Friday, December 23, 2022

Across the Commonwealth with Cultural Resource Management Curation

Since resuming acceptance of cultural resourcemanagement (or CRM) projects this spring, we continue to receive collections submitted for curation to the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology at a steady pace, and notable collections have arrived from nearly every corner of the Commonwealth. 

Beginning in Beaver County, northwest of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River, 11 sites, a variety of both historic and precontact, were investigated ahead of the massive construction project for oil giant Shell’s petrochemicalcomplex.  Once operational, the ethane cracker plant will supply other industries with plastic pellets called nurdles (a new artifact type to be added to the lexicon for future archaeologists).

The Jack’s Reef Corner-notched projectile point seen here dates to the Middle Woodland period (1850 – 950 B.P.) and was recovered during phase II excavations at the Farmstead/Hamletsite (36BV0051), a multi-component stratified site situated on the floodplain of the Ohio River. Produced from Flint Ridge chert, the asymmetrical shape of the point is the result of reworking or resharpening its cutting edge. The artifacts and excavation records from these excavations contribute to our understanding of the past and movement across the landscape during the precontact period.

Figure 1 Middle Woodland (1850-950 BP) Jack's Reef Corner-notched projectile point from the Farmstead/Hamlet site(36BV0051). From the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Traveling from the western edge of the state all the way across to the southeast corner in Delaware County, the Mid-County Expressway I-476, or Blue Route project is the next submission. A long dormant legacy project that unearthed a dozen mid-19th to early 20th century sites has received its proper processing and has now been curated. Open to traffic in 1992, the survey work conducted in the mid-1980s for this highway project identified a wide range of site functions such as farmhouses and tenant dwellings, a whetstone factory and a bottle dump associated with a prohibition-era speakeasy. This project also identified the location and boundaries of the Trinity UAME (Union American Methodist Episcopal) Church property.

Nearly all of the 137 artifacts recovered from the Trinity UAME Church (36DE0021) were either architectural in nature such as fragments of window glass and brick and nails, or tableware, including whiteware ceramics and glass drinking vessels or containers. One small find/personal church artifact that stands out is the metal watchcase opener/ key ring fob seen here, advertising Boss watchcases from a watchmaker and jeweler from nearby Malvern, Pa. A brief internet search yielded similar, although not exact examples of this fob. Additional research may be able to narrow its date of manufacture and use beyond roughly the turn of the 20th century.

Figure 2 Key ring fob/watch case opener with advertisement from 36DE0021. Collection at The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Sporting the shape of a keyhole, the fob reads “BUY BOSS WATCH CASES” and “TRADEMARK IN EVERY CASE” encircling the letters “Co” inside of a keystone on the obverse. On the reverse: “COMPLIMENTS OF JOHN KIRSCHNEK WATCHMAKER AND JEWELER MALVERN, PA”. This small find is the tangible evidence of a watchmaker and a reflection of consumerism and social behavior.

Working our way to the north, in the coal regions of Luzerne County, additional material from the University of Maryland’s Anthracite Heritage Program excavations have been submitted for curation. A residential building on Canal Street in the patch town of Lattimer was excavated, continuing their academic research on socio-economic issues and troubled labor conditions surrounding the late 19th and early 20th century coal mining industry.

A large percentage of the overall collection is comprised of architectural material like brick, nails, and window glass, as well as an assortment of turn of the last century glass beverage bottles. One small find that stands out from the Canal Street Lattimer site (36LU0312) collection is the 1887 Italian 10 centesimi coin seen here.  While in relatively poor condition, this coin wonderfully represents one of the many ethnic immigrant groups that came seeking employment in the anthracite fields during coal’s heyday and ultimately settled in the region..

Figure 3 1887 copper Italian centesimi coin from the Canal Street Lattimer site(36LU0312). From the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Lastly, this week, the holidays are here, and we wish all our readers a joyous season. If you like, take a moment to view December blog posts from years past with more seasonal themes - like ChristmasTree projectile points, or children’s toys one might have found under their tree - from our 13 years (and counting!) blog archive.



2015   Phase I/II Archaeological Investigations for the Proposed Petrochemicals Complex Potter and

            Center Townships, Beaver County, Pennsylvania              


Carr, Kurt W. (Editor); et al.

2020     The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania Volume I, University of Penn Press, Phila.


Jones, Sean M.; et al.

2022   Archaeological Investigations of Site 36LU312, Canal Street, Lattimer Luzerne County,

            Pennsylvania, University of Maryland, Department of Anthropology.


McCarthy, John P.

1986   Determination of Eligibility Report for Archaeological Resources associated with the Mid-County Expressway L.R. 1010 Sections 300 and 400 Delaware County, Pennsylvania, John Milner and Associates


Spiess, Arthur E. (Editor)

2013    After Hopewell: The Jack’s Reef Horizon and Its Place in the Early Late Woodland Mortuary and Settlement Patterns in Northeastern North America, Papers from the 2012 ESAF meeting. Archaeology of Eastern North America Volume 40.


Website:  What’s a Nurdle? (


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

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Tea, please

Today, Dec. 15th is International Tea Day, a day to celebrate one of the most popular beverages on the planet. Whether you drink it black, green, mint, chai, iced, with or without milk, there are over 20,000 different types of teas available.

Historically, tea is a very old beverage. Although tea leaves were originally chewed for their stimulating properties for thousands of years, legend says that the practice of drinking tea was discovered by Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2732 B.C. after leaves from a tea tree blew into a pot of boiling water. When the emperor sampled the liquid, he was taken with the taste. For thousands of years afterward, tea was drunk in China as a medicinal beverage. By 350 C.E., tea was being planted and domestically cultivated by the Chinese.

After this time, the use of tea began to spread to areas of Asia outside of China. Chinese tea was first introduced into Europe in the 16th century and traded commercially by the Dutch East India Company in 1610. Later, tea was brought to the London market by the English East India Company where it became very popular with elite British families. Tea’s popularity with the English was such that they began to grow it in British India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and to develop rituals such as Afternoon Tea based around the brewing and consumption of the liquid. 

The 19th-century clipper Cutty Sark (now a museum in Greenwich, England) was built for use in the tea trade (photo by Kimberly Sebestyen)

The popularity of tea drinking with Europeans increased as its price fell through the 18th century. As well, tea drinking spread into the colonies of North America with the influence of Europe on the New World. As all Americans know, tea figured prominently in the 1773 Boston Tea Party where rebels, angry at Britain’s “taxation without representation”, dumped over 300 chests of East India Company tea into the Boston harbor. 

Due to the popularity of tea worldwide – it is currently the second most consumed beverage after water – the accessories needed for storing, brewing, and drinking tea are numerous. In turn, this means that tea-related artifacts are common on archaeological sites.

Originally, tea was pressed into hard bricks, which would be ground and mixed into a frothy drink similar to matcha. This tea was then drunk out of wide bowls instead of cups. After the 7th century C.E., loose leaf teas became more popular and the teapot, adapted from other use, became the vessel of choice for brewing tea. The loose tea would have been placed into a pot of boiling water and strained when finished steeping.  

After it became popular in Europe, loose leaf tea would have been stored in chests or canisters. This would preserve its freshness while crossing the seas and later in the home. And because tea was expensive in the 18th century, many of the chests locked to prevent theft.  

Collections from sites around the Philadelphia area have yielded many teapots in different shapes, colors, and designs.

White salt-glazed stoneware tea bowls and tea pots from PhiladelphiaCollections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology 

Scratch blue salt-glazed stoneware teapot recovered at Ephrata Cloister(36LA0981). Collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology 

Teapots from the Community and Domestic Life Section of The State Museum of Pennsylvania. 

In the mid-18th century, the first teacups as we know them were created by Robert Adams. A tea bowl with an added handle allowed a person to drink their tea more easily and without burning their fingers. Early teacups were made from delicate porcelain; however, teacups come in an almost endless number of materials, shapes, and decorations.

                                               Variety of teacups from Market Street sites.                                                                                               

Creamware teacup recovered from the Fort Hunter site (36DA0159)

In the 19th century, infusers or strainers were used to keep loose tea leaves contained Tea bags as we know them were not created until the early twentieth century. Legend says that an American tea importer, Thomas Sullivan, began sending out samples of tea wrapped in silk in 1908. When some of his customers misunderstood and placed the whole pouch into boiling water, an idea for individually wrapped tea was born.

Tea infuser/strainer in the Community and Domestic Life Section of the State Museum of Pennsylvania

Collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology 

Tea drinking has become a deeply entrenched custom in many societies, so much so that tiny tea sets are made and used by children. This toy teacup was recovered from the Fort Hunter site (36DA0159) in Dauphin County and likely belonged to one of the children who grew up there.

                                Tiny teacup toy recovered from the Fort Hunter site (36DA0159)                                                   Collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology 

Many of these examples are from Philadelphia due to the number of archaeological projects and recorded sites but there are also many other site collections that contain this type of historic ceramics. As always, the Market Street and Fort Hunter assemblages and other collections held by the Section of Archaeology are available for scholarly research as approved by scheduled appointment. To see additional examples of ceramics from the collections of the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, visit our collections and our other blogs which have featured a wide array of ceramics.

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