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 .

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