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.

https://coins.nd.edu/; British Coinage Circulating in the Colonies



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