Friday, August 26, 2022

Small Project Results in Remarkable Find

Recent additions to the collections of the Section of Archaeology

Artifact collections from development projects required to undertake the Section 106 process continue to be submitted to the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology for curation. The Archaeological Services program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania recently delivered artifact collections to the State Museum of PA, some dating to as far back as the 1980s.

Avid readers of TWIPA may have observed that many of our posts dealing with cultural resource management (CRM) projects are the product of PennDoT construction activities. This week, we turn our attention to another state agency that has conducted archaeological investigations prior to some of its own proposed development.

For many Pennsylvanians, summertime is synonymous with on-the-water recreation, be it fishing or floating, from innertubes to speedboats, and ensuring safe access to the water is critical to making the most of this important resource. To that end, in the early 1990s the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) proposed expanding parking at three of its boat launches along the Juniata River in Juniata County and one farther west in Huntingdon County. 

The PFBC (like all state agencies) is, under the StateHistory Code, obligated to identify and evaluate cultural resources that may be impacted by their construction activities. In 1994 the PFBC employed Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Archaeological Services Program to conduct Phase I archaeological surveys at each of the areas under consideration for expanded parking.

In short, two of the four access sites, the Mifflintown Access and the Thompsontown Access were identified as having intact archaeological deposits that were recommended to undergo Phase II evaluation should the parking expansion projects proceed.

The Phase I survey Mifflintown Access site (36JU0099) specifically, involved the excavation of two 1x1m units. Chert, sandstone and metarhyolite debitage as well as a contracting stem projectile point of metarhyolite were recovered from excavation unit A-1 before groundwater forced it to be abandoned at approximately 140 cm below ground surface. 

Metarhyolite contracting stem point from 36JU0099, excavation unit A1, image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Excavation unit A-2 produced additional debitage in modest quantities, but the most impressive find would be this unfinished stone axe pictured below. The report authors determined the projectile point and chipped stone axe to be consistent with the Late Archaic through Middle Woodland time periods.

Unfinished, pecked and chipped ¾ grooved axe (5.6 lbs, 11 inches long) – side A,  recovered from the buried A horizon of excavation unit A2, 36JU0099. Image from the collection of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Unfinished, pecked and chipped ¾ grooved axe (5.6 lbs, 11 inches long) – side B, recovered from the buried A horizon of excavation unit A2. Image from the collection of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

The addition of this large specimen to the curated artifacts at the State Museum is especially fortuitous in that it was received after the design and printing of this year’s Archaeology Month poster “The Mighty Axe”  . TWIPA has also gone in depth on the axe as an artifact type, and those posts can be found here, and here

In comparing project maps with available Google satellite images, it appears that the PFBC has forgone, or at least has postponed, ambitions to expand the parking lots at the Mifflintown and Thompsontown boat launches. New and potentially important cultural resources were discovered because of this survey work, and the sites continue to remain undeveloped for future investigations.

Looking ahead – October is Archaeology Month, and the annual Workshops in Archaeology program will be here before you know it.  To check out additional information on stone tools from the Section of Archaeology, visit the on-linecollection data of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.


Koetje, Todd A.; Tracy Johnston

1998  -   Report of the Phase I Archaeological Survey for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission Juniata River Access Projects Huntingdon and Juniata Counties, PA (manuscript on file Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

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

Friday, August 12, 2022

New Market Site Ceramics - A Philadelphia Discovery

For the last several weeks, our blog posts have focused on the 50th anniversary of Tropical Storm Agnes and its impact on archaeological sites and cultural resources in Pennsylvania. This week, we would like to turn back to happier subjects and have a look at some of the beautiful ceramic vessels from a site discovered in the city of Philadelphia.

In the 1970s, construction of portions of I-95 and urban redevelopment projects occurred in the oldest sections of the city near the waterfront, prompting archaeological investigations in the areas that would be affected by demolition and construction activities. Several new historic archaeological sites were discovered as a result of these investigations, including the New Market site, 36PH0015.

In the 18th century, the public market, consisting of a row of covered shed stalls, ran along the middle of Second Street between Pine and South streets. The area surrounding the market was marked by the homes of the wealthy and influential. Thousands of artifacts recovered from excavations in this area yielded information on the diet, lifestyle, and economic status of the people who once lived and worked there. 

Some of these artifacts went on display in Philadelphia as part of the collections of the Atwater Kent Museum; however, after a time the collection was put into storage in the city. While in storage, the boxes of artifacts were damaged by water and vandalism and many objects ended up being dumped from their original boxes and bags, losing their context or connection to the original site. They were later donated to The State Museum of Pennsylvania, where they are currently curated.


Map of the City of Philadelphia c. 1802 Showing the Early City and Delaware River Waterfront (public domain) 

During the early years of settlement of the city of Philadelphia, most of the ceramics that people used were imported from Britain or Europe. A popular type of ceramic that was introduced to Europe in the 16th century was porcelain from China. English attempts to reproduce Chinese porcelain in the early to mid-1700s were unsuccessful but resulted in new types of ceramics, including tin-glazed earthenware and salt-glazed stoneware.

Many types of ceramics were recovered from Site 36PH0015 including lovely, delicate tea and table wares made of salt-glazed stoneware. These wares are marked by thin vessel walls and an orange-peel-like surface appearance and were very popular in the 18th century.  Other examples of scratch blue (and black) decorated salt-glazed stoneware have geometric or floral designs etched into the vessel body.

Examples of Delicate Salt-glazed Stoneware Tea and Table Wares from 36PH0015 (photo by PHMC)

Examples of Floral Designs in Scratch Blue and Black Salt-glazed Stoneware from 36PH0015 (photo by PHMC) 

Another common type of ceramic found at site 36PH0015 was red earthenware or redware, so-called due to its red color. Redware has been made for centuries and continues to be produced to this day. Although the first redware would have been brought to Philadelphia from England and Europe, local potteries were soon established. Clay sources were discovered within the city itself that were used for manufacture of bricks and for making redware pottery.

These large redware serving plates, or chargers, are typically highly decorated. Decorative elements on these chargers include colored glazes and slips, combed slips, and depictions of figures, animals, and flowers, as well as geometric designs.

Decorative Redware Chargers from Site 36PH0015. Charger at Left Displays a Horse and Rider Scene (photo by PHMC)

Decorative Redware Chargers from Site 36PH0015 (photo by PHMC)

Other forms of decorative ceramics from 36PH0015 include bowls, candlestick holders, figurines, mugs, pitchers, chamberpots, and other objects. A lovely polychrome painted redware bowl in the collection may be an example of work from 18th-century Moravian potters. 

Decorated Redware Bowl, Staffordshire Candlestick Holder, and Polychrome Painted Redware Bowl (photo by PHMC)

Other objects are more utilitarian and less decorative, including these three small glazed redware pieces. The small size of the mug indicates that it may have been for a child.

Small Redware Jugs and Mug (photo by PHMC)

Dishes, mugs, and cups often featured bright colors and whimsical designs such as the creamware pieces pictured below. Popular designs included using metallic oxides to make ‘clouded’ and ‘tortoiseshell’ color palettes and fruit and vegetable shapes such as the melon tureen and cauliflower-shaped teacup. Creamware was highly fashionable at the turn of the 19th century and wealthy Philadelphians would have bought these flashy and unique ceramics to keep up with trends. 

Examples of Decorative Creamware: Wieldonware Plate, Stylized Sprig-molded Melon Tureen Lid, Cauliflower Teacup, and Striped Teacup (photo by PHMC)

These are just a few of the many different types of ceramics that were recovered during excavations at this site. Due to the number of archaeological projects and recorded sites in Philadelphia, there are also many other site collections that contain these types of ceramics. As always, the New Market artifact assemblage and other collections held by the Section of Archaeology are available for use by anyone with scholarly research objectives.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about these beautiful ceramics and the important information that they hold for archaeologists in understanding the daily lives of early Philadelphia citizens. Below is a list of some of the many publications relating to archaeology in Philadelphia. We hope you will be inspired to examine the archaeological record of your community and help us to preserve the past.


For Additional Reading:

Carpentier, Donald and Jonathan Rickard 

2001    Slip Decoration in the Age of Industrialization. Ceramics in America 2001. Chipstone Foundation, Milwaukee, WI. 


Cotter, John L., Daniel G. Roberts Michael Parrington

1992    The Buried Past: An Archaeological History of Philadelphia. University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia Pa.


Liggett, Barbara

1978    Archaeology at New Market Exhibit Catalogue. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.


Myers, Susan H.

1980    Handcraft to Industry: Philadelphia Ceramic in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century. Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology, No. 43. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.


Orr, David G. 

2003    Samuel Malkin in Philadelphia: A Remarkable Slipware Assemblage. Ceramics in America 2003, pp. 252-255 (  


Yamin, Rebecca 

2008    Digging in the City of Brotherly Love: Stories from Philadelphia Archaeology. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT. 


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

Monday, August 1, 2022

So Long, Agnes

With this blog we say good-bye to our series on Tropical Storm Agnes and her impact on the Commonwealth.  The previous blogs have traced her path through the major river basins of Pennsylvania, leaving behind massive destruction and hardship.  Cultural resources – churches, museums, libraries, and cemeteries- were significantly impacted, but the communities surrounding them rallied together to help salvage these resources. Improved preparation and planning by many of these institutions were implemented in anticipation of the potential for future floods. Flood protection programs that had been proposed decades prior to Agnes were finally approved, funded, and constructed by Army Corp of Engineers who recognized that flood events were happening more frequently, and their impact was becoming increasingly destructive.

Figure 1-Aerial view of Cowanesque Dam, Tioga County.
Image By Bjoertvedt - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The archaeology conducted in the aftermath of Agnes provided a broader resource for examining the past. Rural areas and previously undeveloped landscapes yielded evidence of cultural activity over thousands of years and improved our understanding of movement and settlement patterns by Indigenous peoples.  This could be viewed as a positive outcome from such a destructive event. Archaeological sites are often destroyed by private construction projects, natural disasters, or careless destruction by those digging for “treasures”, preventing systematic investigations that ends with the loss of cultural heritage.  Unfortunately, some of the destruction from Agnes could not be rectified.  The displacement of cemetery burials at Forty Fort, in Luzerne County couldn’t be repaired, but the monument dedicated in memory of the individuals from this gravesite is a reminder of the destruction. and our need to plan and prepare for the future.  Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is currently developing a multi-year project to address flooding in the Wyoming Valley. Development within the watershed has led to storm water runoff reaching the river faster and with the increased frequency and intensity of storms, the threat of flooding intensifies.

Figure 2 Wilkes Barre, Luzerne County
Image courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives

State and Federal agencies have put many planning tools in place since Agnes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) dedicates funding to implement flood mitigation projects, to improve planning and assistance for communities.  Flood insurance programs have expanded to assist homeowners and businesses impacted when these events occur. Improved land management practices have been put in place to control run off from paved surfaces. Flood plain management programs are updated and revised as development occurs which also impacts communities. These measures are important tools for protecting our resources and preparing for the potential of future flood events. The impact of climate change has already been realized in flash flood events and extreme fluctuations in temperature-by rapidly melting snowpack due to a sudden spring thaw.

Archaeologists have examined climate change over time and the impact on cultures, but how did they adapt and change due to changing conditions? Our climate has evolved since the first Ice Age 1.8 million years ago to the present, marked by extreme temperatures and drought. In the Paleoindian and Early Archaic periods, characterized by low population density, humans responded to changes in climate by moving to more favorable regions. During the Middle and Late Archaic periods families occupied all the river valleys and movement was generally not an option to offset population increase. Instead, incremental technological improvements were incorporated to obtain food resources more efficiently.

 The decrease in precipitation and relatively high population density during the Sub-Boreal episode (5800-2850 years ago) required significant changes in Native American technological systems. Technology was not the only solution and changes certainly occurred in social organization that resulted in groups that could exploit the environment in a more organized and efficient manner. Hunting and gathering was supplemented with the gardening of seed plants of the Eastern Agricultural Complex. By 900 AD, gardening could not maintain pace with a growing population and maize based agriculture became the dominant subsistence pattern. After 1350 AD, the Little Ice Age created some level of stress among Native American farmers, especially those occupying the northern regions of Pennsylvania where frost -free growing seasons were reduced. High fertility soils and settings with more frost-free days would have been very important in this environment and competition for these settings may have contributed to the widespread social stress among groups.  

Figure 3 Schultz site (36LA0007) diorama. 
PHMC image.

In the 21st century, our high population density, a global economy, and an advanced technical society are part of a delicate interrelated cultural system. Climate is part of that system. Global warming will cause sea levels to rise. Populations will be displaced inland. Some cities may be abandoned. In the United States, a decrease in rainfall is predicted for the western corn belt and that will result in reduced food production. An increase in hurricane activity is predicted along the East coast and this will result in costly disasters. Competition for agricultural land and the resources to farm this land will increase and result in our own instances of social stress. As in the past, we will have to develop technological and economic solutions to produce more foods. Scientists, farmers and concerned individuals are already coming together to examine current agricultural practices and crop yield and where changes can be made to better utilize our resources. Sustainability of our food resources is vital to population growth, implementing best practices for management of these resources is just one step we can take now.   Archaeologists have seen cultures adapt and change over thousands of years and that belief that we, as a society made up of many communities, will adapt and change for the future is promising.

We hope you have enjoyed our Agnes series, for some it reminded us of a significant event in our past, for others it was a picture into the past and an event that helped to form many of our land use and flood protection programs across the Commonwealth. Preservation of our cultural resources continues as an initiative of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).  We encourage you to learn about the resources in your community and support the preservation of the archaeological and historic sites that enrich our lives.  We remind everyone of the need to have an emergency plan in place for your household and to engage in discussions within your community for emergency preparedness and land use practices.  

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