Tools of the Trade: Actual Archaeology at PennDOT

By : Angela Jaillet-Wentling

From underneath a rusty 1927 Studebaker coupe car (an antique even in my youth) frame, my Papa called out to myself and my brother, “Can one of you kids hand me a the flat-head screwdriver with the stubby handle?” At the ripe old ages of six and four, we may very well have handed him a pair of pliers for all we knew.  He’d roll out on his card dolly with a smile, accuse us of being monkey wrenches, show us the tool he’d meant and head back under an engine most people had given up on fifty years prior. What I’d learned from my Papa, even as I spent more time playing with and picking on my younger brother, was that every job has a tool and some tools are more appropriate than others.

Photo 1. Shovel testing /Phase I archaeological survey, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. Courtesy Angie Jaillet-Wentling (2017).

One of the first things about archaeology that I found re latable was this idea. I also like dirt, so it’s worked out well as a life/career choice for me! I began my career in Cultural Resources Management (CRM) in transportation through an internship with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). As a note though, when I told my Papa that I wanted to be an archaeologist and there were jobs for in places like PennDOT, he laughed and hit me with one of the biggest myths I face as a transportation archaeologist “So, you’re going to hold up progress on the highways?!” Another thing my Papa taught me is that you can face almost anything with humor and a quick response. Being new to the profession, I don’t know that I had a good response to his question other than to laugh, give him a mock grumpy look, and say it wasn’t true. This is still true, but now I can tell him we rarely “hold up” a project and that we’re there to ensure that we don’t inadvertently lose out on our shared heritage by pushing projects through without consideration.

As a PennDOT archaeologist, we’re hired as historic preservation specialists and called Cultural Resource Professionals (CRPs) (  We help guide the implementation of PennDOT’s cultural resources program and the ways in which the individual engineering districts navigate the Section 106 (of the National Historic Preservation Act, as amended [1966, 2016]) ( process and how it may affect the overarching National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (1969) (, process.  On a more localized level, what this means is that I work as one part of a team which includes myself covering below-ground cultural resources and my counterpart, an architectural historian, covering the above-ground cultural resources realm. We attend design field views early in the project planning process, provide guidance as to what studies may be needed, sometimes performing these studies ourselves, and ensure that each project follows the process in the most efficient way possible. We’re responsible for Findings of Effect or the determination of whether a project’s activities will affect cultural resources and, if so, how PennDOT can mitigate for that impact.

Photo 2. Backhoe Sounding of Ground-Penetrating Radar survey, Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Courtesy Angie Jaillet-Wentling (2017).

That all sounds awfully convoluted and legal, and it is, but it’s also done in equal parts archaeology technical know-how and documentation (findings, reports, and even public outreach).  On any given day, I can be found roadside wielding a soil probe or shovel to determine the extent of previous disturbances (Photo 1) or monitoring the removal of modern overburden by a backhoe to ground-truth the results of a ground-penetrating radar survey (Photo 2) or floating in a kayak in freezing weather to delineate canal resources (Photo 3) or pecking away on my keyboard to notify Federally-Recognized Tribes and Nations across the nation of project status or preparing legally-binding programmatic agreements.  We conduct background research on our projects to provide the best guidance possible and sometimes this gives us a better idea of the methods we’d like to use to investigate differing project areas and potential cultural resources.

Preparing haphazardly for this blog post, I asked Gen Everett what she’d like me to write about.  She though that I should discuss what I do as a CRP and possibly advice for graduates heading towards CRM.  There’s a joke archaeologists like to tell about classifying artifacts, you’re either a lumper or a splitter – as in you either associate or you differentiate the different characteristics of artifacts. I’m going to lump what I find most critical to completion of my daily duties and advice into one basic idea: know your tools and to do this ask questions! 

Photo 3. Canal survey of a portion of the Kiskiminetas River, Westmoreland and Armstrong Counties, Pennsylvania. Left: Angie Jaillet-Wentling. Middle Background: Railroad Trestle. Right: Canal Towpath Bridge Abutment. Courtesy Don Burden (2017).

Archaeology and CRM is filled with resources (and not just the cultural/archaeological/historical kind) in both its practitioners and its methodologies. Familiarize yourself with different methods of investigation so that you can develop a nuanced and effective approach to identifying and evaluating cultural resources that may be impacted by a project. This means that you might need to move beyond the standard shovel testing to remote sensing methods to backhoe trenches. You should be comfortable with the different options, so that you’re confident in choosing the most appropriate tool for the task.  To be comfortable and confident, familiarize yourself with the methods and the people that know them best understanding that you might not be the expert, but you know who is. You can’t come by this knowledge without putting in the research and asking questions!

Once you get to the point where you have something to impart, be it knowledge or support, it probably doesn’t hurt to share it with others. I think this applies to research and experience. What’s the use in learning about our history, if you can’t use that to help others increase awareness?  Publish and present what you can.  Graduate students in the future will likely cite it or critique it, but it furthers your field of study.  I was very fortunate to have early and often mentorship from PennDOT, in the form of the usually laughing and story-telling, Mr. Joe Baker. I count myself even more fortunate in my latest stint as a PennDOT CRP, because we get to work with and help mentor the PennDOT Highway Archaeology Survey Team (PHAST) (,, or It’s a joy to hear their questions, answer what I can, and pose some back to them.

Angie Jaillet-Wentling

Angela Jaillet-Wentling, M.A., RPA | Historic Preservation Specialist

PA Department of Transportation

Bureau of Project Delivery | Cultural Resources Unit

CRP Archaeologist Engineering Districts 12-0/11-0



VA to PA: Musings From A First Year Graduate Student

By: Jessie Hoover


Excavations at Hanna’s Town

Hello, my name is Jessie Hoover, and I am a first-year graduate student of the Applied Archaeology Program. My fieldwork over the summer of 2017 consisted of two field schools. First, from May to June, I supervised undergraduates, through Longwood University, at the Randy K. Wade site in Randolph, Virginia. I fell in love with this site! It is so rich in cultural material; every feature is bound to have at least five full bags of artifacts! The site is a Late Woodland period site located in the Stanton River Battlefield State Park. I lived out of a tent for four weeks, braving wind, rain, and bugs (sometimes all three at once). I woke up one morning with a bug bite right below my eye, causing major swelling, but I reminded myself that it was all in the name of archaeology! The most interesting find was a pile of corn cobs within a fire pit feature. The way the corn cobbs laid looked like they were just thrown into a fire yesterday, reminding me to remember the people that occupied the area, not just the artifacts.

After moving to Pennsylvania in July, I started IUP’s field school at Hanna’s Town in Westmoreland County, PA. This site reminded me that not every site is going to resemble the Wade site. Sam Edwards and I worked weeks in a 5’ x 5’ unit with barely any artifacts to show for it. We did find a few interesting features, which were small post holes a semicircle. Unfortunately, the lack of artifacts makes it hard to draw conclusions from these features.

Me with Representative Eric Nelson visiting excavations at Hanna’s Town

Once my archaeology season ended it was time to hit the books with the start of my first semester of grad school. I was nervous and excited about going to grad school and moving to another state. Luckily I was not too nervous about the actual school work since I only took a year off from school. I knew time management was key and avoiding procrastination (Netflix) at all costs was important coming into the program, but knowing and implementing time management are drastically different! To support myself thought my first semester, I had to get a part-time job. Course work and job shifts have proved quite the balancing act; I have needed to make many adjustments. During the beginning weeks, I never gave myself a break. Between work and reading assignments, I always felt overwhelmed. I really had to have a heart-to-heart with myself to set aside time to do something fun and take a break before insanity takes its toll. Because of this decision, I have been able to get closer to my cohort, which has done wonders for my morale. Your cohort and professors are there to HELP YOU, this cannot be stressed enough! Since it is close to Thanksgiving, I am highly thankful for my cohort and the others who have come into my life since beginning of my grad school journey. Whether we are working on Barber assignments or just hanging out, the support has made this experience easier.


Yes, Archaeology is a Science Too…

By: Genevieve Everett

For the past few weeks the Public Archaeology class and I have been preparing to host the high school students involved in the Upward Bound Math and Science (UBMS) program. The Upward Bound program aims to serve, “high school students from low-income families; and high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree” (U.S. Department of Education). UBMS, a local branch of Upward Bound, prepares high school students for college with the possibility of pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). The UMBS students are required to come to IUPs campus one Saturday a month for tutoring sessions and/or workshops. This month (November) the students woke up bright and early to participate in four archaeology centric workshops.

In planning for the workshops, our class brainstormed a theme and three objectives to convey the scientific aspects of archaeology. We chose the theme, “Scientific Method” (a concept most high school students have learned), and our three objectives were to show how the scientific method is used in archaeology, highlight the inter-disciplinary aspects of archaeology, and how math and technology aid archaeology. Most importantly, our goal was to provide a hands-on experience that actively engaged the students as opposed to simply teaching them through lecture. The four workshops developed by our class include: Dendrochronology/Archaeoclimatology, Geophysics/archaeology, how to lay out test units (using the Pythagorean Theorem), and dissecting owl pellets/zooarchaeology.

Jessie and I partnered up, and decided to create a dendrochronology workshop, which evolved into a focus on what tree rings (annual growth of a tree) can tell us about past climate events and how this may have effected settlement and subsistence in the past (Archaeoclimatology). I for one knew little about the methods behind “dendro”; therefore, it was a personal learning experience for me. Our learning objectives for this workshop were to show how archaeologists use dendrochronology and the limitations of the dating methods, and the ability to look for past climatic events in tree rings and their effects on the surrounding environment.

One of the horizontal cross cut hand-outs

Jessie and I created a few PowerPoint slides explaining what dendrochronology is and what each tree ring can tell us about the trees growth (i.e. wider rings=healthy growth, smaller rings=dry seasons, less healthy growth). With this information, Jessie and I gave the students two hand-outs displaying horizontal cross cuts of trees that represented two hypothetical beams from two log cabins found in close proximity on the North American Great Plains. In this hypothetical scenario, Jessie and I, the archaeologists asked the students to help determine the first year of growth of each beam, the year each tree was cut, and which drought event (The Dust Bowl or the 1890’s Drought) was present based on the tree rings. The students were given two dates: 1886 and 1919 for first year of growth from which they were asked to count out toward the outer most ring (last year cut) to find the climate event and the year the tree was cut. Likewise, they were asked to make observations and work together to figure out the three objectives of the activity.

A good portion of the students (sorry, no hard statistics) were able to determine the first year of growth by testing out the two dates for first year of growth (1886 and 1919) on one hand-out at a time by counting out and up in time. Counting out and up in time allowed the students to pin-point where the climate events occurred, and finally the year the tree was cut. Other students needed a few hints to get them going. We rounded out the activity by explaining that dendrochronology is by no means a perfect dating tool, instead, we weigh the date from dendro against other methods such as radiocarbon dating and diagnostic artifacts from excavations. Additionally, we discussed the impacts of climate on humans in the past based on our own knowledge of the effects in contemporary contexts.

Overall, as a student of archaeology with an interest in Public Archaeology, this was as much an educational experience for me as it was for them. I’ve had minimal opportunities to interact with the public other than what I’ve done for my graduate assistantship and at field school. When working with the public, especially high school aged kids, you have to be able to balance all the different learning styles (tactile, visual, auditory, etc) in one workshop. This is definitely not easy, and I give teachers props that are able to balance them all. I think that if Jessie and I had a little more time to develop the activity, that our workshop could have the potential to be a valuable teaching tool for all learning styles. One major take away from the student evaluations is that these kids want less lecture and more hands-on activities. Personally, I think that we provided them with plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning, but the audience has spoken, and as educators, it is our duty to adapt to these “criticisms” and work on making these workshops more fun and engaging.


Growing Up In Cemeteries, Pt 2.

By: Zane Ermine

Hello everyone! This is Zane Ermine again with another blog post! This week I’m going to be talking about headstone symbolism throughout the last 300 or so years in North America. (I should note that this is an extremely brief generalization based off of my previous knowledge and some basic research).

Headstones and cemetery engravings have changed drastically throughout the years. From the onset of using stone markers to designate burials, there were often intricate designs incorporated with the name, birth and death dates of the individual onto the face of the stone. These were usually carved with a hammer and chisel and due to the time and effort that were necessary to process an individual monument, set designs were chosen and offered to the families. These designs had themes that were common throughout the industry.

Here are just a handful of the more common symbols:

Dogwood – often a symbol of Christianity, it can also represent eternal life and resurrection.

Dove Often representative of the Holy Spirit, also symbolizes peace in death or the ascension to Heaven.


Draped Urn – the urn is an ancient symbol of death – often draped with a cloth to represent a separation between life and death

Draped Urn

Wheat – the Grim Reaper is generally depicted as carrying a scythe – can represent a life well lived, harvested at its time.

Lamb – common on children’s stones, it can represent innocence – a lamb in Jesus’ flock



Example of Greek temple style monument

Eventually, tombstones grew into a status symbol – you can often tell which family had the most money by their large and intricately carved family stone. These headstones were often influenced by the popular architecture of the time; you can find Egyptian or Greek style stones during their respective revivals between the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Around the 1930s, some companies began slowly adopting sandblast technology to engrave their headstones. Rubber was (and still is) used as a stencil to prevent the sand from eroding sections of the stone that are meant to remain untouched. The technology has remained relatively stable since this period, despite varying methods for attaching the rubber and the introduction of computer software. Currently, adhesive-backed rolls of rubber are cut from a stencil cutting machine and placed on the blank monument die. The machine cuts the stencil directly from a CAD program and a to scale computer draft of the stone.

A modern headstone, showing detailed sandblast work. The 3 symbols across the bottom represent the deceased’s various hobbies.

These days, symbolism seems to have taken a back seat to artistic creativity. Modern technology has drastically increased the range of designs that can be placed onto a monument – instead of hand-carving designs, computers and automated sandblast machines do much of the work. Some of the older staples, such as dogwood, doves, roses, or clasping hands have stuck around, although this is more likely due to tradition or aesthetic values, rather than symbolism. Customers can now choose from wider range of designs including sports emblems, cartoon characters, or a variety of animals or vehicles. The art of tombstone design has shifted from inert symbolism to a more blatant pictorial representation of an individual’s life.

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