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 .