Friday, December 8, 2017

Fort Hunter: Where we are at now

Here we are, the Workshops in Archaeology and Thanksgiving are over and the Pennsylvania State Farm Show and Christmas season have begun. As we prepare our exhibit for the Farm Show in January 2018, the lab archaeologists and ever valued volunteers, have been hard at work processing the artifacts found at Fort Hunter this past field season. Today we are going to take a brief look at what happens to the artifacts once they come into the lab from the field and where we are in that process with this year’s artifacts.

As mentioned previously in this blog, a general rule of thumb for the time it will take to fully process artifacts in the lab is approximately seven days of lab work for each day of field work, depending on the quantity and types of artifacts found. With the help of our volunteers this time is cut down a bit, but it is still a lot of work and a long process.

The initial steps for processing any collection in the lab is to organize and record the provenience information from field bags through the preparation of a digital field bag inventory. The field bags are then organized by unit and level allowing for easy processing later on.

View of the field bag inventory

 Field bags organized by unit and level in bins ready to be laid out for washing.

Once this is completed, the artifacts are laid out by bag on trays and the process of cleaning the artifacts through washing, dry brushing, or other conservation techniques begins. As can be seen above, we have already emptied a few bins of field bags and the image below shows some of the artifacts out and ready to be washed.

 Artifacts laid out on trays to be washed

Artifacts being cleaned, washing on the left, dry brushing on the right

As the artifacts are cleaned and air dried, the next step in the process begins, labeling. Artifacts are labeled with the site number, in the case of Fort Hunter the site number is 36Da159, and the catalog number, which identifies the location where the artifact was found. Catalog numbers are determined based on the provenience information recorded from the field bags.

Clean artifacts (fire-cracked rock) being labeled

Once the artifacts are properly labeled, they are identified and bagged by type within each catalog number and then inventoried in a digital format, to make for easy lookup for research or exhibit creation.

Artifacts being identified and bagged for final curation

Due to the great effort of our volunteers, it is possible to work on multiple steps of this process at one time. This allows us to process the artifacts in an efficient and effective manner. (For more information on how artifacts are processed in the state museum archaeology lab check out our previous blog, Behind the Scenes at The State Museum—Processing the Fort Hunter Collection: What happens after the field work is done?)

Currently in the archaeology lab, we have completed the initial organization and recordation of proveniences as well as the identification of catalog numbers for each provenience. Washing, labeling and identifying/bagging are currently occurring in the lab every day.

This year we are taking our processing one step further by attempting to mend, or put back together, prehistoric pottery fragments to see if we can identify one or more vessels. This has proven difficult as there are many very tiny pieces of pottery and many of the larger pieces do not fit back together, but some progress has been made as can be seen in the pictures below.

Staff archaeologist attempting to mend pottery fragments

As we process the artifacts, it becomes more clear what types of artifacts are present in the collection and this year we seem to have an abundance of prehistoric artifacts such as stone waste flakes and tools, pottery and bone. This said, there are also numerous historic artifacts. Though very few of them date to the fort period they still help tell the story of the landscape. These artifacts include buttons, musket balls, butchered bone, nails of varying types and other architectural materials, historic ceramics and glass; as well as more modern artifacts such as plastic and Styrofoam.

 Here is a glimpse at some of the more notable artifacts we have uncovered from this year thus far:

Prehistoric artifacts:

Shell bead, possibly with incised markings on the top and bottom surfaces

Rim and neck sherds of Owasco cordmarked pottery type, dating to c. 1200 to 1300 AD (Ritchie 1965).

Additional rim, neck and body sherds from the Owasco tradition.

Unknown pottery type, vessel body fragments mended back together.

Vessel body sherd from an exterior and interior cord marked vessel, also mended together
Incised rim sherd fragment of a Shenks Ferry Tradition vessel.

Projectile points: top row: Madison type triangle point dates to the late Late Woodland Period (AD. 1450 - 1600.), second row down  Rossville-like point type, dates to the Middle Woodland Period (1,000 BP. – 2,100 BP.) third row down: Lehigh/ Koens-Crispin point type, dates to the early Transitional Period (4,350 BP. – 4,850 BP.), bottom row right: the large broadspear/ knife, dates to the Transitional/Late Archaic Period (4,350 BP. – 6,850 BP.) bottom left:  this point which could fall within Late Archaic through the Middle Woodland periods.
(Custer 2001, PHMC 2015, Ritchie 1971)

Historic period artifacts:

Tin glazed earthenware (left) and scratch blue salt glazed stoneware (right). Both fall within the French and Indian War time period, though all were found in mixed contexts.

Musket Balls of varying sizes and date ranges.

Gun Flint

Brass and pewter buttons dating around the late 18th and 19th centuries.

As usual, the fort at Fort Hunter remains elusive, but each year we find little hints of its existence through artifacts. We continue to learn more and more about the landscape and how human occupation has impacted the land through the thousands of years of use that we have been able to identify through our excavations. We hope you have enjoyed this update on what is happening to the artifacts found at Fort Hunter during the 2017 field season and we wish you all a wonderful and safe holiday season!


Custer, Jay F.
2001       Classification Guide for Arrowheads and Spearpoints of Eastern Pennsylvania and the Central Middle Atlantic. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission
2015       Pennsylvania Archaeology: Time Periods. Electronic document,

Ritchie, William A.
1965       The Archaeology of New York State. The Natural History Press, Garden City, New York

1971       A Typology and Nomenclature for New York Projectile Points. University of the State of New York, State Education Dept. Albany, New York. Originally published 1961, Bulletin No. 384, New York State Museum and Science Service.

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

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