Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Analyzing Stone Axes

       Hello my name is Tamara Eichelberger, and I was an intern during the spring semester with the Section of Archaeology at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. I have been interested in anthropology since I was a kid after I picked up a copy of National Geographic. I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in anthropology in high school and became a Sociology-Anthropology major at Elizabethtown College. While at Elizabethtown, I participated in archaeological digs at the Washington Boro site in Lancaster County and also in Trim, Ireland. I also worked for two weeks at the Museum of Copenhagen helping to wash, catalog, and analyze a collection of human skeletal remains. I got to spend my final spring semester of my senior year at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, and it was such a wonderful experience for me.

Recording catalog information in preparation for analysis.

















            While I spent some time organizing some documents donated to the museum at the beginning of my internship, the majority of my time was spent working with the collection of Native American axes housed at the museum. There are over 700 axes in the collection which were donated by private individuals in the early years of collecting. These collections were not cataloged and organized to today’s standards and had never undergone a comprehensive analysis. It was my job to go through over 50 boxes and make sure each axe had a unique catalog number and to measure and analyze the different features of the axes. The ultimate aim of the project is not only to catalog and measure the axes so the Museum has a record of them, but to also to do research on these axes. There have been few studies done on Native American axes in Pennsylvania so this project will add to our knowledge of stone tools in the area.
 
Tray of axes which illustrates the variety of axes analyzed.

         Before coming to the Section of Archaeology, I did not have much experience with stone tools or curation in general. I worked closely with Dr. Kurt Carr and several of the other staff throughout my time at the museum. I learned about the cataloging process for the State Museum and was able to wash and label over 250 previously un-cataloged axes. After washing and labeling, we worked to create an Access data base so we could record the different features and measurements of the axes. This was the most difficult part of the process as time and time again we came across an axe that stumped us and forced us to add in new variables to the analysis. I learned a lot about the manufacture of the axes and the variety of different uses they could have had. There was so much variety in the different axes that it felt almost impossible at times to fit them all in to the data base. However, this catalog will help us to learn more about the varieties of axes so I am excited about what we can learn once it is completed.

Measuring and weighing each axe with electronic calipers.

My favorite experience this semester was working in the Nature Lab in the State Museum. The Nature Lab is a place where different divisions of the museum can share the work they do with visitors to the museum. Three times during my internship, I packed up a cart full of scales, axes, diagrams, and other tools and set myself up in the Nature Lab. I was able to talk to many interested visitors about the axe project and what kind of work I was doing as an intern. For me, the most rewarding part of archaeology is being able to share findings and history with others, and the Nature Lab allowed me to do just that. Many of the people who visited the Nature Lab were children who were on field trips to the Museum for the day. I loved to watch their eyes light up with amazement every time I told them that the axes I passed around to them were thousands of years old. They also asked many great questions about the axes, archaeology, and Native American culture. I can only hope that they will continue to be interested in learning more about the past in the future.
Sharing my research in the Science Lab at The State Museum of Pennsylvania.
 
I could not be more grateful for all of the help that everyone gave me at the Museum during the semester. After working with the Section of Archaeology, I realized that I could see myself working at a museum as a curator in the future. I gained so many valuable hands-on skills that will help me in the future as I head off to graduate school for bioarchaeology in the fall. Although my internship at the museum has ended, and I will be graduating from Elizabethtown College very soon, the axe project has not been fully completed. The next intern with the Section of Archaeology will pick up on the project where I left off. After spending a whole semester working with the axes, I want to continue to help with the project and hope to visit the Museum again in the summer as a volunteer.





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

Friday, April 24, 2015

Highlights from 1965 at The State Museum



 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 PAarchaeology.state.pa.us or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, April 10, 2015

Zooarchaeology


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.


References
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 PAarchaeology.state.pa.us or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .