Monday, August 21, 2023

Analyzing the Sheep Rock Shelter Collection

Hello, my name is Gwen Michaels, and I am an Anthropology major, with an Archaeology concentration, from Gettysburg College. I will soon be going into my senior year; however, I started studying Archaeology during my freshman year. During my sophomore year at Gettysburg, I took a class on Pennsylvania-specific Archaeology. This class along with an excavation of site 36AD592, the Jack Hopkins House in Adams County, helped grow my interest in both Pre-contact and historic archaeology. These interests are what led me to apply for the internship with the Section of Archaeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. During my time here, I have been able to work with vast collections of artifacts from all over Pennsylvania and learn more about processing and interpreting artifacts. I’m incredibly grateful for the past 10 weeks and all that I have learned; this experience has truly encouraged me to continue in Archaeology after completing my time at Gettysburg. Although it is hard to pick what my favorite task has been, the past few weeks that I have spent with the Sheep Rock Shelter (36HU1) collection will remain one of my most prized experiences as an intern.

Gwen Michaels

The Sheep Rock Shelter (rock overhang) was formerly located in Huntington County, however, construction of a dam along the Juniata River in 1973 has since submerged the site, making it inaccessible. Despite this, excavations led by the Pennsylvania State University and Juniata College from the 1950s and on allowed for the collection of thousands of distinct artifacts. What makes this site so remarkable is the immense preservation of botanical and other organic materials. Unlike most caves in Pennsylvania, the Sheep Rock Shelter was dry, leading to the preservation of organics that would normally have perished in the humid climate of Pennsylvania. Due to this, artifacts like leather, vegetation, animal bone, and more were preserved in time, creating a unique opportunity for modern Archaeologists to study them.

Animal Bone Recovered from Sheep Rock Shelter

During my time in the department, I have been helping to fix the original catalog of artifacts. Unfortunately, the electronic artifact and location inventories contained errors and omissions. To fix this, I have been going through the various drawers and shelves of the collection and taking notes on where materials and each accession number can be located. It has been incredible looking through the different preserved artifacts. Some of my favorite artifacts include turtle eggs, a fully preserved salamander, and dietary items like corn, beans, and more. Although it is hard to choose any one thing as the most remarkable, I enjoyed looking through faunal remains like the turtle eggs, turtle shells, various animal bones, and even fur. The chance to better understand and embody past people through seeing their relationships with animals and the land was a unique and fulfilling experience. 

Turtle Egg Recovered from Sheep Rock Shelter

Working with the Sheep Rock Shelter artifacts has helped me gain better insight into the work of Archaeologists and important principles of collections management. With this collection and all the ones that I’ve worked with, I have seen the necessity of creating precise catalogs for the security of the artifacts and the sanity of everyone who works with them. More specifically to the Sheep Rock collection, this experience has augmented details of professional Archaeology that will stay with me into my future career. First and foremost, I’ve come to truly appreciate and take in the rarity of being able to work with collections like the Sheep Rock Shelter. The chance to work with such well-preserved organic materials is an opportunity that I cherish. Overall, my time as an intern with the Section of Archaeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania has been an incredibly formative experience. I am incredibly grateful for the time I have spent with various collections from Pennsylvania and everyone who has helped me throughout my time. 

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

Thursday, August 10, 2023

State Museum of Pennsylvania Archaeology: What’s Next?

We have taken a break from our bi-weekly blog (TWIPA), and are brainstorming about what will be next: new media platforms, new excavations, new processes for handling collections, and maybe some new staff?  The one thing that is certain is that we will be holding our annual archaeology month Workshops in Archaeology in October. This year, the 2023 State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Workshops in Archaeology theme will be Discovering The Past: The Sciences Of Archaeology.

Archaeology is the study of past people and cultures through objects preserved and excavated from the ground. These material remains allow archaeologists to reconstruct the activities and lifeways of people, from our earliest inhabitants to present. Archaeologists also incorporate scientific methods and rely on other disciplines to help tell a more complete story. Technical applications such as radiocarbon dating (C14), analysis of plant and animal remains, soil chemistry, geospatial data (GIS), and non-intrusive survey methods such as Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), are just a few examples that archaeologists draw upon. In addition, refinements in scientific methods are applied to reexamine artifacts already in museum storage. Studies such as these have furthered our understanding of change over time and the adaptation and movement of people across the landscape.

Scheduled for Oct. 28, 2023, this year’s Workshops in Archaeology will feature experts in GIS, C14 dating, GPR survey, geoarchaeology, and more. Please join us as we explore how these specialized analyses are conducted and how the results enhance our understanding of the environmental and human past.

Look for additional information and early registration via the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s website in the upcoming weeks.

Scheduled for October 28, 2023, this year’s Workshops in Archaeology will feature experts in GIS, C14 dating, GPR survey, geoarchaeology, and more. 

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

Monday, May 1, 2023

Teshoa: A Chipped Stone Tool of Many Uses

This week in Pennsylvania archaeology (TWIPA) has defined many different types of stone tools found on Pre-Contact archaeological sites over the years. Tool-types like spearheads, arrowheads and axe heads are easily recognized by their distinctive forms while other stone tools, are frequently misidentified or overlooked by professional and avocational archaeologists alike. This week, we recognize the teshoa, one such often overlooked artifact in the prehistoric tool kit. Teshoas are simple multi-purpose hand-held flake tools most commonly made from river cobbles of quartzite, siltstone, or sandstone. Used in a variety of ways — to butcher meat, cut reeds and grass, scrape animal hides, and scale fish, to name a few — their presence in the archaeological record dates back in time many millennia.  

Nineteenth century first-hand accounts document Shoshone women from the North American southwest using cobble flake tools to process buffalo skins (Leidy 1873). It is from these accounts and others of the Shoshone tribes that the tool name was derived. The word teshoa linguistically originates from Shoshonean words tossawi [Fort Hall Shoshone tribal language] and tocawig [Washakie Shoshone tribal language] (Gatschet 1888; Schmidt-Wartemberg 1889). Frances Eyman (1968), who has done extensive research on teshoa tools, stated that both terms have a shared meaning for what archaeologists call a teshoa today. Joseph Gebow (1868) and Harry Hull St. Claire II (1902) associate the root of the word tsekah or tcikaa, “to cut”, with the term teshoa.

More than a century after ethnographic and linguistic information was published, examples of teshoa tools were recognized at archaeological sites in different parts of eastern North America. According to Herbert Kraft, the tool form has a broad distribution, “. . . from the Delmarva peninsula through New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, and eastern New York and New England . . .” (Kraft 1966). Restricting this discussion to Pennsylvania-based archaeological discoveries, we’ll review the presence of ‘teshoa’ tool forms to the Delaware and Susquehanna valleys.

Examples of teshoa tools have been found up and down the Delaware and Susquehanna River shorelines. These are frequently overlooked because of their water worn appearance.

Teshoas recovered from the Susquehanna River shoreline, Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Image courtesy Kelly Baer.

The first formal recognition of the teshoa in Pennsylvania archaeology was John Witthoft and the Forks of the Delaware Chapter 14, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) investigations at the Overpeck site (36BU5) located near Kintnerville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  

Teshoas from Overpeck; middle row left – teshoa pebble core. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

The Early and Late Woodland soil strata at Overpeck contained teshoa tools and the cobble cores from which they were made along with the diagnostic artifacts such as pottery and projectile points that demonstrated clear cut cultural associations. Subsequently, teshoas and teshoa-like tools have been reported from other investigations at Pre-contact sites in the Delaware River valley and elsewhere.

        Prior to the proposed construction of the Tocks Island Reservoir, archaeological excavations conducted by Herbert Kraft, Seton Hall University (1972), David Werner, Lenape Chapter 12, SPA, and Fred Kinsey, Franklin and Marshall College (1972) recovered teshoas and teshoa related tools from the Miller Field, Zimmermann, and Faucett sites, respectively. Other sites in the region continue to yield these unique tools in similar Delaware Valley contexts.

          Stone tools that fit the teshoa description are also found on Archaic and Woodland age sites located in the Susquehanna Valley of central and southeastern Pennsylvania. One of these is the Parker Site (36Lu14), a Wyoming Valley Complex Late Woodland settlement dating to the 15th century C.E., located on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. The site was investigated in the early 1970’s by Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) archaeologists (Herbstritt 2019; Smith 1973). Apart from a single teshoa core of granitic rock, all teshoa tools from Parker were made from indurated siltstone and sandstone cobbles. 

Pebble core and teshoas from Parker. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

         Archaeological excavations at a site near Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, occupied around the same time as 36Lu14, also recovered an assemblage of teshoa tools manufactured from silt and sandstone cobbles.

Teshoas from Clinton County, Pennsylvania. West Branch Susquehanna River Valley. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Teshoas recovered from PHMC excavations at the deeply stratified Archaic site on Piney Island, in the lower Susquehanna valley were made from a greater diversity of stone material (Kent 1970).  Locally sourced quartzite and diabase cobbles were the preferred raw materials used to manufacture teshoas and teshoa-like cobble tools at the Piney Island site. .

Teshoas from Piney Island. The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

             Experimental archaeology research into teshoa tool use and function provides further insights into the archaeological and ethnographic/linguistic record. Lithic technology experimentation with replicated teshoa tools has assisted with interpreting the potential functions of this class of artifact as it applies to stone tool use in prehistory (Coles 1973; Roberts and Sant 1983). Comparing the distinct wear patterns from cutting different materials such as wood, bone, skin, etc. on experimentally replicated tools to the wear patterns on archaeologically recovered teshoa tools can help identify and infer an artifact’s function or multiple functions over its use-life.  

Replicated examples of teshoa tools and pebble core. The State Museum of Pennsylvania. 

We hope that you have enjoyed this blog on a unique, and often overlooked artifact type in the archaeological site record. Please visit us next time for another topical presentation from TWIPA.


Coles, John

1973    Archaeology by Experiment. Charles Scribner’s Sons. New York


Eyman, Frances

1968    The Teshoa: A Shoshonean Woman’s Knife: A Study of American Indian Chopper Industries. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 34(3-4):9-52.


Forks of the Delaware Chapter 14

1980    The Overpeck Site (36BU5). Pennsylvania Archaeologist 50(3):1-46.


Gatschet, Albert S.

1888    Words of the Shoshone Language, as Spoken at the Fort Hall Reservation in Idaho Territory, May 1888. MS, Archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 749. Washington


Gebow, Joseph A.

1868    A Vocabulary of the Snake or Sho-sho-nay Dialect. 2nd edition. Green River City. Wyoming.


Herbstritt, James T.

2019    Becoming Susquehannock: The West Branch and North Branch Traditions in: The Susquehannocks: New Perspectives on Settlement and Cultural Identity. Edited by Paul A. Raber. The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Kent, Barry C.

1970    Diffusion Spheres and Band Territoriality Among the Archaic Period Cultures of the Northern Piedmont. Doctoral dissertation. The Pennsylvania State University.


Kinsey, W. Fred III

1972    Faucett Site 36-Pi-13A Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley: A Study of the Cultural Chronology of the Tocks Island Reservoir. W. Fred Kinsey, III. Anthropological Series No. 2, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.


Kraft, Herbert C.

1966    Teshoas and Elongated Pebble Tools. The Archaeological Society of New Jersey. Bulletin Number 23: 1-6.

1972    The Miller Field Site; Warren County, New Jersey in: Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley: A Study of the Cultural Chronology of the Tocks Island Reservoir. W. Fred Kinsey, III. Anthropological Series No. 2, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.          


Leslie, Vernon

1973    Faces in Clay: The Archaeology and Early History of the Red Man in the Upper Delaware Valley. 1st Edition, T. Emmett Henderson, Publisher, Middletown, New York.


Leidy, Joseph

1872    On Remains of Primitive Art in the Bridger Basin of Southern Wyoming. In: A Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories, 6th Annual Report, edited by F.V. Heyden, pp.651-54. Pls. 7-12. Washington


Roberts, Daniel G. and Mark B. Sant

1983    A Preliminary Replicative Analysis of Teshoa Flake Production. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 53(1-2):28-41.      

Smith, Ira F.

1973    The Parker Site; A Manifestation of the Wyoming Valley Culture. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 43(3-4): 1-56


St. Claire, Harry Hull, II

1902    Shoshonean Dictionary. MS, Archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 2948A, pp.74-266. Washington.


Schmidt-Wartemberg, H.

1889    Shoshone, Waskakie, Box Elder Creek, Utah. (On Powell’s printed vocabulary Schedule sheets.) MS, Archives of the Bureau of American Ethnology, No. 789. Washington.


Werner, David

1972    Zimmerman Site 36-Pi-14 in: Archeology in the Upper Delaware Valley: A Study of the Cultural Chronology of the Tocks Island Reservoir. W. Fred Kinsey, III. Anthropological Series No. 2, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.


Witthoft, John

n.d.      Overpeck and Diehl Site Report. Unpublished manuscript on file at the 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 .

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Don't miss the 92nd annual meeting of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology!

The 92nd annual meeting of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology will be held at the Comfort Suites in Dubois, PA this weekend, April 14th – 16th , 2023.  As in past years, this three-day event promises to inform attendees across a wide range of interesting archaeological topics.

In conjunction with the Society’s annual meeting, the Pennsylvania Archaeological Council (PAC) will convene to discuss ways to address the looming shortage of archaeologists entering the Cultural Resource Management (CRM) profession. Expected energy and transportation infrastructure projects on the horizon will require a new generation of archaeologists, and in numbers, to meet the demand. To that end, the PAC is sponsoring a casual mixer Friday evening to introduce students considering a career in CRM to meet professional archaeologists, consulting firms, state agencies, and other industry stakeholders with an eye on the future.

Anticipated presentations at the meeting with direct connections to the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology include an update on recent AMS dating of organic artifacts from Sheep Rock Shelter (36HU0001). Long curated with the Section of Archaeology, the artifacts from Sheep Rock Shelter have been the subject of previous TWIPA posts such as: Huntingdon County is the Home of Rock shelters and Iron Furnaces from our county series; K is for Knife, featuring the incredible bone handled knife found at Sheep Rock Shelter from our archaeology through the alphabet series; and of course, Excavations at Sheep Rock Shelter (36Hu1). 

Squash seeds, Corn cobs, and husks from Sheep Rock Shelter, 36HU0001. Collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Additionally, this regionally significant archaeological site will be highlighted and honored with one of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s iconic blue and yellow historical markers this fall. Renewed interest in old collections, coupled with enhanced analytical techniques that ultimately broaden our understanding of the past is the affirmation of the work of a curator of archaeological collections, and the Sheep Rock Shelter collection is an excellent example of that effort.

Speaking on the curious semi-subterranean features found on Pre-Contact village sites referred to as “keyholes”, the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Jim Herbstritt will provide a deep dive into his decades long research into these archaeological phenomena. Construction methods, possible functions for, and cultural clues about these enigmatic features will be explored through ethnohistoric accounts, systematic excavation, and artifact analysis, as well as insight gained during experimental reconstructions.

Saturday evening’s lectures will conclude with this year’s keynote speaker, archaeologist Dr. Timothy Abel. Dr. Abel will share his findings working with AMS (accelerated mass spectrometry) dating of late Pre-Contact period (1200 – 1600 AD) Iroquoian settlements in northern New York state. New refinements in the dating technique employed can both “tighten” but also potentially upend existing chronologies, with implications that reach far beyond the targeted study area.

Student poster session from 2022 meeting

The weekend’s events are rounded out by a juried student poster session, bookroom, and a silent auction benefiting the efforts of the Society.  The Society is a group of dedicated professional and advocational archaeologists who promote the study of  Pre-Contact and historic archaeological resources in Pennsylvania and neighboring states.  It works to promote scientific research and discourages exploration which is deemed irresponsible in intent or practice. Membership is open to all who agree with these basic principles and Chapters located throughout the Commonwealth provide activities in support of the State Society.  Included with membership is the journal Pennsylvania Archaeologist and quarterly newsletter.  The Society’s annualtrip this year is the Archaeology of Civil War Battlefields and sites, June 8-11, 2023.

Many of these dedicated members of the Society choose to curate their collections to insure the preservation of the archaeological record represented in their collection. The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology would like to thank Mr. Michael Kotz for his generous artifact donation.  Collected all from one site in Washington County the artifacts represent the Archaic through Late Woodland time periods, and include numerous nutting stones, (36WH1160), and bifurcated points (Archaic) through triangular points (Late Woodland). This collection provides researchers with an opportunity to further examine procurement and processing patterns in this corner of southwestern Pennsylvania.

Please continue to follow us on this blog to learn more about what is happening in archaeology around the Commonwealth and check out The State Museum’s Facebook page for activities of the museum and view our on-line collections on the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission website

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

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Powder and Wigs: Hair Maintenance in 18th-century America

The Wig-Maker and Barber from Diderot’s Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project (

Hair and hairstyles have played an important role in the cultural identification of many societies throughout time. Some societies, such as the Amish in the United States and the Himba tribe of northern Namibia, still adhere to traditional hairstyles that have meaning to them as a group. Outside of cultures that assign meaning to traditional hairstyles, hair trends in general change over time. Some are instantly recognizable, such as the ‘Victory rolls’ of the early 1940s.

Hair beauty was an important societal norm in 18th-century America; the trend taking its cues from the royal courts of Europe. In addition to the appearance of one’s clothing, the social status of people could be ascertained by the physical appearance of their hair. Many tools were used to create the appropriate hairstyle, including combs and brushes, wigs and hairpieces, powders, curling irons, pomades, feathers, pins, jewels, and other objects.

The comb is one of the oldest hair maintenance tools in the archaeological record. Hair combs have been used for thousands of years and have been recovered from ancient Egyptian and Scythian tombs and Chinese palaces. In Pennsylvania, combs are recovered from Pre-contact American Indian sites and historic sites alike. 

American Indian hair combs were generally carved from elk or deer antler.  Carved effigy figures depicted on the combs include birds, humans, and animals, possibly related to their clan or oral traditions associated with the figure. This bird effigy comb was from Lancaster County dates to the early Pre-Contact period; unfortunately, only a portion of the comb was recovered. The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Archaeology Gallery exhibits include a variety of decorative hair combs.

Bird effigy hair comb, Lancaster County (From the collections of the PHMC, The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

During the 18th century, combs served different purposes. Some combs were used for general hair maintenance, some for cleaning the hair and removing pests, and some for decorative reasons. Everyday utilitarian combs would typically have been made from wood or bone, but decorative combs could be made from almost any material, including tortoiseshell, ivory, gold or other metals, or animal horn or tusks.

Bone lice comb recovered from Ephrata Cloister (From the collections of the PHMC, The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

Brass wire decorative hair comb (missing its tines) from the French Azilum (36BR0134) site                    (From the collections of the PHMC, The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

Decorative hair combs in the collection of the author: tortoiseshell (top left), unknown material, possibly horn (top right), and cow horn (bottom) 

Hairbrushes may have evolved or developed from hair combs or paint brushes but were likely first used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Wall paintings in Egyptian tombs portray images of people with well-groomed hair and wigs. The first modern hairbrush company was founded by William Kent in 1777 in Britain and continues to produce hand-stitched brushes today.

The hairbrushes below were recovered from excavations in downtown Philadelphia. The large, wooden brush, possibly made from chestnut wood, is very plain. Although it may have been painted or decorated at one time, the decoration is long gone. The second brush is very finely made, carved from ivory with a delicate scalloped shell design on the end. It’s small size and fine craftmanship indicate this brush may have been a present for a child. All bristles, which would have been stiff hairs from an animal such as a boar, are missing from both brushes. 

Wooden (top) and ivory (bottom) hairbrushes from excavations in Philadelphia (From the collections of the PHMC, The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

During this period, hair was not washed as often as today. People used powders, made from corn and wheat flour, to degrease their hair or massaged oils into the scalp to freshen it. Other ‘shampoos’ used before this time included clays, plant products, animal fats, eggs, ashes, alcohol, vinegar, soap, and many other different natural mixtures. The first modern shampoos only came onto the market in the early 20th century.

Powdered wigs became fashionable in the mid-17th century in the royal court of France and the trend later spread to the rest of Europe and America. Wigs or the natural hair were powdered with the above-mentioned powders.

In Colonial America, wigs were generally worn by wealthy men. Wig-making was time consuming and expensive, so only elite members of society would have worn wigs - think Thomas Jefferson and many of the founding fathers. Additionally, maintenance was required to keep the wig clean, styled, curled, and powdered, so one would either need to visit a professional hairdresser periodically or would need to have servants capable of completing this task.

Visit the Colonial Williamsburg website Historic Trade:Wigmaker ( to view the steps to the making of a wig and for other information on wigs and wig-making in the 18th century.

Another important hair accessory in the 18th century was the wig curler. Wig curlers, sometimes called roulettes or bilboquet, were dumbbell-shaped clay objects used to set curls in the hair of a wig. Depending upon the size and tightness of the curl needed, wig curlers came in multiple sizes. These wig curlers, recovered archaeologically from a site in Philadelphia, will produce large and small sized curls.

Kaolin clay wig curlers from Philadelphia (From the collections of the PHMC, The State Museum of Pennsylvania)

Tools of the Wigmaker and hairdresser, showing wig curlers, from Diderot’s Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project (

There are many other interesting facets to hair care in the 18th century and throughout history. Hair styles, maintenance and styling products, and societal norms for both men and women have gone through as many changes as clothing styles. The websites listed below are only a few of the many highlighting aspects of hair style and trends throughout history.


We hope you have enjoyed this blog and will continue to visit us as we highlight the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology. We invite you to view additional pieces from our collections.


Citations and Additional Reading:

 Boiling, Baking, and Curling 18th-Century Wigs · George Washington's Mount Vernon

 Historic Trade:Wigmaker (

 TheHistory Of Plastic Hairbrushes | Beckley Boutique

 The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project (


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

Sunday, March 19, 2023

The Power of Women

March is designated as Women’s History Month; thus, it seems appropriate to explore the role of women in our archaeological and cultural heritage.  While it is important to have a focus on significant women in our past and present, a woman is much more than a historic figure to honor once a year.  In some Native American society's women are viewed as the giver of life and Mother Earth as the giver of all things on the earth. She is a sacred figure and has garnered respect and acknowledgement of her significance.  

Native American tribes such as the Lenape (Delaware) and Haudenosaunee (Iroquois and Tuscarora) are matrilineal societies instead of the typical patrilineal societies from Europe. Meaning that you descended from your mother’s clan, not your father’s. It also meant that women were involved in the decision-making process for the greater good of the tribe. 

Nora Thompson Dean (left) and Lucy Parks, 1977.

Image courtesy of Jim Rementer, Delaware Tribe of Indians

Nora Thompson Dean was a member of the Delaware Tribe of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and an important keeper of their cultural heritage. Nora wrote about the role of Delaware women in a matrilineal society stating, “the children belong to the clan or group of the mother, and therefore, even if one was the son or daughter of a chief, they would not be a prince or princess as was the case with European royalty. The successor to the chieftaincy was the chief’s sister’s son, or the nearest male relative to the chief within the same clan. This gave women a powerful voice in tribal matters, but in spite of this ‘voice,’ it was the tradition for women to not speak out at public gatherings such as councils.” (

In Haudenosaunee culture (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Tuscarora) the chief and clan mother share leadership roles. The clan mother chooses and advises the chief, placing and holding him in office. The clan mother also has the responsibility of removing a chief who doesn’t listen to the people and make good decisions, giving due consideration to seven generations in the future. To be chosen as a chief, the man cannot be a warrior (since it is a confederacy based on peace), nor can he have ever stolen anything or abused a woman. Women live free of fearing violence from men. The spiritual belief in the sacredness of women and the earth — the mutual creators of life — make abuse almost unthinkable. 

Indigenous women planting gardens, Image courtesy of Herbert Kraft

Not unlike the Native Americans who lived here when Europeans began arriving in North America, settler women were often responsible for domestic chores- cooking, cleaning, gardening, and raising children.  Each group practiced their methods of planting and harvesting- often embedded in their cultural practices of following celestial signs, seasonal change, and traditional stories.  Haudenosaunee gardening of corn, beans and squash are commonly identified as the three sisters- significant for their ability to grow together in mounds of soil.  Nora Dean describes the Delaware practice of cooking as done with intent- “we think that the person’s mind when they are cooking has something to do with the health of the ones who eat the food. The cook must be in a good frame of mind during the  food preparation, not angry, or ill, and have an inside prayer to the Creator that what she prepares will bring strength and happiness to the consumer of the food”.

How often have we heard the expressions made with love, homemade is best, lovin from the oven, or my favorite- no one makes it like my mom. Recipes that have been handed down through multiple generations don’t have a byline to “make while in a good frame of mind” but the act of cooking heritage dishes by women is a powerful expression of cultural traditions. The consumption of these dishes connects families to the past and to memories of the ancestors who shared the recipes and traditions for future generations.

A mother’s words are often the first that a child hears. The significance of language to the Indigenous community in retaining their cultural heritage has been an important initiative for many women.  Nora Thompson Dean worked with Jim Rementer in recording and developing the Lenape Talking Dictionary.  Francine Patterson (1952-2020), a previous clan mother of the Tuscarora learned the language from elders, she later recorded the language to develop a comprehensive Tuscarora dictionary. The work of these women and other members of the Native American tribal community are working to preserve their language and culture for future generations. Teaching children their native language is important in identifying with their heritage and is a practice continued today by cultures around the world. 

Francine Patterson, of the Tuscarora Nation sharing cultural heritage with a class of high school students. Image from the collection of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Women in Indigenous cultures made pottery from clay, sand, shell, and grit; all by hand while teaching their daughters the craft and skill required to make a cooking or storage vessel.  They cleaned and scraped animal hides to sew garments, gathered reeds and grasses to make baskets, collected fruits and nuts in addition to tending gardens and they were the caretakers of the elders. The definition of multi-tasking was unknown to them, but their tenacity gave them the ability to do all these tasks.

Native American pottery. Image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

This same tenacity has been demonstrated by women from all cultures and times. Farm laborers and domestics became the factory workers of the Industrial era.  Women working in the mills were controlled by company rules and long hours of work at minimal wages. These are the women who led the way for labor laws, voting rights, and access to advanced education.  Sacrifices of those before us opened up opportunities to be mechanics, soldiers, fire fighters and scientists. Women are clan mothers, union leaders, caregivers, teachers, and librarians whose contributions to society are heralded.  Some of these women are among those highlighted in the many articles surrounding Women’s History Month, but of equal significance are the autonomous women, often silent, who continuously labor to preserve their heritage and cultural traditions.  

Archaeologists examine the artifacts of the past- broken pottery, hide scrapers, porcelain dish fragments, canning jars, and sewing implements as items of material culture to aid in interpreting daily activities of the people who made or used these objects. As such, we look for patterns of distribution to examine movement across the landscape, we search for changes in technology- shape or size of a projectile point, temper or design of the pottery, dietary remains- all tools for reconstructing the past. Examining these remains, the tangible evidence of past cultures, and putting them in the proper context can be challenging. Making the connection to their cultural significance often relies on the keepers of cultural heritage. Thank you to the women of the world who continue to practice your cultural traditions and share your knowledge with others.   We hope you’ve enjoyed this post in celebration of women and invite you to visit our Women of Archaeology blogs on this site as well as the on-line collections of The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.



Kraft, Herbert C.

1983      The Lenape, Archaeology, History, and Ethnography. New Jersey Historical Society.

Parker, Arthur C.

1989      Seneca Myths and Folk Tales. Introduction by William C. Fenton. Lincoln: University of Nebraska                                    Press.

Snow, Dean R.

1994       The Iroquois (Peoples of America). Blackwell Publishers, Malden.


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

Monday, March 6, 2023


This week in Pennsylvania Archaeology is revisiting an earlier discussion of bannerstones, an enigmatic artifact type for sure. They appear in the Eastern Woodlands of North America during the Middle Atlantic period (9,000 - 6,000 years ago) and are most commonly found through the Late Archaic/Transitional period (6,000 - 4,300 years ago). They were made in a multitude of (Knoblock, 1939) shapes. From a variety of lithic materials and share a general symmetry and often are drilled through the center. There are several theories as to their use and function for the Indigenous peoples who crafted them.

The name bannerstone comes from Dr. C. C. Abbott who put forth the theory in the early 20th century that they may have been used during ceremonies as banners or like standards. Abbott suggested this because they are centrally drilled, as if to be placed on a handle, and most are highly polished, demonstrating a great deal of craftsmanship and effort. In support of this hypothesis, a cache of three bannerstones were discovered in 1908 by chance while plowing a field in North Carolina. They wereattached to a staff, which was decorated with rings, precisely fitting the drilled holes of the bannerstones (Baer, 1921).

Another theory is that they were used as weights on the end of a throwing stick or atlatl. Excavations conducted during the 1930’s under the WPA (Works Projects Administration) by William S. Webb, from the University of Kentucky at the Indian Knoll site recovered 42 bannerstones including “elements of throwing sticks know as atlatls” (Blume 2021).

It is suggested that adding the weight of the bannerstone to the atalatl , increased the velocity of the spear that was thrown, as pictured above. Subsequent research has questioned the weighted atlatl as having little to no additional benefit.

Yet another theory is that they were used as a spindle whorl in the production of twine or cordage. . Suspended fibers could be attached to the bannerstone spindle which could then be spun to consolidate t the fibers creating twine. The winged shape would make the spinning an easy action.

The Archaeology collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania contain hundreds of complete and fragmented bannerstones. As some of our ardent followers may recall Sam Azzaro, a 2014 intern from Dickinson College worked with some of our bannerstones creating a detailed inventory that included descriptions, weights, and measurements. He blogged about his research on January 30, 2015. A subsequent intern Naomi Ulmer created a similar database with our axe collection. She was able to build on the bannerstone data by including 25 bannerstones with the many axes that she and former Senior Curator Dr. Kurt Carr and Dr. Robert Smith, Pennsylvania Geological Survey analyzed, to determine lithic types for both axes and bannerstones. Of those analyzed the majority were made of serpentine, a metamorphic rock composed of various minerals, as a result it can appear in many colors, but the eastern variety is often tan or beige (Carr, 2015).

Blackwall is an igneous rock that transformed over time, becoming a form of serpentine schist.

Greywackes are characteristically hard, dark gray-green coarse-grained sandstone.

Hornblende is a metamorphic rock with a high silica content.

Steatite is a very soft, metamorphic stone often referred to as soapstone.

Other anomalies of the bannerstones include the question of why so many are found with incompletely drilled holes. Sometimes the appearance is of a clearly unfinished bannerstone, so not being drilled is understandable, but in many cases the artifact appears “finished” and is highly polished but exhibits only a partially drilled hole. Approximately 32 percent of the bannerstones analyzed by Sam Azzaro were either not drilled or only partially drilled.

Many of the bannerstone fragments recovered feature intentionally drilled holes in the wings. These may be repair holes to rebind the broken pieces back together. Were the bannerstones special beyond

their function? Their significance may have been so important that even after they broke, they were redrilled and reused as pendants, sinew, or tally stones.

Broken wing from a bannerstone with 2 drill holes. Image from the collection of The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Drilled bannerstone fragment, image from the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

As with so many things, especially archaeology, the more we learn the more questions we have and clearly many questions remain about this enigmatic artifact, the bannerstone.

We hope you have enjoyed this blog and will continue to visit us as we highlight the collections of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology. We invite you to view additional pieces from our collections.

Baer, John Leonard         1921       A Preliminary Report on the So-Called “Bannerstones”. American Anthropologist 23(4):445-459.

Blume, Anna                      2021 Bannerstones, an Introduction. Smarthistory, accessed 2/24/2023

Carr, Kurt                             2015       Analysis Notes

Herbstritt, James              2023       Personal Communication

Knoblock, Byron               1939       Bannerstones of the North American Indian. Self-published, LaGrange, Illinois

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