Friday, April 24, 2015

 The State Museum of Pennsylvania is celebrating its 50th Anniversary at 300 North Street, Harrisburg; directly across the street from the State Capitol.  In conjunction with this celebration the Section of Archaeology will be highlighting some of the excavations, artifacts, publications and exhibits that have contributed to the history of our institution.  
The museum was originally named the William Penn Memorial Museum when it was dedicated on October 13, 1965.  John Witthoft was the State Archaeologist at the time and was well known for his research of Paleoindian artifacts from the Shoop site (36Da20) in Dauphin County and his ethnographic fieldwork with the Seneca and Eastern Cherokee Indians. His involvement with the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) and local chapters of the organization was valuable in providing professional assistance with excavations, most notably at Overpeck (36Bu5) and the Diehl site (36Bu1).
 His publication in 1965 Indian Prehistory of Pennsylvania was a comprehensive “handbook” to our past as it was understood at that time.  Witthoft developed the foundation for Pennsylvania’s culture history sequence, much of which has stood the test of time.  Some of the earliest occupation periods identified at archaeological sites such as Sheep Rock Shelter and Meadowcroft Rockshelter had not been fully excavated and analyzed when he developed this sequence.   His identification of Paleoindian tool types are still in use, although the Paleoindian period has been extended from his estimate of 8,000-16,000 years old to the current 11,700 to 19,800 years ago.  
Paleoindian tools from John Witthoft's publication Indian Prehistory of Pennsylvania
The Section of Archaeology was also overseeing field investigations at three of the properties of the  Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) during this time; Ephrata Cloister, Graeme Park  and Hope Lodge . Excavations were undertaken with funding from the federal government’s Neighborhood Youth Corps with assistance from seasonal archaeologists and young boys enrolled in the program.  Archaeology conducted at Ephrata Cloister, Lancaster County, sought to document the structure known as the Bethania or the Brother’s House.  Little documentation of the location for the Bethania existed and determining the exact location of this building which dated to 1746 was a primary focus of the investigation.  Adjacent to Bethania was a second structure identified as the Saal (chapel). This building was demolished in 1837. There were no drawings or pictures of this structure and the team also sought to document the foundation. Excavations revealed the Bethania foundation at 74’ x 36’ with stone walls up to a foot deep.  This structure was divided into cells by shallow limestone walls ranging from several inches to a foot.  This investigation uncovered an archaeological foundation much different than previously depicted by historians. 
John Witthoft -back far left- during the excavation at Ephrata Cloister (36La981) in 1965
In addition to field investigations and publications, the museum was working to install the culture history area of the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology in the new museum.  These dioramas were the only cases installed in the gallery and the artwork of Jerry Connelly and John Kucera have been featured often in publications and brochures produced by the Section.  Development of the remaining exhibit spaces would wait until 1966 when Barry C. Kent joined the museum. 

Paleoindian diorama at The State Museum painted in 1965

We hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into the early history of the Section of Archaeology and invite you to return on a regular basis to trace the activities of the Section over the past 50 years.         

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

Friday, April 10, 2015


Archaeology often offers a unique opportunity to analyze the human diet based on the recovery of dietary remains.  The analysis of this dietary refuse has yielded some very interesting insights into the human diet.  It has been said that some people live to eat, however, in reality; it is that all people eat to live. In fact, food science is a topic for serious discussion in light of the world’s rising human population - 7  billion + and growing! Not a day goes by when something about food is not the subject of a television or radio news clip or a full-fledged program on food products. As we all know, there’s even a Food Channel! To be sure, more and more households are beginning to grow their own foods while supplementing foods derived from the dairy and meat industries via the corner grocery store. Food is good and . . . . . . . food is necessary!

Upper: Elk antler cut mark modifications zooarchaeological specimen). Eschelman Site Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Lower: Whitetail deer horn tine with cut mark modifications (zooarchaeological specimen). Both specimens courtesy of the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania

In earlier times, when Native peoples were living in North America, diet was also varied, dictated only by what was available for the taking. Indeed, their diet was diverse and included tubers, fruits, nuts and other plant related foods. They also consumed foods taken from the water and surrounding landscape such as fin fish, shellfish, birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles - and of course, snails and insects. This brings us to this week’s TWIPA topic of zooarchaeology (and the letter Z, last letter in the current alphabetical sequence) so we will begin by briefly featuring several archaeological sites where animal bones have been studied.

Skeletal diagram of white tail deer showing butcher mark locations for dismembering the animal. Courtesy the Pennsylvania Archaeologist

A growing body of archaeological information in Pennsylvania is yielding quite an impressive inventory of animal foods that were among the many available sources for Native peoples . For example, Meadowcroft Rockshelter (36WH297) located in the Cross Creek drainage of southwestern Pennsylvania, in Washington County is considered to be the oldest continually occupied stratified rockshelter in North America. It contained 115,166 bones representing 5,634 individual vertebrate and 38 different snail and shellfish species. Many of the smaller remains, however, were dropped by raptors from the cliff face only to be recovered by archaeologists investigating the site from the stratified deposits thousands of years later (Guilday and Parmalee 1982; Lord 1982).

Upper: White tail deer skull (female), Elk County, Pennsylvania. James F. Herbstritt osteological collection. Lower: White tail deer (zooarchaeological specimen). Eschelman Site Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Both images courtesy The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Numerous animal remains from another rockshelter, now trapped beneath Lake Raystown in the Juniata Valley, were reported from the Sheep Rock Shelter (36HU1) in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. In a joint field school, Juniata College and the Pennsylvania State University excavated at the Sheep Rock Shelter in 1958, 1959 and 1961 (Michels 1994). During the mid-1960’s Guilday and Permalee (1965) after analyzing 35,000 faunal remains from the site, identified 38 species of mammals (4,099 bones); 7 species of fin fish (1,091 bones); 40 species of birds (1,693 bones); 12 species of reptiles (1319 bones); 2 species of amphibians (719 bones) and 13 shell fish species were present. This list represents at least 99 vertebrate and 15 invertebrate species, all native to southcentral Pennsylvania in prehistoric times.

Whitetail deer humeri (zooarchaeological specimen)showing butcher mark areas outlined in red. Eschelman Site, Lancaster County, Pa. Courtesy the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Two additional archaeological sites, Quaker Hill Quarry (36LA1100) and Eschelman Site (36LA12) a part of the Washington Boro Village site, are included in this week’s TWIPA  feature that relate to zooarchaeological studies. These lower Susquehanna valley villages date from the mid- 16th century to the early 17th century, a period in a time when actual face-to-face encounters with Europeans had not yet occurred.

Diagram of Mountain Lion humerus showing cut marks (1 and 2). Eschelman Site. Courtesy the Pennsylvania Archaeologist

Subsistence data for the Quaker Hill Quarry site, a fortified Funk Phase Shenks Ferry village, was obtained during data recovery operations that ended in 2009. A sampling of refuse pits from the four acre village site yielded fewer large mammals than expected for a significant permanent village site of the 16th century. The water and/or chemical separation (flotation method) was used over the course of the field study and proved to be worthwhile in recovering small bones, fish scales and other minute-size specimens. This method yielded the most comprehensive archaeo-faunal assemblage from a Shenks Ferry village site to date where more than 21,800 bone elements representing 42 aquatic, avian and terrestrial vertebrate/invertebrate species (Whyte 2005) were analyzed.

Bob Cat skull, Elk County, Pa.  James F. Herbstritt osteological collection. Courtesy the Section of Zoology and Botany, The State Museum of Pennsylvania

The Eschelman Site is a fortified Susquehannock village in the town of Washington Boro, Lancaster County,Pennsylvania. In 1949 the site was explored and identified as one of the dump sites where the Susquehannocks discarded their village trash (Kent 1984). Later on, zooarchaeological studies by Guilday, Parmalee and Tanner (1962) identified over 58,000 bone fragments – many of the mammals such as deer, bear, mountain lion, wolf, gray fox, bobcat and dog displayed the telltale signs of butcher marks indicating that such animals were skinned, stripped of their meat and used for food. In addition, there were 26 species of mammals; 33 bird species; 5 species of reptile; 2 amphibian; and 7 fish, respectively.

Junior archaeologist assisting with the recording of a historic period dog burial at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park, Courtesy The Section of Archaeology State Museum of Pennsylvania

In summary, zooarchaeological studies of bones provide us with a glimpse into the past where animals were an essential aspect of Native people’s diets.  Analysis of the dietary refuse of the past has provided us with a more complete picture of human survival.  These changes and adaptation in our diets are a reflection of  environmental and settlement pattern changes which have occurred over time. In tandem with wild and cultivated plant products these protein foods provided the necessary nourishment to sustain life and well-being at a time when the supermarket’s butcher shop was a thing of the future.

Guilday, John E., Paul W. Parmalee and Donald P. Tanner
1962       Aboriginal Butchering Techniques at the Eschelman Site (36LA12), Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 32(2):59-83.

Guilday, John E. and Paul W. Parmalee
1965       Animal Remains from the Sheep Rock Shelter (36HU1), Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 35(1):34-49.

Guilday, John E. and Paul W. Parmalee
1982       Vertebrate Faunal Remains from the Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Washington County, Pennsylvania: A Summary and Interpretation. In: Meadowcroft: Collected Papers on the Archaeology of Meadowcroft Rockshelter and the Cross Creek Drainage. Edited by Ronald C. Carlisle and James M. Adovasio.

Kent, Barry C.
1984       Susquehanna’s Indians. Anthropological Series No.6. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Lord, K.
1982       Invertebrate Faunal Remains from Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Washington County, Southwestern Pennsylvania. In: Meadowcroft: Collected Papers on the Archaeology of Meadowcroft Rockshelter and the Cross Creek Drainage. Edited by Ronald C. Carlisle and James M. Adovasio.

Michels, Joseph W.
1994       Excavations at the Sheep Rock Shelter (36HU1): An Historical Review. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 64(1):28-40.

Whyte, Thomas R.

2005       Vertebrate Archaeofaunal Remains from Site 36LA1100, The Stabler Tract Project, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Report submitted to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau for Historic Preservation.

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why the Y in Archaeology is so important

This week our letter is Y and in thinking of topics to cover it occurred to us that perhaps instead of looking at words beginning with the letter Y, we should look at words ending in “y”.  The obvious choice then is the” y” in archaeology.  Archaeology is a science and by mere definition its suffix meansthe scientific study of a particular subject  (Cambridge Dictionary). Archaeology is the study of past human behavior and culture through the systematic recovery and analysis of material remains or objects. Archaeology is a subfield of Anthropology which is the study of all human cultures.  Archaeology is the only discipline that examines all times periods and all geographic regions inhabited by humans. It is through this discipline that we are able to examine patterns of human behavior and how and why cultures change or adapt over time. Making archaeology and anthropology relevant to the general public is our goal and often our biggest challenge. 

Measuring and recording a fire cracked rock feature; evidence of a prehistoric cooking hearth

Archaeologists examine the past through the analysis of remains left by human activity.  We often discuss artifacts that are recovered during excavations in our blogs, but there are also features or cultural activity that is apparent in soils.  Examples include post holes from house structures, fire cracked rock from hearths and refuse pits for discarding of food waste. Artifacts represent the tangible remains of past human activity and are more likely to evoke an emotional bond with other cultures for the general public, but we require more than an artifact to understand its significance. The story or picture of the past is created through multiple processes including analysis of soil disturbances and the artifacts associated with those activities.  Systematic comparative analysis of multiple examples of the same type of artifact provides us with a better understanding of the object’s meaning or function and enables us to make those objects relevant to a broader audience.
archaeological evidence of a house structure dating from the Late Woodland (1550 AD-1000BP) period

Why is archaeology or our cultural heritage important or relative to you and me today? Because as our world changes and we are introduced to other cultures and other perspectives we must have an understanding and appreciation for past human behavior in order to value everyone’s place in society.  Archaeology provides an unbiased description of the past that historians often do not. History is often biased by those who record the events, but archaeology reveals the events based on the scientific evidence. An example of archaeology revealing a more accurate picture of the past is the archaeological evidence of survival at the site of Jamestown in Virginia. (hyperlink ) Understanding how and why cultures have changed in the past, the events or circumstances that evoked those changes provides answers to how we might better adapt to changes in the future.

Isis attack on a museum in Mosul in northern Iraq (image

The destruction of historic and archaeological resources is occurring at an alarming rate and while archaeologists understand the significance of these sites, others often do not.  Most of us are concerned by recent attacks on historic sites in the Middle East, and fear for the survival of artifacts that represent thousands of years of cultural development. Unfortunately, these acts of destruction are not the first time groups have chosen to destroy evidence of the past and it will likely not be the last.  The loss of these resources is painful, but when we consider that cultures have survived these events in the past, we can find hope in their continued survival.  Archaeology and anthropology are important tools in understanding our cultural heritage and provide many of the answers society desires in dealing with the future.

Intern Tam Eichelberger analyzing stone axes in the Science Lab of The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Refit analysis of debitage improves our understanding of lithic technology and stone tool produciton

In summary, the importance of the letter “y” in archaeology is that it depends on “you”. You are the individuals that can value archaeology and our heritage. You are the individuals we want to inspire to learn from the past and for whom we offer museum exhibits and public programming. We hope you will take a few minutes to examine your cultural heritage and the impact that archaeology has provided in understanding our past. Help us to insure that our archaeological heritage is preserved by supporting public programs and preservation laws so that we can protect the past for future generations.

 “Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” ― George S. Patton

 “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  George Santayana ,The Life of Reason, 1905 

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