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 .

Friday, July 4, 2014

Celebrating Independence Day

Winter at Valley Forge

This week the letter “I” is devoted to our struggle for independence from British rule that occurred subsequent to the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. The actions of the Continental Congress would forever change and define a continent that Europeans had only begun to colonize less than 200 years prior. Events preceding the Revolutionary War including the French and  Indian War had created tensions between the colonies and the British government.  Britain was struggling under the financial burdens of war and enacted a series of taxes against colonists who had already rallied together for a number of causes, each time gaining confidence and a growing sense of independence. 

At the dawn of the American Revolution, Pennsylvania was the third largest colony and contributed abundant supplies and labor, essential to the development of our new nation. Philadelphia was the largest city in North America with a population of nearly 30,000 residents. It served as our nation’s capital during most of the rebellion and as an important ocean port to the Delaware Bay. The city’s location was important for the shipping of supplies destined for the military. The British recognized its strategic significance and, after taking New York in October of 1776, moved quickly and decisively to capture Philadelphia.

Cheval de fries undergoing conservation treatment.

Attempts by Pennsylvania to halt the advance of British forces included the installation of a line of defense in the Delaware River between 1776 and August 1777. A series of chevaux de frise  were sunk between Fort Mercer and Fort Mifflin. General George Washington’s successful crossing of the Delaware on December 25, 1776, buoyed the morale of patriots which aided in securing guns and supplies for American troops. The Philadelphia Campaign of 1777 by British forces resulted in Washington’s ill-fated battles at Brandywine and Germantown and forced his retreat to Valley Forge for the winter of 1777-1778.

After being forced out of Philadelphia by the British, George Washington’s Continental Army spent the harsh winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge along the Schuylkill River, about 25 miles northwest of center-city. Although the field of Conflict (Battlefield) Archaeology has only evolved during the last twenty years or so, its new methodologies have greatly assisted the work at this site.  Archaeological investigations conducted by the National Park Service for more than a half-century included large-scale excavations. More recently, technology has provided us with equipment for remote sensing, such as ground-penetrating radar along with sophisticated metal detectors to locate concentrations of artifacts, and architectural foundations of buildings and structures used by Washington’s soldiers.

Excavated huts at Valley Forge

The arrival of troops to Valley Forge in December was poorly planned, supplies such as tents had been directed further west to avoid capture by British forces and food provisions were almost non-existent. Politics, weather and logistical breakdowns contributed to the hardships endured at this site. Even though Washington ordered living quarters to be neatly laid out in rows, archaeology proved that the huts were haphazardly placed in groups by battalion. Two Pennsylvania brigades from General Anthony Wayne’s division were on a rise toward the southwestern edge of the outer line of defense. The second, Conway’s Brigade was positioned towards the center of the inner line of defense. Archaeology has revealed that instead of the 14 by 16 ft. hut stipulated by Washington, some of the huts were 16 by 18 to accommodate twelve men.

Artists rendition of hut construction at Valley Forge.

Excavations in the area of Wayne’s Woods revealed huts terraced into the hillside, fireplaces primarily constructed in stone and oriented to the east. The size of the floors varied, one structure discovered was 12 by 22 ft., and was generally oriented in rows parallel to the crest of the hill along the outer line. Trash pits yielded additional evidence of diet and activities amongst the troops.
Recovered bone from refuse pits at Valley Forge provide evidence of a diet which included beef and pork.

Analysis of the dietary evidence indicates the soldier’s diet included beef and pork in somewhat better conditions than historians often describe. Evidence of the camp kitchen or hearth area yielded evidence of a round raised cooking area with ports or ovens for small cook pots. Individuals could prepare stews and soups that would feed multiple people with just a small amount of meat.

Excavations of the kitchen, note the dark circular stain.

Artists depiction of camp kitchen.

Troops endured harsh winter conditions, as well as disease and breakdowns in the supply system. In addition to the Pennsylvania forces at Valley Forge, Virginia and New Jersey troops were also present.  Historic documents provide evidence of the politics associated with supplies and provisions associated with the various brigades which can be supported by the archaeological record.

The shortage of clothing is well documented in the historic record and archaeology has provided some additional documentation to support this information. The sources of buttons recovered from the site indicate that soldiers were removing buttons from uniforms worn by British forces that were killed or wounded. Anthony Wayne personally contracted with a Lancaster manufacturer for coats, breeches, shoes and hats, but buttons for these garments would have to come from local sources and may have been a wide variety of forms.  Bone buttons were produced in cottage industries, including the prisoner of war camp at Camp Security  and have been recovered in excavations at Valley Forge. 

USA Button excavated at Valley Forge.

We close with an artifact that perhaps best symbolizes this desire for independence and the creation of a new nation. The recovery of pewter USA uniform buttons from these excavations is further evidence of the daily lives of these soldiers and their willingness to persevere and endure incredible hardships so that we may enjoy our freedom as an independent nation. We hope you will be inspired to learn more about the important role that Pennsylvanians played in the Revolutionary War and check your family heritage for connections to these brave soldiers. Enjoy your Independence Day celebrations and help us to preserve our past for the future!


Orr, David G., Ph.D.
Presentation at Workshops in Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Parrington, Michael,  Helen Schenck, Jacqueline Thibaut
   Images of the Recent Past; Readings in Historical Archaeology.  The Material World of the 
   Revolutionary War Soldier at Valley Forge, Chapter 4. AltaMira Press, CA.

Trussell, John B.B.,Jr.
Birthplace of an Army, A Study of the Valley Forge Encampment. Harrisburg; Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Walsh, Richard
The Mind and Spirit of Early America; Sources in American History 1607-1789. Appleton-Century-Crofts, New York.


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

Friday, June 20, 2014

“H” is for the Holocene

This week our blog is on the evolution of climate during the Holocene episode in Pennsylvania. This period follows the Pleistocene or Ice Age and is referred to as the modern era beginning approximately 11,800 years ago. Although, climate change is a very common topic in America and around the world, there is a perception that climate, flora and fauna have not changed substantially since the end of the Pleistocene. The glaciers melted, the megafauna became extinct and modern flora and fauna appeared; there were no substantial changes for the next 11,800 years. Even among archaeologists, that was a common miss-conception until about twenty years ago. In the following, we will describe the shift in climate, flora and fauna during the past 11,800 years and briefly relate this to cultural adaptions. The Holocene is sub-divided into eight climatic episodes and for the reader’s convenience, these are summarized below.  This table was originally developed based on pollen studies in Europe and the mid-western United States. The version below was developed by Dr. Frank Vento of Clarion University of Pennsylvania.

The cold conditions of the Pleistocene were caused by the changing of the earth’s orbit around the sun combined with changes in ocean currents. The orbit changes approximately every 22,000 years initiating a warm or cold period. This is called the Milankovich cycle. The last change began approximately 16,000 years ago. This was a warming period but it was interrupted approximately 12,900 years ago by the Younger Dryas episode. This episode brought a return to very cold and dry conditions. It may have occurred when the glaciers retreated north of the St. Lawrence River allowing very cold glacial melt water to dump directly into the North Atlantic Ocean thereby depressing the warming effects of the Gulf Stream resulting in cooler conditions.  
The Younger Dryas lasted approximately 1300 years and seems to have ended quickly around 11,800 years ago.  Following that near modern-day temperatures were reached within one hundred years.  This marked the beginning of the Holocene episode. The first warming period of the Holocene is called the Pre-Boreal climatic episode and dates between 10,300 and 11,800 years ago. This was a period of transition for the forests of Pennsylvania. Southern animal populations such as bats started moving north and northern animal populations such as lemmings moved even further north into New York. However, the vegetation took much longer to evolve. Pioneer species (trees that spread and grow quickly) filled the open woodlands of the Younger Dryas landscape with pine and spruce trees. The advancement of oak and other deciduous trees took much longer due to their slower migration and growth rates. The dense spruce-pine forest of the Pre-Boreal was similar to forests found in Canada today but different in that there was a greater variety of trees and shrubs. Deciduous trees, such as oak, hickory, chestnut, and maple gradually spread from the south, but these broadleaf trees did not replace the spruce-pine forest until after 10,300 years ago. During the Pre-Boreal (which corresponds to the Early Archaic cultural period), food resources for humans in the form of roots, seeds, berries, and animals were concentrated in developing floodplains in the Susquehanna and Delaware drainages and around swamps and bogs in the Ohio drainage.  However, overall this was a less plentiful environment than existed during Paleoindian times. A spruce pine forest simply does not have the nuts, seeds, berries, roots, bird and animal populations that are found in a pine-oak or oak-chestnut forest.

Early Archaic Riverscape

During the Pleistocene, Pennsylvania rivers were very wide, shallow and rocky. They were not bordered by the broad flat floodplains we see today. During the Pre-Boreal episode, the rivers began to stabilize into one channel, and floodplains began to develop. Artifacts that were dropped by the Archaic inhabitants in these settings were covered by subsequent flood deposits. Imagine for the moment that the twelve- or fifteen--foot-high floodplains of today were only three feet high, 10,000 years ago.  Artifacts from this time period are found in the deepest levels of these floodplains and only a couple of feet above the water table.
            By 10,300 years ago, the beginning of the Boreal episode (and Middle Archaic period), oaks and other nut-bearing trees were common throughout the region. This was also a warm and dry episode although characterized by a deciduous, broad-leafed forest. Beginning 9,500 years ago, the Atlantic episode begins, marked by a period of warm and moist conditions similar to the current climate. Overall, the forests were richer in food resources, including walnuts, hickory nuts, butternuts, acorns, and a variety of seeds, roots, and berries. Birds and mammals fed on these resources and themselves provided food for the rapidly increasing human population.  However, since human population densities were low, they did not require many specialized tools to exploit this new environment.

Middle Archaic Riverscape

Beginning about 6,800 years ago, there was an interesting change in weather patterns. Although the glaciers had retreated well into Canada, they had continued to affect the weather of Pennsylvania and the Middle Atlantic region in general. The presence of a huge mass of cold air (in the form of the Canadian glacier) prevented warm, moist air from moving out of the Gulf of Mexico. By 6,800 years ago, the glaciers had sufficiently retreated north so that a new weather pattern emerged. As a consequence, the Middle Atlantic region began to experience cyclonic storms (hurricanes) and valley-wide flooding. These events are recorded at many archaeological sites as thick layers (several inches) of flood-deposited sands.

Although the forests of Pennsylvania were constantly in transition, during the Atlantic episode, the primary plants and animals remained unchanged.  Catastrophic storms and forest fires, some human induced, resulted in shifts in the distribution of plants and animals, but the basic ecology was the same for over 3,500 years.  Many archaeologists consider the Archaic period as the classic adaptation to the “Primeval Forest.”   

The Sub-Boreal episode begins at approximately 5800 years ago. This marks the beginning of a warm and dry period; a significant change from the previous 3500 years. The reduction in precipitation would have reduced vegetation levels resulting in an overall drop in food resources and the distribution of resources would have been less predictable. The vegetation of this period begins as an oak and hemlock forest, but the hemlocks nearly disappear rather abruptly being are replaced by hickory trees. Although the drying environment may have been a factor, some believe that disease or blight affected the hemlocks.  The hemlock trees gradually return to the forests but it takes over a thousand years for this to occur.
It has been long recognized that the Sub-Boreal episode corresponds to the Transitional cultural period. A variety of new and distinctive tools appear during this period, including the first portable cooking containers in the form of soapstone bowls. There seems to be a change in food processing techniques in the form of earth ovens and stone boiling. Trade becomes common over large areas of the Middle Atlantic region. These factors suggest to some archaeologists that people were intensifying their exploitation of the environment possibly to extract more calories from diminishing food resources. However, archaeologists also debate over how dry the climate was and whether this had a significant effect on food foraging strategies. Some believe that the effect was minor and reference the pollen record which shows little significant change in vegetation (other than the replacement of hemlocks by hickory).  Other archaeologists use increased rates of flooding to assert that there was a sufficient reduction in rainfall to reduce ground cover, which resulted in greater runoff, erosion, and flooding during heavy rains. The issue has not been resolved, but there are an increasing number of sites that support the increased flooding scenario.
            The Sub-Boreal period ends at 2850 years ago; the Sub-Atlantic episode begins and there is a return to warm and moist conditions. Food resources increase. This corresponds to the Early/Middle Woodland period. These conditions stabilized floodplain environments by reducing the frequency of floods, although large floods from hurricanes continued. Over the next thousand years, there are a series of small changes in the climate. During this time, most of Pennsylvania was covered with an oak chestnut deciduous forest with an abundant variety of foods for humans. Preferred floodplain settlements were so frequently used by Native Americans that the locations became meadows with small trees, rather than climax (fully mature) forests.

Beginning at approximately 900 AD, the climate warms and this is known as the Medieval Warming period. The advantages of this change are recorded in Europe and Asia.  During this time, agriculture spreads into northern Europe and the Vikings settled in Greenland. The favorable conditions of the Medieval Warming in eastern North America allowed for a greater dependence on agriculture and its final spread into the Upper Ohio basin, Ontario, New England and eventually the river basins of eastern Pennsylvania. Agricultural hamlets and villages spread and grew in number throughout this region. The following episode, known as the Little Ice Age (1300 AD – 1800 AD)  is also chronicled by European historians when the trends of the Medieval Warming were reversed. The Vikings abandoned Greenland (and the possibility they would get credit for discovering the New World) and generally, there was a retreat of agricultural peoples into warmer climates. During this time in North America, several major cultural complexes experienced periods of instability and eventual collapse: the pueblos of the Southwest were abandoned as was Cahokia in the Mississippi Valley, hyperlink In the Ohio Valley of western Pennsylvania, site distributions were adjusted during this time. Interestingly, changes in the eastern part of the state are not as apparent. 
            One of the more noted accounts of harsh conditions during the period occurs during the winter of 1776 at Valley Forge. General George Washington and his troops were forced to retreat to the north of Philadelphia after the city was occupied by British forces. Lack of food, poor shelter and insufficient uniforms resulted in sickness and death for the Continental forces. The end of the Little Ice Age occurs at about 1800 AD, and is also marked by another wave of immigration to North America.

We hope you have found this journey through the evolution of climate change in Pennsylvania interesting. Understanding and exploring our archaeological heritage is crucial to our understanding of human behavior and our ability to change and adapt over time. 

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