Friday, November 8, 2019

Have We Found the Fort at Fort Hunter?

Another season of excavation at Fort Hunter is finished, but this turned out to be quite an exciting year! Thousands of 18th century artifacts have been found over the last decade of work at the site, but this year brought the first evidence of a possible structural feature relating to the fort or even to a period associated with the first European inhabitants of this area.

Excavation was renewed in three test units opened in 2018 near the porch at the northwest corner of the mansion. Many 18th century artifacts were recovered from this area last year and we found an unusual, thick layer of charcoal that we called Feature 172. (A feature is evidence of a human activity that is left in the ground, such as a garbage pit or fire hearth.) A second feature, Feature 173, was a dark stain that had been found in Unit N60 W45 in 2018. This feature also produced primarily 18th century artifacts and was thought to have been completely excavated in 2018. At the beginning of the 2019 season, the goal was to complete excavation of the remaining prehistoric soils (called the B-horizon) in these units and to move on to another part of the site in a continued search for the fort.

Overhead view of excavations near the porch at the northwest corner of the mansion house (Photo: The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

2019 Opening photo, showing the B-horizon (orange-tan), sewer pipe trench, and top of Feature 173 (dark stain to left and right of the exposed sewer pipe) (Photo: The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

The archaeologists began removing the B-horizon in levels; however, it soon became obvious that these levels, which should only have produced prehistoric Indian artifacts, were instead producing a mixture of prehistoric and historic artifacts. A reassessment of the situation led to the conclusion that this soil had been disturbed, and it was renamed Feature 192. Although it was thought that Feature 173 had been completely excavated last year from along the east wall, removal of the Feature 192 soils revealed that Feature 173 was still visible and even appeared to be growing larger and spreading west along the floor of the unit. Large rocks, bone fragments, chunks of charcoal, and historic ceramics began to emerge.

Top of Feature 173 exposed in N60 W45. Note bone fragments and ceramics (Photo: The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

Many interesting historic artifacts were uncovered in Feature 173, including mid-18th century ceramics, musket balls, cut animal bones, a horseshoe, copper fragments, straight pins, and a clasp knife. Tiny fish bones, flakes of spalled-off ceramic glaze, and a number of white seed beads (of the type that would have been traded with the Indians) were recovered straight off the feature floor. These objects were so small they would have fallen through the screening material and been lost before anyone knew they were there. Two dozen beads were eventually recovered from the feature.

Three white seed beads on the floor of Feature 173 (Photo: The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

In another part of the feature, a swipe of the trowel cut across the top of what at first appeared to be a small mound of pebbles lying in the dirt. Closer inspection revealed that the pebbles were actually a pile of small caliber lead shot! From their position lying in a pile, it is likely they were once enclosed by a leather bag or shot pouch, which would have rotted away and left the lead contents intact.

Pile of lead shot lying in the floor of the feature (Photo: The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

At this point, the time allotted for our field work was up. However, due to the excitement over our finds we decided to stick it out another week and attempt to complete the excavation of Feature 173 in Unit N60 W45. By this time, the feature had resolved itself into a square shape with a possible corner in the northeast corner of the unit. Three additional layers of rock and soil were removed from the unit and Feature 173 was beginning to appear in Unit N60 W50, just to the west of N60 W45. Very large pieces of charcoal were found throughout the feature, some of which were collected as samples, and two large pieces of furnace slag from metalsmithing were recovered.

Unit N60 W45 showing Feature 173 possible structure corner (darker soil in floor) (Photo: The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

The most interesting finds of the season were made that last week (at least according to this archaeologist!). A large fragment of a Delft bowl base was recovered from the second level of the feature, as well as a strike-a-lite, more trade beads, a thimble with pins, and a beautiful pair of pewter and green glass cuff buttons. I must admit that my mind screamed "Emeralds!" when I first caught sight of them. But just as amazing is that they are still connected by a tiny brass loop after 250 years in the ground.

Pewter and green glass cuff buttons (Photo: The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

Unfortunately, due to time restraints we had to pack up and leave the site before getting to the bottom of Feature 173. It is still unclear exactly what this feature represents since we did not get it completely finished. One theory is that it may be part of the defensive ditch that was described as encircling the blockhouse. Another more likely possibility is that it is a cellar of a structure, either related to the fort or to an earlier period.

The presence of furnace slag, metal objects, large amounts of charcoal, crucible fragments, and a whetstone also point toward the possibility of a blacksmithing operation somewhere in the area. Research indicates the presence of both a blacksmith and gunsmith on the property in the 18th century, but the location of the operation is not known. The small amount of burnt soil and slag and metal do not seem to indicate this is the primary location of a smithy, but who knows what next year will bring.

It's going to be very difficult to wait an entire 11 months to get back out to the site. Next year, we hope to uncover the entirety of Feature 173 in the surrounding units to determine its size and shape. Hopefully even more amazing finds will be made, and we can get an answer to the function and age of this feature. Meanwhile, there is still work to complete in the lab, including having the charcoal samples and slag analyzed and possibly x-raying of rusty iron items. This analysis may be able to give us more information on the types of wood being burnt and chemical composition of the slag, as well as letting us see the objects beneath the rust to aide in accurately identifying these artifacts.

For additional information on blacksmithing and early trade at Fort Hunter, please see our blog from May 11, 2018 ("To Be Ore Not To Be: Crucibles are the Answer") or November 20, 2015 ("New Perspectives on an Old Subject: Trade and Native American Relations at Fort Hunter").

The end of October and the end of our field season at Fort Hunter also marks the end of Archaeology Month in Pennsylvania. We hope you had an opportunity to visit an archaeology program in your community to learn about our rich heritage in Pennsylvania. If you didn't have an opportunity to do so, there is still time! The annual Workshops in Archaeology Program is Saturday at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. Registration is available at the door and our presenters are excited to share their knowledge and research of the Monongahela culture.  This series of lectures provides an overview of the Monongahela culture, highlighting changes that occurred over time and discussion of their disappearance from the archaeological record. We hope you can join us November 9th, 2019 - registration desk opens at 8:30 am.

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

Discover the Monongahela Culture Archaeology of Southwestern, Pennsylvania

Monongahela, Youghiogheny and lower Allegheny valleys

Archaeologists began exploring prehistoric Native American sites in the Monongahela, Youghiogheny and lower Allegheny valleys as early as the late 1800’s when much of the emphasis was placed on mounds (cf. Hayden 1883; Thomas 1894; Carpenter 1951). Other sites were added by the Pennsylvania Indian Survey in 1928 under the direction of Dorothy Skinner. This was an expansion of the work begun in 1924 by Frances Dorrance, Director of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society (Smith and Herbstritt 1977).

Francis Dorrance 

In addition to the interest in mound sites other information was published in the 1930”s (Cadzow 1933); Engberg (1931); George Fisher (1930) that broadened the distribution of sites known at that time for southwestern Pennsylvania, especially Late Prehistoric villages located in upland (hilltops and mountain ridges) and valley settings. 

Archaeological investigations in Somerset County during the late 1930’s identified a number of Native American villages. The work was done with government funding through the Works Progress Administration better known as the WPA. In a report to the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, Dr. Mary Butler (1939) linked these people to a mixed material culture having Algonquin and Iroquoian traits and so named it the “Monongahela Woodland Culture”.

Mary Buttler

Over time, archaeologists dropped “Woodland” from the name, and the “Monongahela Culture” was borne into the literature that presently describes the Late Prehistoric through Protohistoric period Native American occupations of southwestern Pennsylvania where their material traits are found (Mayer-Oakes 1955).

Clay Monongahela pottery vessels

The Carnegie Museum carried on its research interest into Monongahela archaeology after Mayer-Oakes field work was completed and published in the museum’s Anthropological Series No. 2 “Prehistory of the Upper Ohio Valley: An Introductory Archaeological Study” (Mayer-Oakes 1955). Don Dragoo (1955) and later, Richard George (see for example 1974; 1978; 1983; 2011) who conducted field work and published extensively on the Monongahela Culture, began organizing the differences observed in the  artifact assemblages using the concept of “Phase” developed by Gordon Willey and Philip Phillips (1958) which with some modification remains in current use (Herbstritt 2003; Johnson and Means 2020). The following cultural phases/subtraditions for Monongahela are in current use.

Early Monongahela                  1050-1250 AD     Drew, Kiskiminetas, 
Somerset I subtradition
Early Middle Monongahela     1250-1450 AD     Campbell Farm, 
Somerset II subtradition
Late Middle Monongahela       1450-1580 AD     Scarem, Youghiogheny, Johnston, 
Terminal Somerset II subtradition
Protohistoric Monongahela      1580-1640 AD     Throckmorton (Early sub-phase), Foley Farm (Late sub-phase)

Triangular projectile points

Attempts have been made to link the cultural identity of Monongahela to different Native American language groups such as Siouan and Iroquoian based on linguistic (cf. George 1980, Johnson 2001; Sorg 2003; Swauger 1974), oral history and the cartographic/historical record (Hoffman 1964), research topics that have drawn critical review.

Marginella shells, fish vertebrae and a carved shell ornament

Archaeologists recognize the disappearance of the Monongahela culture from the archaeological record in the mid-1600’s. The impact of European diseases is not certain. Iroquois warfare is more easily supported. Droughts played a significant role in reducing the population of Monongahela villages and impacted survival. Examination of the curated artifacts and site information for these villages, as well as more recent excavations has enabled archaeologists to gain a better understanding of this culture group.

Glass trade beads

To learn more about the Monongahela Culture please join us in Harrisburg on November 9th 2019 when the State Museum of Pennsylvania will host its annual Workshops in Archaeology Program “Defining Monongahela: Western Pennsylvania’s Archaeological Mystery”.  This is a program for the general public interested in how Native Americans lived in the Upper Ohio Valley centuries ago.    Featured will be different topics on Monongahela Culture with eight presentations by archaeologists familiar with this unique Native American culture that disappeared in the early 17th century. 

2019 Annual Workshops in Archaeology 


1939       Three Archaeological Sites in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Historical Commission. Cadzow, Donald A.
1933     Mr. George Fisher’s Discoveries in Western Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 3(3): 3-5, 16-17. Harrisburg. Carpenter, Edmund S.
1951     Tumuli in Southwestern Pennsylvania. American Antiquity 16(4): 329-346. 
             Salt Lake City. Dragoo, Don W.
1955     Excavations at the Johnston Site, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 25(2): 85-141. Engberg, Robert M.
1931      Algonkian Sites of Westmoreland and Fayette Counties, Pennsylvania. Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine 14: 143-190. Fisher, George S.
1930      Indian Sites and Excavations in Western Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 1(2): 8-9.
              George, Richard L.
1974      Monongahela Settlement Patterns and the Ryan Site. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 44(1-2):1-22.
1978     The McJunkin Site, A Preliminary Report. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 48(4): 33-47.
1980     Notes on the Possible Cultural Affiliation of Monongahela. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 50(1-2): 45-50.
1983      The Gnagey Site and the Monongahela Occupation of the Somerset Plateau. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 53(4): 1-97,
2011     The Wylie #3 Site (36WH283): Part I. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 81(1): 1-27. Hayden, Horace
1883      Antiquities of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Smithsonian Institution Annual Report for 1881, pp. 638-641. Washington. Herbstritt, James T.
2003       Foley Farm: The Importance of Architecture and the Demise of the Monongahelans. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 73(1): 8-54.  Hoffman, Bernard G.
1964      Observations on Certain Indian Tribes of the Northern Appalachian Province. Smithsonian Institution Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 191. Johnson, William C.
2001      The Protohistoric Monongahela and the Case of an Iroquois Connection. In Societies in Eclipse: Archaeology of the Eastern Woodland Indians, A.D. 1400-1700, edited by David SBrose, C. Wesley Cowan and Robert C. Mainfort, Jr., pp.67-82. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. Johnson, William C. and Bernard K. Means
2020    The Monongahela Tradition of the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric Periods, 11 - 17th Centuries AD. In the Lower Upper Ohio Valley in The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania. In press. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. Mayer-Oakes, William J.
1955    Prehistory of the Upper Ohio Valley: An Introductory Archaeological Study. Anthropological Series No. 2. Annals of the Carnegie Museum 34. Smith, Ira F. and James T. Herbstritt
1977     A Status Report on the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.
             Sorg, David J.
             Linguistic Affiliations of the Massawomeck Confederacy. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 73(1): 1-7. Swauger, James L.
1974    Rock Art of the Upper Ohio Valley. Akademische Druck – u. Verlagsanstalt Graz/Austria  Willey, Gordon R. and Phillip Phillips
1958    Method and Theory in American Archaeology
           University of Chichago press, Chichago. Thomas, Cyrus
1894    Report on the Mound Explorations of the Bureau of Ethnology. 
          Twelfth Annual Report of the Bureau of  Ethnology, 1890-1891, pp. 494-503. Washington.

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .
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Friday, October 11, 2019

Falling Through History

This week’s guest blog is provided by Mifflin County High School student, Granuaile Moyer and offers a teen’s perspective of our investigation. Granuaile spent a week with us this year at Fort Hunter and is excited to share her experiences with others. 

Granualie Moyer

Recently I was able to participate in an archaeological excavation with The State Museum of Pennsylvania.  I’m fortunate that my mother is an archaeologist and curator at the museum. They have been conducting archaeological excavations at Fort Hunter since 2006. They are only able to be in the field for one month, the other eleven months they are busy being curators taking care of other people’s artifacts from excavations. For one month of the year though, they are busy searching for structural evidence of the French and Indian War fort that gives Fort Hunter its name.

Map from 1763 indicating Fort Hunter

The land was first settled in 1725 by Benjamin Chambers, who later founded Chambersburg. During the French and Indian War (1755-1763), the British built a small supply fort at the rivers bend. After the war was over, the fort was left to rot. Captain Archibald McAllister, who fought with general George Washington in the Revolutionary war, settled on the land. He built a small farmhouse in 1787, which is believed to have been built on the foundations of the fort blockhouse. He later expanded the farm, he built a sawmill, country store, blacksmith shop, artisan’s shops, school, distillery, and tavern. 

                                                                          1860s McAllister

The next owner, Daniel Boas, bought the house in 1870, then left it to his daughter and son-in-law, also known as the Reily’s. The Reily’s built the last and biggest addition to the house in the late 1800s. The Reily’s ran a successful dairy farm for 50 years. Since they never had any children, they had many pets, such as dogs and cats. They also had some extravagant pets, like peacocks, a parrot, and a Macaque monkey.  

Daniel Boas

They later left the farm to their nieces and nephews, one of which being Margaret Meigs. Margaret recognized the historical value of the land and set out to make it a museum. In 1956, she along with her family set up the Fort Hunter Foundation. With their hard work and dedication, they were able to restore the land and create an educational program. Now the land is owned by Dauphin County, and you are able to tour the estate to learn more about its great history, or to just simply enjoy the scenery. 

Fort Hunter 

The Section of Archaeology for the State Museum of Pennsylvania has been working at Fort Hunter Park since 2006. They are looking for the remains of the French and Indian War fort, Fort Hunter. They have not found any structural evidence of the fort yet, however they have found other evidence such as a cannon ball, musket balls and gun parts among other things. They have also found the old farm well, which was connected to the milk house by a small pipe. The
pipe allowed cold water to run through the walls of the milk house keeping their food cool. They also found a unique octagonal smokehouse that was built by Mr. McAllister. There was a pet cemetery left from the burials of the Reily’s many beloved pets. They have also found numerous prehistoric artifacts, such as projectile points, prehistoric pottery (cordmarked or plain in decoration), and a prehistoric grooved stone axe dating back 4,000 years. These artifacts give evidence of at least 9,000 years of human occupation of the landscape we now call Fort Hunter.

Even as a small child I was intrigued by archaeology, my mother saw my interest and allowed me to come with her to watch her work. I was six years old the first time I visited an excavation, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to visit and participate every year since then. In the beginning I just observed how precisely they would take the layers of soil down. It was not until I was nine years old that I was able to get into a unit. This was the year that they discovered the pet cemetery behind the milk house. I was in the unit with my mother helping her write the bags, take measurements and draw the unit.

Archaeological excavation is a destructive science, the soils can never be put back the way you found them, so it is very important to know where artifacts are discovered. A grid is laid out over the site so north south coordinates are assigned to every unit and measurements are taken both horizontally and vertically to know where each artifact is recovered from. 

Assisting with measurements 

In the following years I learned how to screen the dirt, and how carefully you have to do it or else artifacts might fall through the screen. I also learned how to use a trowel and how to carefully take down a soil level. The first time I was able to get in a unit and dig I was fourteen. While I was digging I found a prehistoric grooved axe, in situ, which means “in its original placement” and that is extremely rare. This year I was able to screen all the dirt and I found many artifacts, like flake chipping debris, pottery and glass, among other things.     

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to develop these skills at such a young age, and I hope that I am able to further my skills and knowledge in this field.

News interview
This is Archaeology Month in Pennsylvania and a great opportunity to seek out programs in your community that explore the cultural heritage of your region. The archaeology at Fort Hunter is an opportunity for us to engage with the public and provides an outlet for students to learn about the archaeological process. Excavations have ended for 2019 but with the discovery of many 18th century artifacts this year, we have already begun preparing for next year.  Stay tuned this winter as we research the many artifacts recovered this year and share some of our discoveries on our blog.

We also invite you to attend our annual Workshops in Archaeology program on November 9th, 2019. This day long venue is a continuum in our exploration of tribes who inhabited Pennsylvania from pre-historic through the 18th century. Building on our program last year that explored the Susquehannock Indians, this years’ theme of Monongahela Indians promises to be as informative and interesting as last year. Discussion of maize agriculture, disease and conflict amongst tribes and European colonists are just two of the subjects scheduled for discussion.  Registration is available on-line or by check through the Pennsylvania Heritage Foundation

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

Friday, September 27, 2019

The First Three Weeks of the 2019 Field Season at Fort Hunter

As is our tradition since 2006, The State Museum of Pennsylvania is conducting archaeology at the Fort Hunter archaeological site five miles north of the state Capitol. The focus of our research is the French and Indian War occupation (F&I - 1756-1763 aka the Seven Years War; the first global conflict as the French and English struggled for control of colonies on several continents). Beginning with the Frontier Forts and Trails initiative under the Works Projects Administration (WPA) in the 1930’s, the Museum has a long history of French and Indian War investigations including forts Augusta, LeBoeuf, Presque Isle and Loudoun.

Initially, we were interested in the soldier’s life on the frontier. However, the site turned out to be multicomponent with significant prehistoric components dating back at least 9000 years. In addition, post French and Indian War occupations representing the growth of a plantation dating between 1787 and 1860 followed by a Victorian mansion complex.

Fort Hunter was built in the fall or winter of 1756 in response to Indian raids in the region. After Braddock’s defeat near present day Pittsburgh, the British decided to establish a defensive line of forts in the Susquehanna valley with the main fort being Fort Augusta, sixty miles to the north, at present day Sunbury. Fort Hunter served as a supply fort for Fort Augusta. One of our problems since starting this investigation is the lack of historic documentation. There are general maps of its location placing it on the south side of Fishing Creek and descriptions of the fort having a commanding view of the Susquehanna river, but no details on the size or configuration of Fort Hunter. There are several references to a block house; an unfinished fort; the need to replace the stockade; the need to deepen the defensive ditch around the stockade; officer’s quarters and a hospital, but nothing on size or orientation. Based on folklore, Fort Hunter mansion was built over the block house, so in 2006 we excavated trenches around the Mansion with the goal of intercepting the surrounding stockade or the defensive ditch.

Surprisingly, those early investigations in the back yard of the Mansion encountered a high density of mid-18th century pottery (dishes), gun flints and musket balls along with a bake oven in the style typically used by the British army. We have been expanding our excavations in the back yard ever since. We also conducted extensive trenching in the front yard but, unfortunately, we have not found the stockade or defensive ditch. On the positive side, we have found a layer of soil (identified as a buried A horizon) that represents the ground surface at the time of the French and Indian War and we have continued tracing this across the site.

This year’s excavations at Fort Hunter has continued our work at the north end of the mansion. Our excavations immediately adjacent to the east side of the mansion in 2017 produced 18th century artifacts and features but the results were confusing and inconclusive. We have continued around the house opening units to the north in 2018. The buried A horizon that we have been following has become more distinct and thicker, but in 2018, a clear picture did not emerge.

A view of this year’s excavations at the north end of the mansion.

Our first few days of the 2019 season involved removing the back fill from last year’s units. We shoveled out seven 5’X 5’ units, about 6 tons of dirt, in two days of sweltering heat. We continued to follow the buried A adjacent to the north wall foundation of the mansion. This
contains prehistoric artifacts, and 18th and 19th century artifacts.  However, we have found a thickened part of the buried A that only contains mid-18th century artifacts, possibly from the French and Indian War occupation.

Artifacts from the disturbed B horizon.

Below this, what first appeared to be the undisturbed tan B horizon now seems to be disturbed based on the presence of scratch blue, delft and porcelain ceramics, iron objects, glass seed beads, brass straight pins, a musket ball and dietary bone. The unit is not finished, but these artifacts were found at a depth of over two feet into the disturbed B horizon along with a large number of flakes and projectile points never found at high frequencies at this depth. In plan view, only one side of this feature has been identified and the difference between the disturbed and undisturbed B is very clear. Our interpretation is that this soil was excavated during the mid-18th century and replaced during the same period but with other soil from the B horizon. This may represent the defensive ditch surrounding the fort or some other structure from the fort period. We were beginning to suspect that the fort never really had a stockade or defensive ditch, but this feature may be our first indication of a fortification.

A view of the thickened buried A horizon in the background and the normal thickness of the buried A in the foreground.

This season we also investigated an area across Front Street about 400 feet from the mansion. Historic references note additional structures such as officer’s quarters, a hospital and enlisted men’s quarters and we have always wondered where they are. A drone survey using infrared photography identified lineal anomalies across the road, so we decided to investigate them. We began with a 4” bucket auger but were refused by rock within a foot of the surface. We opened four units and encountered approximately three feet of cobbles and pebbles that we thought might be fill. Just to be sure, we utilized a backhoe and excavated down six feet exposing the same profile. In conclusion, we are not sure what caused the anomalies but without exposing a much larger area, we don’t think they are cultural.

Backhoe excavations east of Front street.

A second goal of the Fort Hunter project is to engage the pubic in the importance of archaeology to our understanding of both the historic and prehistoric past and its contribution to planning for the future. Over the past thirteen years we have averaged between 3000 and 6000 visitors per year. Local high school students have volunteered and college students from Franklin and Marshall, Dickinson, Shippensburg, Harrisburg Area Community College and this year Wilson College have been able to introduce their students to basic archaeological field methods. As part of our public outreach program, a new exhibit opened in early September on the second floor of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, in the Anthropology and Archaeology gallery which features our investigation of Fort Hunter and its rich cultural heritage.

The 2019 field season is coming to a close on October 4th and the work of processing and cataloging the many artifacts recovered will begin. This process allows us to further analyze the artifacts and soil layers in which they were recovered. This important analysis is valuable in documenting the activities of the former occupants of the site. Finally, none of our work could have been accomplished without the support of Fort Hunter Mansion and Park and we sincerely appreciate their cooperation.

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

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 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 or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .