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The State Museum of Pennsylvania Archaeology Collections

Collections cared for by The State Museum of Pennsylvania's Archaeology Section are numerous and diverse.  The estimated size of the collection is more than three million artifacts.  These objects represent human habitation from the Paleo-Indian period of prehistory, ca. 14,000 years ago, through the early 20th century.  Geographically, curated artifacts best represent counties located in South-Central Pennsylvania and the eastern half of the state.

Particular strengths of the prehistoric collection include fluted spear points and  hide scrapers from the Paleo-Indian Shoop Site (Dauphin County); Archaic period stone tools from stratified deposits on the Piney Island Site (Lancaster County); unusually well-preserved Woodland period organic objects, such as cordage, botanical remains, wood and bone implements, from the Sheep Rock Shelter Site (Huntingdon County); Woodland period artifacts, including stone tools and ceramics from Susquehanna Valley village sites; and Contact period Susquehannock collections, including a spectacular array of European trade objects, from Lancaster and York County sites.

Notable components of the historic period collection include artifact assemblages from Ephrata Cloister, an 18th-century religious commune (Lancaster County); ceramic and glass objects from mid-18th-through early 19th-century Philadelphia (Philadelphia County); French and Indian War period objects from Fort Loudoun (Franklin County) and Fort Augusta (Northumberland County); Revolutionary War period materials from Valley Forge (Montgomery County) and the Ephrata Cloister military hospital; late 18th-century laboratory equipment from the Joseph Priestley House and Laboratory (Northumberland County); 19th-century farmstead assemblages from a variety of sites; and late 19th-20th-century domestic artifacts from Eckley Miners’ Village, a patch town in the anthracite coal region (Luzerne County).

Although small in number (approximately 250 objects), the Archaeology Section also cares for an important collection of ethnographic objects made by Oklahoma Delaware Indians in the late 19th and early 20th-centuries. 

Associated records maintained by the Archaeology Section include excavation records, maps, and photographs; more than 1,000 unpublished manuscripts, and a research library containing approximately 10,000 volumes with emphasis on Eastern United States archaeology, ethnohistory, and historic archaeology.  Access to artifact and record collections requires submission and approval of a written proposal describing research objectives.  Contract archaeologists, cultural resource managers, scholars, and college students regularly use The State Museum’s archaeology collection. 

The general public is served by a large comprehensive Anthropology and Archaeology exhibit gallery on the second floor of the museum, which tells the story of Pennsylvania Native American culture history through the period of European contact and assimilation in the 18th century.  Section curators have written and published numerous journal articles, pamphlets, and books that interpret artifacts and associated information found at excavation sites.  Popular public programs, such as Workshops In Archaeology and a petroglyph symposium sponsored by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, are periodically offered as educational forums in which new information about archaeology and Native Americans is presented to the public.

How to donate artifacts brochure (PDF, 300KB)

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