Friday, January 29, 2016

A New Research Book for Pennsylvania Archaeologists
            This week our blog is announcing the publication of a new book on Pennsylvania archaeology. The Nature and Pace of Change in American Indian Cultures: Pennsylvania 4000 to 3000 BP. is the first in-depth synthesis of the Transitional period in decades. Three thousand to four thousand years ago, the Native Americans of the mid-Atlantic region experienced a groundswell of cultural innovation. This remarkable era, known as the Transitional period, saw the advent of broad-bladed bifaces, cache blades, ceramics, steatite bowls, and sustained trade, among other ingenious and novel objects and behaviors.

            In The Nature and Pace of Change in American Indian Cultures, nine expert contributors examine the Transitional period in Pennsylvania and posit potential explanations of the significant changes in social and cultural life at that time. The Introduction by R. Michael Stewart summarizes each of the chapters. Population density is a common theme and Stewart does an excellent job of analyzing this issue and its potential role in the development of the Transitional period.  He concludes with a discussion of the major trends - environment, technology, subsistence, settlement patterns, social organization – and examines possible explanations for their occurrence. In Chapter 1, Frank Vento sets the Paleoenvironmental stage for this period. The Transitional period generally corresponds to the warm and dry Sub-Boreal climatic episode and Vento spends some time addressing the issue of “how dry was it?” Robert Wall, in Chapter 2 reviews the Late Archaic developments that preceed the Transitional period in the Susquehanna Valley. Kurt Carr reviews the Transitional period in the Delaware and Susquehanna valleys in Chapter 3 and argues that population pressure and minor changes in the environment resulted in a new adaptive strategy. In contrast, Patricia Miller in Chapter 4 synthesizes this period in the Susquehanna Valley and argues that population pressure and a developing trade network are responsible for the changes during this period. Joseph Blondino, in Chapter 5, reviews what is considered the end of the Transitional period in the Upper Delaware Valley, the Fishtail phase. He offers explanations for the frequent use of floodplain settings during this time.  Heather Wholey examines population differences in Chapter 6, and identifies differences in site clusters in the Susquehanna and Delaware Valleys. Finally, in Chapter 7, Roger Moeller critiques many concepts typically associated with the Transitional period.
Table of Contents

            This book contains 56 figures and tables. They are in black and white but we suggest that you purchase First Pennsylvanians: the Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania where many of these artifacts are illustrated in color. Nature and Pace can be purchased from the Pennsylvania State University Press. The form below offers a substantial discount and the First Pennsylvanians can be purchased on line at or the State Museum Bookstore in Harrisburg.
First Pennsylvanians order form
 Nature and Pace order form

            If you are interested in actually seeing artifacts from the Transitional, visit the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. 

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

Friday, January 15, 2016

Once again it’s Farm Show time. January 9-16th, 2016

This year commemorates 100 years of the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show. According to the Farm Show web site it is the “largest indoor agricultural exposition in the nation, with nearly 6,000 animals, 10,000 competitive exhibits and 300 commercial exhibits.”  Of course, the Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania is one of those exhibits, complete with an authentic replica of a 20 foot dugout canoe. Our exhibit features the origins of farming and is entitled Foragers to Farmers, the development of Agriculture in Pennsylvania.

Farming is more labor intensive than hunting and gathering and there is a debate in archaeology as to why early Indian populations in Pennsylvania gradually began focusing on seed plants such as goosefoot, lambs quarter and maygrass for food; eventually growing these plants in gardens and finally adding maize to their diet. The dependence on maize in the diet by about A.D. 1200 corresponded to the development of large villages and significant changes in social organization.  During the 1700s, European farms began to dominate the region and farming change to include livestock and grains. By the late 19th and early 20th century, farming became more mechanized and fed huge numbers of people. The artifacts on display document this change over the past 5000 years.

An addition to this year’s exhibit is a stone mortar and pestle which are being used to demonstrate corn grinding.  Corn quickly becomes a food staple after A.D. 1200 spurring dramatic social changes.  Small egalitarian groups of people grew tribal societies.

This is an excellent opportunity for us to connect with the community.  We talk to an average of 40-50,000 visitors each year at the Farm Show and are able to share our knowledge with interested citizens of the Commonwealth.  One of our goals in reaching out to the community is to share the significance of archaeology and the importance of recording archaeological sites.  The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is the State Agency for preserving our historical and archaeological heritage.  The State Historic Preservation Office (SHIPO) records and maintains the files to all known sites across the commonwealth.  This database of information enables state agencies such as PENNDOT to plan for highway projects that will have the least amount of impact on archaeological resources.  Archaeology is an expensive undertaking and avoiding those sites reduces the expense of building a road or bridge.
As a result of our interactions this year, we received information on the discovery of a Paleoindian projectile point from Berks County and another individual shared a grooved axe with our archaeologists.  Both of these individuals were able to provide site discovery location which is crucial to our understanding of past human behavior and settlement patterns. We hope you will continue to share these finds with our staff either at the Farm Show or at our offices in the museum. 

The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) is also participating in our exhibit as they have in past years.  Representatives are on hand to answer questions about the Society and membership which includes the biannual journal, Pennsylvania Archaeologist, newsletters and meeting announcements.  As an additional benefit of joining at the Farm Show you will receive three past issues of the SPA journal.

As you may have noticed, our location has changed from past years.  Although still in the Main exhibit hall we are no longer near the entrance to the Small Arena but next to the Maclay Street Lobby across from the carousal.  Many people have commented on the change as an improvement so hopefully you will all be able to find us. The Farm Show runs through 5:00 p.m. Saturday, January 16th.  So there is still plenty of time for your annual “ride” in the dugout.

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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

We are the Section of Archaeology

Staff Directory

Dr. Kurt Carr, Senior Curator –
-          Contact for research, internships and public outreach inquiries
Janet Johnson, Curator –
-          Contact for intern, volunteer, CRM, loan, research and public outreach inquiries
Jim Herbstritt, Historic Preservation Specialist –
Liz Wagner, Curator –
Dave Burke, Curator –
Kim Sebestyen, Curator –
Melanie Mayhew, Curator –
Andrea Carr, Lab Contractor–
Callie Holmes, Lab Contractor –

The Section of Archaeology staff preparing for the Kipona Festival on City Island in Harrisburg
Photo: PHMC/The State Museum of PA

About Us

The Section of Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania curates the largest collection in the museum and is responsible for multiple functions within the PHMC.  Developing and maintaining exhibits in the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology is a primary function, but our role as the state repository for cultural resource projects is substantial.  Our office is responsible for curating approximately 8 million artifacts representing over 14,000 years of Pennsylvania’s archaeological heritage. The curation and preservation of Native American  and historic period artifacts and their associated records from archaeological sites across the Commonwealth is an essential function requiring collaboration with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)and state, federal and private developers. Prior to construction, a review process conducted by PHMC  archaeologists will identify the impact of water & sewer lines, highway expansion, bridge replacements and private or commercial development receiving state or federal funding. A variety of preservation methods are employed to mitigate the impact of these projects on our cultural heritage.  If an archaeological site can’t be avoided during construction, then an archaeological investigation is conducted. It is through this process that many significant and unique objects of our archaeological heritage are recovered.  Artifacts resulting from these projects represent the bulk of our collection.  These significant collections are available for scholarly examination, and researchers are encouraged to contact the Section of Archaeology for information about using the collections.

Projectile points from the Dutt collection (Chester County) which have been sorted into different types based on form
Photo: PHMC/The State Museum of PA

 Our role as Pennsylvania’s repository for archaeological survey records and collections is part of the environmental review process conducted by the SHPO; additionally, our facility curates archaeological collections of significance from Pennsylvania that have been donated by private collectors. The Section of Archaeology is also responsible for developing and updating the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology exhibits at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.   These exhibits present the pre-history of Pennsylvania from approximately 14,000 years ago through the historic period with collections representing military and industrial era sites in Pennsylvania. 
Loans to non-profit organizations are facilitated through the section and have provided opportunities for communities to view the archaeological heritage of their community at the local level.   The PHMC has a renewable loan policy that enables proper monitoring of loan agreements and artifacts.  Local community awareness and appreciation for the archaeological record are greatly enhanced by these displays.

An exhibit of artifacts on loan to the Red Rose Transit Authority in Lancaster from The State Museum’s archaeology collection
Photo: Red Rose Transit Authority

Curation of these irreplaceable objects is provided in a secure curation facility. A climate controlled environment ensures the long term preservation of Pennsylvania’s archaeological heritage. Humidity, temperature and sub-standard artifact housing pose threats to the long term preservation of artifacts; often, the effects of poor storage conditions are apparent only after irreversible damage has been done. It is the responsibility of the curators to ensure collections and records are properly housed so that they may be made available for future generations of researchers and for the benefit of all.

Compact storage units are used to make the most of the 34,278 cubic foot curation facility
Photo: PHMC/The State Museum of PA

We continue to make our collections more accessible to researchers and to raise awareness of the importance of archaeology in Pennsylvania. The staff is involved with public outreach programs such as The Pennsylvania Farm Show, presentations at professional conferences or community venues, research and publication.

Publications by the museum’s archaeology staff include the recently released book, First Pennsylvanians: The Archaeology of Native Americans in Pennsylvania by Kurt Carr and Roger Moeller, available now from the PA Heritage Foundation bookstore and articles on Shenks Ferry culture in PA Archaeologist and The Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology by Jeffrey Graybill and PHMC archaeologist Jim Herbstritt, available from the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology and the Middle Atlantic Archaeological Conference. Listed below are the articles on Shenks Ferry culture and their corresponding journals.

Graybill, Jeffrey R. and James T. Herbstritt
2013 Shenks Ferry Radiocarbon Dates, The Quarry Site (36La1100), and Village Site Ecology. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 83(2):16-28
2014 The Luray Phase, Mohr (36LA39), and the Protohistoric Period. Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology 30:25-39
      2014 Shenks Ferry Tradition Ceramic Seriation. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 84(1):27-45 

Visitors to the Section of Archaeology’s Farm Show exhibit.
Photo: PHMC/The State Museum of PA

Contacting Us

In addition to roles with exhibits and the SHPO, our staff may receive multiple inquiries from researchers, educators or the general public during a single week. The archaeology department does its best to answer questions in a timely manner. If we are not able to assist with an inquiry, the staff will refer the question to an individual whom we think may be better able to assist.
Frequently, questions concern artifact identification. Our staff is most capable of answering questions about artifacts found in Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region. At minimum, a good quality photograph with a scale should be included in the inquiry, but remember, identification via photograph is not always possible. If scheduling allows, our staff is willing to identify artifacts in person at our offices in downtown Harrisburg.

A copper adze that was brought to the archaeology staff for identification- there are no other items like this in our collections, making it an especially intriguing artifact.
Photo: PHMC/The State Museum of PA

Other common questions come from individuals wishing to use the archaeology collections for research. Many journal articles, master’s theses, and Ph.D. dissertations have been produced from research conducted using the State Museum of Pennsylvania’s historic and prehistoric archaeology collections.  Listed below are just a few of the many publications.

Esarey, Duane
2013 Another Kind of Beads: A Forgotten Industry of the North American Colonial Period. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Published in American Archaeology, Vol.18, No.1 spring 2014

Lauria, Lisa
2004 Mythical Giants of the Chesapeake: An Evaluation of the Archaeological Construction of “Susquehannock”. Journal of Middle Atlantic Archaeology 20:21-28

Mitchell, Seth
2011 Understanding the occupational history of the Monongahela Johnston Village Site Through Total Artifact Design. Unpublished Master’s thesis, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Indiana, Pennsylvania.

Orr, David G
2003 Samuel Malkin in Philadelphia: A remarkable Slipware Assemblage. Ceramics in America 2003 pp. 252-255 (

Occasionally, our staff will receive a request for public outreach. In October of this year, a request of this nature sent two staff members to the Upper Adams Middle School in Biglerville, PA to speak to 7th grade students studying ancient history. For occasions such as these, our staff uses a display board, a photographic slideshow and an assortment of prehistoric and historic artifacts to provide students with an overview of what it means to be an archaeologist and why archaeology matters. These experiences can be extremely rewarding for both the students and the staff. Public outreach plays an important role in meeting the educational goals of the museum.

Archaeology Curators Liz Wagner and Melanie Mayhew display artifacts for students of ancient history
Photo: Brenda Robinson

In addition to special requests for public outreach, archaeologists at the state museum participate in special programming at The State Museum. During the summer of 2015, staff members were on hand every Thursday afternoon in the Nature Lab on the third floor of the State Museum to offer insight and answer questions on a broad range of archaeology subjects including prehistoric tool making, clay pottery and the ongoing research of prehistoric stone axes, among other topics.

These are just a few of the many functions served by the archaeology curators at the State Museum of Pennsylvania.

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