Friday, December 8, 2017

Fort Hunter: Where we are at now

Here we are, the Workshops in Archaeology and Thanksgiving are over and the Pennsylvania State Farm Show and Christmas season have begun. As we prepare our exhibit for the Farm Show in January 2018, the lab archaeologists and ever valued volunteers, have been hard at work processing the artifacts found at Fort Hunter this past field season. Today we are going to take a brief look at what happens to the artifacts once they come into the lab from the field and where we are in that process with this year’s artifacts.

As mentioned previously in this blog, a general rule of thumb for the time it will take to fully process artifacts in the lab is approximately seven days of lab work for each day of field work, depending on the quantity and types of artifacts found. With the help of our volunteers this time is cut down a bit, but it is still a lot of work and a long process.

The initial steps for processing any collection in the lab is to organize and record the provenience information from field bags through the preparation of a digital field bag inventory. The field bags are then organized by unit and level allowing for easy processing later on.

View of the field bag inventory

 Field bags organized by unit and level in bins ready to be laid out for washing.

Once this is completed, the artifacts are laid out by bag on trays and the process of cleaning the artifacts through washing, dry brushing, or other conservation techniques begins. As can be seen above, we have already emptied a few bins of field bags and the image below shows some of the artifacts out and ready to be washed.

 Artifacts laid out on trays to be washed

Artifacts being cleaned, washing on the left, dry brushing on the right

As the artifacts are cleaned and air dried, the next step in the process begins, labeling. Artifacts are labeled with the site number, in the case of Fort Hunter the site number is 36Da159, and the catalog number, which identifies the location where the artifact was found. Catalog numbers are determined based on the provenience information recorded from the field bags.

Clean artifacts (fire-cracked rock) being labeled

Once the artifacts are properly labeled, they are identified and bagged by type within each catalog number and then inventoried in a digital format, to make for easy lookup for research or exhibit creation.

Artifacts being identified and bagged for final curation

Due to the great effort of our volunteers, it is possible to work on multiple steps of this process at one time. This allows us to process the artifacts in an efficient and effective manner. (For more information on how artifacts are processed in the state museum archaeology lab check out our previous blog, Behind the Scenes at The State Museum—Processing the Fort Hunter Collection: What happens after the field work is done?)

Currently in the archaeology lab, we have completed the initial organization and recordation of proveniences as well as the identification of catalog numbers for each provenience. Washing, labeling and identifying/bagging are currently occurring in the lab every day.

This year we are taking our processing one step further by attempting to mend, or put back together, prehistoric pottery fragments to see if we can identify one or more vessels. This has proven difficult as there are many very tiny pieces of pottery and many of the larger pieces do not fit back together, but some progress has been made as can be seen in the pictures below.

Staff archaeologist attempting to mend pottery fragments

As we process the artifacts, it becomes more clear what types of artifacts are present in the collection and this year we seem to have an abundance of prehistoric artifacts such as stone waste flakes and tools, pottery and bone. This said, there are also numerous historic artifacts. Though very few of them date to the fort period they still help tell the story of the landscape. These artifacts include buttons, musket balls, butchered bone, nails of varying types and other architectural materials, historic ceramics and glass; as well as more modern artifacts such as plastic and Styrofoam.

 Here is a glimpse at some of the more notable artifacts we have uncovered from this year thus far:

Prehistoric artifacts:

Shell bead, possibly with incised markings on the top and bottom surfaces

Rim and neck sherds of Owasco cordmarked pottery type, dating to c. 1200 to 1300 AD (Ritchie 1965).

Additional rim, neck and body sherds from the Owasco tradition.

Unknown pottery type, vessel body fragments mended back together.

Vessel body sherd from an exterior and interior cord marked vessel, also mended together
Incised rim sherd fragment of a Shenks Ferry Tradition vessel.

Projectile points: top row: Madison type triangle point dates to the late Late Woodland Period (AD. 1450 - 1600.), second row down  Rossville-like point type, dates to the Middle Woodland Period (1,000 BP. – 2,100 BP.) third row down: Lehigh/ Koens-Crispin point type, dates to the early Transitional Period (4,350 BP. – 4,850 BP.), bottom row right: the large broadspear/ knife, dates to the Transitional/Late Archaic Period (4,350 BP. – 6,850 BP.) bottom left:  this point which could fall within Late Archaic through the Middle Woodland periods.
(Custer 2001, PHMC 2015, Ritchie 1971)

Historic period artifacts:

Tin glazed earthenware (left) and scratch blue salt glazed stoneware (right). Both fall within the French and Indian War time period, though all were found in mixed contexts.

Musket Balls of varying sizes and date ranges.

Gun Flint

Brass and pewter buttons dating around the late 18th and 19th centuries.

As usual, the fort at Fort Hunter remains elusive, but each year we find little hints of its existence through artifacts. We continue to learn more and more about the landscape and how human occupation has impacted the land through the thousands of years of use that we have been able to identify through our excavations. We hope you have enjoyed this update on what is happening to the artifacts found at Fort Hunter during the 2017 field season and we wish you all a wonderful and safe holiday season!


Custer, Jay F.
2001       Classification Guide for Arrowheads and Spearpoints of Eastern Pennsylvania and the Central Middle Atlantic. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission
2015       Pennsylvania Archaeology: Time Periods. Electronic document,

Ritchie, William A.
1965       The Archaeology of New York State. The Natural History Press, Garden City, New York

1971       A Typology and Nomenclature for New York Projectile Points. University of the State of New York, State Education Dept. Albany, New York. Originally published 1961, Bulletin No. 384, New York State Museum and Science Service.

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Thanksgiving Dinner Table

The American holiday that would become known as Thanksgiving had its origins in Europe. Many towns and villages held celebrations to mark a plentiful harvest and blessings of the previous year. When the first Europeans came to America in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, they brought these harvest celebration traditions with them. Harvest celebrations and days of thanksgiving were held sporadically in the early colonies as no formal holiday existed. The First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was issued by the Continental Congress from its temporary capitol in York, Pennsylvania in 1777. Thanksgiving has been celebrated as a national holiday since 1863 when it was designated by President Abraham Lincoln.

Over the years since the first celebrations were held, many types of table wares have held the Thanksgiving holiday meal. From deer and squash on wooden bowls and pewter dishes, to turkey and mashed potatoes on disposable plastic plates; the feast is served on the popular dishes of the day.

From the time of the first national Thanksgiving proclamation, the holiday meal would have been served on the fashionable table wares of the day including creamware and pearlware. Creamware and pearlware were fine earthenware ceramics manufactured in England from the mid-18th century through the 1840s. Creamware is a cream-colored porous ceramic that appears yellow or green where it pools in crevices. Pearlware appears white or slightly blue-tinted to the eye and pools blue in crevices. 

These ceramic types were produced in a large variety of vessel forms, sizes, decorative styles, and colors, and remain as highly popular today as they did in the decades around the turn of the 19th century. Creamware and pearlware are found on most archaeological sites of that time period and the State Museum of Pennsylvania collections hold many exceptional examples of these ceramic types.

A large variety of shell-edged pearlware vessels were recovered from Philadelphia Market Street Site 36Ph001 in the 1970s, including different sizes and shapes of food serving dishes and serving platters. Many of these pieces are decorated with a blue shell-edged rim pattern.

Blue Shell Edge Pearlware Serving Dishes and Platter

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, holiday meals may have consisted of many courses of meats, wild game, and seafood with accompanying vegetable and side dishes. Sauces, creams, and gravies would have been provided to pour on top. Several blue shell-edged pearlware gravy or cream boats are part of this collection.

Blue Shell Edge Pearlware Gravy or Cream Boats

A table setting of the time would have consisted of numerous wine, liquor, and drinking glasses; individual place settings of up to 24 pieces; and different size plates and bowls for each course of food. These pearlware plates and bowls with green shell-edged rims were also recovered from site 36Ph001.

                                         Green Shell Edge Pearlware Plates and Bowl

Large creamware serving platters may have held meats such as turkey, chicken, fish, or pork. Creamware was available in several popular patterns. The serving platters pictured here have Feather edge and Royal edge rim patterns. 

Creamware Serving Platters: Feather Edge Pattern (left) and Royal Edge Pattern (right)

Creamware table settings were available in the Feather edge and Royal edge patterns, as well as in the Queens pattern, octagonal shaped rims, and several other patterns. Queen’s pattern or Queensware was named for its popularity with British Queen Charlotte.

 Creamware Bowl and Plate in Queen’s Pattern (top left and right) and Octagonal Plate (bottom)

Pearlware table wares with transfer-printed decorations became popular around the turn of the 19th century. Transfer printing involved transferring an inked design from a copper plate onto a ceramic vessel. Early transfer print pieces were available in blue, with later colors developing in black, brown, red, purple, and green. These pieces often exhibit oriental scenes, pastoral landscapes, or biblical and romantic motifs and were very popular at the time. The Head House and Commuter Tunnel sites in Philadelphia produced many beautiful ceramics including a number of transfer-printed pearlware vessels shown here.

Transfer-printed Pearlware Dishes in Blue and Black. Bottom Plate Motif is a Landscape Scene from Conway, New Hampshire

Creamware and pearlware vessels were also produced using many other decorative techniques including handpainting, dipping (annular, mocha, banded), sponging, luster glazing, enameling, embossing, and encrusting (gritted). The great popularity of creamware and pearlware ceramics finally began to die out in the mid-1800s, making way for whiteware and ironstone.

No matter how you choose to enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner – whether on grandma’s antique china or on Styrofoam plates – we in the Section of Archaeology wish you a terrific holiday! And should you decide you would like to set your table with some lovely creamware or pearlware, there are many websites where you can purchase these pieces , including this beautiful, 17-piece creamware set -

Thank you to our followers, volunteers and colleagues who help us in our efforts to preserve the past for the future.  We have much to be thankful for and hope you’ll continue to follow our blog and visit with us in the future. 

For further information, please see these sources:

History Channel
2017    History of Thanksgiving. History Channel website, at

Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab
2002    Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland. Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum website, at

Pilgrim Hall Museum
2017    Pilgrim Hall Museum website, at     

The Cook’s Guide
2005    The Cooks Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant website, at                                                   

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Workshops Wrap-Up

As many of you may know, we recently held or annual Workshops in Archaeology on October 28, 2017.  This year’s theme was Ethnicity in the Archaeological Record; and although attendance was a little lighter than usual, the papers presented and the discussions provoked were as interesting as ever.

The day began with the Director of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Beth Hager, welcoming everyone to the museum and generally setting the stage for this year’s installment of our workshops program.  Dr. Kurt Carr briefly introduced the topic of the day and was followed by our first presenter, Keith Heinrich of Pennsylvania’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO). 

Keith suggested that in some cases (not all) place names can be an indicator of ethnicity.  He discussed two examples, Germantown in Philadelphia and Polish Hill in Pittsburgh.  Being an architectural historian, he was also able to describe structural clues to ethnicity. 

The second presentation of the morning was scheduled to be Brice Obermeyer of the Delaware Nation who unfortunately was unable to join us.  Nothing daunted, our own Janet Johnson was able to collaborate with Mr. Obermeyer and deliver an interesting paper identifying a Delaware village in Missouri.  Janet drew comparisons between Delaware sites in Pennsylvania using clues such as personal ornaments (silver adornments, glass beads, brass points & cones…) as well as structural similarities in log cabin construction.

Session three was delivered by Ken Basalik from Cultural Heritage Research Services, Inc. (CHRS).  Ken delivered a cautionary summation of several historic sites in Pennsylvania acknowledging the difficulty of defining an ethnic group through both time and space.  In some examples, physical alterations of structures through time were enough to disguise what could have been ethnic attributes.  In other instances, the artifacts recovered alluded to one group or another with varying degrees of accuracy.  Concluding with the idea that in some cases, structures and artifacts may offer clues but the best way of deciphering ethnicity was historical documentation and the personal accounts of those that lived there, if available.

The fourth session of the morning was presented by Hannah Harvey, Pennsylvania’s State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).  Her research was devoted exclusively to the company housing associated with the early 20th century Columbia Plate Glass Company near Blairsville in Indiana county.  Using documentation, predominantly census records, she was successful in “mapping the social geography of the community”.  

Although she too found it difficult to corroborate ethnicity via excavation.

John P. McCarthy, Cultural Preservation Specialist with the Delaware Division of Parks and Recreation, delivered the fifth paper, a discussion of burial practices at two early 19th century African American cemeteries in Philadelphia.  In several of the burials common yet unusual grave goods were interred with the deceased; coins, a shoe and a plate.  He contends that these are vestiges of spiritual non-Christian beliefs about the afterlife that developed in Africa and were demonstrative of an “African based social identity” in the face of growing hostility in 19th century Philadelphia.

The next paper also dealt with African Americans in Philadelphia, this time in the late 18th century.  Jed Levin, Chief of the History Branch of the Independence National Historical Park, spoke of the excavations at the National Constitution Center and the President’s House over the past 15 years and detailed the contrasting stories of two African Americans in Revolutionary War era Philadelphia.   One, James Oronoco Dexter a free coachmen and Ona Judge, Martha Washington’s enslaved seamstress.  Using both historical documentation and the archaeology he was able to construct a forgotten piece of our collective national history.

Our former Senior Archaeology Curator Steve Warfel spoke about the German religious community at Ephrata Cloister during the mid-18th century.  Steve’s presentation discussed the groups strict, pious, religious beliefs and how they changed as a result of internal and external pressures.  Some of these changes are reflected in the historic documentation others are not, but are evident in the archaeological record.  For example, their rules and beliefs are written about in several sources so they are known from the written record.  One such rule of behavior was a belief in poverty, they thought personal property to be sinful, and yet redware dishes were recovered archaeologically that clearly had initials scratched into the base, marking it as belonging to someone.  

Demonstrating the transformation of their self-view, self-identification being at the core of the definition of ethnicity.

The final presentation of the day was delivered by two speakers, Cristie Barry and Amanda Rasmussen both from McCormick Taylor.  They also discussed Germans, focusing on two German farmsteads in eastern Pennsylvania tracing their development through the 18th and 19th centuries.  Looking at the farm layout and the household artifacts as evidence of the frugal, self-sufficient nature of the German occupants.  They too found that without the historical documentation it would have been difficult to establish an ethnic link based just on the archaeological record.

At the conclusion of the presentations Jonathan Burns, Director of Juniata College’s Cultural Resource Institute, provided a closing summary to the day’s discussions.  Many of the paper’s resolved that without the accompanying historic documentation it can be difficult to establish ethnicity in the archaeological record.  The exception to this is finding a unique artifact or artifacts that are obvious ethnic calling cards.  While conducting excavations at Fort Shirley in Huntingdon county a medallion / charm was recovered inscribed in Arabic “No God but Allah”.  

A clear marker of Muslim ethnicity, but an extremely rare find. 

Along with the presentations Steve Nissly was in attendance demonstrating his Flintnapping skills.

Artifact were being identified by Doug McLearen and Kira Heinrich, both from the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).  

Noël Strattan and Hannah Harvey, also from the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), explained the Cultural Resource Geographic Information System (CRGIS) and registered new sites.  In all it was another successful Workshops in Archaeology concluding of course with a reception in the Hall of Anthropology where participants and attendants could snack and chat less formally about the day.

Hopefully this glimpse of the Annual Workshops in Archaeology has been enough to entice you to join us in the future.  Next year’s date is yet to be announced but we will post it here as soon as it is scheduled so stay tuned!

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