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.