Friday, August 3, 2018

News from the Lab, The Fred Veigh Collection

Fred Veigh at Bonnie Brook site (36Bt43) photo credit: J. Herbstritt

About this time in August of 2017, we highlighted the Robert and Jim Oshnock Collections from Western Pennsylvania. This year the lab is concurrently processing another donation from the Western region of the Commonwealth, the William Fredrick Veigh Collection. With continued gratitude to Bob Oshnock, Brian Fritz and other Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) members who assisted in preparing this substantial collection for transport and donation, we are celebrating the completion of the preliminary box inventory earlier this summer. We take this opportunity to honor Fred Veigh’s contribution to Pennsylvania archaeology and The State Museum as we begin the task of cataloging and inventorying the artifact assemblage.

Riker mount of artifacts from Squirrel Hill Bottom Lands (36Wm35)

Fred Veigh (December 29, 1949-January 25, 2016) was a prolific archaeological collector and surveyor, and an active member of the SPA for most of his adult life. Receiving his education and training in archaeology at the University of Pittsburgh facilitated Fred’s participation as a field crewmember on Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) investigations in the 1970s, and as an independent Field Associate in Anthropology of the Carnegie Museum in subsequent years. Fred authored and co-authored numerous articles in the Somerset County Archaeological Society (SCAS) SPA Chapter quarterly newsletter while serving as its secretary, and continued as a member of the Westmoreland Chapter in his later years. Mr. Veigh meticulously labeled his artifacts and thousands of artifact boxes, containers and bags with topographical site information and a number designation system he developed to keep track of each surface collected location by county. Throughout his life, he participated and consulted on local and international excavations in addition to countless avocational hours spent surface hunting and documenting archaeological sites.

Temporary storage of Veigh collection

Due to the sheer number of individual sites and collection areas in this 258 box and 31 Riker Mount donation, it has taken several months with the assistance of our energetic volunteers to identify how many locations the collection contains. We can now report that Mr. Veigh’s donation represents prehistoric and historic artifacts from over 250 sites recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files and an additional 1,867 loci, the majority of which he documented on topographic maps. From these maps, we have begun the process of matching his unrecorded finds with pre-existing sites in CRGIS, and are recording new sites when possible. It is highly likely that the Veigh Collection will contain around 2,000 previously recorded and newly recorded archaeological sites after laboratory processing is completed. This is an astounding accomplishment for an individual and testament to Mr. Veigh’s passion for preserving our shared cultural history.

Map transcribing

The majority of the donation derives from Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties. Also present in the collection are minor assemblages from surface hunted sites in Adams, Allegheny, Bedford, Butler, Cambria, Chester, Clinton, Columbia, Erie, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Lehigh, and Venango Counties.

So far, we have focused on processing recorded sites with large artifact assemblages containing diagnostic prehistoric or historic artifacts. The McCoy Pottery site (36So56) is a rare example of rural commercial ceramic production during the Civil War Era. Hiriam D. McCoy owned and operated the pottery from the 1850s to 1870s. The McCoy site and colorful life of its proprietor—a self-taught man with only nine months of formal education, pottery craftsman and entrepreneur, civil war veteran, eventual hotel owner and elected judge (King, 1986)—will make an interesting subject for a future blog. Mr. Veigh participated in the 1975-1976 SCAS excavations at the pottery and later retained the collection for the chapter. It contains numerous examples of kiln furniture, saggers and examples of jars, crocks and bowls made with locally derived clays in addition to stoneware production of similar vessel forms. Pictured below, one of the few complete saggers recovered during SCAS investigations is on exhibit at the Somerset County Historical Society (Hoffman, 1976, reprint 2000).

Sagger from the McCoy site (36So56) on exhibit at Somerset County Historical Society

Sagger vessels, like kiln furniture are products created and consumed during the firing process to properly space and stabilize a variety of ceramic forms, and ensure an even glaze and easy extraction after the kiln has cooled. Sagger forms can vary depending on the potter’s preference and type of finished vessel it is designed to support, but often has a similar appearance to ceramic spittoons with side vent holes for proper air circulation during firing.

Taking notes at Nash site (36Cn17)

Fred was a member of the field crew during the 1972 PHMC excavations at the Nash site (36Cn17) on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and surface hunted during his breaks and down time. The Nash site is multi-component late Middle Woodland to early Late Woodland village, with occupational phases from the Clemson Island, Shenks Ferry and McFate/Quiggle cultures. The PHMC investigated the site as part of the Susquehanna River Archaeology Survey to define the Clemsons Island culture in eastern Pennsylvania (Smith, 1977; Smith and Herbstritt, n.d). Jim Herbstritt, Section of Archaeology staff archaeologist, also revisited Nash between the years of 2000 to 2004. The prehistoric pottery assemblage from Mr. Veigh’s surface finds reflects the presence of all three cultural groups at 36Cn17 and compliments the research he helped to conduct with the PHMC and the later work of Mr. Herbstritt.  

Nash site field form recorded by F. Veigh

The Veigh collection is significant not only for the volume of artifacts and breadth of documented geographic distribution, but also for the types of artifacts Mr. Veigh collected. Many surface hunters bias their collection strategies toward complete tools and diagnostic projectile points. Fred was also meticulous about collecting and retaining non-diagnostic chipping debris (the waste material from making formal stone tools), prehistoric and historic pottery sherds and other small artifacts—evidence of human activity usually disregarded or discarded by the casual collector. In addition to the Nash site, we have inventoried a whopping 25,092 pieces of chipping debris from only a handful of processed prehistoric sites from the Veigh colleciton. Varieties of chert present include locally derived Shriver, Uniontown, Brush Creek, Monongahela, and Ten Mile as well as out-of-state sourced chert, such as Onondaga (NY), Flint Ridge (OH) and Upper Mercer (OH). South Mountain Metarhyolite is also a common source material in the Somerset County sites and likely was transported or traded along Nemacolin’s and the Turkeyfoot Paths, Indian trails that crossed through this territory between Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania and the western part of the state (Means, 2013). In that sense, the Veigh collection, demonstrates the value of well-documented surface collections and provides a relatively accurate depiction of the type and variety of lithic sources utilized in prehistoric activities over much of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Uniontown chert debitage from the Ross site (36Wh271)

If you are interested in learning more about the Veigh Collection and other current projects in the Archaeology Laboratory, please join us in The State Museum Nature Lab next Thursday, August 9th at 11:30 am. Our laboratory managers, Andrea Carr and Callista Holmes will be on hand to demonstrate laboratory methods and answer questions about how we preserve our past for the future through artifact conservation and documentation. It was the purpose of this post to honor the life Fred Veigh and his enormous contribution to archaeology. We would like to close by saying it is our honor to work with collections like the Oshnock brothers and Mr. Veigh—the collections of individuals whom have dedicated much of their lives to preserving the archaeological heritage of Pennsylvania for all through documenting, organizing and donating their finds to The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology.


Hoffman, Vera Jane
1976       “The Real McCoy” SPAAC Speaks. The Society for Pennsylvania Allegheny Chapter No. 1 Newsletter 12:1. Reprinted in The SPA Somerset County Archaeology Society Chapter No. 20 Newsletter 2:3.

King, Ruth Alison
1986       McCoy family history letter to the Laurel Messenger, April 21, 1986, c/o The Somerset County Historical Society. On county file (36So56) at Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Means, Bernard
2013       “Somerset County: Birthplace of the Monongahela Culture Concept”, This Week in Pennsylvania History, August 16, 2013.                     

Smith, Ira F.
1977       The Susquehanna River Valley Archaeological Survey. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 47(4):27-29.

Smith, Ira F. and James T. Herbstritt
nd.         Clemson Island Studies in Pennsylvania. Unpublished manuscript at the Section of Archaeology, The 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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