Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Pennsylvania Archaeology - Uncovering Recent Artifact Submissions

A year and a half ago, a standard delivery of artifacts generated because of cultural resource management (CRM)/Section 106 projects would not in and of itself be something to write about.  But after a year-long hiatus in accepting collections, the Section of Archaeology is accepting delivery of CRM/Section 106 artifacts to be curated at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. For readers new to TWIPA, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 is the legal mechanism by which cultural resources are afforded an opportunity to be identified, evaluated in terms of their eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places, and if necessary, steps to be taken to mitigate any adverse effects those resources may incur as a result of a federal development project, or federally permitted project. But as we are all well aware the last year and a half has been the antithesis of normal. However, with case counts and positivity rates trending in the right direction for several weeks, and as the vaccine rollout continues to stand up and improve, there is real reason for cautious optimism. Something “routine” like an artifact collection delivery (even with new distancing protocols in place) is in its own small way a sign that things just might begin to inch their way towards something resembling, well, normal.

The first collection delivered to the Museum since March 2020 is a small one, comprised of two sites (one historic, one prehistoric) totaling 113 artifacts, and including the associated documentation, only amounts to about a ½ a cubic ft of material. Apogee Environmental & Archaeological Inc. conducted an additional phase I survey work for a development project within the Allegheny National Forest in Forest County, Pa. According to Apogee, potential ground disturbing activities of the project triggering the Section 106 process include: road construction, timber harvesting as well as large wood lot restoration and others -Apogee 2020(pg.1).

The first site Apogee identified in their survey is 36FO0398, a historic domestic/industrial site related to the oil extraction industry that the NW region of Pennsylvania is known for. Several diagnostic artifacts recovered aided the archaeologists in dating the site to the first half of the 20th century.

 As we’ve mentioned in previous blog posts nothing is better than finding an artifact with the date stamped right on it. An “Indian head” penny similar to the one seen here was recovered from 36FO0398. Although badly corroded, the laboratory technicians were able to identify its date as 1899. Pennies like this were in circulation for several decades.

       Photo of 1899 penny (Burke collection)

Another object helping archaeologists date the site is this iconic paneled ketchup bottle. The notable lack of ridges on the base of the bottle indicates its manufacture prior to the use of the automatic bottle machine. This particular Owens Company bottle type was produced from 1919-1929 (Apogee pg. 26).

       Photo of paneled ketchup bottle from 36FO0398

Despite the ability to tightly date the site, the determination was made, based on the low artifact density and lack of apparent association with signification people or events, that it ultimately lacks sufficient integrity to be considered eligible to the National Register, and no further work was warranted.

The second site discovered by Apogee, a rockshelter, yielded just a handful of artifacts, all debitage from making or perhaps resharpening a stone tool. These tertiary flakes and pieces of shatter (Apogee, pg. 42) of light grey material could be Onondaga chert, given the site’s relative proximity to the source of the stone in western New York. No other artifacts were found in this phase of the investigation.

Photo of debitage packaged for curation from 36FO0396

Notwithstanding the lack of a diagnostic artifact, the small sampling strategy employed by the archaeologists will allow for a more detailed excavation in the future to determine the site’s eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places. Currently considered “unevaluated”, this rockshelter site sitting high above the Tionesta Creek may yet hold clues about prehistoric settlement patterns in this relatively sparsely populated region of Pennsylvania. The oft used phrase “more work needs to be done” reflexively springs to mind.

Curation and preservation of collections and archaeological sites are at the core of our discipline and these collections, whether large or small contribute to our understanding of the past. We hope you will continue to visit our digital media on this blog and our online collection inventory.  We hope you will plan a visit to The State Museum of Pennsylvania where you can view our exhibits which span 14,000 years of occupation in the Commonwealth. 


2020 Apogee Environmental & Archaeological Inc.  -  Additional Phase I Heritage Resource Survey for the Jug Handle Project, Green, Harmony, Hickory, Kingsley and Tionesta Twps. Forest County, Marienville Ranger District, Allegheny National Forest, PA

Prepared by – Swisher, Christopher K.; E. Quent Winterhoff; Amanda R. Telep; Sarah M. Heuer

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