Sunday, November 30, 2008

Our Center's One Year Anniversary!

SRAC Board Members Deb Twigg, Dick Cowles, Ted Keir, Mary Ann Taylor, and Tom Vallilee at The Valley Chamber of Commerce Ribbon Cutting at SRAC last month.
(Board members Susan Fogel and Janet Andrus not present.)

In 2007, SRAC set out to write a new chapter in our region's history, as well as our own. After 4 years of being together and founding SRAC in order to preserve our local Native American archaeology, such as the Ellsworth Cowles collection (which all of the local museums claimed they could not keep together because of it's sheer size), our fledgling nonprofit had finally raised enough funds to buy our first location for our Center.

After looking at several locations, on December 7, 2007, we bought our building at 345 Broad Street in Waverly, NY.

Over the past year, we have successfully renovated 1/3 of the building, the main floor which houses our Gift Shop, Lecture Hall, and Exhibit Hall which together covers 5,000 square feet.

I know on the surface this may not seem like such a big deal but, this is what the main floor looked like in December 2007:

We literally had the place rewired by one of our members and then were challenged with building walls and putting other crumbling ones back together...later we had to add a public restroom and patch and repair the floor as well...

It is no exaggeration to state that the number of volunteer hours donated to us during the past year is in the thousands. As a result, the friendships that were made are strongly forged from working so hard together for so long. Together, we reached towards a goal that many believed we could never grasp; but together - we succeeded!

Today we are proud to say that we survived our first long hard year, and today we are proud to have our main floor that looks like this:

Our Gift Shop is manned by all volunteers and open
Tuesdays - Fridays from 1-5, and Saturdays from 11-4pm.

Our Lecture Hall seats 65 - 70 people. We rent it with or without
AV support. and we host historical lectures every month!

Our Exhibit Hall houses thousands of locally found artifacts and is open
Tuesdays - Fridays from 1-5, and Saturdays from 11-4pm.!

To sum up the past year, let me just say that I refer to it as "Stone Soup" in that the whole community put something in this pot and made something special. Amazingly, because we had so many friends who donated time, resources, furniture, cases and supplies, we renovated and built ALL of this on our main floor for under $8,000! As incredible as this seems, other expenses such as our mortgage, utilities, insurance, security, bills related to printing the SRAC Journal, and operating expenses cost much more. But we survived, and paid all of our bills as well!

Now it is time to roll up our sleeves and look forward to 2009. As exciting as it is - just because we have the main floor functional, we are far from self sufficient. We still have many expenses we will face on a monthly basis, and that does not even address further renovations that will be necessary.

While everyone who comes in our doors is awed by what has been accomplished, we are far from finished and financially able to exist without your support.

We still need your help.

We need your support to continue to provide this unique Center for our surrounding communities...We call ourselves a Center because we are more than a museum - operating 5 days a week with all volunteer staffing and already providing bus trips and school field trips an engaging presentation about our prehistory that accompanies a tour of the exhibit hall - making the group's experience more active and interesting than just looking at cases filled with artifacts.

We hope that you can see by the first year what dedication we have to the dream that began 5 years ago - and we hope that you are inspired to support us in all that we hope to accomplish in the coming years.

A simple donation of just a few dollars will be used help us continue to invest in our community's understanding and appreciation of our local history that spans thousands of years using artifacts as evidence of the cultures that lived here as well as allows us to preserve these artifacts in a way that can be used to allow the research and learning to continue.

SRAC is a 501(c)3 and as such will make your 2008 donation to us tax deductible.

Please consider putting SRAC on your Christmas list today!

You can donate now by using the button below:


Mail donations to:
Susquehanna River Archaeological Center (SRAC)
P.O Box 12, Sayre PA 18840

Co-Founders of SRAC - Ted Keir, Deb Twigg, and Dick Cowles

On behalf of all of us at SRAC - we thank you in advance for anything that you can do to help us keep our dreams alive for generations to come!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Christmas Shop AND Support SRAC!

Looking for something special for that history buff or that person who is hard to buy for for Christmas? Visit SRAC's Gift Shop at 345 Broad Street in Waverly, NY! It is open from 1-5pm Tuesdays through Fridays and 11-4pm on Saturdays! And while you are there, stop in and visit our exhibit hall filled with thousands of locally found artifacts!

SRAC has a huge assortment of titles in stock relative to our region's early history!

We also have Native American and other types of art galore:

(pencil drawings by Sue Hakes - Local Artist)

(Beadwork, keychains, glasswork, arrowhead reproductions, and hand made jewelry!)

(Paintings and Prints by artists including Albert White!)

(hand made beaded jewelry)

Incredible wood carvings by Bill Underwood!

(Wood Bracelets )

(Dream Pouches)

(Daisy Wooden Rings)

We also have many other items for kids:

(Activity rocks learning kits and break your own geodes)

(the ever popular snake in a box!)

We also have over fifty different types of polished stones and geodes!

So don't forget to stop by SRAC and browse the store - - you may just find that special gift that you have been looking for while you support a wonderful community initiative.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Problematic Forms: Bannerstones

The image above is from the Ted Keir collection and on display at the SRAC Exhibit Hall. It is today called a winged bannerstone. Incredibly, banner stones are said to have been made by the people who lived in the Archaic time period in our region - that is - approximately 10,000 to 3,000 years ago.

Wikepedia claims: Banner stones are artifacts usually found in the Eastern US that are characterized by a centered hole in a symmetrically shaped carved or ground stone. The holes are typically ¼” to ¾” in diameter and extend through a raised portion centered in the stone. They usually are bored all the way through but some have been found with holes that extend only part of the way through. Many are made from banded slate or other interestingly colored hard stone. They often have a “wing nut” or “butterfly” shape but are not limited to these.

(different shaped banner stone)

It is drilled ever so carefully through the center and it is truly an art form especially when you consider that the people who made these did not have any metal tools to use to make it.

Because they were made so long ago, researchers have long debated on their specific use, but below you will find all the uses that I am aware of that have been theorized at one time or another:

Bannerstones Video from Ohio History Central:

The above video claims that the name "Banner stone" came from the early antiquarians believing that each stone and shape was placed upon a staff representing the kingdom it represented, like a banner...

(broken banner stone)

Today some specialists claim that these banner stones were a "Swiss army knife" for drilling, cordage making, or fire making for the ancient people who made them and that they are quite handy in performing many tasks in stone working. Some of these people in fact use them in this way today...proving that they can be used for such tasks without a doubt. Of course whether or not they were made for that purpose is still under debate...

(unfinished winged granite banner stone)

On the other hand, many archaeologists today agree that some of these may have been used as weights on a spear thrower called the "atlatl." The atlatl was a tool with several parts. It usually had a wooden shaft about two feet long. There was a hook of an antler at one end and a handle at the other. Shell weights or banner stone weights would have been fitted onto the wooden shaft. By using a weighted atlatl, Archaic hunters would have been able to throw their spears further and with greater force than before. This has also been proven as many people still use the atlatl and know that the weight is necessary.

(broken highly polished wing of a banner stone)

Lastly I have read that the material in use and the shape may have in fact defined different social groups and generations and that research in that direction might just help us to understand more about the many shapes of the banner stone.

I am no scientist and can only tell you that personally I find it hard to believe that anyone would use these things so roughly as they are polished and many seem to be quite delicate. I also think that after looking at all of the variations used under the broad term "banner stone" that maybe this term was and is being used too broadly. Furthermore, I think there is a good chance that there may have been more than one use for like objects...but again that is my opinion...

(broken highly polished banded slate banner stone)

In his 1917 book, "Stone Ornaments," Warren K, Moorehead offered up his thoughts about these "problematic forms" as follows:

"The winged objects with their various subdivisions constitute the
largest class of problematical forms.

Many of the pendants and ornaments from their position on skeletons, may be taken out of the unknown class, thus reducing it. Therefore, it is proper to say that the greater number of objects under study in this volume belong to the winged class and its subdivisions. Quite likely Professor Holmes when he used the word problematical had in mind various forms of winged perforated stones, rather than ovate and rectangular forms. Excepting a few regions in the East or South, the material selected by the Indians for winged objects was quite different from that employed in the manufacture of axes, pestles, celts and other utility tools. An inspection of the hundreds of photographs and drawings, illustrations in books and specimens spread out before the author as he writes these pages, seems to indicate a general line of thought which may be subdivided as follows:—

First, most of them are made of unusual materials; that is, the ancientIndian selected a bright, clear stone, a stone with well defined bands, of a fine-grained banded slate, or dark-brown sandstone, or red or blue shale, or a bright granite, or quartzite. He did not use ordinary limestone, and he employed gray slate or black slate without bands when he could obtain nothing else. He preferred the brighter colors. The very material and its treatment indicate that these objects in their purpose stand apart from the ordinary run of common artifacts.

(this winged banner stone is made of chlorite)

Second, he brought these objects to a state of high finish, all of which involved a deal of labor.

(unfinished banner stone)

Third, he was very careful in their manufacture. Pictures illustrating the progress of the double-winged problematical form from the block of slate to the finished specimen have been given in numbers of places in this book.

Fourth, he cast away broken axes or celts, and we seldom find a broken spear that is rechipped, unless for use as a scraper. But it is significant that he made use of nearly half of the broken problematical forms. This may seem trivial, but it is important; for we must inquire into every detailwith reference to these objects because it is only by such study that we shall learn anything about them.

Fifth, he made his perforations at right angles to the grain or bands of the stone, which should be noted. The exceptions are rare. If he drilled with the grain, the stone would chip, and before he finished the object, it might break.

(another banner stone shape showing the right angle drilling discussed above)

Sixth, he drilled the specimen before it was completed, knowing that the drilling was a dangerous process at best. And if he did not prize the specimen very highly, he would not have cared when he drilled it.

Seventh, he buried many of these short-winged stones with his dead. He placed specialized forms in altars, or under other conditions which stamped them as peculiar and valuable...

Moorehead went on to talk about his personal theory about the winged bannerstone stating:

"The thunder-bird myth is one of the most widespread through northern, central and eastern United States. It has been referred to repeatedly in the reports of those who have investigated the mythology, tradition and folk-lore of the Indian tribes. Perhaps there is no animal, bird or other form of life, around which more traditions and beliefs are centred than this same thunder-bird. Bay-bah-dwung-gay-ausch, the old blind Ojibwa shaman of Pine Point, Minnesota, now aged eighty-nine, told me in the summer of 1909, many interesting things concerning the Ojibwa belief in the thunder-bird. During a severe electrical storm one night in July, when we were camped at Big Medicine Lake, Bay-bah-dwung-gay-ausch arose and sang his medicine songs and burned some tobacco to propitiate the thunder-birds and drive them away. He informed me that in the olden times his people used charms to counteract the evil which these birds sometimes wrought.

My own theory concerning the bipennate or winged forms is that they represented the body and wings of the thunder-bird, and to this stone body were added the head and tail which were made of perishable materials.

This theory requires some explanation. It will at once be asked why was not the entire bird effigy carved out of stone? For the same reason that the pipe-stem and the ornamentation accompanying pipes are of different material. The head of the pipe being of stone or clay is always preserved; the stem of wood disappears as do the feathers or other decorations. It was inconvenient for the Indian to carve an entire bird effigy out of stone, and it was difficult. The entire effigy would be too large. Small effigies he did make. He found it simpler to make the body of the bird out of stone and add the head and tail feathers, just as he found it easier to make the stem of the pipe out of something else." Warren K. Moorehead, Stone Ornaments, 1917

Interestingly on page 425 in Stone Ornaments Moorehead shows a winged banner stone with what he describes as follows: "Material: dark greenish slate. Found by A. B. Winans near Battle Creek, Michigan. This is not perforated. It clearly shows the scratches made by the flint cutting-tool. Remains of hand-hammer action will be observed in the centre. This specimen well illustrates the method of manufacture and how that the Indians left a protecting ridge in the centre."

I found this of interest because I knew of the winged banner stone in our Keir collection shown below. If you look closely at this particular banner stone found locally, you can clearly see the incised markings that seem to me to represent an outstretched wing design, and they match the banner stone Moorehead referenced above.

Truth is that we can never say with 100% certainty what any of these "problematic forms" (otherwise known as "banner stones") were used for - or if they were all used for the same purpose.

I hope that after reading this post that you understand the importance of preserving our local artifacts and sharing them with others. They are not just pretty rocks....In these pictures you are seeing
evidence of a people who lived here thousands of years before us. By using this evidence we all can celebrate our past and learn more about how people lived here before us.

*All of the bannerstones shown on this page can be seen in the SRAC exhibit hall at 345 Broad St, in Waverly, NY.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

SRAC History's Mysteries - December 2, Spanish Hill

The Susquehanna River Archaeological Center(SRAC) announces that the "History's Mysteries" program for December 2, 2008 will be "Spanish Hill" presented by Deb Twigg. Twigg is the a cofounder and executive director of SRAC and was published in 2005 in the PA Archaeologist scientific journal concerning the mysterious hill located in South Waverly, PA. She also has had a website, dedicated to the site since 2003.

The presentation will cover the historical and archaeological significance of the hill as well as how the research of it brought together the founders of SRAC.

Doors open at 6pm, with the presentation running from 6:30 - 7:30. The SRAC Exhibit Hall (with on large case filled with artifacts from Spanish Hill) will be open until the doors close at 8pm to all attendees to the presentation. Admission for this event: adults - $4, students - $2, and SRAC members - $3.

Friday, November 21, 2008

SRAC Hosts a Special Day with Jack Holland

Wendy, Tom, Dick, Ted, Joe, & Jack

The 2008 meeting hosted by the NYSAA and was in Western New York at the Holiday Inn in Lockport, NY. One of the highlights of that meeting included a lithic session honoring Jack Holland. After today I can understand why.

I received a call just a few days ago from Jack who lives in Buffalo, NY and wanted to visit SRAC as soon as he could. On a side note, I recall him telling me that he was very interested in lithics in our initial conversation, and I told him that I had to make sure Ted Keir could meet him when he came for a visit, because Ted has over 100 pieces in a lithic library from PA. Jack said in a very gracious manner that he would be very glad to see Ted again and that he himself has around 30,000 pieces from all 50 states in his lithic library....(yes I did feel stupid for not knowing that!) At any rate, Jack didn't seem to mind that I was not aware of his celebrity status in the NYS Archaeology sector and in fact made it down to see us in two days after that phone call.

Question - - - Am I the only one who is amazed at the reach that SRAC has established in PA and New York?

The trip alone had to be around 3 hours(one way,) with Jack and two friends, Joe and Wendy arriving at SRAC before noon. SRAC board members Tom Vallilee, Ted Keir, and Dick Cowles spent what was left of the morning hours in the exhibit hall pouring over artifacts in the exhibit hall. When I took my lunch break from my day job, I found them at the local restaurant where they had been for a couple of hours and sat down and listened to Jack tell us about his specific interest in chert (otherwise known as flint) and how he was the only person who had chased this lithic material acrossed all 50 states and in fact has the only library that covers the whole country in his laboratory that researchers use on their own lithic materials. In fact he has been recognized by the the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute in Buffalo, NY as a "Pioneer of Science" in 2008: "Holland has made fundamental contributions to the study of prehistoric stone tools, and the analysis and classification of the lithic (stone) materials. As a young man, Holland moved to Buffalo to work at the Ford Stamping Plant. Following retirement from his engineering position, he pursued an atypical largely self-taught second career to become a leading expert in the field he pioneered."

When I drove back over to SRAC at 5pm, I wasn't surprised that they were all still studying the collections and chatting away in the exhibit hall...In the end, Ted gave Jack a piece of PA jasper that Jack didn't have yet and I gave him a copy of my "Spanish Hill" book as well. To me - Jack gave us the greatest honor of all by making the trip and saying many times how impressed he was with what we have created at SRAC.

To sum the day up, many friendships were made as were promises to get back together soon and to stay in touch via email and phone. Tom. Ted and Dick all commented on how much they learned from Jack in just the day's visit. Although I was sorry that I could not spend the whole day with the group, I certainly can tell you that no matter the length of time we spent, we all left feeling that we had known each other for a lifetime - which is a pretty special gift in itself.

It was an honor to meet Jack Holland and to share our like passions. Although you can read about him in many articles and write ups on the web, what they might not tell you is that he is a true gentleman and a credit to world of archaeology.

He also has a really great smile!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another Strange Artifact From Spanish Hill

Well this time I am going to present a strange artifact that may or may not be significant as it relates to our local Native American past, but it interesting at any rate!

As many of you know - I used to own a house on the east side of Spanish Hill which is now separated from the hill by Rte 220. Before the highway was put in however, the east side of the hill would have been in my own front yard. My next door neighbors had lived in their house for 60 - some years. It should be no surprise then that their sons had their own artifacts they had found from the hill as a result.

Each son as a matter of fact over the years that I lived there showed me all of the things that they had found as they played on the hill throughout their childhood. Sometimes they also would share their stories of how and where they found them...I being so intensely interested in all aspects of Spanish Hill that is private property, always loved to hear anything they could tell me.

One story and artifact in particular though takes the cake....

One of the sons named Dave is now middle aged, but as a child his front yard was the base of Spanish Hill. There was a gully that ran down from the top of the hill he claimed and one day he happened to see something white sticking out of the ground at the base of that gully and he gave it a kick. The pictures below are of the artifact that he kicked out of that gully that day.

The material is possibly steatite, although Dave claims that a professor at one of the local colleges claimed it was made from a hip bone. As you can see it is porous...and as I am no scientist, that's all I can tell you...

Where it was found - for those of you who are not familiar with Spanish Hill visit my site at:

As you can see, the hill has been used for centuries by many different people, but at one time, there were embankments that enclosed 10 acres on it's top and because of it's location, shape, artifacts that were found there as well as the fact that the ditches were on the interior of these embankments, it is believed that it was once a ceremonial space before the Europeans ever entered the region.

Of course it has been plowed and farmed and so on ever since that time as well...

The reason why I am telling you this is because when I posted this up on my site a couple of years ago, I had expected to have people tell me that it had to be a sculpture or some sort of artwork that fell off a building or something and was dumped there...but instead, I had someone contact me from Ohio with a theory that still makes me wonder even today...

The following is the email I received:

Dear Ms. Twigg,
John Dunkleberger in Williamsport recently made me aware of your excellent and fascinating Spanish Hill web site. While I was perusing it, the soapstone figure caught my attention; since you are asking for suggestions as to its origin, I'd like to offer some information. I don't pretend to be anything more than an amateur archaeologist, but I have looked long and hard at many such figures. It is almost certainly an aboriginal American artifact, and the motif is very common and apparently widespread in North
America, although professional archaeologists seem reluctant to recognize it, calling it "amorphous" and "the product of natural weathering". It also appears in European Paleolithic material and, in more refined form, in Inuit "transition art". It is a Janus-like figure with faces looking in opposite directions, one typically being noticeably anthropomorphic and the other more bird-like but with human-like features. Very likely the motif is quite ancient and primal, and I would bet that it appears in recognizable form in most parts of the world. To see enough of these figures to last you for quite a while, please take a look at my own web site, , describing an apparently quite old habitation site I have been investigating here in southeastern Ohio. It presents my description and attempted interpretation of various components of this "Bird Spirit" figure, and I think that after reading it you will quickly recognize more than just the human face in the soapstone. Here is a piece from Alan's website- - describing the "Bird Spirit": The Bird Spirit typically exhibits the following characteristics when all features are present: At least as frequently as the actual bird form, the image of a hybrid bird-human creature appears - referred to here as the "Bird Spirit". (Since this author seems to have discovered it, at least in this context, he presumably can call it whatever he likes.) For a while, this author was tentatively identifying numerous figures on stone tools as animals such as bear and wildcat. Then came the discovery of what appeared to be the image of a human head (shown leftmost in the top row below) made of a hard mud/ochre/coal amalgam, half buried at the bottom of a washed out rut in the "driveway" up the knob. In its mouth were two distinctly detailed birds joined together, and it was adorned with several other small bird images. Looking more closely at the mischaracterized "animal" images on the tools then revealed that these usually had mouths generally or distinctly shaped like birds, leading to the recognition of a highly standardized bird-human figure. The constant repetition of a complex and recognizable pattern was unmistakable. The Bird Spirit typically exhibits the following characteristics when all features are present: A mouth consisting of two birds conjoined most of the way back from their heads, and facing away from each other with their heads forming or occupying the corners of the mouth. When the figure is depicted only in profile, the mouth has the form of a bird facing toward the back of the head. This gives an appearance that easily causes the image to be misidentified as an animal such as a bear or wildcat. A bird, resting or sometimes perched, facing forward on top of the head, often suggesting shaman headgear. One or more birds or Bird Spirits emerging from the mouth. Eyes in the form of birds or bird heads, the two eyes typically being different in shape. A nose consisting of a bird facing downward. Ears in the form of birds. If a significant chin is present, this may be in the form of a bird or Bird Spirit head. A bird or Bird Spirit emerging in the manner of an egg, when the figure appears in full-length bird form. Possibly as a variation on this, a bird or Bird Spirit face often also appears at the posterior end of the figure. A bird or Bird Spirit emerging beneath the primary figure (when in full-length form), as if from the belly. The head of a Bird Spirit may be strongly anthropomorphic, with distinctly human nose and eyes at the front of the face, or more bird-like with an elon- gated head. In either case, it normally has a bird-shaped mouth rather than a beak. Below is a sketch of the general form, a simple schematic showing the typical components described above. (Unlike the people that created these objects, this author has no artistic talent. Do not laugh.)

This is Alan's rendition of how the mouth would look:

This is a closeup of the carved face's mouth:

I am certainly no scientist and cannot say for sure what to think of it scientifically - but when you look at the mouth of this artifact ir does make you take a second look....and in my opnion, it DOES look like two birds as he describes!

However, when I go to Alan's website, I have to say honestly that at first glance, there seems to be this artifact from Dave/Spanish Hill and then what looks like a bunch of geo-facts. As a result, part of me has to ask if man made many of the pieces shown, or if nature did....and then if there is any other artifact that I can honeslty say is like Daves.

One thing I can say for sure is that man did make the artifact from Spanish Hill.

I decided to make this posting about this artifact and share the stories that accompany it simply as an interesting study of both science and the human imagination that I believe is worth sharing for many reasons.

I will leave you decide what to think of any of it.

( ;