Pennsylvania Highway Archaeological Survey Team Season Wrap-Up

by Kate Peresolak

In the previous blog post about PHAST (PennDOT Highway Archaeological Survey Team), I left you with news of an upcoming Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey in Clarion County, a small urban archaeology project in Pittsburgh, and additional excavation projects in both eastern and western Pennsylvania. Aside from wrapping up a loose end in Clarion County, another season of field work has come to an end, which means lab work, extensive report writing, and a new semester are about to begin.


GPR survey underway.

Our second GPR survey of the summer was very interesting. More common shovel test pit and test unit excavation was not used in this early stage because we already know that a furnace complex and worker housing once stood in the vicinity. A GPR survey enables a more complete view of any possible intact structures while using non-invasive techniques. It will be exciting to see how the survey data, historic maps, and the current landscape come together.


Yeah, all of those bricks came out of an excavation unit, but look at those smiles.

The excavation of three test units in Pittsburgh revealed a rubble and garbage-filled basement, foundation remnants, and also a buried but intact prehistoric occupation. Bricks were the most common artifact, but others include vessel glass, annular whiteware, nails, and the body of a small porcelain figurine often referred to as a “frozen Charlotte.” Despite the direct sun and deep excavation, my crew made the best of the situation.


Artifacts from the Pittsburgh project. The ‘frozen Charlotte’ torso is in the center.

Another very unique project from this summer took PHAST to Old Economy Village, a state-owned property in Ambridge. Our job was to locate vineyard postholes from the 1950s/1960s in areas where posts no longer stand. This is part of a larger effort by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) to reconstruct the vineyard and preserve the property as a piece of our state’s heritage. Check out the Old Economy Village website  to learn more about the Harmonist society that founded Old Economy Village and to plan your own visit.

The final project of the year took us to Luzerne County just last week. PHAST completed shovel test pits in multiple soybean fields in preparation for storm water management basins.


PHAST archaeologists working with their PennDOT mentor, Joe Baker, at Old Economy Village.

Even though all 2016 fieldwork is now over, the project list for next summer’s crew will come together in early 2017. Stay tuned for additional PHAST blog posts next summer as a new field director and crew travel across Pennsylvania and continue to learn about our buried past.


The sun setting on another successful PHAST season.

Advanced Metal Detecting for Archaeologists at Fort Necessity

Uncontrolled metal detecting can be one of the most destructive activities at an historic-period archaeological site, especially a battle or military site. And it is illegal to metal detect, or remove any artifacts, from a National Park without an Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) permit. But with the proper research design and permits a systematic metal detector survey can be a very powerful archaeological tool. That’s what 16 IUP students and faculty learned at Fort Necessity this past weekend.

The class was taught by the Advanced Metal Detecting for Archaeologists (AMDA) as a Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA) continuing education course. In addition to IUP, 10 other participants from Cal, Juniata, University of Binghamton, and the National Park Service took the class. AMDA is a group of professional archaeologists dedicated to integrating metal detecting into archaeological research. Since IUP has an excellent assemblage of geophysical equipment, it was natural for us to add metal detecting to our skill-set.

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IUP Anthropology undergraduates Amanda Telep, Chyna Haley, James Miller, and Brendan Cole learning proper technique from AMDA instructor Sheldon Skaggs. Photo by Chris Espenshade.

The class began with a day of lectures on the mechanics and use of metal detectors, as well as many examples of how metal detectors can be used for historic and pre-contact period archaeology. The next two days were spent in the field collecting real archaeology data.

Quick history of Fort Necessity: A 22-year old George Washington was sent to western PA to push the French from the region. On May 28, 1754 colonial and native soldiers under Washington’s command killed Joseph Coulon de Jumonville and most of his force who were carrying a message ordering Washington’s force to leave the area. Expecting a reprisal from the French, Washington’s troops fortified their depot in the Great Meadows, naming it Fort Necessity. On July 3, 1754 French soldiers under the command of Louis Coulon de Villiers, Jumonville’s brother, attached Fort Necessity. After a day of fighting in the rain Washington surrendered. The killing of Jumonville, which Washington admitted to in his surrender, ignited the Seven Years War, the first truly inter-continental war.

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Metal detector survey at Fort Necessity National Battlefield. Note the string transects to ensure proper coverage and the pin flags to mark finds. Photo by Chris Espenshade.

It has long been believed that the heaviest French fire came from the tree line southeast of the fort where the trees reached within 60 yards of the fort. That’s where we focused our metal detecting efforts for the field portion of the class. We found evidence of the battle in the form of dropped and fired musket balls as well as other artifacts relating to the attack. These data confirm that at least some of the French were attacking from this location.

We also now have a cadre of IUP archaeologists trained to use metal detectors on an archaeological site – a skill that we can use here and that students can take with them into the professional world. It was a very productive and successful weekend.

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AMDA Fort Necessity National Battlefield Class Photo. Photo by Chris Espenshade.


By Lara Homsey-Messer

 Microartifacts are the small materials that fall through a standard ¼” screen. Generally archaeologists who study microartifacts look at the range from 1 to 4 mm, though some brave folks go down to as small as half a millimeter! Artifacts this small are difficult to see and require magnification, making their study somewhat tedious. As a result, they typically receive little attention. Since they are assumed to duplicate the same information we get from macroartifacts, only a handful of American archaeologists routinely study them. However, studies over the last two decades convincingly demonstrate that microartifacts are not simply smaller versions of larger artifacts. Rather they provide different kinds of information which supplement macroartifact studies. For example, at the Mississippian period site of Wickliffe Mounds in western Kentucky, my colleagues and I found tiny copper fragments inside a house structure. Only two slivers were found during 10 years of fieldwork, but when we looked at the microartifact assemblage (derived from the heavy fraction of flotation samples), we found hundreds of pieces—most of them just 1mm small! Even more interesting, chemical analysis of those fragments showed that it wasn’t elemental copper that Mississippian people used to make items of personal adornment (such as ear spools), but a fragile copper oxide, the kind that can be ground into a pigment for paint. Europeans who encountered historic period Native Americans recorded brightly painted houses, so this finding really shouldn’t be all that surprising. And yet if we hadn’t looked, we would not have found evidence for it. Since then we have found micro-sized pieces of other mineral pigments, including galena (black), hematite (red), and kaolinite (white)—all colors that had symbolic significance for Native Americans.


Left: microartifacts from Wickliffe Mounds (the copper is center, bottom row). Right: artist’s reconstruction of a painted Mississippian house.

Several IUP students in the Department of Anthropology have incorporated microartifacts in their research. Junior Harley Burgis is looking at microartifacts from the Paleoindian through Archaic site of Dust Cave (in northwestern Alabama) as part of her Honor’s thesis. Harley is comparing microartifacts from different kinds of features, such as hearths, possible storage pits, and middens. The hearths are of particular interest because they come in many shapes and sizes. So far, she has found that the smaller hearths are more likely to contain burned shell and fish bone, while larger hearths seem to have a wider variety of materials, including bird and mammal bones, nutshell, and lithic debitage. Also, the bone is the bigger hearths is calcined, suggesting that those fires burned at a higher temperature than the small hearths. So it seems that at Dust Cave some hearths were reserved for steaming mussels and/or fish at low temperature, and others were multipurpose fires for broiling many kinds of foods at high temperature.

Graduate student Kevin Gubbles (May ‘16) looked at microartifacts as part of his Master’s thesis on fire-cracked rock (FCR) at the Johnston Site, a Monongahela village in western PA. Kevin conducted a neat experiment to figure out how hot and how often rocks need to be heated to create FCR. One of his findings is that repeated heating of sandstone not only cracks the rocks and colors them red, but it also causes micro-sized grains of quartz sand to sluff off, what we call “attrition.” This is especially true for rocks that have been boiled in hot water. And the higher the temperature, the more attrition is produced. Looking through the microartifact assemblage at the Johnston site, there are copious quantities of these single grains that match the physical appearance of the experimentally produced ones, particularly in hearth features. The huge quantities of attrition discovered by Kevin suggest that stone-boiling technologies continued even well after the adoption of ceramics.


On left, experimental FCR with micro-sized grains of attrition. At right, archaeological microartifacts from a Johnston Site hearth.

Senior Paige Reimers is also looking at the microartifacts from the Johnston Site as part of her Honor’s thesis. She is comparing the microartifact content of different features to better understand how these they may have functioned. She is particularly interested in comparing the post mold features from the stockade and private domestic structures to post molds found in the central public plaza—a place generally kept free of structures and debris. The presence of posts here is surprising and we hope that microartifacts may shed light on what they were used for. Her analysis has just begun, but so far she has found a lot of the “attrition” mentioned above, supporting Kevin’s results that stone cooking, including stone boiling, was commonly employed at the Johnston Site, creating a long of refuse in the process.

Student Research at Hanna’s Town


2015 IUP excavations at Hanna’s Town

Hanna’s Town is arguably the most important historical site in Westmoreland County. As the first British county seat west of the Allegheny Mountains, a toehold for Anglo American western expansion, and the home of the Hanna’s Town Resolves it played important judicial, economic, social, military, and cultural roles in the formation of western Pennsylvania. Robert Hanna purchased a tract of land along the Forbes Military Road at the head of a branch of Crabtree Creek in 1769. Situated between Fort Pitt and Fort Ligonier, Hanna’s tavern Hanna’s became the county seat when Westmoreland County divided from Bedford County in 1773. Hanna also began selling lots in the town that year and Hanna’s Town quickly took shape. As county seat, Hanna’s Town was the site of the county’s first courts, which were “at least an occasional destination for settlers living throughout the southwestern part of [Pennsylvania]” (Carlisle 2005:1). Due to the necessity of occasionally visiting the court for criminal proceedings or land transactions, as well as the settlement’s position along one of the major overland routes to the Northwest Territory, Hanna’s Town developed into a thriving community with approximately 30 homes, a stockade fort, and multiple taverns. A month after the battles of Lexington and Concord, the inhabitants of Westmoreland County adopted the Hanna’s Town Resolves on May 16, 1775. Signed at Hanna’s Town, this document declared that the citizens were “resolved” to resist the tyranny of Britain. The citizens’ resolve continued throughout the war with local men joining local militias and participating in battles throughout the Northwest Territory. In response to these battles as well as American attacks on Native settlements, Hanna’s Town became the target of one of the final acts of aggression in the American Revolution. On July 13, 1782 a raiding party of Native and British soldiers led by Seneca Chief Sayenqueraght attacked the town, burning its buildings and slaughtering livestock. Hanna’s Town never fully recovered from this attack, and was subsequently abandoned as the state road and county seat shifted to Greensburg. Following its abandonment, the land was farmed until its purchase by Westmoreland County in 1969.


IUP excavations at Hanna’s Town since 2011

IUP entered into an agreement with WCHS in 2011 to provide IUP students and faculty with access to the Hanna’s Town site and associated artifact collections while providing WCHS with new archaeological interpretations and ways to increase awareness of the site’s significance. This is an ongoing relationship with many facets ranging from the creation of a digital artifact catalog and map to consultation regarding ground-disturbing maintenance at the park, but the most important aspect of IUP’s involvement with Hanna’s Town has been hands-on student education through field schools, class projects, theses, and work experience.

Hanna’s Town has also been the subject of seven graduate theses at IUP. These theses cover a range of topics from buttons to geophysics. Two students, Renate Beyer and Stefanie Smith, have completed their theses. Renate reanalyzed the glass and ceramics from the Foreman’s Tavern pits to compare them with a tavern closer to Philadelphia. She found that the Foreman’s were adopting new fashions almost as quickly as their eastern counterparts and that new types of ceramics first appeared in showier pieces such as tea services. Stefanie examined animal bones from the Foreman’s Tavern, Hanna’s Tavern, and Irish House portions of the site to explore variations in diet among the townspeople. Her results showed that most people were eating a mixture of domestic and wild animals, but that the Irish House inhabitants ate significantly more domestic animals than their neighbors. These results suggest that Irish House was inhabited later than the other buildings, an idea supported by the predominance of pearlware, a type of ceramic not introduced to North America until 1780, near this structure. Her research also revealed a substantial number of grey squirrel bones in the Foreman’s Tavern deposits, suggesting that squirrel may have been served in the tavern.


Students excavating at Hanna’s Town in 2013

The other theses are still underway but are showing promising results. Ashley Taylor has used a variety of geophysical techniques to investigate the Hanna’s Town cemetery. The cemetery is of particular importance because it is the last aboveground physical link with the original town. Ashley’s research showed that the cemetery was once larger than the current boundary implies by finding several grave shafts outside of the fence. David Breitkreutz is also applying geophysics to give us a better understanding of the site’s layout (Figure 6). Taking advantage of a large ground-penetrating radar recently acquired by IUP, one of only two in the US, he has surveyed much of the area south of Forbes Trail Road. This survey covers areas never before excavated and will be used to guide our 2017 field school excavations. Three other graduate students are focusing on artifacts from the collection. Jay Taylor is analyzing the metal artifacts to better understand what occupations were practiced in the town. Nichole Keener is studying the buttons and other fasteners to reconstruct the clothing of Hanna’s Town residents. Cheryl Frankum is conducting an elemental analysis of redware from the site. Redware, the Tupperware of the 18th century, is the most common artifact in the collection and also the least studied. Cheryl’s research is a first attempt at understanding this important type of artifact and may shed light on where the pots, jars, bowls, and other pieces were coming from.

There are also three undergraduate theses about Hanna’s Town in progress. While undergraduates are not required to complete a thesis doing so gives them an advantage in applying for jobs and graduate school because it shows that they can take a research project from plan to completion. James Miller is studying the distribution of expensive ceramics across the site to determine if there was class variation at Hanna’s Town. Kelsey Schneehagen is looking at Hanna’s Town in a regional context to explore relationships with other settlements in western Pennsylvania. Eden VanTries is studying the people who lived at Hanna’s Town before Hanna (or even his predecessor, Jacob Miers). In the course of previous excavations several stone tools have been recovered. Eden is analyzing these artifacts to understand when previous groups lived on the ground that became Hanna’s Town. As these graduate and undergraduate theses are completed copies are filed with the WCHS so that they are available to other researchers.

An Undergraduate Abroad 2: Cemetery Excavations in Romania

By Harley Burgis

3This summer I spent three weeks in Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania learning how to excavate human skeletal remains. I worked at Valeni (Patakfalva), a medieval church and cemetery site. Although the modern cemetery is slowly encroaching the medieval one, the site is still more or less intact. Our job was to excavate the human remains from three different trenches, so that the site directors could learn more about the history of the people who inhabited this part of Romania and see how they are linked to present day populations in the area. I specifically spent the whole three weeks excavating a juvenile. This was very taxing, because of three reasons: 1) because of the2 sun and incessant heat, I was working with baked out clay, 2) there was so much back fill bone on top that was not associated with the individual, and 3) I had to use wooden picks to do the entire excavation, because of how fragile juvenile bones are and how close the bones were together. After I finished excavating the individual, I learned how to map the bones, which was a very meticulous task. In the end, I had a great time in Romania, I met amazing people from all over the world, and I learned a lot about the culture there and how to excavate human remains.