Friday, September 13, 2019

Experimental Archaeology with Scrapers: Scrape, Scrape, Scrape

My Name is Alaina Helm, I interned with the Section of Archaeology during the summer of 2009, and I am a Junior at Oberlin College in Ohio. You may already have seen my other posts about previous projects I have worked on: lithic analysis of Kings Quarry (36Lh2) and refitting debitage from Eelskin Rockshelter (36Bu159). This post is about another project I completed this summer doing experimental archaeology on end scrapers under the direction of Dr. Kurt Carr, Senior Curator, The Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania.
                Prehistoric peoples demonstrate a preference for different lithic material types during different time periods. Paleoindians (10,000 to 12,000 years before present) preferred jasper and chert for making stone tools, despite inhabiting areas in closer proximity to alternative materials such as argillite and metarhyolite. During the transitional period (2800-4300 years before present) argillite and metarhyolite were intensively used throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.  With this knowledge in mind, we wanted to perform an experiment regarding the lithic composition of end scrapers to determine if there is a reason for biases towards certain lithic materials in the archaeological record.  Prehistoric peoples demonstrated a preference towards jasper scrapers despite being in closer proximity to other sources of useable material such as argillite. To determine if there was a functional reason for obtaining different materials from farther afield, we made scrapers of several materials and underwent experimental scraping with them. The goal of the experiment was to observe variations in wear patterns and effectiveness in scraping pieces of wood by using different materials.


Scrapers made for our experiment from various materials. Each scraper was assigned an alphanumeric designation for tracking purposes.


                Before beginning our experiments, I researched the literature to see if anyone had performed and written about a similar experiment. Although numerous articles have been published about use wear on scrapers, none of the articles compared wear between various lithic materials.  Our experiment consisted of several scrapers of varying materials created for the experiment by expert flint knapper Steve Nissley. The materials used were argillite, metarhyolite, jasper, quartzite, Normanskill chert, and Onondaga chert. All scraping was done on soft wood because it is easier to acquire than hide and would more quickly produce wear because it is a harder material.

Before being used, the scraper was hafted by channel lock pliers.

                The experiment was performed by hafting an end scraper using pliers padded with softened rawhide. The tools were then used in increments of 500 scrapes with a stroke length of thirty-two centimeters. The number of scrapes were carefully counted, and stroke length and strength was kept as uniform as possible to ensure consistency. Two sets of scrapers were used; one set was used by a variety of people including museum staff and volunteers, and the other set was used by only me. Having scrapers used by several people allowed more scraping to be performed faster without limitations caused by fatigue. Because several thousand scrapes needed to be performed for the experiment, having a separate set used by only one person allowed for a controlled comparison. The scrapers were photographed from multiple angles and at multiple magnifications using a Dino-Lite digital microscope with the highest resolution images at around 200x magnification. The scrapers were also measured using digital calipers at designated reference marks drawn on the scraper for consistency. All measurements and photographs were taken before the scrapers were used and at regular intervals of scraping to ensure a consistent record of wear on each scraper.

Alaina takes measurements and photographs of the experimental scrapers.

                The high-resolution images revealed that Argillite and Metarhyolite seemed to wear down faster with more visibly rounded edges than the Normanskill and Onondaga cherts, quartzite, and jasper. The chert scrapers showed a higher level of effectiveness than the jasper and the quartzite scrapers. Effectiveness was gauged by measuring the depth of the gouge each scraper created after the same number of scrapes. The argillite and metarhyolite scrapers shallower gouges than the jasper and chert scrapers, and the jasper scraper was slightly less effective than the chert scraper. These results suggest that the reason cherts and jaspers were the preferred materials for scrapers was due to their increased effectiveness in comparison with materials that may have been easier to obtain.

 
Argillite scraper with no wear (top) and after 500 scrapes (bottom).


This experiment was an interesting way to learn about lithic wear and get hands on experience with experimental archaeology. It allowed me to experience the nuances of designing an experiment and the difficulties in separating wear in differing lithic types. I learned a lot about aspects of experimental archaeology that are often not fully appreciated without the experience to back it up. This will help inform the way I approach any similar projects in the future. For example, on paper, scraping something 1000 times does not seem to be much until you realize that the individual scraping will need breaks. It is nice to occasionally switch up activities as well to make such experiments endurable.  I hope that my time with the Section of Archaeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania will provide me with insight and experience during the planning and preparation of future research and will help to form a foundation on which I can further add to the results of our research.


Upcoming Pennsylvania archaeology events:

This festival features a full day of hands-on activities. Visitors will be able to work with professional archaeologists and assist with three different excavations. An archaeologist from The State Museum of Pennsylvania will be on hand to answer questions.

Archaeologists from The State Museum of Pennsylvania will be conducting excavations in the mansion’s back yard during the park’s annual fall festival celebrating the old-time ways of life. Since 2006 archaeologists have been documenting archaeological evidence from the past occupations at this site dating from approximately 9000 years ago to the present day.

Don’t miss your opportunity to learn about the prehistoric people of western Pennsylvania that we call the Monongahela Indians. This theme will be featured at the 2019 Workshops in Archaeology hosted by the Archaeology Section at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. The program will take place on Saturday, November 9, 2019 at the museum.

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

Friday, August 30, 2019

Upcoming Events Featuring Pennsylvania Archaeology

Autumn is around the corner and the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania is gearing up for another busy season. This post includes a listing of upcoming events featuring Pennsylvania archaeology.



This three-day festival, celebrating the Susquehanna River, takes place along the banks of the river and on City Island in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania’s archaeology will be featured in a booth staffed by professional archaeologists and volunteers from The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Here, visitors will be able to see artifacts dating back thousands of years, take a “ride” in our dugout canoe, hold replica tools used to make the dugout canoe, learn about Pennsylvania’s past and find information on upcoming archaeology events in Harrisburg.

Sitting in the dugout canoe has become an annual tradition for many kids and families (image: PHMC)

The Archaeology booth and dugout canoe will be located near the Pow Wow on City Island, along the back side of the baseball stadium.

This map shows the location of The State Museum’s Archaeology booth at the 2019 Kipona Festival.

Since 2006, The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology has conducted excavations at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park. The primary goal of the excavation is to look for evidence of the French and Indian War era fort for which the park is named. The fort that stood at this location dates to the 1750s.

In addition to conducting excavations, Pennsylvania archaeology brochures, posters and information about the museum are also made available to visitors (image: PHMC)


Throughout the years, excavations have revealed a rich and varied past at Fort Hunter. Artifacts collected during excavations at Fort Hunter have included items dating to the prehistoric period and the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. These relics of the past in combination with thorough research have help to clarify the many transformations that have taken place at the site of the current mansion and the surrounding grounds.

Artifacts recovered from Fort Hunter pictured here include prehistoric points, gun side plate, MiniƩ ball, button, smoking pipe and dog licenses. (image: PHMC)


Weather permitting, excavations will be open to visitors from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday and on Sunday, September 15 for Fort Hunter Day.


The Archaeology Section of the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg invites you to attend our annual Workshops in Archaeology program on Saturday, November 9, 2019. 


Artifacts and reproduction points will accompany a demonstration by expert flint knapper Steve Nissly. (image: PHMC)


Last year’s popular theme exploring the Susquehannock Indians of central Pennsylvania will be continued with an examination of western Pennsylvania’s Monongahela Indians. We have invited a panel of experts to share their knowledge and research with us on this extensively investigated, but still mysterious culture. The Monongahela were the dominant Indian culture in southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohio and northern West Virginia around 1000 AD, but by 1635 they vanish from the archaeological record.

This year’s Workshops in Archaeology will explore the many aspects of this culture including their pottery, diet, health, village patterns and social organization. 

Professionals will be on hand to assist attendees with artifact identification and recording archaeological sites. (image: PHMC)

Throughout the day, there will be demonstrations by professional flint knapper Steve Nissley, and experts will be on hand from Pennsylvania’s State Historic Preservation Office to assist attendees with artifact identification and recording archaeological sites.

Please join The State Museum’s Section of Archaeology in celebration of our rich archaeological heritage this fall. Harrisburg’s Kipona Festival and Pow Wow, the Archaeological investigation at Fort Hunter, and Workshops in Archaeology present valuable opportunities to meet State Museum archaeologists and learn more about how we can preserve our past for our future.

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

Friday, August 16, 2019

Eelskin Rockshelter Lithic Debitage Analysis

My name is Alaina Helm, I am a Junior at Oberlin College in Ohio and a Keystone intern in Archaeology for this summer.  Over the past several weeks and for a brief month-long stint back in January, I have been working on a flake refitting project here in The State Museum of Pennsylvania,  Section of Archaeology. The project was supervised by Dr. Kurt Carr, Senior Curator, and  consists of an argillite debitage cluster collected from the Eelskin Rockshelter (36Bu59) that was theorized to have been created over a single knapping event.

Steve Nissly flint knapping


                Analysis began with the organization and cleaning of the entire assemblage of debitage. Artifacts were cleaned using warm soapy water and a Sonicor ultrasonic cleaner, similar to a jewelry cleaner. We also experimented with the use of diluted vinegar water to remove patination, but it was found to be no more effective so was not done on all pieces. Once cleaned, flakes were uniformly laid out on trays for refitting by type as entire, proximal, medial, or distal pieces. A small quantity of other materials was found amongst the debitage and separated out that includes jasper, quartz, bone, and chert. A wide range of colors was noted in the argillite which is generally black. We also found two biface fragments, a proximal utilized flake, and an end scraper among the debitage.




 Several weeks were spent attempting to fit pieces together where flakes had come off each other or flakes had broken apart.  If successful, refitting a flake cluster back together would allow for the study of stone tool creation through flake reduction techniques. In the case of this cluster from the Eelskin Rock Shelter, only five refits were found over several weeks of searching through the hundreds of pieces in the collection. Methods used in attempting to match related flakes together included; grouping by color, grouping by texture, and grouping by type. Type attributes included the shape of the bulb of percussion (Lipped, bulbar, etc.) and the shape/ size of flake (length, width, thickness). These groupings did not reveal the relatively large number of matches that could be expected in a chipping cluster.


The majority of the debitage demonstrates late stage and baton reduction techniques. Late stage reduction is the process of reducing an already acquired raw material into a complete tool. Almost all flakes are thin with several dorsal flake scars. 68.4% of the proximal or entire flakes are lipped. Lipped flakes are a key indicator of late stage baton production technologies. 




Due to the small quantity of matched pieces found and the variations in color and texture, there is a good chance that although the lithic material first appeared to belong to a single chipping event, it instead represents several knapping events. This conclusion is additionally supported by the fact that there is a small amount of lithic materials other than argillite present, as listed above.  Other potential explanations for the high quantity of debitage found together could include that the materials were part of a rubbish pile or that several short knapping events occurred in the same location.               

example of color variation


This comparative analysis was an exercise well suited for my studies, as it brought together my interests in archaeology and geology. It provided useful experience in lithic analysis, and although sometimes tedious and frustrating when days were spent with no matched flakes found, was valuable in determining that the lithics cluster found at the Eelskin Rockshelter was not the refuse of a single toolmaking event. This project was ultimately beneficial to my own learning while also letting us learn a little about the activities being performed on the site.

Thanks for reading my blog and I hope you will check back for another blog post from me about the experimental archaeology test I conducted on stone scrapers.

Bibliography

Justice, Noel D.
1987       Stone Age Spear and Arrow Points of the Midcontinental and Eastern United States. Indiana University Press.

Anonymous
n.d. Eelskin Rockshelter-36Bu159, anonymous manuscript housed in the County Files, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg Pennsylvania.

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

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Fred Veigh Collection, Lab Update

This time last year we discussed the William Fredrick Veigh collection: some of what the collection contained and its’ importance. A year has passed, we have processed last year’s Fort Hunter collection and we continue to process the Veigh collection. As was mentioned last year, “Fred Veigh (December 29, 1949-January 25, 2016) was a prolific archaeological collector and surveyor, and an active member of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) for most of his adult life. His collection is vast in both the volume of artifacts as well as in documentation”. With the immensity of his collection in mind, and after months of extensive organization of the collection, artifacts and maps the Section of Archaeology lab has now been able to fully process, identify and update several known and new sites with many, many more to come.

Trays of artifacts being processed on rack.

Veigh artifacts being labeled.

Currently, we are a little over one third of the way through the processing of this very large donation. To date we have a total of 93, 669 artifacts processed and inventoried and will likely be over one hundred thousand before the end of next week.

Veigh artifacts bagged and ready for inventory.

Example of inventory.

With the use of Mr. Veigh’s topographic maps, where he recorded known sites and his other collection locations, and his detailed labels on both artifacts and boxes we have thus far been able to process and identify 229 known and new sites. These are primarily from Somerset county, but also from Adams, Allegheny, Bedford, Butler, Cambria, Clearfield, Clinton, Erie, Fayette, Franklin, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Lehigh, and Venango Counties.

Volunteer helping to record and organize collection locations from Mr. Veigh’s topographic maps.

 In conjunction with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) and our wonderful, hard-working intern Andrew we have been able to update 172 sites and add 57 new sites to the Cultural Resources Geographic Information System (CRGIS). One hundred and ten of these site updates and 49 of these new sites are concentrated in Somerset county as Mr. Veigh focused much of his collecting in this county as well as Washington and Westmoreland counties, which have not yet been processed.


Example of form used for updating and adding sites in CRGIS.


Our intern, Andrew entering new sites in CRGIS.

Thanks to Mr. Veigh’s diligent recording methods and persistent collecting throughout his life we have been able to increase not only the number of identified sites in many western Pennsylvania counties, but also add to the information already known of many others. As has been mentioned in previous blogs, artifacts are important to understanding the lives of past peoples, but having provenience, or locational, information for these artifacts provides the context needed to build a better picture of how these past peoples were living their daily lives and how the artifacts we find fit into that. Thanks to Mr. Veigh we have that provenience information which can help us better understand Pennsylvania’s Past while preserving it for the future. We thank Mr. Veigh and all of those who have dedicated their lives to preserving our heritage and have collected, documented and donated their collections in order to help us expand our knowledge base to better understand Pennsylvania’s past and provide additional resources for analysis and research.


Don’t forget the Section of Archaeology will be holding programs in the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Nature Lab at 11:30 am on Thursday August 8th and 15th

Also, look for us in other upcoming events at Kipona August 31st – September 2nd in downtown Harrisburg and our excavations at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park September 9th – October 4th.   

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

Friday, July 19, 2019

Upcoming Archaeology Programs in The State Museum

During the dog days of summer, The State Museum of Pennsylvania offers opportunities for all ages to beat the heat with special events and educational activities. This Week in Archaeology we invite you to take full advantage of our upcoming summer programming to get out of the sun and learn something new.

Once again, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 11:30 AM through the month of August science curators and outside partners are presenting on a wide range of topics and providing hands-on activities in the Nature Lab with the cost of admission. Don’t miss out on free admission / pay as you wish every Friday during Learn at Lunchtime.


Archaeology staff begin their contributions to the programming next Thursday, July 25th bringing back by popular demand our mock lab artifact processing demonstration and chance for children ages 3 and up to handle and wash prehistoric stone tools and chipping debris from the William Frederick Veigh Collection. Follow the links and read further for a full listing of archaeology summer programs presented by The Section of Archaeology at The State Museum.

Thursday, July 25 Nature Lab, 11:30 AM: Preserving our Past: Archaeology Lab, Andrea Carr and Callista Holmes, Laboratory Managers and Andrew Shriner, Intern


Get a behind-the-scenes view and help process artifacts with the Section of Archaeology laboratory staff, interns and volunteers. While demonstrating conservation techniques, laboratory managers Andrea Carr and Callista Holmes will discuss artifact care, provide background about the current collections that are processed in the lab and how these collections fit into the larger picture of preserving our past for our future at The State Museum. This presentation is participatory and inter-active. Questions about recording archaeological sites, documenting and conserving artifacts, donating collections, and the Section of Archaeology’s essential function as the central repository for archaeological investigations in Pennsylvania are encouraged and welcome.

Thursday, August 1 Nature Lab, 11:30 AM: Measuring and Mapping in Archaeology with State Museum’s Section of Archaeology, Janet Johnson and Melanie Mayhew, Curators


Archaeologists use math and science in excavations and in analyzing artifacts. Participate in mapping and measuring artifacts and how science has helped us to interpret our past. This is a STEM activity geared toward first through sixth grade children. Math manipulative objects are provided for younger participants.


Friday, August 2 Learn at Lunchtime, 12:15 PM: Discovering the Past at Fort Hunter with Janet Johnson, Curator of Archaeology in The State Museum


Archaeologists will share their discoveries from excavations at Fort Hunter Mansion & Park. Artifacts recovered here help to tell the story of daily activities of Native Americans 9,000 year ago, it’s role in the French & Indian War through the colonial period to present day.


Thursday, August 8 Nature Lab, 11:30 AM: Chipped Stone and the Prehistoric Toolbox featuring Steve Nissly, expert flint knapper, and Section of Archaeology curators Kurt Carr, Dave Burke and intern Alaina Helm.

This demonstration of stone tool technology will illustrate the methods and materials used by Indians in producing chipped stone tools. In addition, Alaina Helm will present the results of her wood scraping experiment where she tested the durability of different types of stone commonly used by Indians in scraping activities.

Thursday, August 15 Nature Lab, 11:30 AM: Pots of Clay and What They Say with State Museum’s Section of Archaeology, Jim Herbstritt, Historic Preservation Specialist and Kimberly Sebestyen, Curator.


Take a look at the history of Native American pottery and its importance in Archaeology. Make your own clay pot using construction techniques from before the invention of the potter’s wheel.


We hope to see you at our upcoming summer series events at The State Museum, and thank you for your continued interest, effort and support saving our past for our future!

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

Friday, July 5, 2019

Notable Women of Pennsylvania Archaeology


Continuing the celebration of women’s suffrage, this week’s blog highlights another important woman in Pennsylvania archaeology.  Mary Butler was born June 23, 1903 in Media, Pennsylvania.  She attended Vassar College, receiving a B.A. in 1925 and studied at the Sorbonne in France.  Then she attended Radcliffe, earning a master’s degree in anthropology in 1930.  Finally, in 1936 she was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology, from the University of Pennsylvania. She would remain affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania for the rest of her career as an assistant in the American Section of the University from 1930-1939 and then as a Research Associate from 1940-1970 (Simon, 2017 and Keur, 1971).

Dr. Butler’s dissertation was “Ethnological and Historical Importance of Piedras Negras Pottery” from Guatemala.  Her first expedition to Guatemala was as a member of a team from the University in 1932.  She then directed three subsequent expeditions focusing on ceramics to determine a ceramic sequence for the region (Simon, 2017).  As well as her interest in Mesoamerican archaeology she was also interested in Northeastern American archaeology.  Unfortunately, at that time, the region “was renowned for its hostility to women’s involvement in fieldwork (women were even banned from some digs)” (Herridge, 2019).  She persevered.

In 1936, she conducted excavations in Somerset County, Pennsylvania for the Pennsylvania Historical Commission.  Excavations at the Montague site (36So4) revealed a stockaded village containing 29 houses and a variety of pits and artifacts associated with village life.

The Hanna site (36So5) was excavated over the winter of 1935-1936, which locals purported to be the worst winter in years.  No stockade was revealed at the Hanna site, but 23 roughly circular houses were arranged in a ring, about 220 feet in diameter. 


The third site dug during this season was the Clouse site (36So3).  Situated in a semi-circle on the Youghiogheny River, with mountains close enough behind to shelter from weather, but far enough to prevent surprise attacks. This was a “strategic site”. 


These early excavations contributed to the initial understanding of the Monongahela culture; expanding our knowledge beyond the Iroquois and Algonkin groups encountered by early settlers (Butler, 1939). 

She then returned to her alma mater, Vassar College in 1939-1940, where she directed an archaeological survey of the Hudson River Valley.  Describing the survey in the Vassar Miscellany News she amusingly quips “We only sink our mattocks where the poison ivy grows…, explaining that poison ivy seemed to sprout wherever an Indian had laid his bones” (Butler, 1940).  The survey was successful, it investigated 45 sites, and included a crew made up of over one-third women. 

Mary Butler married in 1942 and began a family, eventually having both a daughter and a son.  Greatly valuing her new domestic responsibility’s, she maintained an active interest in northeastern archaeology.  Confronting the difficulties all working mothers face, she received an emergency call in 1943 from the University Museum to supervise an excavation at Broomall, PA.  “She took her 11-week-old daughter along to the dig, carrying on efficiently as director, and giving the baby her bottle during coffee and lunch break.” (Simon, 2017 and Keur, 1971).

Dr. Butler taught at several colleges throughout her career, among them are Hunter College, Vassar, and Bryn Mawr.  She was also active with the Philadelphia Anthropological Society, the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, the American Anthropological Association, and the Society for American Archaeology.  At the time of her passing, January 25, 1970 “she was the historian-archaeologist engaged in the restoration of the 18th century Mortonson House in Norwood, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. To this day Mary Butler is seen as a trailblazer for women in Pennsylvania Archaeology.


References:

Butler, Mary
1939       Three Archaeological Sites in Somerset, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical Commission,            Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

1940       Mary Butler Describes Archaeological Methods, Findings of Valley Survey, Vassar Miscellany         News November 13, 1940 pg. 3             

Herridge, Tori
2019       Mary butler, From the Guatemalan Highlands to the Hudson Valley. Retrieved from                  https://trowelblazers.com/mary-butler/

Keur, Dorothy
1971       Mary Butler Lewis, 1903-1970. American Anthropologist 73(1):255

Simon, Janet
2017       Mary Butler Lewis Papers. University of Pennsylvania, Penn Museum Archives.



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

Friday, June 21, 2019

Wildcats, Wolves and Indian Dogs

The faunal evidence for archaeological sites in Pennsylvania portrays prehistoric Native Americans as consummate hunters and trappers. Discarded bones of mammals, birds and fishes retrieved centuries later by archaeologists from rubbish middens (trash pits) attest to the important roles that hunting and trapping played in the lives of these people. The contents of prehistoric trash middens and dumps most always show that deer, elk, bear and turkey due to their sheer body mass, were the more prolific creatures harvested for meat protein. There are animal remains reported from these trash dumps that are fewer in number and three of these are the subject of this week’s blog.


Animal bones from an archaeological context.


The wildcat, better known as the bobcat, Lynx cf. rufus is an animal found in the rugged intermontane region of northern Pennsylvania where there are swamps and dense forests. One can surmise that this fur bearing animal was trapped by Native Americans for its pelt as the coat of fur is soft to the touch which made for ideal bedding in the cold night of winter.



Bobcat


The native wolf of Pennsylvania Canis lupus was extirpated in the last century when the logging industry was in its heyday. Unlike the bobcat, which is not a gregarious animal, wolf packs roamed the remote wilderness of Pennsylvania. Early encounters with wolves are well chronicled in Pennsylvania’s early history as they were a serious menace to farm animals and were shot on sight. Native Americans however trapped them for their thick coat of fur and like the skins of bobcats, were tailored into clothing and bed covers.



 Grey Wolf


The Indian dog Canis lupus familiaris /Canis familiaris has a bond with our pet dogs of today as it has been shown genetically that all dogs are descendants of the Gray Wolf as early as the Late Pleistocene when humans were using canids for tracking and hunting game. Here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, the common term that is used to describe these cross-bred critters is “wolfdog” Canis lupus familiaris. It is not surprising that the archaeological evidence for dogs is better represented in the bone dumps of Pennsylvania than bobcats and wolves since the bond between dogs and humans has great antiquity.


Indian Dog


The butchered remains of bobcats, wolves and dogs that were eaten are mainly from Late Prehistoric and Contact period Native American village dump sites in the lower Upper Ohio Valley of southwestern Pennsylvania and the lower Susquehanna Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania. In the former region, these remains are associated with Monongahela habitation sites of the AD. 1000 – 1600 period that were occupied from the Forks of the Ohio to the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border south of Pittsburgh. The southeastern sites are mainly located in the Washington Boro area south of Harrisburg and the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River, now inundated by the Raystown Reservoir near Huntingdon. The Susquehannock Indians lived in these valleys from circa AD. 1500 – 1675 and they were the people who hunted, killed and consumed the animals herein described. The archaeo-faunal record for the later Susquehannock dump sites from the 1680’s to the mid-1760’s period is sparse and therefore cannot be summarized at this time.

We hope that you have enjoyed this brief presentation on the archaeological evidence for wildcats, wolves and dogs and their relationship to the Native American people who once lived in Pennsylvania. Please join us again as we present other interesting and fascinating topics on  Pennsylvania Archaeology in This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology.

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

Friday, June 7, 2019

Notable Women of Archaeology: Frances Dorrance

Tuesday, June 4th was an important anniversary.  It marked a century since the United States Congress passed the 19th Amendment which guaranteed the right for women to vote.  One remarkable woman that lived during that time was instrumental in Pennsylvania’s archaeological heritage.  Frances Dorrance would have been 41 years old at the time and had already accomplished much.  She was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on June 30, 1877 to a prominent family.  Her affluence allowed her to attend Wyoming Seminary graduating in 1896 and Vassar College where she graduated in 1900.  She also received a degree from the New York School of Library Science at Albany (Kent, 1975).


Frances worked in several libraries over the years, but it was in 1922 that she became the director of the Wyoming Historical and Geologic Society.  It was in this capacity that she became interested in archaeology.  At that time, knowledge of Pennsylvania’s prehistory was very lacking “in view of the scientific necessity of such a comprehensive study and exploration of the territory, since less is known about the Indian occupation of Pennsylvania than about that of almost any other state in the union” (Dorrance, 1927). 



In 1924, Ms. Dorrance began a three-part plan to investigate the eastern part of Pennsylvania, including the 47 counties from the Delaware River to the Allegheny Divide.  To begin this endeavor an archaeological survey/questionnaire was developed. More than 13,000 survey questionnaires were sent to “postmasters, foresters, grange and society officers, leaders of groups of people, Boy and Girl Scout leaders, individual collectors and known experts in the region” (Dorrance, 1927).  Of the 13,000 distributed, roughly 2,000 were returned with a range of information from offers of assistance, ownership information of more than 1,200 artifact collections and the locations of trails and 1,900 sites.  A map of site locations was generated from this information.   By 1927 the Pennsylvania Historic Commission (precursor to the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC)) took over the responsibility of the Wyoming Valley Survey and included the remaining 20 counties.  This was the beginning phase of the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey or PASS files.


The second part of the plan was to investigate the newly identified sites.  Many professional organizations offered assistance including the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences, the National Research Council, the American Museum of Natural History, and many more. 

The scientific integrity of the investigations was very important. The third part of the plan was that “An administrative body is to be formed of representatives of the contributing organizations and individuals, and the actual investigations are to be made by trained workers under a Director General” (Dorrance, 1927).  This organization would become The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology that is still going strong today.  Frances served as chairman of a committee in 1929 to organize a group of people interested in Pennsylvania’s prehistory.  Invitations were sent to about 200 people, of these 19 attended the first meeting of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology on May 6, 1929 at the State Library in Harrisburg.  Dr. J. Alden Mason was elected the first president and Frances was elected secretary (Mason, 1930).  A position she held until 1934 when she was elected president.

Frances was also instrumental in organizing the EasternStates Archaeological Federation (ESAF).  Knowing that the early native inhabitants did not recognize the political boundaries of state lines several state societies decided to join in this federation to share information.  She was also a member of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission from 1929-1955 (Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, 1967).  In 1952 she was named one of the Distinguished Daughters of Pennsylvania and in 1954 she was the first woman in the country to receive the Distinguished Service Citation from the American Legion. After a long and notable life, Frances Dorrance passed on January 6, 1973 (Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, 1973).



We hope you have enjoyed this profile of this important woman in Pennsylvania’s archaeological heritage and the significant contributions she made to preserving the past. Preservation of our archaeological resources is important to our heritage. Please join us in supporting the efforts of Frances Dorrance in recording and preserving our archaeological sites in Pennsylvania. To learn more about recording sites, please visit https://pahistoricpreservation.com/shpo-electronic-submissions-online-data-entry/


Dorrance, Frances
1927       Archaeological Field Work in North America During 1926. American Anthropologist 29 (2):313-     337
1934       Presidents Letter. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 4 (1):2

Kent, Barry
1973       Frances Dorrance, 1877-1973. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 45 (1-2): 104-105

Mason, J. Alden
1930       How and Why the Society was Organized. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 1 (1): 4

Wilkes Barre Times Leader
1967       Frances Dorrance “90 Years Young”. The Evening News, Wilkes-Barre Record 29 June Page 12

1973       Miss Frances Dorrance, Member of Distinguished Family, Dies.  The Evening News, Wilkes-Barre Record 7 January Page 14



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

Friday, May 24, 2019

Barry C. Kent

This weekend, May 25-27,2019 is Memorial Day weekend and generally referred to as the beginning of summer. Many of us will have plans for picnics and outdoor activities and may attend a memorial service honoring our military who died in service. Most of us have forgotten or never knew that Memorial Day was originally Decoration Day and was created to honor the thousands of men who died in our nation’s Civil War.  As the United States engaged in additional wars, the remembrances were expanded to all of our fallen soldiers.  Since many will visit cemeteries to pay tribute to these individuals it is also a time to remember other family members as well. We recently lost an important member of our archaeological community, Barry C. Kent. The blog this week will share some of his notable contributions to Pennsylvania’s archaeological heritage, his endearing friendship and his legacy of stewardship.


Barry was a native of York County and reminisced about his discovery as a young nine-year-old of an arrowhead while attending a YMCA hike on an island in the Susquehanna River. It was an experience that nearly every archaeologist can relate to- that first point or significant discovery!  Barry attributed this discovery and other subsequent finds as a camper at Camp Minqua along the Susquehanna, to his interest in anthropology and archaeology.  John DeBarbadillo was the Camp Director and Barry’s mentor in those early days. Barry’s mother also influenced his interest in the past in her role as a curator at the historic Gates House and Plough Tavern in the city of York, York County, PA.  His mother was clearly proud of his accomplishments, especially in his future role at the William Penn Memorial Museum (now The State Museum of Pennsylvania) and had saved many newspaper articles about Barry’s experiences. 


Barry met John Witthoft in 1953 at Indian Steps Museum in York County. John was the curator at the State Museum and was installing new exhibits on loan to Indian Steps. It was during this time that he met Fred Kinsey, also associated with the museum’s archaeology department. These important figures in Pennsylvania archaeology left a huge impression on Barry and no doubt influenced his career path after high school.  Barry and good friend David Hally discovered the Kent-Hally site on Bare Island and conducted test excavations on Piney Island. The significance of Piney Island was its deeply stratified deposits which provided radiocarbon dates associated with the Archaic period. Additional excavation experience at Sheep Rock Shelter (36Hu1) in Huntingdon County, in 1959 provided another opportunity to explore remarkable sites in Pennsylvania prehistory.  Barry completed his undergraduate studies in 1961 at the University of Pittsburgh, his master’s at the University of Michigan in 1964 and in 1966 he was hired as the State Archaeologist at the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

His research of Archaic period spear point types in the lower Susquehanna valley was the foundation for his Ph.D. dissertation (Pennsylvania State University, 1970).  Partially based on his work on Piney Island, he classified points from this region based on geometric attributes and grouped them by drainage basin. The signature Bare Island point from the named site, is of the Late Archaic Piedmont tradition. Described as generally produced in quartz lithic material and is characterized by its “narrow width, irregular outline, thick cross-section, and minimal shoulders” (Kent 1996).
Barry’s position as State Archaeologist at the museum allowed for additional excavation experience, but it was also a critical period of development of the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at the newly opened William Penn Memorial Museum.  Fred Kinsey and John Witthoft had both developed concepts and preliminary content for the new gallery before leaving for other positions, but design, installation and labels were necessary to bring this comprehensive picture of Pennsylvania’s culture history together.  The gallery was formally opened in 1975 and has stood the test of time. It is still one of the more popular exhibit areas in The State Museum. 

While his early career focused on culture periods of some of the earliest Indian groups in Pennsylvania, it is his research and interest during the Late Woodland/ Contact period which left an indelible mark on our understanding of the Susquehannock Indians who lived in the lower Susquehanna River Valley from around 1550 to 1763.  Barry’s comprehensive examination of historic documents, excavation and artifact analysis have provided a culture history for a group of people whose story would have been lost had it not been for his incredible research.
It was during this research period that I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Kent to interview him for an undergraduate research project. It was his encouragement to apply for an internship with him the following year that led to my own career in archaeology. His ability to inspire young archaeologists never ended as he was always willing to answer questions and exchange thoughts- never judging another’s abilities or intellect.

During the 1970’s the effects of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966 was beginning to impact the workflow and duties of the Archaeology Section. The Act had placed responsibility on the states to identify and inventory significant prehistoric and historic sites. It also required recovery of data from these sites if they couldn’t be protected. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was the agency responsible for implementing these responsibilities and Barry developed Guidelines for what is now referred to as the Archaeological Site Survey in Pennsylvania or PASS files. These Survey Guidelines laid the foundation for Review Archaeology in Pennsylvania. These early survey projects along with site protection laws requiring excavation of impacted resources, led to an increase in the number of archaeological collections curated at the museum. Barry’s leadership and guidance of the program in the late 70’s and early 1980’s contributed to major surveys of our archaeological resources in Pennsylvania and the recording of much of our site data.  

The opportunity to review these projects and learn the review process from Barry was a rewarding experience which broadened my exposure to preservation laws and ultimately, curation of these collections.  Processing collections from excavations conducted by the Commission during the summer months was an opportunity to research Susquehannock material culture and the fascinating fur trade of the Contact Period. A primary focus of research during that internship resulted in the research publication of 18th Century Indian Towns and Villages in Pennsylvania. Kent, Rice, Ota 1982.  

Barry’s publication of Susquehanna’s Indians in 1984 is currently the only comprehensive publication of this culture group. His research has provided archaeologists with a sequence of events that impacted the Susquehannocks from their first encounters with John Smith through the attacks and massacre by the Paxtang Boys in 1763. His analysis of their pottery, trade artifacts and settlement patterns have been challenged by few, as our knowledge of Susquehannock sites has expanded through additional discoveries.  Barry humbly acknowledged that his research was just the beginning- others would have to continue.

There are so many stories and memories of this great man, he loved a good joke, a great burger and the outdoors. He loved people- enriched and broadened our knowledge of archaeology and these shoes will never be filled. We can only carry on the lessons that he taught so well of stewardship for collections, sites and the mentoring of young minds.  

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