Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month

During the month of November, we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month, or American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. This celebration is in honor of the original inhabitants of America. Organizations across the States come together to learn about and commemorate the traditions, languages, contributions, and heritage of Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Island communities during November.

Honoring the history of the Indigenous people of this land began in 1900 when Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian and director of the Museum of Arts and Science in New York, convinced the Boy Scouts of America to observe a day for Native Americans. After this, an American Indian Day was declared in 1916. In 1976, a Native American Awareness Week was declared by Congress, and in 1990 former President George H.W. Bush signed a joint congressional resolution to designate November as National American Indian Heritage Month. Since 1994, other proclamations have been made with variations to the name; Native American Heritage Month and National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month are two. It was former President Barack Obama who named November as National Native American Month, which is how we continue to refer to it as of today.

Arthur C. Parker, 1918 (Buffalo Historical Society)

To honor this month, let’s reflect on some Native American archaeologists who have made incredible contributions to the preservation of this county’s heritage and past. Arthur C. Parker was born in 1881 on the Seneca tribe’s Cattaraugus Reservation in New York. He was descended from a long line of Seneca leaders on his father’s side, however, because Seneca clan member ship is matrilineal and both his grandfather and father married women of European descent, neither his father nor him were considered to be Seneca. His family moved to White Plains, NY in 1892 and graduated from high school in 1897. Although he attended Centenary Collegiate institute in New Jersey and Dickinson Seminary in Pennsylvania, he did not graduate from either. However, he continued to do archaeological work while in college and became an apprentice to archaeologist Mark Harrington. His reputation grew and he became known as an authority on the Seneca culture; becoming officially recognized as Seneca in 1903 during a ceremony which gave him the name Gáwasowaneh or Big Snow Snake. After working as an ethnologist for the New York State Library in 1904, Arthur became the first full-time archaeologist at the New York State Museum in 1906, serving until 1925. In 1911 Parker notably aided in the founding of the Society for American Indians (SAI). He married Beulah Tahamont, an Abenaki of the Eastern Algonquian, in 1904, whom he had two children with and later divorced, then married Anna Theresa Cooke in 1914, whom he had one child with. Throughout his career he wrote many books and did scholarly research and published Museum Bulletins and articles on the history and culture of Native Americans, with a focus on the Seneca and Iroquois. He was also a consultant on Indian affairs to several Presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, and Coolidge. After working at the New York State Museum, he became director of the Rochester Museum in 1925. He also served from 1935 to 1936 as the Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) first president. Throughout the remainder of his career, he received many honors and awards, before he passed away in 1955.

Bertha Parker Pallan [Cody] (Smithsonian Institution Archives)

Bertha “Birdie” Parker Cody, also called Yewas, her Seneca name, is considered to be the first female Native American archaeologist and ethnologist in the United States. She was born in 1907 in Chautauqua County, New York, and is of Abenaki and Seneca descent, as Arthur C. Parker and Beulah Tahamont were her parents. Bertha grew up with her mother who was an actor, even acting in some shows herself, after her parents divorced. She married Joseph Pallan in the 1920s and gave birth their daughter Wilma Mae in 1925. She never had formal archaeological training or a university education, but she did go on excavations with her father as a child and, after her split from her abusive husband in 1927, she began to work as a cook and expedition secretary for her uncle Mark Raymond Harrington on archaeological projects. She made an amazing discovery at the Mesa House site in 1929. She excavated, recorded, and photographed a pueblo she named Scorpion Hill, and later published her work and had the recovered artifacts exhibited in the Southwest Museum. In 1930 she made a discovery in Nevada’s Gypsum Cave using her slim hands to reach into crevices. Her method allowed her to recover a skull from an extinct species of giant ground sloth known as Nothrotherium shastense. It not only aided in getting more funding for the expedition, but the discovery also challenged prevailing theories about the occupation of ancient Native Americans in the Americas as the sloth skull was found next to ancient human tools.

Cody at Gypsum Cave, Nevada (Southwest Museum)

Bertha ended up marring James Thurston, a Canadian paleontologist who was brought in to further aid the work at the cave, in 1931, but he passed from a heart attack only a year later. In 1933 she was hired to work as secretary for the Southwest Museum, and she eventually became assistant archaeologist and ethnologist. Bertha began to conduct more ethnographical work into the mid-1930s. She wrote and published many archaeological and ethnological papers throughout her career in the Southwest Museum’s journal, Masterkey, on many topics from Kachina Dolls to her work with Californian Indian Tribes including the Maidu, Yurok, Pomo, and Paiute. She married again in 1936 to actor Espera Oscar de Corti, Iron Eyes Cody. Her daughter passed accidentally in 1942, so Cody left the Southwest Museum where she had been working for many years and shifted towards activism and Hollywood. Along with her husband, she advised Native American programs and films as part of “Ironeyes Enterprise”, worked with him to host a 1950s television program about Native American Folklore, supported the Los Angeles Indian Centre, and they also adopted two sons of Maricopa-Dakota heritage, Robert and Arthur. She died at the age of 71 in 1978, but her work in the archaeological field lives on. Not only has she conducted work and made discoveries that have greatly added to our knowledge of the past, but her efforts towards influence in the media and spreading awareness and understanding of Native American culture and history, will forever be remembered and appreciated.

Margaret Spivey (Kristen Grace Photography, University of Florida)

Young archaeologist Margaret Spivey is a member of the Pee Dee Indian Nation of Beaver Creek, an assistant chief of the nation’s Upper Georgia Trail Town, and was a Ph.D. Candidate of archaeology at Washington University in St. Louis in 2015. She has stated, “The reason I’m an archaeologist is because I believe we need more research that shows the complexity of Southeastern Native American groups.” Her dissertation focuses on understanding how Southeastern Native Americans interact with animals, identifying and deciphering carvings of animals, and using both archaeology and ethnology to gather information. Her work could provide new insight into early Native American cultures and social movements in the Southwest. Spivey switched from law to archaeology while attending Harvard University in 2004, seeking to improve public understanding and misconceptions, and influence social and political spheres when it came to the cultural past of Native Americans. She was quoted saying, “I don’t think there is a reason to ignore a Native perspective in favor of an outside perspective when looking at materials deposited by Native Americans. This isn’t me looking at it wrong, this is me looking at it differently.” She hopes that her “long-term research will help us enrich and reclaim some of our cultural practices that were unfortunately lost, we just didn’t catch them in time.” As someone of Native American descent, Spivey’s work and perspectives are crucial, as she contributes new interpretations to research being done and artifacts collected as data is being collected. Rather than having to seek out interpretations from Tribes, she can use connections and her life experiences to contribute greatly to the understanding of past Native American cultures.

Morino Baca (photo by Danny Sosa Aguilar)

Dr. Peter Nelson, a Coast Miwok and a citizen of the Federate Indians of Graton Rancheria in the North Bay, became a tenured assistant professor of environmental science, policy and management, and of ethics studies and UC Berkely, after receiving his Ph.D. in anthropology from the same university in 2017. He believes that more native Americans are being drawn into the field of archaeology as new Indigenous know-how and technology, along with Western science, is “speaking to our preservationist values as Indigenous archaeologists and to the values of tribal communities.” Morino Baca, a current UC Berkely graduate student in public health who has ancestral ties to the Genízaro Indigenous community has stated, “There’s a lot of pain associated with that colonization history, so it’s important for younger people in the community to connect to their roots in a positive way, and to engage with their elders because they’re our libraries, and when they’re gone, that knowledge goes with them.” He has worked in New Mexico at Pueblo de Abiquiú to partner with the Genízaro Indigenous community on a cultural revitalization and infrastructure project. Native scholars like Peter Nelson and Morino Baca are just a few who are leading the charge towards better collaboration with Indigenous tribes to find ways to connect western science to Indigenous science during archaeology programs and excavations.

This National Native American Heritage Month, take time to respectfully visit a reservation or Native American heritage site, attend an educational event at a library or museum, attempt to make traditional Native American dishes for Thanksgiving dinner, read the writings or explore the art of Native American authors and artists, or support Native-owned businesses. At the very least take a moment to reflect on and learn about the history of the Indigenous people of this country and the archaeological efforts that are being undertaken around the states today to expand our knowledge of their culture and heritage.


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Machu Picchu’s Agricultural Sector

Since November is National Indigenous Heritage Month we want to feature an archaeological site that is pretty well known, Machu Picchu, Peru. However, while most people know that it was a ceremonial place for the Incan empire, they may not know that it was also likely a place of agricultural innovation. In fact, there is a whole area that the Incans devoted to agriculture. Through the archaeological evidence, we can see the intelligence and creativity of the Incans as they navigated the steep Andean Mountains.

Machu Picchu Agricultural Terraces

 The agricultural area is comprised of cultivation terraces that look like large step platforms following the incline of the mountain. These platforms were made of many layers of material such as mulch, sand, and gravel that facilitated drainage and prevented flooding which would cause landslides. Additionally, the steps utilized natural drainage as an irrigation system directly from channels that connected the levels. The terraces also maximized the amount of land Incans were able to use to cultivate crops.  The agricultural sector is divided from the urban area of the site by a long 400- meter retaining wall with a water drainage channel to prevent land erosion. By creating these terraces, the Incans could develop and adapt their agricultural practices to the surrounding landscape without worrying about landslides. 

Estela Cóndor
grows five different
varieties of potatoes
to sell in the market,
along with a yellow
tuber called mashua
tuberosum ) that she
cooks for her family.
– Image credit: Jim
Richardson, National

Machu Picchu resides in a subtropical climate making the environment mild, warm, and damp. This climate made it perfect for cultivating large amounts of crops. While there is still some debate on if this specific area was where the pinnacle of agricultural innovation occurred, it is true that there were many different types of crops grown at this site leading archaeologists to believe that the indigenous people of the Andes experimented with agriculture more than any other group in the world. In fact, today there are over 3,000 varieties of the potato found in the Andes alone including species such as Pitiquina, Limena, and Phureja. Some of these potatoes were even used to treat headaches and skin rashes.  Not to mention the numerous tomato and pepper varieties that we have in the world today. Most of this innovation and variation is due to the experimental agriculture of the Incans and the other indigenous groups that inhabited Central and South America.

So, if you’re looking for someone to thank when you eat mashed potatoes or french fries, it’s probably the Incans. And, if you plan on visiting Machu Picchu make sure you ask the tour guides about the agricultural innovations that occurred on the very land you’re walking on. 


Further Reading: 

Indian Givers: How Native Americans Transformed the World by Jack Weatherford





“Dating, Dumping, and Destruction: Reconstructing Life Histories of Farmers and Farmhouses in Central Pennsylvania”

On November 2nd, Dr. Claire Milner, Emeritus Curator and Director of Exhibits at Penn State’s Matson Museum of Anthropology, joined us for her presentation, “Dating, Dumping, and Destruction: Reconstructing Life Histories of Farmers and Farmhouses in Central Pennsylvania.” She described three Penn State archaeological field schools she ran as project director at farmsteads in Central Pennsylvania. Two sites were excavated in Huntingdon County, the Massey site from 2006-2007 and the Scare Pond Farm from 2008-2009. She led excavations at the Foster site in Centre County from 2015-2016, as well.

Dr. Milner began by discussing why we should study farmhouses. Farmhouses are studied in historical archaeology as they can provide valuable informational contribution for the historical record and also address anthropological questions about human behavior. Farming has been and still is an extremely common way of life in the United States, and farmhouses are actually the most common type of archaeological site in the U.S. The 19th to early 20th centuries were a time of huge social and economic change, from industrialization and urban migration to innovations in agriculture and household technology. In Central Pennsylvania, lumbering and iron ore extraction, along with expansion of transportation and marketing networks were growing. However, today, the sites Dr. Milner studied are covered in trees and pastureland.

The Massey site was owned by the Massey family who were also owners of the Scare Pond Farm site. Thomas Massey emigrated from England to Chester County PA in 1683. He had children, and grandchildren, including Mordecai Massey (1747-1837). Mordecai had several children, including Daniel, who established agricultural societies at the state and local levels, and whose daughter Elizabeth would come to inherit the site in 1875 according to his will. In addition to documentary evidence of the family’s wealth and Daniels, from ventures such as co-owning a steel and whisky house, there was also a ‘fancy’ cemetery where Daniel and other family members were buried, with an iron railing around it that adds to the fact that this family had a good amount of money during their time. It is not clear when Daniel established his independent household, but it was most likely after his father’s death, sometime in the early 1840s. The main excavated house was built before 1875, most likely when Daniel started to pay taxes separately from his family, however, later ownership and occupancy is uncertain between the 1870s and 1930s when the state took over the property.

Dr. Milner then went over discovered features and parts of the site that were excavated during her field schools at the Daniel Massey site. The site included a house, privy, garden, porch and patio. They located the north and east rooms of the house, along with a basement. A feature outside of the house was a garden with a barbed wire fence. The archaeologists noted the house layout based on a foundation collapsing into the basement. Trash would have been dumped out of the window area during the sites period of occupation, so based on a perimeter created by a midden, the location of a potential window was discovered. The entrance area of the house was determined to have a porch and patio; the front door was located based on piers of wood platforms into the door, and there was an indication of a brick patio, along with parts of porch pads and other remnants. Both a brick chimney and paved stone floor were also noted. A mystery wall Milner uncovered was eventually determined to be evidence of a rebuilding episode, as the house was T-shaped, buried above an L-shaped structure. There were also coins found inside and outside of this rebuilding, that gives great dates for when the rebuilding took place. Evidence of burnt wood in the basement suggests that a fire could have been the reason for the rebuilding. While a stone pad could have been interpreted as a pad for a staircase, it is unknown whether or not his house had a second floor. Other notable features include the Massey middens, and the Massey privy, a two-hole privy. There were a variety of dumping contexts and stratified deposits that may indicate a shift in dumping behavior and/or occupancy around the house perimeter, the privy, and the area around and downslope from the privy (a possible upslope shift). After occupancy, there was some scavenging of construction materials such as the wood floor, and eventually the exterior of the house collapsed into the interior, as marked by unit profiles and materials in the basement. There was also some garbage dumping within the house after its collapse; found at shallow depths were artifacts such as broken medicine bottles and a scythe blade stuck in the corner of the house at an angle, not contemporaneous with the occupation.

The Scare Pond Farm site was located on an extremely steep sloping ledge, an unusual place. This site included a house, barn, small outbuilding, and unknown building along the sharp sloping hill. It was also uncertain if any Massey’s had actually lived there. There was a spring nearby, but no evidence of a spring house, although a creek was further down slope from the house.

The previous occupants of the house had created lined pathways of stones and the archaeologists tested the barn on the bank, where they recovered a crock pot, and evidence of animals tamping down on the clay floor. They also tested an outbuilding foundation with a horseshoe in it, the foundation of the house itself, and the basement area. There was little found inside the basement; it was surmised that some bricks were from a collapsed chimney. Construction materials such as, a piece of cut wood from the floor and an upper stone tier, had been removed from the site, scavenged by someone. There were dumping features west of the house, one with a feature and one with a concentration of artifacts (stoneware). The recovered stoneware indicated garbage being dumped away from the house upslope. There were scattered stones next to the southeast house foundation wall that were full of mixed materials, which led to the discovery of two more rooms of the house. The walls of the rooms were constructed from whatever materials they could find, including brick and stone, and they could post-date the original foundation. A porch was evident from remnants of three stone pads in a line used as a base for the porch to hold it upright; the front of the porch was lined with stone. Marbles children would have played with were also recovered, most likely they had fallen off the porch. There were some confusing walls, and a mystery building with partly stratified deposits, that included a strangely angled wall, and sat on a slope. There was also a buried brick feature where the angled wall was, perhaps a buried patio. Stratigraphy indicated that there were multiple dumping episodes inside the building, leading to the supposition that animals were kept in one of the buildings on the site. Some features located included stoneware piping that suggested perhaps some type of plumbing was put in for the house during an expansion period. A surprise outside wall and a hitching post on one side of the house were also recovered. A clay layer inside and hitching post outside suggests the presence of animals. The fact that there were no level areas for cultivated fields also supports the idea that this site was perhaps occupied by a tenant of the Massey family who took care of animals.

The Foster Farm was also excavated by Dr. Milner. This site was located on land owned by Penn State University, and by studying it, the researchers can provide information on the Arboretum history, explore 19th-20th century farm life, and compare with the Massey and Scare Pond Farm sites.  Prior to Penn State’s ownership, records show that in 1791 an iron furnace was established by Miles & Patton, with timberland being converted into farms by the furnace owners, as well. The site went through a variety of owners throughout the centuries, records suggest that a tenant farmer was an occupant at the site for at least part of the time. The last owner was Charles Foster (1859-1934) who owned 120 acres, before the land became PSU pastureland in 1935. The Foster Farm landscape is made up of karstic limestone with well-drained fertile soil. However, there is no standing water nearby.

The site included a house, garden, possible cistern, porch, and standing outbuilding, and it had been heavily impacted by mowing. It was assumed that those who used to occupy the site were dependent on cistern water collection, as no other nearby water sources were present. A metal water pipe was found in the basement debris, but it could have possibly been deposited later. A basement foundation was also located, along with a rail line close to the site. Dr. Milner went on to discuss many features and describe parts of the site. There was a pit feature along the exterior of the west foundation wall that was perhaps a cistern. They found the house’s foundation interior, part of a chimney, evidence of a garden, the basement entrance, a west sloping dumping area, and on another side of the house an area of very mixed deposits, along with evidence of dumping around the house perimeter and the indication of a porch based on stacked stones, as well. There was little debris dumped inside the house, but a concentration of debris was along the perimeter, but this was not able to be excavated as it was close to the crumbling foundation wall. There were also areas of activity away from the house, but no discernable structures.

Data from the collection created from all three sites was then presented; artifact types and total counts found were discussed, which included a range of ceramics with a variety of decorative types, glass, metal, animal bones, nails, and other construction materials and debris. Less common artifacts present included smoking pipes, clothing like buttons and buckles, ammunition, pencil leads, coins, combs, musical instruments like a harmonica, toys, part of a pocket watch, and at Foster, a mantle clock part. Rarer but interesting finds included a backpin with the quote, “I’m a devil, give me a soda” found at the Massey site, an Irish pipe with a Home Rule harp design found at the Foster site, and also found at the Massey site were parts of an Admiral Dewy pitcher commemorating the 1898 Battle of Manila.

Dr. Milner then mentioned that by excavating these sites, there are many research opportunities provided. Researchers could delve into site occupation by trying to distinguish tenant versus owner occupancy, or research more on what activities occurred at each site over time. Interested parties could investigate what the objects and houses tell us about variation in human behavior, by measuring differences in wealth and status between occupations within or between sites or by studying differential access to markets and transportation in the Centre region. Researchers could also do intrasite and intersite chronology; determine the age of different occupations based primarily on historic records, and compare them to the archaeological record, or determine the relative chronology of buildings, strata, and rebuilding episodes within a site. Although, there are technical issues with it comes to making the artifact category counts comparable, given that they were excavated at different depths and to different extents. However, she is very interested and willing to work with students, and even have the collection brought to IUP if necessary. In the next few years, she has to finish with the projects and determine the collections fate. From dating projects based on the artifacts and documentary evidence, to research on the garbage dumping contexts and how these episodes relate to the occupations and destruction of the site, there are many opportunities for further research into these three sites.

Dr. Claire Milner’s presentation was extremely informative and educational! We cannot thank her enough for coming and speaking to us!

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