Friday, December 20, 2019

Notable Women of Pennsylvania Archaeology — Dr. Catherine Josephine McCann (1908-1986)

Dr. McCann and Dr. Barry Kent (1971), The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Kate McCann was a pioneering woman in the field of Americanist archaeology in the 20th century. Early in her career, she was one of the few women to hold a supervising position on a Works Progress Administration project (WPA) in the 1930s at the Irene Mound site in Savannah, Georgia. She later contributed much to the archaeological record of the middle and upper Delaware Valley in New Jersey and the North Branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. Throughout her career she bridged the gap between public interests, avocational archaeologists and professional institutions. She lent her expertise to local Archaeological Society of New Jersey (ASNJ) and Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) chapter excavations, published investigation results, promoted the donation and long-term curation of collections for future study, contributed to regional syntheses, and created exhibit spaces for broader education and outreach. 

Born in Carlyle, Montana, McCann studied Latin and classical archaeology, receiving her BA from the University of Montana in 1930 and her MA from the University of Wisconsin in 1931 before pursuing her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1937. McCann was recruited with fellow U of Penn graduate students to fill professional staff positions created as part of New Deal archaeological investigations in the southeast. The Irene Mound site was investigated from 1937 to 1939. It was a unique project for the time, not only for the position that McCann held, joining the team in 1938, but also the important roles that over eighty local African American women fulfilled as the excavators at the site. For images of and more information about their contribution to the WPA Irene Mound investigation visit the Savannah Image Project of Armstrong Atlantic State University (The Women of Irene Mound). 

McCann authored several interim reports on the ecology, faunal remains and pottery of Irene Mound (Browman, 2013) and co-authored the final site report (Caldwell and McCann, 1941). She returned to graduate school in Philadelphia, defending her dissertation in 1947, “Aboriginal Urn Burial in the Southeastern United States”. This same year she participated in several regional investigations including Dr. William Ritchie’s (1949) excavations at the Bell-Philhower site (28Sx29) and headed investigations at the Ware site (McCann, 1950) as a staff archaeologist at the New Jersey State Museum. 

Dr. McCann investigating a pit in the Bell section of the Bell-Philhower site (Ritchie, 1949: Plate  3)

After 1957, Dr. McCann shifted her professional focus to sites in Bradford County, Pennsylvania following her appointment as curator at the Tioga Point Museum in Athens. Here she investigated the Wilson (36Br58) and Wells (36Br59) sites (McCann, 1962; Lucy and McCann, 1972) working closely with the Andaste Chapter of the SPA. 

Foundations of Pennsylvania Prehistory

McCann also served as curator at The William Penn Memorial Museum during a time of transition between The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s original location in the Executive Office Building of the state Capital and its current location. Hired in the year of the new site’s groundbreaking in 1962 under Fred Kinsey and John Witthoft, McCann and other eventual staff curators Barry C. Kent, Ira F. Smith III and Vance Packard would be instrumental in the final design of the Hall of Anthropology. The gallery officially opened over a decade later, December 9th, 1975, after the museum opened its doors to the public in 1964 (Smith, 2005). She also co-edited and was a contributing author to Foundations of Pennsylvania Prehistory (McCann, 1971) during her tenure with the Commission, and received the J. Alden Mason award from the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology shortly after retirement. She is pictured above holding the award decree with Dr. Barry Kent. 

Dr. McCann continued to work with avocational archaeologists to publish SPA projects she had directed in previous years including a co-authored article with Charles Lucy on the Wells site (36Br59). She passed away in 1986 due to complications of multiple sclerosis.  Lucy, an avocational archaeologist, collaborator and friend, authored her memorial in the Pennsylvania Archaeologist (1989). Additional images of Dr. McCann in the field are available at the Tioga Point Museum in the Lucy Collection.   

We hope you have enjoyed the last edition of Notable Women in Pennsylvania Archaeology for 2019. It was an honor to celebrate the contributions of four 20th century pioneers in the field — Frances Dorrance, Mary Butler, Verna Cowin, and Catherine McCann. We plan to intermittently continue the series in 2020. 

From all of us at the Section of Archaeology, we wish you and yours a happy and healthy holiday season. Thank you for your continued support of our mission to preserve our past for our future in the new year. 

For those who still have a hard-to-shop-for person on their holiday gift list, consider the latest volume in the Recent Research in Pennsylvania Archaeology series, The Susquehannocks: New Perspectives on Settlement and Cultural Identity, now on sale at a discounted price of $20.97 through the Pennsylvania State University Press.

References and Selected Publications

Browman, David L.
2013 Cultural Negotiations: The Role of Women in the Founding of Americanist Archaeology. Critical studies in the history of anthropology. University of Nebraska Press. Catherine J. McCann, (pp. 158-159). 

Caldwell, Joseph and Catherine McCann
1941 Irene Mound Site, Chatham County, Georgia. Archaeological Project Report. Works Project Administration. Savannah, Georgia. The University of Georgia Press, Athens. 

Lucy, Charles L.
1989 Memorial: Catherine J. McCann. Pennsylvania Archaeologist. (59:1:55). 

Lucy, Charles L. and Catherine J. McCann
1983 The Wells site, Asylum township, Bradford county. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 53(3:1-12)

Lyon, Edwin A. 
1996 A New Deal for Southeastern Archaeology. University of Alabama Press. (pp.109-111).

McCann, Catherine J.
1947 Aboriginal urn burials in the Southeastern United States. Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

1950 The Ware site, Salem county, New Jersey. American Antiquity, 15(4), Menasha, Wisconsin.
1957 Six late sites in southern and central New Jersey. Bulletin No. 13, Archaeological Society of New Jersey.
1961 An outline of Bradford county Indian history. The Settler Vol. VI, Bradford County Historical Society, Towanda.

1962 The Wilson site. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 32(2:43-55).
1968 Pennsylvania archaeology, an introduction. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

1971 Notes on the pottery of the Clemson and Book Mounds. In Foundations of Pennsylvania Prehistory. Barry Kent, Ira Smith III, and Catherine McCann (editors), Anthropological Series No. 1, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 

1972 Some caches and so-called caches from eastern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 42(1-2:16-26).

Ritchie, William R.
1949 The Bell-Philhower Site Sussex County New Jersey. Prehistoric Research Series 3(2). Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis. Preface (p. 149); Plate 3A (p. 245).

Savanah Images Project, Armstrong Atlantic State University
N.D. The Women of The Irene Mound. Image Catalog and Oral History Interview from The Irene Mound Collection, Coastal Georgia Archaeological Society, Georgia Historical Society, Savannah Georgia. Web Resource. 

Smith, Eric L. 
2005 The State Museum of Pennsylvania: A Centennial History, 1905-2005. Chapter 5: Developing the Museum Galleries, 1965-1979, (p. 26). Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 

Whalen, Gail
N.D. Elusive Women of Irene: The WPA Excavation of Irene Mound. Essay, Savannah Image Project of Armstrong Atlantic State University. Web Resource. 

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Friday, December 6, 2019

Dr. Verna Cowin - An Influential Woman in Pennsylvania Archaeology

Dr. Verna Cowin

This week in Pennsylvania Archaeology will highlight another influential woman in Pennsylvania archaeology.  Verna (Lunglhofer) Cowin was born February 12, 1931 in Altoona, PA.  She was raised in Bethlehem, PA where she graduated from Moravian College in 1952 with a degree in English.  Verna was a sporting young woman, she played field hockey and participated in archery tournaments on both local and state levels; winning many, including the Bethlehem City championship.  It was her interest in archery that would lead her to take lessons from the president of the Pennsylvania Archery Association who just happened to be Paul Cowin's father.  After she graduated from college and he returned from service in World War II, Verna and Paul married on June 14, 1952.

Shortly after their marriage, Verna and Paul relocated to Battle Creek Michigan where Verna taught in Penfield and Harper Creek schools.  She was also a member of the successful Michigan women's archery team.  As was customary at the time, Verna left the workforce when they had children, two daughters.  After moving back to Pennsylvania in 1962, she was a girl scout leader, served as the Butler neighborhood chair holding a position on the council, and joined the Butler chapter of the American Association of University Women who would award her Women of the Year in 1984. 

As the children grew older Verna felt that "she was getting bored" and that "she wasn't using her mind to full capacity," according to her husband Paul.  That is what prompted her to go back to school.  In 1971 she was enrolled in the Anthropology Department at the University of Pittsburgh as a graduate student.  In order to acquire some much-needed field experience she joined the crew of the first field season excavation of Meadowcroft Rockshelter under the direction of Dr. James Adovasio.  She went on to participate in several Carnegie Museum of Natural History excavations in 1972, including the Bonnie Brook Monongahela Village under the direction of Richard L. George and Dr. Donald W. Dragoo.  This early association with the Carnegie Museum would prove to be the beginning of 40 years of dedicated service to the museum's section of Anthropology.  During her return to the Meadowcroft excavation in 1976 she was appointed as director of research for the nearby Avella burial mound which she continued to excavate through 1978 with the intention of using the research for her dissertation.  She earned her masters degree in 1980 and her doctorate in 1985, although she did not use her Avella mound research as planned.  Verna was a woman who liked to be busy and if her studies and research were not enough, she also taught six anthropology courses between 1975 and 1981 for the University of Pittsburgh, as well as teaching an Introduction to Anthropology course for prisoners at the Western Pennsylvania Correctional Institution in 1976.  Later going on to direct field schools for Slippery Rock University and Westmorland Community College at Hanna's Town, as well as a Carnegie sponsored field school in Erie.

In 1980 she became the Region VII Archaeologist for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which allowed her to carry out archaeological surveys in south-central Pennsylvania.   It was when this program ended in 1982 that Verna became the head of excavations for the Pittsburg Plate Glass headquarters (PPG).  This was a large excavation for the new PPG headquarters in downtown Pittsburgh; and would prove significant for the understanding of Pittsburgh's history.  By digging deep, 17 feet below street level, Verna discovered thousands of artifacts, wells, privies, and house foundations from the 19th century proving that Pittsburgh's past was still intact, not destroyed by modern activities as was the thought at the time.  This discovery changed the way compliance archaeology was conducted in the city, requiring archaeologists to consider the depth of excavation in light of her findings.  The report of these excavations was the basis of her doctoral dissertation as well as her exhibit  at the Carnegie museum "Pieces of the Past: Archaeology in Pittsburgh" for which she was awarded the Award of Merit from Pittsburgh History and Landmarks foundation and the Award of Merit from the Association for State and Local History.

After defending her dissertation Verna was hired as Assistant Curator in charge of the Upper Ohio Valley Archaeology program at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The program was started in the 1950s by William J. Mayer-Oaks and Donald W. Dragoo.  She became an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Anthropology Department of the University of Pittsburgh in 1986, a position she held until 2001; and was promoted to Associate Curator at the Carnegie Museum in 1988.  Verna was extensively published; 38 publications, 9 reports and 34 papers delivered at local and national conferences.  Dr. James Adovasio stressed "that her Cultural Resource reports reflected significant research contributions to Western Pennsylvania prehistoric and historic archaeology, not just gray literature".

Verna and her husband Paul were pillars of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology. She served as a board member of that organization from 1997-2003, as associate editor of Pennsylvania Archaeologist from 1981-1999, and Paul served as treasurer from 2001-2010.  In 2009, they were awarded the Lifetime Achievement award from the Society of Pennsylvania Archaeology for Exemplary service to Pennsylvania Archaeology.  She also served as editor and president of the Eastern States Archaeological Federation (ESAF) from 1992-1995.  Traditionally the incoming president of ESAF has to drink beer from the Canadian-American Friendship cup.  Verna did not disappoint quaffing the entire contents without hesitation, compelling subsequent presidents to hear shouts upon their turn of "drink it without stopping like Verna did".

Dr. Verna Cowin technically retired in 2001 but maintained her office at Carnegie Museum as a Research Associate.  She passed January 3, 2013 and her beloved husband Paul joined her March 24, 2013.  They are sorely missed by the archaeological community. 

We hope you have enjoyed this review of another significant woman in Pennsylvania archaeology.  Archaeology and Anthropology have embraced the role of women in the sciences and we encourage our young readers to consider pursuing the sciences as a career. Preserving our past for the future is important for all of us in understanding social change, settlement patterns and cultural adaptation to name a few as our world ever changes.

Richardson, James B.
2013 In Memoriam: Verna L. Cowin and Paul F. Cowin. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 83(2):65-71

Dr. Verna L. Lunglhofer Cowin. (2013, January 5) The Butler Eagle, Butler, Pennsylvania

A List of Select Publications:
Cowin, V.L., Cannel Coal Pendants: Types and Distribution, North American Archaeologist, vol. 20, 3: pp. 239-262., First Published Jul 1, 1999

Cowin, V. L. (1989). Let's Hear It for the Tinman: John Dunlap. Western Pennsylvania History: 1918-2018, 72(2), 96-101.

Cowin, Verna. "The Middle Archaic in the Upper Ohio Valley." Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology 7 (1991): 43-52.

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