Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Internship in Archaeology

This week our blog will focus on one of two summer interns in the Section of Archaeology, State Museum of Pennsylvania. Hannah Wagner is a rising senior at Dickinson College who participated in the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Keystone Internship program.  Interns provide valuable assistance to the curatorial activities including identification, analysis and research or artifacts as well as collections management.  We wish Hannah the best as she completes her program at Dickinson and prepares for graduate studies.

rehousing Ephrata Cloister (36La981) artifact collection (photo courtesy of Carl Sander Socolow, Dickinson College)

I have been interested in archaeology for as long as I can remember. When I was younger, I had a particular interest in ancient Egypt, and I remember getting all kinds of books and learning materials about mummies for my tenth birthday. Looking back, this was probably not so normal for a ten year old! But as I grew older my interests developed, and I realized that I could actually turn this fascination into a career. And so, this fall I will be starting my senior year at Dickinson College where I study archaeology and art history. I am very excited to have had this opportunity to intern in the Section of Archaeology at Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) as a Keystone Summer Intern. 

mending reconstructed red earthenware vessel from Ephrata Cloister (photo courtesy of Carl Sander Socolow, Dickinson College)

My experience working in the Section of Archaeology has opened my eyes to so many new opportunities.  It is amazing how much I have learned over the course of the summer. My main project has been rehousing the artifacts from the excavations at Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County. The archaeological field school at Ephrata ran from 1994 to 2003, under the direction of former Senior Curator, Steve Warfel. The collections were inventoried and housed on open shelving, organized within their year of excavation. My rehousing project included removing the artifacts from their boxes and into acid-free boxes and bags and prior to placing them in drawers for curation. As the artifacts are being moved I am also creating a drawer inventory of each catalog number, a general artifact class and the new location. This inventory is then recorded in an electronic database maintained by the Section to be used for quick reference in the search for artifacts in the collection. Detailed inventories prepared after each field season are available for researchers who may be searching for a specific artifact type or class. Freeing up this shelf space is important; this then opens up space for more artifacts, increasing the size of our collections and the number of artifacts available for research. This project has definitely given me a lot of insight into tasks like proper curation practices, conservation, organization, and the duties of a curator.  

2014 Keystone Interns at the Pennsylvania Rail Road Museum

As part of the internship, PHMC took us on some great field trips. We visited a few PHMC properties and I was able to learn all about Pennsylvania heritage. My favorite trip was our day trip to Ephrata Cloister, Oregon Dairy, and The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. In addition to these field trips, I was able to tag along on a PennDOT sponsored field trip to McCormick Taylor, a consulting engineering firm specializing in design, land use planning, and environmental studies for transportation-related projects. Before this I hadn’t had much exposure to the world of Cultural Resource Management (CRM) archaeology, but visiting their office gave me a different understanding of CRM and opened it up as a possible career path for the future.

This summer I also had the opportunity to spend four weeks excavating at an archaeological field school in Trim, Ireland. The site was a Late Medieval Dominican Friary from the 13th century. There I learned basic excavation techniques like taking levels and coordinates, recording features, and how to properly excavate, document, and process human remains (the grounds of the friary also contained medieval burials). This experience, coupled with my internship, gave me a more complete understanding of the many aspects of archaeological research, including excavation, lab procedure and analysis, and preservation and curation. 

This internship has also given me the opportunity to diversify my knowledge base and to learn more about Pennsylvania and Native American archaeology as well as Cultural Resource Management and Historic Preservation. This summer I was able to acquire hands-on skills that cannot be taught in the classroom, and being able to apply my theoretical knowledge to the real world was the most valuable experience I had during the internship.  In the near future, I hope to attend a graduate program in Archaeology and Bioarchaeology, and then find a job in the field or in a museum. I have thoroughly enjoyed my summer working at PHMC, and I would highly recommend this internship to anyone else interested in archaeology.

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

Friday, August 1, 2014

Jefferson County Revisited

Back on the alphabetical trail this week through Pennsylvania Archaeology and we arrive at the letter “J”. With options like jasper and Jack’s Reef points discussed in earlier posts, “J” becomes a bit more difficult to find a match for.  Revisiting Jefferson County might not be the most creative solution but it does provide an opportunity to look at a recent cultural resources management project or CRM. Cultural Resource Management is a review process that aids in the protection and management of our cultural heritage under state and federal guidelines. This may include archaeological resources, but also addresses historic buildings. Cultural resources are finite and non-renewable resources that once destroyed cannot be returned to their original state.

Summerville Bridge project area, facing WNW

Jefferson County is home to Summerville, a small village situated along the northern and southern banks of Redbank Creek, a meandering tributary that forms the border between neighboring Clarion and Armstrong Counties and eventually meets the Allegheny River further west.

Historic aerial photo of Summerville, bridge is slightly below the center of photo, Redbank Creek flowing right to left

As seen in the historic aerial photo above, Summerville’s only bridge linking the northern and southern sections of town spans the creek at a perpendicular angle. PennDoT proposes to replace the bridge, “on a new alignment skewed across the creek . . . in order to improve the horizontal and vertical geometry and eliminate two 90 degree turns to the north of the existing bridge.”(Raber, Heberling and Vento 2012)

 Due to receiving federal funds, PennDoT undertakings are required, among other things, to make a good faith effort in identifying cultural resources, evaluating their significance, and if necessary, mitigate any adverse effects their projects may have on important archaeological sites. In 2011, Heberling Associates, Inc. was contracted by PennDoT to conduct a phase I archaeological survey of the bridge replacement project’s area of potential effect, or APE.

field crew huddles around the geomorphologist in a test unit, bridge visible in background

 Referencing the Bureau for Historic Preservation’s Cultural Resource Geographic Information System (CRGIS), no fewer than eight previously recorded archaeological sites have been identified in the vicinity of Summerville, suggesting a high probability of a site within the project area. Directly abutting the existing bridge a steep slope, recent erosional activity of Redbank Creek and modern demolition work eliminated the need for subsurface testing in three of the four quadrants of the project area. However, in the southeast quad geomorphological analysis indicated the potential for intact cultural remains in Holocene age soils.

west wall profile of test unit #2

Four 1 x 1 meter test units in the southeast quad of the project area were hand excavated to sterile soils. Thirteen pieces of Onondaga and Upper Mercer chert debitage were recovered from A horizon (topsoil) contexts across each of the four units, one of which exhibits slight utilization wear on opposite margins. No other prehistoric tools were found and none of the lithics could be assigned to a particular time period.

Upper Mercer and Onondaga chert flake and flake fragments from the Summerville Bridge site (36Je178)

utilized flake from 36Je178, showing minor use wear on left and right margins

 Several dozen historic artifacts were also recovered including earthenware and stoneware ceramics, vessel glass, a kaolin pipe stem fragment, and miscellaneous architectural materials. Two heavily corroded U.S. one cent pieces were found in stratum 2 of Unit 3. Although the obverse of both are so worn the dates are obliterated, enough of the reverse remains to identify one as a “wheat” penny, produced from 1909-1958, and the other as an “Indian Head” penny, minted from 1858-1909 (Yeoman 2001).

architectural materials: (top, left to right) brick, window glass, well preserved cut nail (bottom) heavily corroded cut nails

top, left to right: kaolin pipe stem fragment, aqua colored bottle glass fragments, glass button with iron eye, US wheat penny, US "Indian Head" penny. bottom, left to right: glazed red earthenware, stoneware crock rim and body sherds, hand-painted white earthenware ceramics

The cultural review process requires resources to meet certain criteria  in order to meet eligibility standards.  The light density and non-diagnostic nature of the prehistoric finds, and the historic artifacts’ lack of spacial integrity or association to important people or events, renders the Summerville Bridge site (36Je178) not eligible to the National Register of Historic Places, and no additional archaeological testing has been recommended prior to the construction of the new bridge.

Summerville Bridge, looking North

While not an exceptional archaeological site yielding new, interesting finds that will turn Pennsylvania Archaeology on its head, the Summerville bridge replacement project serves as an example of the numerous transportation projects throughout the state where PennDoT has (after the artifacts and associated documentation have been submitted to the State Museum of Pennsylvania, of course!) done its due diligence in helping to preserve the past for the future. These cultural resource management projects have provided archaeologists with an opportunity to look at archaeological resources all across the Commonwealth. Well documented and carefully prepared reports have provided us with a much improved picture of our archaeological heritage thanks to these investigations.


Raber, Paul A.; Scott D. Heberling; Frank J. Vento
(2012) Phase I Archaeological Survey S.R. 3007 Section 550; Summerville Bridge Replacement Summerville Borough, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania

Yeoman, R.S.
(2001) A Guide Book of United States Coins, 54th Ed. St. Martin's Press, New York

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tuscarora Annual Summer Picnic

This past weekend of July 11-13, we had the good fortune to visit the Tuscarora Indian Reservation and attend the annual Summer Picnic and Field Days.  The Tuscarora have many ties to Pennsylvania, migrating through here from North Carolina 300 years ago on their way to a new home with the Iroquois Confederacy.  They eventually settled in the Niagara Falls, NY area, but they periodically return to Pennsylvania at various times commemorating their ancestors’ migration

The festival is an annual gathering that brings families and clans together for a celebration.  The opening ceremonies were in “the grove”, across from their new community center.  The grove was designated for the festival about 80 years ago and now has a cement stage, food preparation and comfort facilities.  The Summer Festival celebrates its 170th anniversary in 2015.

The parade into the grove consisted of chiefs carrying flags and symbols of their nation, followed by the clan mothers.  Neil Patterson Jr. spoke in Tuscarora giving the opening welcome and prayer.  There are currently only six Tuscarora that speak the language but teaching their language has been a project that is in the forefront for the Nation.

The Big Drum Ceremony called all the people together and a special presentation was made to Lee Simonson.  His involvement in the December celebration of the Tuscarora Heroes Monument ( in Lewiston, NY was acknowledged with a fine plaque from the Nation.

The real festivities started when the dress and dancing contests began.  Children were clothed in traditional clan dress, handmade by people in their clan (such as grandmothers, mothers or even grandfathers).  Beadwork is always hand sewn and frequently depicts a clan symbol (such as the turtle, bear, snipe, deer or beaver) or a significant event relating to the clan.  Children are judged on their dress and show great deportment while standing in front of the audience of hundreds of people. The youngest, a one month old baby was held by his proud father.

The dancing contests began with the youngest (from 4 years old on up) showcasing their renditions of traditional dance.  It was impressive to see how serious the children were when it came to honoring their traditions of dress and dance.  They were taught the dance steps and worked diligently to do them correctly on that hot afternoon, while fully clothed in traditional regalia.

After the children showcased their dance, the adults entered serious competitions, especially in the traditional ‘Smoke Dance’.  The dances represent periods of the past or the transformation of a Tuscarora child into adulthood.  Dancing brings the community together and each has a symbolic meaning.  The Rabbit Dance is fast and symbolizes the hunter chasing the quick and clever rabbit while the Smoke Dance symbolizes the growth of a child to a man or a woman.


Community, camaraderie, food, renewing traditions and outreach are the spirit of the Tuscarora Annual Picnic.  The cares of the outside world are far away and left to be dealt with another day.

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