Monday, April 27, 2020

Archaeology...Under Quarantine

Welcome to the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania under quarantine. 

Just like many of you during these strange times we too are struggling, trying to figure out the conundrums of working from home.  We thought some of our followers might be interested to see what we’ve been up to; and how we are staying productive promoting Pennsylvania archaeology and the State Museum.

Staying “in touch” is difficult when under quarantine, but thanks to modern technology like Skype and Zoom, it is possible to meet and coordinate activities.

Archaeology Zoom Meeting

Individual projects continuing for the section staff include:

Andrea Carr:

Andrea Carr

The Archaeology Lab was processing Veigh Collection artifacts from Washington County archaeological sites when our offices closed in March. Andrea Carr, one of our lab assistants, has continued to partner with the PA State Historic Preservation Office (PA SHPO) to update Pennsylvania Archaeology Site Survey (PASS) reports through their online platform, Cultural Resource Geographic Information System (CRGIS).  

This year so far, the lab has processed, added and updated (45) PASS site records from Washington County representing a total of (32,872) artifacts in the collection. Andrea is now entering a backlog of Veigh-related PASS updates from previously processed sites, spanning 15 counties in Central and Western Pennsylvania. Many of these sites have been featured in past blog posts due to their archaeological significance—Nash (36Cn17), Snaggy Ridge 2 Quarry Pits (36Ad153), and Bonnie Brook (36Bt43) to name a few.  When this telework project is finished over the next few weeks, an additional 79 PASS recorded sites will have updated artifact information in a public and searchable online platform. 

 Callista Holmes:

Station data from the 2019 Fort Hunter field season

Calli has been working on using the total station data from the 2019 Fort Hunter field season to add and update features to the field maps. She is also working on updating the artifact distribution maps in hopes of finding high concentrations of 18th century artifacts to help us better understand and interpret the historical landscape at Fort Hunter. This information is important as we proceed with our excavations in planning which areas to investigate next.

Melanie Mayhew:

Melanie has been taking partial leave due to childcare, therefore working reduced hours. Among the many things occupying her time, she is working on the Archaeology Month Poster. She is also typing artifact inventories that until now have only existed in paper form; and preparing records for entry into Argus.

In addition to work she has also been spending time foraging for wild plant foods, gardening, and making cloth face masks (She made over 80). “I know the second part isn't work related, but I've raised nearly $300 for the Central PA Food Bank and have donated masks for the homeless. One of the best ways I've found to manage the stress of this situation is through generosity”.

Kim Sebestyen:

Kim has been doing research on blacksmithing/gunsmithing in the 18th century in primary documents and reading through archaeological reports on excavations that have been completed at many of the French and Indian War forts. Since most of the larger forts would have had a blacksmith to repair guns and other equipment and to make bullets, some of these forts should have evidence of this activity. 

She has also been completing data entry for various old projects, including the Memorial Park site in Clinton County. This was a very large and important prehistoric Indian site in Lock Haven and by updating the artifact inventory into a searchable format, this information can now be used by researchers and staff. 

David Burke:

State Museum of Pennsylvania

Fortunately, Dave’s proximity to the museum allows him to keep a literal eye on it.  He has also been doing data entry, digitizing older collections like F.E. Walter Dam and Memorial Park in Lock Haven.  Digitizing the inventories of these older collections, that were submitted long before the increased use of technology in archaeology, makes them searchable for both staff and researchers. Researchers typically are looking for specific artifact types and this process of converting our old data into searchable databases is a great aid in assisting with locating these artifact types.  The collections number in excess of approximately 8 million artifacts and without location data, our task of locating artifacts would be impossible.

Elizabeth Wagner:

One of Liz’s responsibilities is maintaining the small research library in the Section of Archaeology.  Over the past few years the section has received several large book collections, donated by friends of the Section.  She has been spending her time cleaning, organizing, assigning catalog numbers, and updating the various databases used to keep track of library materials, in order to incorporate them into our library.  She has also been working on Argus entries.  Argus is the software system used to maintain museum collections and to provide some of that information to the public online.  As you can see, her new manager closely monitors her progress.

Janet Johnson:

Just like in the office, Janet is busy working on multiple projects.  She has been keeping up with a myriad of correspondences including CRM inquiries, invoicing requests, general artifact questions from the public, and staff emails.  She has also participated in many meetings involving the State Museum’s Master Plan, Collections Committee, and Nature Lab Planning.  All while developing Argus templates for staff to assist in making our collections available to the public on the internet. Organizing work-flow files and our shared electronic folders to make this possible in a telework environment.  Also reviewing these processes and our various projects to identify potential for improving efficiency.  One of her many responsibilities in the Section is the maintenance of the NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) files which she has been reviewing and updating specific to the Delaware Nation.  Last, but certainly not least, she has been reviewing and editing the blog and providing valued technical support to staff.

Kurt Carr:

Kurt Carr
Kurt has also been busy with various meetings, including the State Museum’s Master Plan, Nature Lab planning and other senior staff meetings.  He too has been keeping up with information requests from the public and staff.  Kurt has also been working with Janet to implement the Argus work and reviewing our progress via work logs that we send to him at the end of each week.

Each of us has experienced changes in our work places and spaces, some of us are struggling with technology, some of us are trying to juggle family time with small children or school age children who have homework and their own technical challenges, and some of us are just dealing with isolation and a sense of loss for those around us and our previous lifestyle. Collectively we will continue to carry on and serve our community and the Commonwealth.

This would also be a good time to announce that the “millennium book” is an actual tangible thing!  The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania, Volumes 1-3, has been published and is available at University of Pennsylvania Press.  This three-volume set is a comprehensive guide to the archaeology of Pennsylvania but encompasses much of the prehistory of the mid-Atlantic region. As some folks in the archaeology community know, this has been a long and arduous process and finally being able to hold it in our hands is extremely exciting.  Congratulations All!!

We hope you enjoyed this post about how we are coping with the new work environment. Archaeology and our training in anthropology is important in understanding cultures and people. This pandemic has been an opportunity for people to demonstrate humanity and humility, something that is repeatedly demonstrated in cultural survival. We look forward to our eventual return to the office and our public programming, but we can take with us lessons learned from this pandemic. We can compare and evaluate human and social behavior with past pandemic episodes to increase awareness of these events and how cultures adapted and changed. Our social practices will undoubtedly change, we will work together to create a “new normal”.  Please continue to practice social distancing and follow the CDC Guidelines so that we get through this as soon as possible.

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

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