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 .

No comments:

Post a Comment