Friday, December 7, 2018

Fort Hunter Update

The radio stations are playing Christmas music, everyone is looking for the best deal on that perfect gift and we know the Christmas season has begun. Here in the Section of Archaeology the Christmas season has an added meaning; the Pennsylvania State Farm Show will begin soon, and preparations must be underway. 

Although we are in Farm Show preparation mode right now, the lab archaeologists and cherished volunteers have also been hard at work processing the artifacts found at Fort Hunter this past field season. Other posts to this blog have discussed what “processing artifacts” entails and the steps taken to curate artifacts for long term stability. In this blog we are going to take a brief look at where we are at in this process with the 2018 Fort Hunter field season artifacts.

As previously mentioned 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 to each day of field work, depending on the quantity and types of artifacts found. Thankfully we have a group of dedicated and diligent volunteers who, as always, have cut down this processing time for us. We are expecting our lab processing time to be reduced a little more due to the high number of rain days we had during the Fort Hunter field season this year and we anticipate processing will be completed a little sooner this year.

Currently, nearly all the artifacts have been washed and labeled, leaving only a few trays of fire cracked rock left to go through these steps.

Artifacts being washed by volunteers

Rack with what is left of the Fort Hunter 2018 artifacts that need washed

Once the artifacts are washed and labeled it is up to the lab archaeologists to identify the artifacts, bag them for permanent curation, and inventory them. Artifact identification often requires research of the object to properly identify and to determine a suggested period of manufacture of use. We rely heavily on the expertise of staff and trusted published resources such as Ivor Noel Hume’s, A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America.

Artifacts being identified and bagged by lab archaeologist

 Much of the current work with the 2018 Fort Hunter artifacts is in this step of artifact identification and bagging. (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?).

 A little over half of the artifacts have been identified and bagged and an inventory is underway. In the past few years we have had artifact counts between 13,100 and 10,500 and with these artifacts counts it is normally early January when we get to this point, which makes us believe far fewer artifacts were collected this year. As we have not made it to the inventory step in our process we cannot say for certain if we have fewer artifacts.

 It is with the information we gather from the inventory that we can compare what has been collected this year to those of previous years. With the detailed artifact information recorded in the inventory database we can conduct analysis to identify patterns of types of artifacts found and where they are being found. With this data we can create distribution maps, which helps us to identify areas of interest and the potential location of the fort, our ultimate goal.

So here we are, moving right along with the curating the Fort Hunter artifacts, nearly halfway done and doing it a little more quickly than in previous years. As we process the artifacts, it becomes more clear what types of artifacts are present in the collection and this year we have a few more to help tell the story of the Fort Hunter Mansion and Park historic landscape.

Here is a glimpse at some of the more notable artifacts recovered this year:

Tin-glazed earthenware fragments, in production from the early seventeenth century through the mid-eighteenth century.

White salt-glazed scratch-blue stoneware fragments, in production from the mid to late-eighteenth century.

Gun lock spring fragment and lead musket balls, eighteenth century.

Kaolin pipe stems and pipe bowl fragments, dating to the mid-eighteenth century.

Straight pins, most likely dating to the eighteenth century.

Crucible fragments, our mystery, as the source for these artifacts is currently unknown based on historical documentation (For more information on crucibles found at Fort Hunter visit our previous blog To Be Ore Not To Be: Crucibles are the Answer).


Button with faded starburst pattern.

A full grooved stone axe discovered in situ, estimated to be around 4,000 years old.

We hope you have enjoyed this update on what is happening to the artifacts found at Fort Hunter during the 2018 field season and we wish you all a wonderful and safe holiday season! See you at the 2019 Pennsylvania State Farm Show, January 5th-12th.

Hume, Ivor Noel,

                1970       A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York.

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

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