Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's Not Too Late !

If you have already supported us during the 2010 Giving Campaign - Thank You!

If you have not, it's not too late!

You can donate online at or you can download our 2010 Giving Campaign form here.

Thank you for helping us make 2010 the huge success that it has been and for helping us to look forward to what we can accomplish in 2011!

Thank you for sharing this post with others who want to donate to a good cause before 2010 ends! Just use the link below!

Huge Attendance at SRAC Halloween Party

Valley kids had a real Halloween treat at the Susquehanna River Archaeological Center (SRAC) in Waverly on Saturday. The Center hosted a costume party and hayride that was free for all to attend. Families who attended were first greeted by costumed SRAC board members who led them to the very popular hayride provided by Jim Kier (Red Tail Mulch.) Kier's daughter, Jody drove the tractor starting at SRAC and traveling around Muldoon Park throughout the event.

Once attendees unloaded from the hayride and entered SRAC, they were were offered refreshments that included pizza, donuts, cupcakes and cookies, and apple cider that were all donated for the occasion. Games throughout the night included a pumpkin coloring contest, "pin the tusk on the mammoth," a concentration game, and a "find the cats" game. The night concluded with a costume contest for both adults and children. Every child won at least one prize as well as received a trick or treat bag filled with candy and great prizes.

SRAC's Deb Twigg said, "This event was one of those that are a running theme at SRAC, where we host a free community event and are assisted by other Valley businesses and organizations who help us make it a success. Parrish Deli, Stroehman's Just Desserts, and Tops really stepped up and we really appreciate it. I also want to thank the VFW for making a hundred dollar donation towards the event as well. Last but not least I want to thank all of the SRAC volunteers that worked so hard all week setting up and at the event. By working together, we all gave a lot of families who attended a night to remember!"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Halloween Costume Party and Hayride Scheduled

The Susquehanna River Archaeological Center (SRAC) has scheduled a Halloween Costume Party and Hayride on Saturday, October 30th from 5-8pm. The event will be free for the public to attend and will include games, refreshments, trick or treat bags for kids under 12 and a costume contest for both children and adults. The hayride will be running throughout the event and will travel around the Muldoon Park area starting and ending along Park Avenue next to SRAC.

SRAC's Deb Twigg reports, "I don't know of many other community organizations in the area that do so many free events, but we felt it was a good idea to offer a place where kids could wear their costumes and celebrate Halloween in a safe environment and where adults can also find a costume and have fun on Halloween as well."

SRAC is located at 345 Broad Street Waverly, NY. To learn more, visit

Monday, October 11, 2010

SRAC: Who We Are, 2010.

I received an email from a new member the other day saying that he had a hard time understanding who SRAC is and he asked if I could add that to our website in a better way than it is today. After looking up a post that I created in November 2007 when I began this blog, titled, "SRAC - Who Are We?" (note the question mark!) and another the same month titled, "Stone Soup" - I had to smile and reminisce a bit about how far we have come in such short time...I hope that readers seeking to understand us better will use this post in conjunction with the two referred to above, and that this will answer many questions that you may have...

My name is Deb Twigg, and I am one of the co-founders and currently executive director of the Susquehanna River Archaeological Center, (SRAC.)

When those earlier posts were written, I remember that I was filled with anxiety and excitement about the huge undertaking that I'd signed up for...Creating a totally new nonprofit organization, buying an old run down warehouse style building with crumbling walls, and only having enough money after making the down payment to keep going for a few months without creating a way to generate revenue in the meantime....Looking back, I have to say that I learned A LOT in those first few years, and the biggest thing that I learned was that if you believe in your heart that you are supposed to do something - no matter how big or small it is - you need to first BELIEVE you can do it - and then roll up you sleeves and figure out how.

This is one of the pictures I took when we were looking at the building in October 2007.

While there were some who laughed at us for buying the 100-some year old building that we now call our Center back in December 2007, the minute that I walked in, I had a picture in my head that I drew out (see below.) This became our plan for the main floor of the building that is pictured above. (Note when we first bought the building there were no walls or bathrooms on this floor.)

Those of you that walk in to SRAC will find this layout from 2007 quite close to what you will find there today with some minor adjustments. You will also see our basic business plan from 2007 there as well. That is, that we would have a large gift shop, exhibit hall and lecture area to continuously offer new reasons for people to come back to our Center. I just kept thinking that there are so many museums have we've all visited when we were children, that still look the same today! By having an active Center, we have made a place that continuously changes and has new things to see and do.

To see our latest renovations and additions, visit:

While I realize that some of you may think that all of this, to this point, could have been chalked up to just over-confidence and a boatload of luck - we also had what I will call the first important ingredient all great non-profit organizations have in common - a great and unique cause. To me, SRAC's cause is like no other in the region. We not only work hard to educate private collectors about preserving the archaeology that is out there and not currently in the public eye, but we educate the public about our prehistoric past using what we have preserved. To this end, we have preserved 15 private collections that are on display in our exhibit hall and expect many more to be donated when collectors are ready to make a decision about where their collections should go past their lifetimes. Using this local archaeology, we continue to push ourselves and professional researchers to make the research continue in our region to help us figure out even more that we do not know. By inviting professional and avocational archaeologists and historical speakers to speak in our lecture hall, as well as private collectors to display their artifacts at certain events, we continue the efforts in learning and sharing every month. As stewards of our local archaeology and its preservation we have become a great example of educators that never stop learning. In addition to the public stopping in everyday at SRAC, local schools, local clubs and even nursing homes make special field trips to our center... As you can see - our energies and efforts are endless in supporting this meaningful cause.

Looking back, the second important ingredient to our success in my mind is successful funding. Unlike other nonprofit organizations, we signed a contract early on with co-founder Dick Cowles that we would not accept federal or state funding - and if we did , his family would have the right to remove his collection for the fear of new laws at some point effecting his fathers collection. This caused us to have to work alot harder in that we never were able to get funding in the way that most non-profits do from state or federal funding. Instead, we would have to seek the support of our community organizations, philanthropic foundations and generous individuals.

As a part of my role at SRAC, I have taken on the responsibility of constantly seeking funding to keep SRAC afloat. Initially, I thought the best plan was to go to big organizations in the area, the hospitals, the banks and even the racetrack, etc...but without fail, I was told that they did not see how SRAC could possibly survive, and therefore we were not a good investment...I remember smiling and saying, "We will survive because we have a great cause, a huge collection, etc" and at a certain point, realized that I just could not seem to inspire large businesses because they had to see it all on a spreadsheet - which makes sense because that's how they run their own businesses! I must note that this year's SRAC Giving Campaign did receive some donations (see below) from local businesses and my hope is that we are finally gaining the confidence of at least some of them!

Instead, the largest donations by far have been by philanthropic individuals and foundations that our cause actually speaks to above and beyond any spreadsheet. Since September 2009 our donations were received in the following proportions: 73% from individuals, 23% from foundations, and 3% from local businesses. With that said, if you would like to donate to SRAC, please visit

Sadly, today many large organizations are learning that even with a great cause and a lot more money than a new organization like SRAC has - that keeping their doors open is still a challenge without dedicated people. With nearly 300 members to date and 100% volunteer staffing, I think our staff by far surpasses any other nonprofit organization that I am aware of. Furthermore, the fact that none of us have ever made a penny from all of the hours that we have donated is a credit to our board and volunteer staff and their dedication to our cause. It is also very efficient for us as a non-profit to not have salaries listed among our expense line. Furthermore, nearly every one of our board members volunteers time in SRAC every week! To me this helps us all to get to know each other and work together as a team - and it allows all of us to have a feel for the Center and those we serve in the community. No showing up once a month for a meeting if you are on our board - we expect more - and get it!

As a result, when someone enters our doors, they are welcomed with a friendly smile and a knowledgeable person who can answer their questions. In fact co-founders Ted Keir and Dick Cowles work one afternoon shift every week in our exhibit hall and it is no secret why those days are the most popular days of the week for the public to visit SRAC!

Ted is the leading source of information about the archaeology in our region. A retired high school teacher with a degree in Earth Science, Ted became an avocational archaeologist and private collector in his off hours. There is not a collector or professional in our region that does not know Ted Keir and respect his life's work in educating our community. In fact Ted still gives educational lectures at SRAC a couple of times a year! His incredible collection can also be seen in SRAC's exhibit hall and if you come on Tuesday afternoons, Ted will share his stories about the artifacts and where they were found with you personally.

Dick Cowles is the son of Mr. Ellsworth Cowles, engineer by trade and an earlier avocational archaeologist the generation before Ted Keir. Although Ellsworth passed away in 1991, his knowledge of the Chemung River Valley, it's history and archaeology is unsurpassed even today. Dick is the third co-founder of SRAC as he ended up with all of his father's artifacts which no local museum was able to take on because of it's sheer size. Once filling a three room basement, the Ellsworth Cowles collection was the foundation for the SRAC collection that now boasts 15 collections. Following in his father's foot steps, Dick also became a local historian, and is very knowledgeable in the Revolutionary War period for our region to include Sullivan's Campaign. If you visit the SRAC shop's book section, you will see books by both Dick and his father. SRAC is also currently seeking a foundation grant to compile a 500+ page book written by Ellsworth over his lifetime about our region's prehistory and early history. If you would like to meet Dick, simply stop in some Thursday afternoon, he'll be there with that great smile of his welcoming you as you come in the door.

Both Ted and Dick as well as the rest of the board also wear many other hats at SRAC!

So today as I am asked "Who is SRAC?" I feel as though after 5 years of incorporation and becoming a non-profit organization, I have more confidence in answering that question, and how we actually have done it. While there are so many aspects of SRAC that are still left to discuss, I hope that I have given you a better answer than there was before.

With many new things planned for the coming years such as more renovations, enlargement of our exhibit hall, addition of a research center and library on the second floor and even a classroom or two, I am sure I will make an addendum or two in the future.

To learn more or to support our efforts, visit

Thank you for taking the time to learn more about SRAC. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Deb Twigg, SRAC

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Archaeological dig yields treasures in Columbia - News

A recent archaeological dig at Rotary Park (Lancaster County, PA) has set Columbia Borough's historical clock back a few thousand years, revealing an American Indian community dating to a time when pharaohs ruled Egypt and Stonehenge was under construction.

"We've found spear points dating back to 3000 B.C. and pottery that goes back to the 1300s," said Meg Schaefer, curator with the Wright's Ferry Mansion in Columbia, said Aug. 10. "We've even found evidence of what Natives were eating, including carbonized nut hulls and fish scales, which we can carbon date."

Started in May with the help of a $25,000 grant from the Philadelphia-based Wright-Cook Foundation, the dig was run by the Columbia-based nonprofit The Von Hess Foundation. It was overseen by Stephen Warfel, an archaeologist who retired from the State Museum of Pennsylvania in 2007 and whose work includes excavations at the Ephrata Cloister.

Whenever you're digging close to the Susquehanna River, you'd expect to find a concentration of native artifacts, but what we found in Rotary Park is exciting and unanticipated," Warfel said Aug. 10.

"We don't know if there was a settlement here. It could have been a seasonal encampment. But I think, clearly, more work needs to be done, since we now have evidence that there were people living in what is now Columbia all the way back to around 3500 B.C.," he said.

Read more:

Monday, October 4, 2010


Pestle: a usually club-shaped implement for pounding or grinding substances in a mortar. (Merriam-Webster)

Ted Keir discusses mortars and pestles in one of SRAC's Learning Modules

"There grew in North America, at the time of its discovery by Columbus, a profusion of seeds, nuts, and roots of various kinds, developing according to climate from northern Canada to southern Arizona. Man found these a valuable addition to his food-supply, and he made use of many of them that we of to-day should consider unpalatable. He procured shell-fish of various kinds both salt and fresh water; he knew the properties of many roots, bulbs, barks, and other plants. With the exception of such molluscs as he ate, and his fresh meat, the greater bulk of his food-supply was in the form of kernels, or grains, or bulbs, or nuts, which must needs be reduced to meal, or stripped of husks, or cracked and broken. To convert the raw food into palatable flour, he used both wooden and stone pestles in flat, oval, or round mortars, the form varying in different parts of the country." (Moorehead:1910)

Warren K. Moorehead went on to classify stone pestles in his "Stone Age of North America" in the following manner:

(a) Elongated, plain.

(b) Elongated, ridged or ornamented.

(c) Bell-shaped.

(d) With flat surfaces (mano stones).

I cannot help but add an important addendum to Moorehead's list as Louise Welles Murray did in 1921 when reporting for our region - which we will classify as type (e) - the unwieldy (giant) pestle:

"Considerable data is available as to Algonkian culture, and Algonkian sites are easily identified by the long (elongated) pestle, steatite dish, chipped grooved axe, stemmed and notched points, ceremonial and "problematical" artifacts of early days...but to whom but mighty men belong the large chipped tomahawk, the unwieldy pestle, and the grooved axe I3 inches long?" - (Murray:1921)
And if we are going to use size as a defining feature for categorization, I would also like to add one more type that is on display at SRAC as well, being the miniature pestle, which we will refer to here as type (f).

Using the SRAC collection of local artifacts and with help from the NYS Museum, I will try to cover each category as best I can as representation of our region of the Twin Tier Region of southeastern NY and northeastern PA.

Pestle Type A: Elongated, plain.
This is the most common type of pestle found in the Twin Tier Region of NY and PA. Sometimes also referred to as "roller pestles" they have a rounded edge and look as if they could have been used to roll out ancient flat-breads long ago. These are so common in our region that some collectors claim they do not even pick them up if they see them in a newly plowed field in the spring anymore...And for this reason I want to remind everyone that all items showing use from ancient times are evidence and should be treated as such at all times.

In fact there is some discussion that pestles should not be soaked and/or washed if they are to be used in current research. By analyzing starch residue in ancient grinding tools and charred remains in cooking pots, researchers are learning new things about the ancient cultures who used these tools. In fact, Jon Hart of the NYS Museum has presented at SRAC a very important work using residue in cooking pottery to unravel mysteries about Iroquoian life a thousand years ago. In it he claims:

"Paleoethnobotanists are increasingly turning to the microbotanical record. Recent analysis of phytolith (a small opaline rock consisting chiefly of fossil plant remains) assemblages from charred cooking residues on pottery sherds in central New York recovered using 209 rondel phytolith variables has identified maize as early as 2270 ± 35 B.P." - (Hart:2009)

In the video above, Ted shows you the average size of the pestles that are commonly found in our region. As Ted points out, it is not uncommon to see polished areas on these pestles that look as if they were used as a wet stone to sharpen blades or other stone tools as well.

SRAC Collection

Other pestles of this type in the SRAC collections are very polished and it is doubtful to me at least that they were used in preparing food...The squared edged polished pestle shown below is rare for us to see in our region, and may or may not be actually better categorized in the next type of pestles that we are going to discuss...

SRAC Collection

Pestle Type B: Elongated, ridged or ornamented.
This type of pestle is not common in our region. In fact I asked the NYS Museum for a photo to use in this article to even be able to give you an example. Please note that this image is copyrighted and that all photographs of NYS Museum artifacts may be used solely for research purposes - for any other purpose you'll need to request official permission.

NYS Museum: bear head effigy pestle; grey; 1 foot long, 2" diam across head - 2 1/4" across base

Rock art specialist and author, Ed Lenik states that "effigy pestles probably date from Late Woodland (Ceramic) to Historic Contact periods (ca 1000 b.p. - 400 b.p.) It appears that bear effigy pestles were not utilized as domestic grinding tools but were fetishes or guardian spirits of the women" (Lenik:2002)

The first time that I ever saw one of these was just a few years ago when SRAC representatives Ted Keir, Susan Fogel and I went to the NYS Museum and were given a tour to include a chance to photo all artifacts in their collection from our area. Once we had spent literally hours to that end, we then went around and looked at some other items. These pestles with effigies really caught my eye and have remained an oddity of interest. Since then I have talked with collectors from the Hudson Valley that have several of these types of pestles. As I have stated, I am no specialist on these artifacts, but simply by looking on Google quickly it seems that these effigy pestles were found mostly along the North Atlantic coastline region.

When I scoured my files one last time for references for this posting, I came acrossed one reference from Louise Welles Murray that refers to a site just south of Nichols on the PA side of the border that may just have had one of these types of pestles:

"There are many steatite fragments, as a rule found near or on the hill, also many stone implements, pecked and chipped, and every type of celt. Hoes, long pestles (one with a supposed bird effigy at the end), and large mortars show agricultural habits." (Murray:1921)
Because the private collector that found this artifact so long ago did not preserve it or have a photo taken or even record its existence beyond this word of mouth notation made by Murray, we will never know for sure if this was an actual effigy pestle or not. However, the NYS Museum does have a bird effigy pestle in their collection said to be in exhibit quality, so at least we know bird effigy pestles did exist and were also found in NY state. (OTSEGO COUNTY)

Other recorded types of ornamented pestles include phallic and human effigies and pestles with ridges carved around their edges that are more commonly found in the western regions of North America. I am not familiar with any of these, however, the NYS Museum does state that they do have 2 phallic effigy pestles in their collection of exhibit quality.

Pestle Type C:
The bell-shaped pestles are alot more common in the Midwest than in our region, but they do appear on our sites from time to time. We have a handful on exhibit at SRAC currently, with one (the one on the right) specifically found at Spanish Hill, in South Waverly, PA.

SRAC Collection

From what I have read, bell shaped pestles have three basic shapes, having either a flat base, rounded base, or a pointed base. In the photo above, the one on the left would be a rounded based pestle (there is a rounded edge around the base), while the one on the right is a flat based version.

The NYS Museum reports that they have 4 exhibit quality bell pestles. (1 - ERIE COUNTY, 2 - LIVINGSTON COUNTY, and one unknown origin)

Pestle Type D: With flat surfaces (mano stones).

After re-inventorying our SRAC collection of thousands of artifacts on display, I found that flat sided pestles are more common than I thought in in our region... These were supposedly used on the end but also were used to mash or mull with their flat sides. As you can see by this pestle from the SRAC/Cowles Collection, the wear shows up in both the end and the flat sided area.

SRAC Collection

Mortar and flat-sided (mano) pestle

Pestle Type E: Unwieldy (giant).

Louise Welles Murray reported many "over-sized" artifacts in our locality and reported at the infamous site found in her own garden (The Murray Garden) in 1883 there were "two pestles, one large and unwieldy but easily used by the big men here buried."

At first, you might think that she was just exaggerating, but the truth is that the giant pestles in this category are actually too big to be used simply by a woman pounding with it to grind corn. A closer look at the pestle shown below reveals that it has a notched end supposedly to be strapped to a tree limb to help with the otherwise back breaking mechanics of trying to pound using this huge stone tool.

SRAC Collection

After taking inventory, I found that huge pestles in the SRAC collection are actually pretty common for our region, but the notched feature of the pestle shown above is not. However, until one of our members brought in one that he had found just a few weeks ago, I hadn't noticed what actually is a common feature for these giant pestles. One end of each that we have in our collections is broken or cut halfway. See the image below to see what I mean...

SRAC Member Lon Kouterick

SRAC Collection

At first I thought that this feature was just a common way that such a large pestle would break, but when you look closer, there seems to be signs of this area being worked.

SRAC Collection

Whatever the actual cause is for this peculiar feature on of all of our giant pestles, I thought it worthwhile to note it here.

Pestle Type F: Miniature.
What the purpose of these little pestles were - I am not sure - some say they were used with paint pots, but I see no staining on any of the ones at SRAC. At any rate they are quite common in our region and I wanted to make sure to note them in this report.

Note there is also a miniature flat sides pestle as well.

SRAC Collection

Personally I doubt that we will ever know all of the uses that these artifacts here were used for. The truth is that many chefs today still use a mortar and pestle, as do doctors/pharmacists and others, and I would propose that there were at least as many uses (and users) for mortars and pestles centuries ago as there are today.

What do you think? Please send your comments by using the Comments area below.

If you like this article you may also like:

Discoidal Stones:

Stone Drills:


Unidentified Artifacts with Holes:


Hart 2009:The use of multiple discriminant analysis in classifying prehistoric phytolith assemblages recovered from cooking residues
Authored Jon Hart, PhD; co-authored with R. G. Matson
Published: Journal of Archaeological Science, 2009

Lenik 2002: Picture Rocks : American Indian Rock Art in the Northeast Woodlands
Authored by: Ed Lenik
Published: University Press of New England 2002

Moorehead 1910: Stone Age In North America
Published: Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin Company, 1910

Murray 1921: Aboriginal Sites in and near "Teaoga," Now Athens, Pennsylvania
Authored by: Louise Welles Murray
Source: American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 23, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 1921), pp. 268-297

Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association

Special thanks to the NYS Museum for granting me use of the image of the bear effigy pestle and list of exhibit quality pestles.