in red in the map below are areas we will focus on this year.  More intensely colored blue areas represent higher densities of datable 18th century artifacts recovered in previous year excavations.

Map Credit: Callista Holmes

If you are unable to join us during the week, don’t forget the excavation is also open on Sunday, September 17th 10am-5pm as part of the Fort Hunter Day festival. It’s a family friendly event that also includes mansion tours, arts and craft booths, fair food and fun activities for all ages to enjoy.  

2017 Annual Workshops in Archaeology
Ethnicity in the Archaeological Record
October 28, 2017
Announcing Registration is now open!

For more information, download to print the Workshops flier and take advantage of early registration discounts for this year’s program with mail-in submissions on or before October 20th. Pre-registration fliers are also available at our upcoming events and walk-in registrants are welcome on the day.

Please join us and celebrate our rich archaeological heritage this fall. The three day Kipona Festival and Pow Wow, our Archaeology Month investigation at Fort Hunter, and Workshops in Archaeology are fun and informative events where you can meet State Museum archaeologists and learn more about how we can all preserve our past for our future.

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