Material Culture Monday: Cinmar Biface

This is a special extension of Material Culture Monday featured on our Facebook Page.

Written by Dr. Lara Homsey-Messer

In 1974, the crew of the scallop trawler Cinmar were dredging off the coast of Virginia when, to everyone’s surprise, a mastodon skull was reeled in. Recognizing this as an unusual find, the Cinmar captain plotted the water depth and locational coordinates on his navigation charts. To expedite getting back to dredging, the Cinmar crew broke up the skull and removed the tusks and teeth for souvenirs, throwing the rest of the bone overboard. The mastodon was later radiometrically dated to 22,760 ± 90 Radiocarbon years before present (RCYBP), prior to the last glacial maximum (LGM).  In addition to the

Photograph of the Cinmar Biface

mastodon fossil, a bifacially flaked tool was also recovered. Made out of a fine-grained volcanic rock called rhyolite, the so-called “Cinmar biface” is a large, thin knife with evidence of well-controlled percussion thinning flake scars on both faces. Because rhyolite is an extremely durable rock, it is very difficult to flake correctly. As the Cinmar biface is well-crafted, it clearly represents the workmanship of a highly skilled knapper. Several prominent archaeologists (including lithics expert Bruce Bradley, geologist Darrin Lowery, and the late Dennis Stanford of the Smithsonian Institute) have examined the biface and concluded that it bears a striking resemblance to the Solutrean “laurel leaf” biface tradition of southwestern Europe. As such, the Cinmar biface has been cited as evidence for a pre-LGM “Solutrean crossing” from Europe to the eastern coast of North America via the north Atlantic coastline. Proponents argue that at least 8 other laurel leaf bifaces can be firmly provenienced to the Chesapeake Bay region in addition to the Cinmar biface. You can read more about the biface here.

The Cin-Mar scallop trawler that found the skull and biface

Certainly, this is a tantalizing discovery, but it is not without its critics. Several problems have been noted by skeptics. First, the 22,760 RCYBP date is about 2,000 years before the appearance of Solutrean style bifaces in western Europe. Second, geochemical analysis of the biface, and hundreds of other rhyolite artifacts with known origins from Maine to the Carolinas, showed the rhyolite to originate from the Catoctin Mountain region of south-central Pennsylvania and north-central Maryland. Finally, we have only the word of the Cinmar crew that the biface and mastodon are associated; given that they were found during dredging, it is difficult—if not impossible—to confirm that they originate in the same deposit. This raises questions about the European origins, as well as the Solutrean peopling of the Americas hypothesis. You can read more about the skeptics’ response here.

But before we completely dismiss the Cinmar biface and the Solutrean hypothesis, we should remember that archaeology is all about testing hypotheses, and the Solutrean hypothesis is certainly testable. It will be up the next generation of archaeologists to delve more deeply into the origins and manufacture of laurel leaf style bifaces!

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IUP Anthropology

The “D” Word…Dinosaurs

If you are an archaeologist, you have probably had to spend a lot of time trying to explain to people that you do not excavated dinosaur bones.  This can be a difficult thing to get across because fossils are generally fascinating and the practice of paleontology has a lot in common with archaeology.  In fact, many paleontologists do not even study dinosaurs.  Both studies use similar recording methods, focusing of stratigraphy, chemical and biological analysis, and careful excavation.  The main different is that paleontologists usually work on a much larger time scale than archaeologists.

The common paleontology term, fossil, was used in the 1600s (during these discipline s infancies) to describe anything that was dug up.  This does not mean it has to be millions for years old or even petrified.  It wasn’t until the 1730s when the term was defined as geological remains.  Between those time periods the beloved term artifact was actually fossil (  Not only do we share terminology we also share our favorite chronology tool – STRATIGRAPHY!  Nils Steensen (Steno) recognized a relationship between tongue-stones (shark teeth) and the sediment layers.  He defined normal thought to say that these strata developed and changes and were not deposited solely by the Great Flood. Later archaeologist such as John Frere discovered that some of the fossils dubbed fairy arrows and thunderbolts were actually stone tools created by humans and could be used to date stratigraphic layers (Harris 1989)

Along with scaring principle research terminology, archaeology and paleontology also have similar sub-fields only distinct in the items of study.  Paleobotanists and archaeobotanists both study plant remains.  However, the paleobotanist studies fossilized plants while the archaeobotanist prefers to work with more recently deposited plant remains.  Both fields have specialties in taphonomy or the study of how living things decay and the biotic or abiotic (mostly seen in archaeology) factors that impact the remains after deposition.  Where things begin to get confusing is in the study of fossilized humans and human evolution or paleoanthropology.  Being as this discipline focuses on fossils but also on human remains it can be considered to be a part of both fields.  This is a distinct overlap that has led to amazing discovers in the realm of human evolution.

With so many overlaps it can be easy to see how people can confuse Indiana Jones with Jurassic Park.   The key here is in nicely, patiently, and happily educating the public on the differences and similarities of paleontology and archaeology.  We need to be able to communicate the complexities of our disciplines in a way that is easily understood but respectful and holistic to both disciples.  While I am sure every archaeologist is tired of hearing “dig up any good dinosaurs?” we must remember that many of our paleontologist cousins feel the same.


Can you dig it?


Harris, Edward

1989 Principles of archaeological stratigraphy. 2nd ed. Academic Press, London.


IUP Anthropology

Digging PHAST

Written by Brendan Cole

The PennDOT Archaeological Survey Team (PHAST) is an internship program between IUP and PennDOT. It provides one student with the paid opportunity to be an archaeological field director and gives three students the opportunity to be paid archaeological field technicians. This year’s crew consisted of me (Brendan Cole) as the field director with Janee Becker, Andrew Malhotra, and Heather Lash as my trusty field technicians. It was my job to lead small Phase I archaeological surveys while helping teach and to give Janee, Andrew, and Heather the opportunities they needed to grow as archaeologists and prepare for finding a job in post-graduate life.

Over the course of 18 weeks we put over 7,000 miles on our relatively new and previously shiny rental mini-van for a summer full of archaeology. By the end of the summer we completed eleven Phase I archaeological surveys and participated in one Phase III with AECOM.  All our projects were for PennDOT projects like bridge rehabilitations, bridge replacements, road safety improvements, trails, and a transmission line project in Eckley Miner’s Village.

The PHAST Crew 2019: Brendan Cole, Andrew Malhotra, Janee Becker, and Heather Lash.

One thing that every Cultural Resources Management (CRM) archaeologist knows is that you don’t find sites everywhere you stick a shovel in the ground, in fact it can be quite rare depending on where you are at and what kind of project it is. The PHAST crew experienced this this summer when we only found 1 site out of our 11 surveys. That’s a whopping .09% success rate for finding a site.

The one site we did identify was historical and located in Northampton County, PA. Every shovel test that we dug was positive for historic artifacts. Some shovel tests contained cultural materials at such a deep level we had to dig our first test unit of the summer. It consisted of multiple layers of stratigraphy containing artifacts such as whole bricks, ceramics, glass, and metal objects like nails. In total the project yielded a couple hundred artifacts. We don’t have an exact date yet for the site as we have not yet completed a full analysis of the artifact assemblage.

After it was all said and done, we drove our van for 7,000+ miles around Pennsylvania, successfully completed multiple surveys, learned new skills, ate great food, and unsurprisingly visited multiple breweries along the way (remember we are archaeologists).

Applications for next summer’s crew will open this winter.

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Newport, Blairsville Field School 2019

Written by Nathan Bokros

I am Nathan Bokros, a first-year grad student at IUP’s Applied Archaeology Master’s. This past summer, July-August 2019, I had the opportunity to be a graduate supervisor for IUP’s archaeological field school alongside another IUP graduate supervisor, Rachael Marks and under the directorship of Dr. Ben Ford and Dr. Bill I have enjoyed working at a field school, this summer was the first time I was a graduate supervisor and not an undergraduate taking a class.  Rachael and I were responsible for supervising, teaching, logging bags for artifacts, taking photos of walls and units, driving vans filled with equipment and students, and giving advice to the undergrads.

The objective of the summer 2019 archaeological field school focused on surveying and excavating the Newport Site, 36IN188, near Blairsville, PA.  Newport was once a village site founded in the late 1700’s situated along the Frankston Road and the Conemaugh River as a sort of dock and resting area for traders and travelers. The site declined after the construction of a new village at a warmer location down river and the development of a railroad.  As a result, the village was abandoned by the mid-1800s.


The field school involved two phases and two groups. The first phase involved leading eleven IUP undergrads and two IUP grad students in conducting shovel tests throughout the site, which was situated in the middle of the woods on a slight hill. Phase two began two weeks later after all the shovel testing was completed.  The undergrads were now working on one-meter by one-meter test units.  The two graduate students conducted their own project, under Dr. Chadwick and with a crew of undergrads, trying to find two buried roads.

Through the heat, occasional rain, flies, and visits from various guests, we all had a good time and learned valuable skills.  We found some interesting artifacts such as large pieces of redware, tiny pieces of ceramics (some had colored designs), glass, bone pieces, unusually large rocks in close formation, a toy horse, and charcoal. Some test units did not contain many artifacts, though there was one that I was fortunate enough to supervise and excavate personally that uncovered many artifacts, like large pieces of redware and a rock so large we dubbed it “The Big Kahuna”.  The graduate students found at least one road and possibly part of another road.


This field school was enjoyable with lots of work digging at the site and processing artifacts in the lab alongside interesting characters making memories and funny quotes. There were a few days where the rain was too heavy so excavate, so we either processed artifacts in the lab or went on field trips to local historical sites, like Hanna’s Town and the Underground Railroad Museum in Blairsville, PA. Along with these trips, there are some unforgettable quotes that will always make me smile. One last memory to share is the mascot of the field school: a golden lab named Maddie who served not just as a service dog for one of the undergrads, but served as a source of joy, laughs, and moral for everyone with her dedication when on the job and adorable friendliness when off her leash. Such a great, busy, and fun field school made for an excellent summer, as well as a looking forward to the start of being a graduate student at IUP.

Breaking Ground: New Author

Hello All! This is Rachael Smith the new Public Archaeology Graduate Assistant and blog manager.  I am very excited to be adding to this account and hope to get feedback from you all about things you want to see posted.  If you have interest in a topic, comment and I’ll do my best to write something about it.  I little history about me first through.  I graduated from Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, VA in 2018 with a BA in Archaeology, Environmental Studies, and Classical Studies. While I did major in Classics, my heart belongs to historical archaeology.


I have recently been working with a Society of Pennsylvania Archaeology group near my hometown of Pottstown, PA excavating a 1716 Swedish home along the Schuylkill River.  I also recently worked for a non-profit organization recovering the remains of US Marines who died at the Battle of Tarawa during World War II. Personally, I play flute, ride horses, reenact (1830s-60s), spin and dye yarn, knit (a lot), and brew beer with my dad. At home I have a cat, two dogs, two guinea pigs, two horses, and some fish. 

I am currently at IUP working on a Master’s in Applied Archaeology and a Certificate in Geographic Information Systems.  In the future I hope to do more military related recovery operations.  I have discovered that I really enjoy forensics and hope to make that a large part of my career. I also have an extensive history of public archaeology jobs (hence my GA).  It is always a great idea to inform the public about what we archaeologists really do.  And that is exactly what I intend to do.