Sunday, December 27, 2020

Pots from the Past: A Look at some Native American Pottery Types of the Early Contact Period

In our last blog post on “Pots from the Past” (posted 10/23/20), we showcased the Late Woodland pottery types of the Susquehanna Valley. In this blog we describe Susquehannock pottery dating to the period around the time of European contact. The Susquehannocks were an Iroquoian-speaking group who also lived in the Susquehanna Valley but principally established settlements in the Lower Susquehanna of Pennsylvania and the Potomac valleys of northern Maryland and eastern West Virginia after leaving the Upper Susquehanna of northcentral Pennsylvania in the early 1500s (Herbstritt 2019). Their settlements occupied fertile river bottoms where farming, principally comprised of growing corn, beans and squash and the harvesting of many different wild plant foods was economically feasible. Coupled with the harvesting of deer, elk, birds, fish and river mussels, and a modicum of other protein-based foods formed a vital part of their subsistence economy. Unlike their Late Woodland predecessors of the Susquehanna Valley, the Susquehannocks, only lived at these select locations for about 200 years (ca. 1525-1750 AD), until their culture was devastated by foreign diseases, wars with other Iroquoians, assimilation and economic hardship brought about by and through European colonialism.

Enter the potters! Archaeologic, ethnographic and historic evidence point to females as the makers of Native American clay pots. French Jesuits witnessed Iroquois women making cooking pots in Canada and contemporary Native American potters in the south and southwest United States of more recent times are women.

Much of what is known about Susquehannock pottery has been the result of samples recovered from large scale excavations that took place near Washington Boro, Pennsylvania in the 1970’s and 1980’s. These investigations were largely undertaken by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission under the direction of Dr. Barry C. Kent, the Commission’s State Archaeologist (Kent 1984). The research conducted by Dr. Kent and other archaeologists developed a pottery chronology for the Susquehannock occupations that clearly demonstrated a sequence of different pottery types through time. 

The Susquehannock pottery types in chronological order 

We begin our discussion on Susquehannock pottery by presenting these types in chronological order with the earliest defined type and working through to the latest as follows.

Schultz Incised is a high collared shell tempered pottery type largely found at the Schultz site located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Figure 1). This type generally dates between 1525 AD and 1600 AD. The overall surface treatment of this type is cord-marking with pronounced broad line incising decorating the collars which form different geometric patterns that include right triangles, trapezoids and vertical bars. Most often, the areas with these patterns are infilled with dentations that look like they were made with the oval-shaped end of a bone or wooden tool. Schultz pots range in volume from a pint to many gallons indicating utilitarian use and many retain evidence of carbonized residue suggesting that they were used in cooking. 

A Schultz incised pot from the Schultz site (36La7). 

Washington Boro Incised is a low to medium collared shell tempered pottery named after the Washington Boro site also located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Figure 2). It generally dates between 1600 AD and 1635 AD. The type shared some characteristics with Schultz Incised such as an all over cord-marked surface and collars with incised lines. However, the line incising is largely defined by horizontal panels of incising separated by a broadly spaced vertical line. The hallmark of the Washington Boro Incised type is the presence of two to four stylized expressionless human faces located on castellations along the pot’s rim. These are commonly accompanied by one or more V-shaped notches above each face. Full bodied effigies of the human form are present on these pots but rare. Interestingly, full bodied effigies are also found on pots from non-Susquehannock Iroquoian sites in New York where they are also rare. As with its predecessor, Schultz Incised, Washington Boro Incised pots are highly variable in volume capacity – big and small seems to have been the norm and many contain charred cooking residue inside the pot. 

A Washington Boro Incised pot. 

      Strickler Cordmarked, for the most part is a collarless cordmarked pottery type named after the Strickler site, also located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Figure 3). It generally dates between 1635 AD and 1680 AD. Some Strickler site potters tempered their pots with shell, other potters did not, as many of the pots exhibit little to no evidence that a tempering agent was added to the clay. Strickler Cordmarked pots departed from earlier Susquehannock types in that there was a definite departure in their aesthetic presence. Absent are the various incised line designs and effigy faces from former times – little to none of the earlier artistic expressionism is evident. It has been postulated that Strickler Cordmarked was a pottery type that was increasingly being replaced by utilitarian metal pots traded into the Susquehannock economy from Europeans (Kent 1984). After all, metal pots lasted longer and heated the food more quickly. Pots of the Strickler type were small in comparison to Schultz Incised and Washington Boro Incised pots–they rarely held more than a quart’s worth of capacity. It can perhaps be stated that Strickler Cordmarked had a longer tradition in Susquehannock culture insofar as the type was being produced well into the 1670’s after the Susquehannocks moved their settlements to the bluffs of the Susquehanna’s west shore in York County, Pennsylvania. By the early 18th century after the Susquehannock’s set up residence at Conestoga town, native pottery seems to have become a relic of the past.

A Strickler Cordmarked pot. 

We hope you have enjoyed revisiting our This Week In Pennsylvania Archaeology blog site. Please visit again as we present more in the series on “Pots from the Past”



Herbstritt, James T.

2019      Becoming Susquehannock: The West Branch and North Branch Traditions: in The Susquehannocks: New Perspectives on Settlement and Cultural Identity. Edited by Paul A. Raber. The Pennsylvania State University Press. University Park.

Kent, Barry C.

1984      Susquehanna’s Indians. Anthropological Series, no 6. Harrisburg, Pa. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.


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

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Unearthing Time Periods - Jackfield

In our last post we discussed the good fortune historic archaeologists enjoy upon discovering coinage on an archaeological site, particularly in the discrete context of a feature. Few artifacts other than coins have their date of manufacture literally stamped directly on them. Naturally, these artifacts greatly aid in determining the age of a site, or a portion of a site.

Other artifact types can also help determine when a site was inhabited. Certain types of ceramic wares for example are known to have relatively short periods of manufacture, and this in turn can aid an archaeologist in narrowing down the potential window of occupation. With respect to the mid to late 18th century there are a number of ceramic types that can be attributed to this time period.


A refined earthenware ceramic known as Jackfield is one such type. Produced in the region of Shropshire, England between 1745 and 1790, this ceramic is characterized as thinly turned, with a paste that turns a purple/grey after firing and is covered in a lustrous black glaze. Typical forms include tea pots and pitchers as well as mugs and bowls.

 Although associated with the town of Jackfield in Shropshire, this ware was also commonly produced in Staffordshire by potters such as Thomas Whieldon, with a redder hued body. This recognition of a broader area of manufacture has led some scholars to endorse the term “Jackfield-like”, or even “blackware” when referring to these pieces (Barker and Halfpenny (1990). The choice to produce a black glazed ceramic is a curious one, as at this time English and other European potters were endeavoring to create a white ceramic to mimic the superior export porcelains arriving from the East. According to Hume, in his much referenced A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America, examples of Jackfield ceramics are common on American sites of the 1760’s (pg.123).

Not unlike instances of counterfeit coinage, imitation or debased forms of Jackfield were made in the colonies by regional potters. Here, the intention was not to swindle someone out of their goods with fake currency, but rather an effort to “keep up” with the latest trends and styles originating out of England. While exhibiting a similar solid black glaze, these Jackfield-like examples constructed of regionally sourced clays have an orange body typical of redwares as opposed to a purple/grey body, and are generally thicker in cross section than their English counterparts.

As with coins having the potential to be in circulation for decades after minting, so too can ceramics be in use long after their run of manufacture has ceased. These factors are taken into consideration when using these artifacts to evaluate the age of a site or feature within a site. Historical archaeologists analyze ceramics based on the mean date or the midpoint in the period of manufacture for an identified ceramic. This mean date for each ceramic type is recorded and the average of all ceramics identified and analyzed is utilized in determining the approximate date of the site.  In addition, the behavior of curating heirloom ceramics – think your grandmother or great-grandmother’s “good” china plates – is a phenomenon, that if not recognized as such during analysis of a ceramic assemblage could greatly skew age estimates (particularly for domestic sites) several decades earlier than when the actual site occupation took place.

We hope this brief description of just one of the tools archaeologists use to analyze the past was of interest and a greater appreciation is realized as to the significance of the broken pottery recovered from archaeological sites.  Please visit our online collections.  


Barker, David and Pat Halfpenny

(1990) Unearthing Staffordshire: Towards a new Understanding of 18th Century Ceramics City of Stoke-on-Trent Museum and Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, EnglandHume, Ivor Noel

(1969) A Guide to Artifacts of Colonial America. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia (reprint)


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

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

By George - It’s a Coin! The Impact of King George on Archaeology

Archaeologists use many tools in determining the age or date for an archaeological feature (ground disturbance such as wells, privies, storage pits etc.) during the investigation of an archaeological site.  Dating methods include C-14 dates, manufacturing marks on artifacts, soil stratigraphy and typologies developed by archaeologists from assembled data and artifact analysis.  For American Colonial sites, what better resource for determining the date of a feature than a coin; unless of course they are one of the many counterfeit coins either imported or produced in the colonies.  

The early colonists arriving in North America continued to use the British currency rates of pound, shilling and pence. A shortage of small coinage in England in the 17th century saw the beginning of the use of copper coins with tinplating to replace the more costly silver coins.  Copper coins without the tin- plating were soon being produced by English tradesmen without license from Parliament. They produced coinage with their own names and markings, prompting the adoption of official copper coinage in halfpennies and farthings. King Charles II established monetary increments for coinage and the practice of portraying the monarchy on the coins, the first copper coin was issued in 1672.  The reverse side was reserved for Britannia, the symbol of British strength dating to the Roman conquest in 43 AD and the Latin name for Britain.  

King George I coin, Fort Hunter (36Da159) - (From the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania)

The 18th century saw the reign of George -I, II and III. King George I ruled England from 1714-1727 following the death of his mother Princess Anne. His son, George II reigned from 1727-1760; he died before the end of the Seven Years’ War or the French and Indian War as it was known in the Americas. Following the death of his grandfather, George III ruled from 1760 to 1820, a period which included the end of the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Official British coinage issued during this period all bore portraits of each of these men.

George II, 1729-1739 (Young face), Fort Hunter (36Da159) - (From the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania)

Small copper currency was in high demand in the colonies and a severe shortage of coins had led to the issuing of paper notes by individual colonies in the 18th century. This paper money was printed to finance loans and enabled commerce without a reliance on British coins but was eventually banned by Parliament. The overvaluation of British coins and the supply shortage led to a surge in the production of counterfeit coins in England.  Counterfeiters would melt the coppers and mix in other metals such as lead, tin and zinc to produce the same size coin but at a lower cost, thus making a profit. Cast counterfeit coins were so prolific in England that by 1753 it was estimated that about half the circulating copper was counterfeit. The large numbers of regal English coppers, sent legally to the colonies, were quickly followed by the counterfeit ones. Commerce was flooded with these counterfeit issues which were accepted by a generally uncritical public whose only concern was that they receive full value for their copper coinage. (Coinage of the American Confederation Period, Mossman, Philip L. Coinage of the Americas Conference at the American Numismatic Society, New York, 1995). 

Philadelphia, August 23d, 1757, Minutes of the Provincial Council

The Pennsylvania Gazette of November 1753 issued a warning regarding the influx of counterfeit English Halfpence “great quantities of which we understand are lately imported”. The copper coins of King George II were last issued in 1754, no copper coins were issued by the Royal Mint until 1770 and were George III coins at that time. This long period without new coinage meant that this earlier coinage, if discovered at an archaeological site should be well worn from heavy use. Cleaning and conservation of coins recovered at Fort Hunter during our investigations is necessary to conduct further research as to their date of issue and potential identification as counterfeit currency.  Counterfeiters were producing coins with the portraits of George facing the opposite direction, missing dates, wrong dates and of varying weights. Anti-counterfeiting laws were enacted but the abundance of counterfeit monies in circulation and being imported made it difficult to control. This continued until the American Revolution when the shortage of copper led to the melting of counterfeit coins and a devaluation of British currency. 

Counterfeit George II, 1757 Fort Morris (36Cu202) - (From the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania)

As indicated above, identifying these counterfeit coins could be difficult due to the “crafty” workmanship. Despite efforts to control these counterfeits, they remained in circulation for extended periods and if dates were included, they often were worn and difficult to read.   Archaeologists are dealing with coins that have been exposed to acids in the soil and other factors that impact preservation, often defying identification. In the case of the George coins research of issue dates, weight and size is crucial to identifying the real coins vs. the counterfeits.  The British Museum has assembled much of this data and, with the aid of digitization of collections, we are able to conduct comparative research. The following compiled dates reflects the range of years that the Royal Mint issued coinage for the three George’s.

                                            Halfpenny Coins

George I; issue dates

1717-1718 type 1                1719-1724 type 2

George II

1729-1739 (young face)    1740-1754 (old face)

George III


Coinage from Camp Security (36Yo46) - (From the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania)

The recovery of King George coins on our archeological sites include Native American village sites such as Conestoga Town (36La52) 1690-1763 , French & Indian War sites to include Fort Morris (36Cu202) and Fort Hunter (36Da159), Ephrata Cloister (36La981) a celibate community begun in 1732 and Camp Security (36Yo46) a Revolutionary War Prison Camp. These coins have all contributed to our understanding of the sites on which they were recovered and yes, even those counterfeit coins contribute to the archaeological record and reveal another facet of our past.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about these coins and invite you to visit some of our previous blogs which share images and information of these and other coins.



Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania (Colony) Provincial council. Minutes. United States: J. Severns, 1851.

Noel Hume, Ivor. A guide to artifacts of colonial America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, Incorporated, 2001.; British Coinage Circulating in the Colonies


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

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Clovis Projectile Point Type and the Clovis Phenomenon

            This week’s blog will focus on artifacts of the Paleoindian Period, more specifically on one of the most iconic and widely recognized Native American artifacts, the Clovis spear point. This spear point is the earliest style of fluted point in the New World and was used in the hunting of Pleistocene megafauna such as mammoth and mastodon over 11,000 years ago. The Paleoindian Period dates between the time when the ancestors of Native Americans first arrived in North America about 15,000 years ago until the end of the Ice Age or Pleistocene era at 10,000 years ago. During this time, Native Americans were adapting to colder temperatures than present and a vastly different assemblage of flora and fauna than present. The environment at the end of the Pleistocene was unstable creating a mosaic of rapidly changing ecological settings not found in the region or the world today. Generally, the vegetation of this period in Pennsylvania consisted of an open spruce and pine parkland – a mosaic of coniferous forest, scrub forest, grass lands and small bands of deciduous forest along river valleys. The fauna in Pennsylvania included a variety of now extinct species including grassland animals such as mammoth, horse, camel, bison, and more forest dwelling species such as mastodon, giant sloth, and giant beaver. Clovis points have been found with many of these types of animals.  

Hunting Mammoth with Clovis tipped spears 

         The Paleoindian Period can be divided into the Pre-Clovis period and the Fluted Spear Point Tradition. There has been a long-standing debate among archaeologists as to when people first arrived in North America from Siberia. Up until the 1970s, the data supported a recent entrance beginning about 12,000 years ago when people entered the continent via the Bering Strait Land Bridge, traveled down through the Ice Free Corridor between the two major glaciers in Canada reaching the lower 48 states about 11,400 years ago and rapidly inhabiting the continent by 11,000 years ago. These early sites in the lower 48 states are all characterized by fluted Clovis projectile points. However, since the 1980s, several sites have been discovered that date earlier than Clovis (thus the term Pre-Clovis), such as the Meadowcroft Rock Shelter in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The new model for entering North America involves populations moving south from the land bridge as early as 15,000 years ago following a route along the ice-free Pacific coastline either by land or more likely by boat. These groups traveled south of the glaciers that covered Canada and entered North America below the glaciers in what are now the states of Washington and Oregon. This is known as the Pre-Clovis tradition. The stone spear points of this era, such as the Miller Lanceolate from Meadowcroft, consist of relatively small lanceolate shapes and are not particularly distinctive. 

Map of Possible entrance routes. The Coastal route seems the most likely path.
 Carr and Moeller 2015

     Pre-Clovis populations were very small and sites dating to this time are extremely rare, consisting of less than twenty sites across the continent. However, beginning at 11,200 years ago there is a significant increase in human populations. Clovis spear points appear at thousands of archaeological sites throughout the unglaciated regions of North America. These points are lanceolate in shape, parallel sided, 5 cm to 8 cm long (2 ½ to 3 ½ inches), 2 cm to 3 cm ( ¾ to 1 ¼ inches) wide with flutes that extend no further than the mid-point of the blade. Fluting is a technique whereby a flake was removed from the base of the spear point on each side forming a grove in the blade that extend up the face of the point. The base was indented or slightly concave with grinding on the base and lower lateral edges to protect the lashing that secured the point to the spear shaft. The production of Clovis points has been analyzed in detail and Paleoindian spear point makers followed a specific set of steps for making the point. These are bifacial pieces, that is, flaked on both sides and there is an effort by Native flint knappers to thin the piece of stone. Along with fluting, another technique for thinning the spear point was “over shot” flaking – striking a flake on one side of the point that extended over the midline almost to the other edge. These two techniques, fluting and overshot flaking required a great deal of skill and were used to thin the block of stone to achieve the final product.

Black chert Clovis fluted point
From the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania

Diagram of hafting technique for Clovis spear points using a bone fore shaft. Carr and Moeller 2015

      Fluting is a unique stone tool production technique and is only found in the New World and specifically only in North America. It is a difficult procedure and approximately 10 percent of the spears were broken in production. Fluting served to thin the spear point, but why did these people choose such a difficult technique for thinning when there were other techniques to achieve the same goal? The functional explanation for this technique is that it provided a mechanism to secure the point to the spear shaft as exhibited in the figure above. However, its unique form and difficulty to make may have been used by the makers to distinguish themselves from everyone else – a badge of honor and symbol of their group. In addition, brightly colored jaspers and cherts were frequently chosen to make Clovis points possibly incorporating symbolic meanings.  Fluting was almost certainly associated with social organization and rituals (Jennings and Smallwood 2019:46). Imagine a ceremony with dancing and singing when a young person successfully fluted their first spear point. Or prayers being given to the spirit of fluting prior to a hunting trip.

     Clovis points are almost always made of relatively hard stones that flake well such as chert and jasper, or less commonly, quartzite, and quartz. These rocks have a high silica content that allows for controlled flaking and a more durable edge than other rock types. By tracking the location of the sources of the types of rock used by Clovis people and the distance to where the artifacts were found, archaeologists have been able to determine the size of Clovis hunting territories and their seasonal movements. Paleoindians in general were highly mobile groups, frequently traveling between 200 and 300 km per year: two to three times as large as later groups. For example, the inhabitants of the Shoop Paleoindian site in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania traveled over 350 km. (200 miles) to western New York to collect Onondaga chert to make their tools (Carr, Adovasio and Vento 2013).

    Interestingly, Clovis points are found at sites all over North American below the glacial limits as if the spread of this spear point type represents one culture. The oldest dates are in the Southwestern United States, while the highest density of sites are found in the Southeast, so both regions have been proposed as the origin of this technology. In addition, this point type was only used for about 400 years and then it was replaced by other types of fluted points that have longer flutes, some extending to the point tip and points that have a slightly flaring base, giving it a fishtail shape. The prevailing scenario has the invention of fluting taking place somewhere in the southern part of North America by Pre-Clovis people. The idea probably had functional advantages but was also associated with exciting rituals. The idea was widely accepted and spread either by diffusion from one group to another or was carried by rapidly moving small groups across the continent. As these groups settled in new territories, they developed their own style of fluted points and the Clovis style disappears by 10,800 years ago. 

     Pennsylvania lies on the boundary between the glaciated New England region, that does not have any Clovis points and the unglaciated Southeast which has the highest density of points. Based on the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey files, over 135 Clovis sites have been identified in the Commonwealth. Most of these are located in the river valleys and are associated with major streams. Less than a dozen of these have been archaeologically tested. One of the most important sites in terms of its contribution to our understanding of Paleoindian lifeways is the Shawnee Minisink site located in the Poconos along the Delaware River. This site produced two Clovis points, along with hundreds of hide scrapers and other tools. The scrapers were probably used to process caribou or elk hides into clothing. It was radiocarbon dated to 10,900 years ago (Gingerich 2013) and represents the oldest dated Clovis site in the region and probably represents one of the first groups migrating into the Northeast. 

Clovis point from the Shawnee-Minisink site with impact fracture
Smithsonian collections

       We hope that you have enjoyed this blog on the oldest fluted spear point type in the New World. This is a unique technological weapon that was used in the western United States to kill mammoth and mastodons. In Pennsylvania, caribou were more likely the subject of the hunt. Considering its unique shape and its difficulty in production this point type had symbolic significance and was probably incorporated into social, religious, or political events. Please visit our blog again as we present more in the series on projectile point types found in the archaeological sites of Pennsylvania.


Carr, Kurt W. and James M Adovasio

2020    The Paleoindian Period in Pennsylvania. in The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania, Volume I. pp. 59-105. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia.


Carr, Kurt W., James M Adovasio and Frank J. Vento

2013    A Report on the 2008 Field Investigations at the Shoop Site (36DA20). In The Eastern Fluted Point Tradition, edited by Joseph A. M. Gingerich, pp. 75-103. University of Utah Press, Salt Latke City.


Carr, Kurt W. and Roger W. Moeller

2015    First Pennsylvanians: The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.


Claiborne, Robert

1973    The First Americans. The Emergence of Man series, Time-Life books, New York.


Gingerich, Joseph A. M.

2013    Revisiting Shawnee-Minisink. In The Eastern Fluted Point Tradition, edited by Joseph A. M. Gingerich, pp. 218-256. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City.


Jennings, Thomas A., and Ashley M. Smallwood

2019    The Clovis Record. The SAA Archaeological 19(3) 45-50.


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

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Pots from the Past

Recently I witnessed my wife repotting some newly purchased mums for display on the step of our backyard stone wall. Her careful attention to this operation reminded me of the importance that pots commonly play in our daily routine around the home. We use them as planters, food containers, storage vessels for a sundry of things and so on. As with us, most of these functions were likely important to Native Americans who made and used pots in their life pursuits.

Over decades of detailed investigation, archaeologists and materials technologists have been able to understand and experimentally replicate Native American pottery recovered from Late Woodland (ca. 700 – 1500 AD.) camp and village sites in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. As such, we use the topic as a lead-in, with more anticipated submissions planned for future posts on this blog.  

Let’s begin with an overview of three Late Woodland Period pottery types that archaeologists associate with the Susquehanna Valley area of central Pennsylvania: Clemson Island/Owasco, (Figure 2); Shenks Ferry (Figure 4 ); and Quiggle (Figure 6). To be clear, these three names are not Native American names given these pottery types but rather are the names archaeologists attached to them for analytical purposes. These designations are generally based on the locations where the pottery types were first identified.

Map of Susquehanna Valley including North & West Branch to the Wyoming & Upper Delaware Valleys

Clemson Island/Owasco

Clemson Island/Owasco is the compound name for the earliest Late Woodland pottery type of the West Branch and North Branch valleys of the Susquehanna. Clemson Island/Owasco was initially reported from excavations at the Clemson (36Da1) and Book (36Ju1) Mounds and is perhaps the most common pottery in the Susquehanna Valley (Jones 1931; McCann 1971). Radiocarbon dates for pottery of this period bracket a time frame from 850-1150 AD. Characteristically, the type, grit tempered, is identified as clay tempered with crushed rock, usually consisting of a medium to fine chert, quartz or, on the northern-most sites of the Susquehanna, the use of granite or other igneous material dominated. Clemson Island/Owasco vessels are generally large and sub-conical in shape with some examples reaching capacities of several gallons or greater. The pottery is typically embellished by an all-over corded surface with various geometric patterns of cord-impressed designs on the lips and necks of vessels. Examples of the tools for making cord impressions are illustrated in Figure 3. Many of the pots have one or more rows of punctates near the rim, however, the northern sites rarely exhibit this form of decoration. Later in the cultural sequence, say after 1050 AD., vessels have more constricted necks.

Replica cord wrapped paddle

Charred paddle from McFate site. (36Cw1) 

Shenks Ferry Pottery

The next Late Woodland pottery type in the Susquehanna Valley is Shenks Ferry (36La2) named after the type site in the lower valley near Safe Harbor, Pennsylvania excavated by Donald Cadzow (Cadzow 1936). Archaeologists describe six varieties of Shenks Ferry pottery that bracket a time period between 1220-1575 AD. Crushed quartz, chert, gneiss and rarely limestone are the temper materials incorporated into Shenks Ferry pottery (Witthoft 1952). Vessel capacities range from a quart to several gallons depending on their function. Ancestral to all Shenks Ferry pottery is Stewart Incised, a type most common to the West and North branches of the Susquehanna that is found as far south as the water gap at Blue Mountain. Stewart Incised shares the same decorative motifs as Shenks Ferry and based on C-14 dates is in the same culture period.  Below this locale five additional  varieties of this distinct pottery is present in the following chronological order from oldest to youngest, Shenks Ferry Incised, Lancaster Incised, Lime Valley incised, Funk Incised and Grubb Creek Punctate, (Graybill and Herbstritt 2014). Shenks Ferry Cordmarked, as described in the literature is a rarely present variety that is now known to have Potomac Valley origins i.e. Page and Shepard wares that found their ways onto Shenks Ferry sites by the spread of contemporary people and their pottery traditions from those regions of the Piedmont (Herbstritt 2020). 

As with Clemson Island/Owasco pottery, variations also occur in vessel form and decoration. Shenks Ferry pottery exhibits a corded surface treatment that, with a very few exceptions, are collared. Collars, which become taller and more pronounced through time, exhibit broad line incising over the prepared corded surface. Other less apparent decorative traits are distinctive time markers. For example, lip and collar punctates, made with the modified tip of a bird quill, occur near the end of the sequence when the decorative technique seems to mimic Susquehannock collared pottery of the very earliest forms.

Illustration of pottery vessel with Neck, Collar and Shoulder identified (Kinsey,1972)

Quiggle Incised

The third and final pottery type described is Quiggle Incised (Herbstritt 2020). It is one of several ancestral pottery types to Schultz Incised, the earliest form of pottery present within the Susquehannock pottery sequence. Quiggle Incised in its most basic form is found in the West Branch Valley with an outlier presence in the Wyoming and Upper Delaware valleys of northern Pennsylvania and New Jersey where the type spread onto the Glaciated Plateau. The type site for Quiggle Incised pottery is the Thomas Quiggle (36Cn6) site located near the town of McElhattan, Clinton county, Pennsylvania. The radiocarbon dates suggest a 125-150 year chronology period from approximately 1400-1550 AD. The type is exclusively tempered with crushed freshwater mussel shells from the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers and their many tributaries. Most of the pots from this period are typically smaller than Clemson Island/Owasco but are more in keeping with Shenks Ferry varieties that range from a quart to half gallon in capacity. In most examples, collars are generally one quarter the over-all vessel height and decorated with broad line incising bordered by lip and collar base notch punctates. The type is present at other locations as far south as Sheep Rock Shelter (36Hu1) located on the Juniata River’s Raystown Branch (Witthoft 1959) and on into the Potomac Valley.

The designation of these pottery types is an important tool for archaeologists in identifying culture groups associated with specific sites and in analyzing movement of Native groups across the landscape. The variations in size, function and decoration are key attributes in identifying these types and essential for archaeologists in assigning culture periods to investigated archaeological sites.

We hope that you have enjoyed this blog on Late Woodland Native American pottery. Unlike the mass-produced clay pottery vessels available to us, Native peoples treasured these hand-crafted clay vessels and the essential functions they served in daily life. The task of gathering and tempering the clays, applying design or decoration, and firing the vessel were an important task for women and young girls. Many of these vessels illustrate skilled craftsmanship and pride, as well as functionality.  Do visit our blog again as we present more in the series on “Pots from the Past”.


Cadzow, Donald L.

1936 Archaeological Studies of the Susquehannock Indians of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Historical Commission.

Graybill, Jeffrey R. and James T. Herbstritt  

2014 Shenks Ferry Tradition Ceramic Seriation. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 84(1):27-45.

Herbstritt, James T. 

2019 Becoming Susquehannock: The West and North Branch Traditions. In: The Susquehannocks: New Perspectives on Settlement and Cultural Identity. Recent Research in Pennsylvania Archaeology Series, edited by Paul A. Raber. The Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park.

Herbstritt, James T.

2020 The Late Woodland Period in the Susquehanna and Northern Potomac Drainage Basins, Circa AD 1100-1575. In The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania. Volume 2, edited by Kurt W. Carr, Christopher A. Bergman, Christina B. Rieth, Bernard K. Means and Roger W. Moeller, Elizabeth Wagner, Associate Editor. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia. 

Jones, Robert W.

1931 Excavations in Dauphin and Juniata Counties, 1929. Pennsylvania Historical Commission.

Kinsey, W. Fred III

1972      Archaeology in the Upper Delaware Valley. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

McCann, Catherine 

1971 Notes on the Pottery of the Clemson and book Mounds. In Foundations of Pennsylvania Prehistory, edited by Barry C. Kent, Ira F. Smith and Catherine McCann. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg.

Ritchie, William A.

1929 An Early Historic Andaste Camp Site at Pine, Clinton County, Pennsylvania. Unpublished manuscript on file, Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg.

Witthoft, John and Sam S. Farver

1952 Two Shenks Ferry Sites in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 22(1):3-32).

Witthoft, John

1959 Ancestry of the Susquehannocks. In Susquehannock Miscellany., edited by John Witthoft and W. Fred Kinsey. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg,


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

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Lowther Manor and the Shawnee presence in New Cumberland Borough

Evidence of the past can be found throughout Pennsylvania, often in closer proximity to us than we may realize. Sometimes, these clues may be found in the names of the roads we travel daily or in the creeks we take for granted. A little bit of curiosity and research can reveal little-known truths about an area. What began in March as a creek-side escape along the Yellow Breeches Creek from the stresses of lockdown, inspired me to want to learn more about the area and led to surprising revelations about the area directly across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

In the 1730s, when colonial Pennsylvania was negotiating its boundaries with adjacent colonies and worried about the French expansion in the Allegheny Valley, the land along the Susquehanna River between the Conodoguinet and the Yellow Breeches creeks was part of a little known incident that reflects the complex political environment of the Pennsylvania frontier. The colonial government proposed to give this tract of land to the Shawnee, a Native American tribe who had migrated into the Commonwealth from the south. 

A little background is necessary to put this story in context. The invasion of North America in the 17th century by various European countries resulted in disease, warfare and the displacement of Native American tribes from their homelands. By the late 17th century, many tribes were searching for new homes. The Susquehannock Indians had controlled the Susquehanna Valley for more than a century but their power was broken by disease and a war with the Haudenosaunee (aka Iroquois) and by 1680 a political vacuum existed in the region. The Haudenosaunee recognized this issue and allowed the Susquehannocks (significantly reduced in numbers) to stay in the region with the promise they would not be involved with the fur trade. The Susquehannocks were not the only tribe suffering from the chaos caused by the European invasion. The Shawnee, originally living in Florida, had been moving north for several decades. The Haudenosaunee allowed them to move into the lower Susquehanna and also encouraged other tribes such as the Conoy and Nanticoke to do the same. There is some evidence that the Shawnee settled at the mouth of the Yellow Breeches Creek across from Harrisburg in what is now New Cumberland in about 1699. It is not clear how long they stayed at this location, maybe as late as 1728, but they eventually moved west to the Allegheny River as an increasing number of German and English immigrants moved into the area (Beckley 1973:8). 

Throughout the early 18th century, the French and English were colonizing lands around the world and competing for resources. During this time, world-wide tensions were building between France and Great Britain, eventually leading to the French and Indian War of 1756-1763. As part of that tension during the 1730s, the Pennsylvania colonial government was concerned with the activities of the French on their western border. Control of the Allegheny River Valley was crucial for the French to transport supplies and goods between the Louisiana Territory to the south, which they controlled, and Canada. The pacifist Quaker government did not believe in a standing army or militia. However, they did seem to be willing to attract Indian allies to do their fighting for them or at least act as a political barrier. In the winter of 1731, a communication was relayed to the Shawnee in the Allegheny Valley that a “large and convenient” tract of land (Lowther Manor) had been set aside for their accommodation. Lowther Manor (sometimes spelled Louther) was a 7551-acre area of land that was bound on the north by the Conodoguinet Creek, on the east by the Susquehanna River and to the south by the Yellow Breeches Creek. A straight line between the two creeks along St. Johns Church Road in modern-day Mechanicsburg formed the western boundary. This was an effort by the Pennsylvania colony to entice the Shawnee to return to the region that they had occupied many years earlier. 

This offer is considered to have been a bribe, in exchange for the Shawnee’s de facto alliance with the English Crown by way of proximity. This is no more clearly stated than in the Minutes of the Provincial Council, August 10, 1737, “all possible means ought to be used to prevent their defection and to keep them attached to the British Interest” (p.235). At the conclusion of this 1737 meeting, it was decided to send a present, valued at 10 pounds, to further entice the Shawnee (ibid). However, the Shawnee seemed to be satisfied with their home in Allegheny where they had independence and the French were supplying them with all they needed including muskets and gunpowder. An alliance with the Shawnee would reduce the number of Native Americans who supported the French and help the British to strengthen their defense against the French. The offer was not formally declined by the Shawnee until 1762, the reason for the 25-year delay is unknown.  

Today, not much more than a street name (Lowther Road) offers a clue to the largely forgotten past and its role in negotiating an effort to win the allegiance of the Shawnee. As a footnote of this event, Peter Chartier, a notable half-Shawnee/half-French trader and Shawnee leader,  was given rights in 1740 to purchase the plot of land indicated on the above map encompassing modern-day New Cumberland, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. According to Beckley (1973:11), this was one of the early settlements on the West Shore of the Susquehanna River. Over the next several years, Chartier occasionally returned to this area, although his primary settlement was in the Upper Ohio valley. In 1745, Chartier was referred to as a “Rebel against the King of Great Britain” as recorded in Minutes of the Provincial Council. Peter Chartier accepted the “French hatchet” and moved further west with the Shawnee. There is no record of him after 1759 (Beckley 1973:10). Chartier’s trading post in Lowther Manor was likely a safe distance from the river located between modern-day 15th and 16th Streets in New Cumberland (Beckley 1973:11). 

Left: a survey of Lowther Manor from 1765. Note Chartier’s Land not included in the survey. Right: The Historic map superimposed on modern imagery from Google Earth. The yellow lines are the historic roads which today roughly follow Market St./Carlisle Pike and Simpson Ferry Rd./Gettysburg Rd./Carlisle Rd. 

Nearby creeks, such as the Yellow Breeches provide an escape from the rigors of the “new normal” and a chance to imagine the resources that attracted people to this area. (image: Melanie Mayhew)

The Yellow Breeches remains a popular destination for fly fishing, bird watching, boating and tubing, with most modern visitors being unaware of its rich past. The land between the Conodoguinet and Yellow Breeches Creeks continues to be a major transportation corridor, rich with resources and providing easy access to trade routes. 

We hope you have found this post regarding community and local history of interest and encourage you to explore your own community. Preservation of our natural/historic resources begins with an appreciation of their origins and the impact those resources have had on our growth as a community and a Commonwealth.


Beckley, Gilbert W. New Cumberland Frontier. New Cumberland Old town Association.

Crist, Robert Grant (1993) Lower Allen Township: A History. Planks Suburban press, Camp Hill, PA
Donehoo, G. Patterson. (1995, 1928). Indian villages and place names in Pennsylvania. Baltimore: Gateway Press.

Hanna, C. A. (1911). The wilderness trail: Or, the ventures and adventures of the Pennsylvania traders on the Allegheny path (Vol. 2). GP Putnam's sons.

Pennsylvania Archives, Colonial Records, Volume IV, Minutes of the Provincial Council, Page 236
Pennsylvania Archives, Maps, Draughts of the Proprietary Manors in the Province of Pennsylvania, Page 35 

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

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Fort Hunter Flashback

The fall season brings to mind The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s excavations over the years at Fort Hunter Mansion & Park, a Dauphin County historic property on the Susquehanna River north of Harrisburg.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with our work at Fort Hunter, The State Museum’s Section of Archaeology’s annual excavations during the month of September and part of October have focused on areas around the current Fort Hunter mansion in hopes of finding structural evidence of the French and Indian War period fort. In these years, we uncovered archaeological evidence that shows the Fort Hunter site was in use by humans for thousands of years, beginning as a seasonal hunting and fishing site for Native Americans. This site has also been used as a family home and from which its name is derived and as a supply fort during the French and Indian War.

To begin our Fort Hunter “flashback” we will look at a few of the artifacts dating back to the prehistoric period. These artifacts include a Palmer corner-notched projectile point made in chert, which dates between 9800 and 9200 years ago; a metarhyolite broadspear, which dates between 3200 BP and 4850 BP; and a jasper Jack’s Reef corner-notched point, which dates between 1500 BP and 950 Bp. 

Note:  While teleworking from home over the past six months, the staff of the Section of Archaeology has been working hard to move our various artifact catalogue lists to Argus, a collections management program for all of the artifacts in the museum’s collections and it includes photographs. In addition, as part of Argus, we are sharing artifacts, including those from Fort Hunter and they are available to the public via the internet accessible Argus platform.

Let’s take a look at some interesting examples of prehistoric period artifacts we’ve excavated at Fort Hunter since 2006:

Palmer Projectile Point made in chert

Metarhyolite Broadspear 

Jasper Jack’s Reef Projectile Point 

Next, we will look at a few artifacts that date to the fort period.

One of these fort period artifacts is this three-inch iron cannonball, which was likely stored at Fort Hunter with the other supplies that were sent up the Susquehanna River to Fort Augusta at Northumberland, the major fort in the line of defense along the Susquehanna River.


Iron Cannonball 

Another fort period artifact is this brass star button, which may have belonged to one of the militiamen serving at Fort Hunter, although most of them did not have issued uniforms. The military didn’t designate regimental buttons until the Revolutionary War so there is no definitive way of determining if the button is a military issue.  The button may have also belonged to a member of one of the families that owned the mansion after the war.


Brass Star Button 

Additional possible fort period artifacts include gunflints. There are both English and French gunflints, which were held onto the gun by the “jaws” and when the trigger was pulled, the hammer came down causing a spark which ignited the gunpowder.

English Flint 

French Flint

There have also been other, more decorative, gun parts found at Fort Hunter including the following brass thumb and side plates.

Brass gun decorative sideplate

Brass gun decorative thumb plate

 Other interesting artifacts that have been found at Fort Hunter include a number of crucible fragments including the one below. These crucible fragments are most likely remnants from a blacksmith/gunsmith shop that was present on the property, used in the hot furnaces to melt down metals for gun repairs. 

Crucible fragment

We have also found many personal items at Fort Hunter, which include these green glass cuff links set in pewter, this brass stock buckle and several kaolin smoking pipe fragments. 

Green glass cufflinks

Brass Buckle 

Kaolin pipe fragments

We hope you have enjoyed looking back at some of the interesting artifacts we have found at Fort Hunter through the years. For additional information on the Fort Hunter artifacts and other collection’s, please visit the State Museum’s Argus website

We continue to do what we can to help preserve the past for our future during these tough times. We hope you explore all of the different sections of The State Museum and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission through Argus to learn more about what makes Pennsylvania what it is today.

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