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Archaeology at PHMC Properties


Archaeology is everywhere. It's all around us. While a nondescript location may appear to be barren, the evidence of a past society and civilization lies just beneath the surface. In alignment with its mission to preserve the state's memory as a teacher and champion its heritage for the citizens of Pennsylvania and the nation, archaeologists actively lead site investigations and explore some of the historic sites on the PHMC Trails of History.

Archaeology has been conducted at the following sites on the PHMC Trails of History.

Military History Trail

2. Fort Pitt Museum

Fort Pitt is situated at the convergence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers in Pittsburgh, PA. Although the blockhouse is the only above ground feature remaining at the site today, archaeology has exposed the subsurface remnants of the French and Indian War era fort.

Various archaeological investigations have been conducted at Fort Pitt over the years. Their website provides a description of recent excavations and recovered artifacts.

3. Bushy Run Battlefield

5. Brandywine Battlefield

6. Washington Crossing Historic Park

Historic Homes Trail

7. Joseph Priestley House

This site, constructed in the late 18th century, served as the home and laboratory for Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) during the final 10 years of his life. Credited with the discovery of oxygen in 1774, Joseph Priestly continued his work at this Northumberland, PA site after moving from England in 1794.

Archaeological investigations at the Joseph Priestley House found evidence of the Priestley's brief residence at the home. Excavations recovered artifacts identified as burnt laboratory glass with chemical residue, as well as earthenwares and stonewares associated with the Priestley's occupation at the site.

9. Hope Lodge

10. Graeme Park

Graeme Park is located in Horsham, Montgomery County, a suburb of Philadelphia. Keith House, the only existing home of a colonial Pennsylvania Governor, was constructed about 1722 by Sir William keith. It was purchased in 1739 as a summer residence by Dr. Thomas Graeme for entertaining prominent guests of Philadelphia society. The stone exterior construction prevented significant changes, but Graeme upgraded the interior of the home to a level more appropriate of his social status. Among the archaeological remains were imported delft tiles which reflect the social economic status of the property.

Archaeological investigations conducted since 1958 were instrumental in reconstructing the Graeme’s kitchen. Also located were historically documented formal gardens, a cobblestone road, and a smokehouse. Excavations in the formal gardens revealed brick walkways and stone perimeter walls. The sparse number of artifacts suggests meticulous care of the gardens, since few ceramics were found. This is an example of patterning of human behavior that archaeologists observe in cultures over long periods of time.

11. Pennsbury Manor

Industrial Heritage Trail

12. Drake Oil Well

Long before organized drilling for oil began in Venango County, archaeological evidence demonstrates that Native Americans were harvesting oil in wood-lined pits. Radiocarbon dating conducted on wood recovered from these pits finally answered the question as to who had created the thousands of pits observed by European settlers. Initial archaeological testing revealed that as early as 1410 A.D., native peoples were utilizing oil for medicinal purposes. Additionally, European settlers skimmed the oil from the seeps and used the petroleum as a source of lamp fuel and machinery lubrication.

In 1859, Edwin L. Drake (1819-1880) successfully drilled an oil well at Titusville, Venango County, and launched the modern oil industry. Almost overnight, towns sprang up, and in 1865, Pithole City, the largest oil boomtown in America, was settled. At its peak, Pithole’s population rose to over 15,000. Plagued by fires and the discovery of new wells elsewhere, the population declined to 281 by 1870. The archaeology at this site documents a fleeting moment in recorded history that would have otherwise been lost. Excavations of foundations provide a window into the daily lives of a boomtown which existed for only five years.

16. Eckley Miners’ Village

The village of Eckley was established in 1854 to provide housing for coal miners working in the nearby Council Ridge Colliery and their families.  Referred to as a company town, the homes, schools and churches were all company owned.  The town was planned according to a pattern of social status based on position within the mine. Lots on the west end of town were reserved for superintendents, foremen and professionals. Location of the three churches similarly reflected cultural and economic segregation of the village.  The Catholic Church was located on the eastern end of town, closest to miners of Irish heritage and lower class positions.  The Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches were on the western end of town where residents were generally of English, German and Welsh heritage.

Social patterning enables archaeologists to compare the household inventories for evidence of status in the artifacts.  By utilizing historic documentation and oral histories, archaeologists begin to pattern the past through the remains of this early industrial community and provide a voice for these under documented peoples.

17. Cornwall Iron Furnace

Rural Farm and Village History Trail

19. Old Economy Village

Home to the Christian communal group Harmony Society, Old Economy Village, Beaver County, was established in 1824. Members left Germany seeking religious and economic freedoms. A central philosophy of the society was the expectation of Christ’s return in the Millennium and their desire for a “divine economy.”

Both of these concepts are reflected in the layout of Old Economy Village and the gardens established by the Society. Gardens were planned in four sections that consisted of vineyards, a Grotto (a stone structure for meditation and retreat), fruit trees, flower beds, a central area for a pond, and a pavilion with fountain.

Archaeology combined with historic documentation has provided this site with valuable information for the restoration of the garden. Archaeologists identified the original planting methods for the vineyards, which were concentric planting patterns for the gardens, rather than the radiating ray pattern depicted in the historic interpretation. A brick-lined root cellar located within the foundation of a shed/cow barn, produced examples of dishes and glassware. These tablewares help to paint a picture of the values and lifeways of the harmonist culture.

22. Ephrata Cloister

Located in Lancaster County, Ephrata Cloister was an eighteenth-century religious communal society founded in 1732 by Conrad Beissel. The biblical name “Ephrata” was selected for the community, because it signified a place of suffering. Members were expected to take vows of celibacy, poverty, and obedience, and personal possessions were not permitted.

Extensive Archaeology between 1993 and 2003 located several structures, including the first communal dormitory and prayer house and the Mount Zion prayer house. The archaeology at this site was particularly significant because it demonstrated several inconsistencies in the written record. Most prominent of these was the vow of poverty and the rule prohibiting personal possessions. The quality of food was high compared to other sites of this time period, which was demonstrated archaeologically in the butchered bone refuse. Examples of personal possessions in the form of pottery with initials carved on the bottom and the discovery of a glass trumpet contradicted the historical documentation. These examples illustrate the biases in the historic documentation and the reality of the archaeological record.

23. Daniel Boone Homestead