Monday, September 20, 2021

Don't Miss the 2021 Annual Workshops in Archaeology

October is Archaeology Month and to celebrate, The State Museum of Pennsylvania announces its annual ‘Workshops in Archaeology’ conference to be held on October 30, 2021. The topic of the Workshops this year is Hidden Stories: Uncovering African American History through Archaeology and Community Engagement. This year’s workshops will be held in-person at The State Museum in Harrisburg, PA and will also be offered in an online format due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

The lives and activities of African Americans during the 18
th and 19th centuries are poorly documented in the historic record and frequently biased. In addition, the contributions of enslaved, indentured, and free African Americans are missing from our history books and museums. Archaeology is a method that can be used to fill this gap in our understanding of past cultural behavior in the Commonwealth. This year’s Workshops in Archaeology program will feature an overview of African American archaeological investigations and community archaeology projects in the region. Community archaeology is the practice of archaeological research in which at every step in a project, at least partial control remains with the community. These Workshops are an opportunity for archaeologists to share information and for the community to provide input on the future of African American community archaeology in Pennsylvania.

Map showing the major routes of the Underground Railroad through Pennsylvania.

Countless untold stories of the lives of early African Americans in Pennsylvania are waiting to be uncovered. For the most part, these stories have not been told in history classes and are not discussed in textbooks. From the Old 8th Ward neighborhood of Harrisburg, which was demolished to make way for the expansion of the Pennsylvania State Capitol grounds, to the communities of Yellow Hill near Gettysburg and Six Penny Creek in Berks County that were established by free and formerly enslaved African Americas, these stories should not be forgotten. In many towns, cemeteries that were once an important part of community life have been lost or had their markers intentionally removed, leaving the descendants of those interred wondering where their ancestor’s remains may lie. In other places, the daily lives of both the average person and those making important contributions to society lie equally unexplored. 

Old 8th Ward section of Harrisburg prior to demolition
(PA State Archives, RG-17, Series 522; image: PHMC)

Community archaeology seeks to bring some of these stories to life by uniting professional archaeologists, historians, members of the public, and those with a vested interest in African American history and heritage.  This year’s Workshops will look at recent projects by professional archaeologists and historians at sites around Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as ongoing grassroots preservation efforts.  

Our featured Keynote Speaker will be Dr. Cheryl LaRoche, professor in the American Studies Department at the University of Maryland. Dr. LaRoche is involved in the study of 18
th and 19th century free black communities and their relationships to the Underground Railroad. She has consulted on projects for the National Park Service, the African American Museum of Philadelphia, the Smithsonian, and other institutions and worked with the PBS series ‘Time Team America’ in the search for the Josiah Henson House in Maryland. Dr. LaRoche’s 2014 book Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance explores the Underground Railroad using archaeology and focuses on the free black communities that assisted in the escape of fugitives from slavery. She will be speaking on Community Archaeology and her ongoing work in this field.

At the President’s House site in Philadelphia Dr. LaRoche and Doug Mooney discussing the archaeology and heritage uncovered at this site.

The program includes presentation from the following;

·       Dr. Alexandra Jones - professor and member of the Society of Black Archaeologists, founder of the nonprofit organization Archaeology in the Community. Dr. Jones will be providing an Introduction to Community Archaeology:

·       Barbara Barksdale – historian and caretaker of the African American Midland Cemetery in Steelton, PA, will speak on The Hallowed Ground Project in Pennsylvania, highlighting the identification and preservation of cemeteries containing Civil War-era United States Colored Troops:

·        Samantha Taylor – archaeologist with New South Associates, discussing The Role of Archaeology in Bridging Informational Gaps Between Diasporic Communities: A Case Study at Pandenarium, Mercer County, Pennsylvania and how work at this site is changing perceptions and helping in its preservation:

·       Wade Catts – archaeologist at South River Heritage Consulting, The Perkins-Dennis farm presentation will explore how investigations at this historic site are sharing the story of free African Americans in the north: A Gift to the Nation: The Perkins-Dennis Farm, an African American Farm in Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier:

·       Douglas Mooney – archaeologist with AECOM, discussing important sites in the city of Philadelphia, including the National Constitution Center, the President’s House, and Bethel Burying Ground, African American Archaeology in Philadelphia:

·       Erik Kreusch - Archaeologist/Compliance Coordinator at Gettysburg National Military Park, The National Park Service (NPS). This presentation will highlight efforts being made by the NPS to improve upon and diversify the park narratives through historic and archaeological research.

·       Matthew Reeves – Director of Archaeology at Montpelier Plantation in Virginia, home of President James Madison, speaking on Communities Reclaiming Ancestral Lands through Public Archaeology: A case study from a presidential plantation: and,

·       Angela Jaillet-Wentling – Cultural Resources Program Coordinator for DCNR Bureau of State Parks, presenting new interpretations of the Pandenarium site and the lessons learned that can apply to future work in this field, Telling Untold Stories of Underrepresented Populations.

 In addition to the presentations, archaeologists from the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) will be present during break periods to help those who wish to record a site as well as curators from the Section of Archaeology who will be assisting with the identification of artifacts. Bring in your historic or prehistoric artifacts for identification and analyses by the experts.

Archaeologists from the SHPO office and Section of Archaeology will be on hand to assist with artifact identification and recording of archaeological sites (image: PHMC) 

A panel discussion with the presenters on The Future of African American Community Archaeology in Pennsylvania and a wine and cheese reception will wrap up the day’s activities.

Suggested donation for the Workshops is $25.00. Sessions will be available virtually via Zoom, registration is required for both the in person and virtual program. Once you are registered, attendees will receive a link and password for the sessions listed. Please visit The State Museum of Pennsylvania site to register.

Please mark your calendar and plan to join us on October 30th either in person at The State Museum or on-line in our virtual program.  Check our blog and the listed web sites for program information updates and registration links.  The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) will post events occurring for Archaeology Month throughout the region on their website.  

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