Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sharing the Legacy of the Steve Warfel

Our blog for Memorial Day 2019 was written as a tribute to Barry C. Kent, former Senior Curator at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. In that blog, we identified the history of Memorial Day as a time to honor those men who had died in the Civil War, but it has since become a day to remember all those whom we have lost from our lives. It is with a heavy heart that we share our news of the passing of another former Senior Curator and archaeologist, Stephen G. Warfel on May 14, 2020. Once again, we have lost a friend, a colleague and a talented archaeologist far too soon. This blog will share some of Steve’s significant contributions to archaeology, and his legacy as an educator and mentor for so many archaeologists.

Steven G. Warfel at Franklin & Marshall College 

Steve’s career in archaeology began at Franklin & Marshall College (F&M) (1967 - 1971) in Lancaster, PA. It began, as with many of us, at a summer field school. An investigation conducted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) and F&M at the Strickler site (36La3), Lancaster County exposed him to the fascinating heritage of the Susquehannock Indians. Under the guidance of Dr. Kent, Steve discovered a passion for archaeology. In his words- “Archaeology is fascinating because it involves true detective work and problem-solving. It also provides a perspective on the past which is not solely dependent on documentary sources.” Steve continued to work with Barry Kent during the 1970’s on many of the Late Woodland/ Contact period Susquehannock investigations conducted through this period. Steve’s graduate training at Brown University concentrated in historical archaeology and when an opportunity to join Barry at the State Museum arose in 1980, Steve was quick to accept a curatorial position in the Section of Archaeology. 

Byrd Leibhart, Susquehannock site,1970

His first field project as a curator was part of an ongoing interest by the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) in French and Indian War period sites.  In addition, a desire at the local level to discover and preserve the fort, led to an investigation at Fort Loudoun in Franklin County. The excavations under Steve’s direction led to the uncovering of the entire stockade, interior building and  the discovery of a well with preserved contents dating it’s use to the period of the fort.  These artifacts and the information gleaned from the investigation led to the first installation of exhibit space focused on historical archaeology in the gallery of the State Museum.

Field crew at Fort Loudoun

Fort Loudoun bucket, 36Fr107

Steve’s interest in historical archaeology was an asset to many of the historical sites operated by the Museum Commission (PHMC) including French Azilum in Bradford County, Old Economy Village in Allegheny County, Joseph Priestley House in Northumberland County and his long-term research interest at Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County. Steve’s passion for archaeology and his willingness to share his knowledge with others made him an ideal educator for students, volunteers and visitors to his excavations. Most of these projects incorporated a summer field school for college students, providing them with the training and experience necessary to become an archaeologist.  Steve’s incredible patience, his meticulous excavation and documentation methods and his encouragement of individual talents and abilities were essential to these successful programs.

Field School in cellar at Ephrata Cloister, 36La981

Archaeology at the JosephPriestley House produced broken fragments of laboratory test tubes that contained residues directly linking their use to testing Priestley was conducting relative to his discovery of oxygen before immigrating to Pennsylvania from England. These fragments were recovered in an area just outside of the laboratory window and door, indicating discard of the broken test tubes at the time of use. These tubes are the tangible evidence of the activities of Priestley and an important contribution to the interpretive story at this historic site. This is but one example of a site that benefitted from Steve’s expertise in uncovering the archaeological record and enhancing or correcting the historic interpretation.

The curatorial duties of the Section of Archaeology were rapidly increasing due to changes in preservation laws which required investigations of known or potential archaeological sites and the curation of these collections. These changes resulted in an influx of archaeological collections and required an organized approach to the curation process and the ability to provide research material for scholars. Steve reorganized the entire assemblage of artifacts by their recorded archaeological site number and began reviewing and recording collections submitted for curation. When Barry retired in the mid-1980’s, Steve was appointed to the position of Senior Curator.

Curatorial tasks benefited from Steve’s organizational talents and he oversaw numerous changes and improvements to the exhibits in the State Museum including updates to content, lighting and presentation. Efforts to make the exhibits more engaging included audio presentations in the Susquehannock case and tactile content for the popular Schultz diorama.  Steve’s thoughtful approach in discussions concerning changes to the museum was acknowledged as an important asset by colleagues, he was known for his knowledge of the history and archaeological heritage of the Commonwealth and the mid-Atlantic region.  

Student Visitors at Ephrata Cloister

Public programs expanded under Steve’s direction and he often provided programs sharing the results of archaeological investigations and the subsequent research associated with these projects. Publication of his investigations in journals, books and annual reports of his work at Ephrata Cloister were important in informing the public of his findings and increasing their awareness and appreciation for these sites. Steve’s support of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) was important at a critical time in that organization. His contributions in organizing and leading the group through a difficult time both in membership and financially were crucial to its survival.  His creation of the Workshops in Archaeology program at the museum became a popular event to disseminate information, and except for a brief hiatus has continued to provide registrants with comprehensive discussion of various topics in archaeology.

Steve retired in 2007 from the museum, but certainly not from archaeology. He excavated the French & Indian War site of Fort Morris in Shippensburg, Cumberland County. Here he was able to locate evidence of foundations and supplies used by the troops stationed here and correct conflicting documents as to the site location. He returned to the site of a Revolutionary War period prison camp in York County. Camp Security had been previously recorded by Barry Kent and Steve had participated in early efforts to discover foundations or artifact concentrations relative to the site, but none had proven successful. Threatened by development and supported by local citizens to preserve the site, Steve researched archival records, interviewed local residents and employed new investigative techniques in his search for physical remains of the camp. Unfortunately, no foundations were discovered but his methodical approach laid the groundwork for future investigations at this site and provided an increased appreciation for the site to countless volunteers and visitors.

Steve had an ability to bring archaeology to everyone and his passion encouraged others to see the value of our profession in their communities.  He inspired so many people with his enthusiasm and love of archaeology and the discovery of the past. Volunteers from his projects, students from his field schools and colleagues from the Commission all benefited from his expertise and the ability to share it so passionately with others. He was a mentor for many of us throughout our careers. We benefited from his expertise and thoughtful perspective, but beyond that we knew him as a good people person. His laughter, compassion and understanding of others are qualities to live by and strive to replicate.

Presentation at Workshops in Archaeology Program

For many of us the COVID-19 pandemic has had a lasting impact on our lives and has given us a reason to pause and evaluate and prioritize our needs. What was important to us 3 or 4 months ago may not seem so significant now. Communities are coming together in new ways to restore social activities. Steve was a people person- he loved being with people, talking, laughing, enjoying food and drink in social settings. Evaluating what is important to me during this pandemic has reminded me of people I value in my life that are still with me and those I have lost. Steve’s passion for life and community will be remembered and missed by all for a very long time. His legacy as a teacher and mentor in the archaeological community will endure as evidenced in the many archaeologists whom he inspired and loved. 

Steve and Barry were excellent mentors and great resources for archaeology but at their core was the fact that they were good people. They cared about others and inspired others to care about community and heritage. Take a moment today to think about your heritage and appreciate the work conducted by archaeologists in your community in our efforts to preserve the past for the future. 

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

Monday, May 11, 2020

Archaeology in the time of Quarantine — A Virtual Tour of Pennsylvania

While our current outreach is limited by social distancing and travel bans, this week’s blog will focus on ways to explore the diverse and rich archaeological resources of Pennsylvania from the comfort and safety of home.

Petroglyph tour of Pennsylvania. Image: PHMC Petroglyphs Brochure

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), like many other public and private entities, has turned the negative of COVID-19 related museum and site closures into a positive opportunity to re-double efforts on long-term virtual access initiatives. The Commission as a whole has greatly increased available online exhibits, archives, and collections by adding new records and interactive web-based tools as part of our greater telework mission. We strongly recommend checking out our new and improved offerings, but we also want to share a handful of additional online resources produced by a variety of academic, professional, local non-profit, state and federal institutions. 

To begin our virtual tour of PA’s archaeological resources, we’d like to highlight the recent soft launch of an online Argus object search engine for The State Museum and Trail of History Sites and Museums. The Section of Archaeology has added new artifacts every week to this database during the office closure. To quickly access archaeological objects in the Search Collection tab, use the wild card symbol (*) with the keyword search term (*Archaeology*) or (*Archeology*). We further recommend taking a brief side trip on the Pennsylvania Trailheads blog of the Bureau of Sites and Museums. This week’s post has more information about the PHMC’s new collection search tool. 

Archaeology Object Search Example, Sandstone Petroglyph, Schuylkill County, PA

In addition to the Section of Archaeology’s bi-weekly blog, This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology, and Sites and Museums, Pennsylvania Trailheads,  the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) also posts updates on a regular basis in their equivalent forum, Pennsylvania Historic Preservation. Again, using the search term “Archaeology” or “Archeology” you can read more about on-going archaeological projects throughout the state. Here’s a link to an archived blog about Shawnee-Minisink, a National Registered Paleoindian and Archaic Period site in the Upper Delaware Valley moving your virtual travel to the northeast.

Following the Delaware River downstream, Philadelphia is a treasure trove of history and archaeological resources. We recommend a visit to the Philadelphia Archaeology Forum, a one stop shop of information, and the Digging I95 interactive website administered by AECOM in collaboration with the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDot).  Expanding the exploration beyond the confines of Pennsylvania you can also visit the Penn Museum at the University of Pennsylvania. Their Daily Dig series features a new artifact from their world-wide collections every day during the coronavirus shut down. A virtual visit to Philadelphia would not be complete without a stop at Independence National Park, Preservation-Archaeology

Next, take a virtual tour of Pre-Contact archaeological heritage districts through a PHMC Historic Marker Search. Select a county and search category “Native American” to discover prehistoric and Contact Period local cultural resources. We would recommend heading west from Philadelphia to Lancaster County in southcentral, PA.  Pick a marker and enter the provided GIS coordinates in google earth to get a birds-eye or street-view of locations marking the former village sites of the Susquehannock and other Native American groups that lived along the Susquehanna River.

PHMC Historical Marker Search Example

You can continue your virtual journey through the Susquehannock Native Landscape at The Zimmerman Center for Heritage.  Part of the Susquehanna National Heritage Area, this National Park Service (NPS) cultural center serves as the Trailhead of the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, another resource worth exploring. Video content on the site allows you to fly over the Susquehanna River from Columbia Crossing to the Zimmerman Center. 

Then check out other local history venues with archaeological collections using the museums’ listing links on the archived PHMC Pennsylvania Archaeology website. 

PHMC Pennsylvania Archaeology  

Not listed in the PHMC guide is the new home of the Westmoreland Historical Society, Historic Hanna’s Town. This site takes our tour west of the Allegheny Mountains to a frontier town, established in 1773 by the British colonial government. Hanna’s Town played an important role in the American Revolution and was burned down by a Seneca raiding party in 1786 towards the end of the conflict. It’s reclamation from early Republican county seat to farmland in the early 19th century encapsulated in the archaeological record a turbulent time in our country’s history.

To read more about recent archaeology conducted at the Hanna’s Town, follow Ashley McCuistion’s blog, Digging Anthropology, tales from the sandbox. This is an archived website dedicated to her Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) graduate student investigations at the DuPont Powder Mill site, Fayette County, PA; field schools at Hanna’s Town, Pennsylvania and Ferry Farm, Virginia; and undergraduate work with the Virtual Curation Laboratory (VCL) at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).

Dr. Bernard Means 3-D scanning turtle carapace, Image: The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology Collections. 

Incidentally, VCL’s director, Bernard Means, has worked extensively with archaeological collections held at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, primarily from Monongahela Village sites in Somerset County. His research has been featured in our past blogs about Somerset County and Sharing and Preserving the Archaeological Record. IUP also has a dedicated archaeology blog that is regularly updated, Trowels and Tribulations, that is worth a view.

Continuing in Southwestern Pennsylvania, you can visit the earliest documented archaeological site in North America, Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village in Avella, Washington County. The park and several other museums in the greater Pittsburgh metropolitan area are administered by the Senator John Heinz History Center. The History Center’s online offerings are outstanding and include many interactive ways to explore its exhibit and site holdings. 

The Fort Pit Museum in downtown Pittsburgh, part of the PHMC Trail of Military History, is also administered by the Heinz History Center. The site has a long history of archaeological conservation and investigation through the efforts of The Fort Pitt Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Visit the Fort Pitt Block House website for more information about past excavations and additional interactive resources. 

 Heading north to Lake Erie, you can dip your toes into Marine Archaeology through the Pennsylvania Archeology Shipwreck and Survey (PASST). Then dry off and head back east for stops along the northern tier to search the collections at the Thomas T. Taber Museum in Williamsport, Lycoming County, and the Tioga Point Museum in Athens, Bradford County.

Here are a few resources to help you turn this tour into a virtual family vacation. The National Park Service (NPS), Educator Resources, and the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), Teaching Archaeology, websites have a number of options for those of us struggling to find creative ways to engage our school-aged kids during stay-at-home orders. Heading back southwest to Cambria County, the NPS has Kindergarten through Sixth grade lesson plans for the Johnstown Flood National Memorial. Or you can travel back in time across central Pennsylvania on the historic Allegheny Portage Railroad which connected the Midwest to the eastern seaboard between 1834 and 1854.

Finally, you can round out your experience at a virtual excavation with the Archaeological Institute of America and Archaeology magazine’s interactive digs. None of the available excavations are located in Pennsylvania, but it’s worth mentioning as a fun way to cap off our tour. 

Most of us are itching to get on the road and have a change of scenery after two months of quarantine. The global pandemic has given us all opportunity to reflect on what we value and how an understanding of our past can help us better plan for the future. It is still safest to stay home and follow recommendations of Governor Wolf and the CDC. A few PHMC sites are moving from red to yellow phase restrictions in the northwest and northcentral health districts at the end of this week. Drake Well Museum and the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum are in the planning stages of re-opening their grounds, but not their facilities, to visitors soon. Please continue to visit online resources and call ahead for up-to-date COVID-19 health and safety restrictions as part of any travel plan in the near future. In the meantime, we hope you are able to fulfill some of your curiosity and wanderlust with a few of our recommendations for travel down a virtual archaeological rabbit hole or two. 

Online Resources

2014      Home Page, Digging I95. November 14, 2014.
Archaeological Institute of America and ARCHAEOLOGY magazine
2019      Interactive Digs.

Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums (PHMC)
2020      Curating from Home, Pennsylvania Trails of History Trailheads. Blog Post, May 8, 2020.

Bureau of The State Museum of Pennsylvania (PHMC)
2017      Home Page,

Bureau of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology (PHMC)
2013      Somerset County, This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology. Blog Post, August 16, 2013.
2018      Sharing and Preserving the Archaeological Record, This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology. Blog Post, August 13, 2018.

Fort Pitt Society
2020      Fort Pitt Block House, Archaeology.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Archaeology
2020      Trowels and Tribulations: IUP’s Archaeology Blog.

McCuistion, Ashley
2016      Digging Anthropology, Tales from the Sandbox. Blog, last post January 22, 2016. See Hanna’s Town.;

National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior
2016      Independence National Historical Park, Pennsylvania. Archaeology at Independence. September 6, 2016. Learn About Park, History & Culture, Preservation, Archaeology.

2019      Captain Johns Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, VA, MD, De, DC, PA, NY. March 12, 2019.

Penn Museum

Pennsylvania Department of Health
2020      Health, All Health Topics, Disease & Conditions, Coronavirus.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission,
2015      Pennsylvania Archaeology, Resources, Museums and Tours. September 10, 2015.
               Petroglyphs Brochure, pdf.

               Marker Search,
Museum Collection, Search Collection, Archaeology,

Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (PHMC)
2020      Pennsylvania Historic Preservation, Blog Homepage.
2014      Spotlight Series: The Shawnee-Minisink Archaeological Site. Pennsylvania Historic Preservation.      Blog Post, March 12, 2014.

Philadelphia Archaeology Forum
2020      Home Page,

Sea Grant Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania State University
2016      The Pennsylvania Archeology Shipwreck and Survey Team (PASST).

Senator John Heinz History Center
2019      Exhibits, Meadowcroft Rockshelter.
               Fort Pitt Museum,

Society for American Archaeology
2020      Education and Outreach, K-12 Activities & Resources.

Susquehanna National Heritage Area

2020      River History, Susquehannock Native Landscapes.

Thomas T. Taber Museum
2020      Explore the Museum, American Indian Gallery.

Tioga Point Museum
Virtual Curation Laboratory, Virginia Commonwealth University
2015      Discoidal from Peck 2. Virtual Curation Museum. Blog Post September 18, 2015.

Westmoreland Historical Society
2018      Home Page, Historic Hanna’s Town,

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