When the 2017 season winds down at the Frances Dorrance Chapter of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology’s dig near Coxton Yards in Duryea, the dirty work will end. But there will be tons of indoor work ahead — cleaning, cataloging, recording, mapping, rebagging, researching and classifying the artifacts uncovered since opening day in April.
The Frances Dorrance Chapter took interest in the area in the 1990s after artifacts were discovered during a topsoil removal. It is known as the Conrail site, so named because Conrail owned the land at the time and gave permission to the chapter to open a large scale archaeological dig.
The Conrail site contains three layers of artifacts representing the Historical or Contact Period, 1550 to today; the Woodland Period, 1200 B.C. to 1550 A.D., and the Archaic Period, 8000 to 1200 B.C.
In 2009, volunteers digging in the Historical level struck organized stacks of large rocks around a site where the home of John Phillips, one of the area’s earliest white settlers, once stood. Known as the Phillips site, the area has yielded hundreds of artifacts over the years.
The volunteers also uncovered a French drain, which was used to direct water away from the foundation, and a well. This season, they uncovered a second home site footprint, expanding the Phillips site.
Over the years, volunteers have dug deep into the past, finding artifacts which show people lived in the area for thousands of years, back to the Archaic period. Rare points known as Kirk Points were found with carbon allowing for carbon dating. Beta Analytic in Florida confirmed the points were from the Early Archaic Period, 6,000 to 8,000 B.C. An extremely rare St. Alban’s Bifurcate point, which is also known to date to the Early Archaic, was found, though it couldn’t be carbon dated.
Frances Dorrance Chapter President Al Pesotine, who directs the dig, said there are likely only a couple weeks left in this season and he is looking forward to next spring when some volunteers will continue their work in the early Archaic level, looking for stone tools and other artifacts of the era.
But the Historical, or Contact Period, is important, too, and other volunteers will continue working that period in and around the Phillips Site, within the larger Conrail Site.
Pesotine said items found this season, such as coins, French and English gunflints from the late 1700s, which were also used to make a spark to start fires, and clay pipes suggest there may have been a trading post in the area.
Other significant finds this season include an earthen pit feature and a circular pit feature. The circular pit is deep and a bit of a mystery as diggers could not find much of significance in it as evidence of its original use. Volunteers sifted some dirt from the circular pit looking for botanicals, or plant matter, to help determine what the pit was used for. In May, the rock hearth feature was uncovered.
Also a rare metacarpal bone of a deer with incised lines was found this season. It was a tool for scraping hides. It came out of what is known as “a disturbed area,” meaning the bone’s archaeological context was affected by later human activity, such as farming.
Pesotine said he hopes to have Barry Kent and James Herbstritt, a senior state archeologist, at the state museum examine the flints and scraper. They are helping him publish finds from the Conrail Site.
The Archaic site is inside a plastic enclosure known as a weatherport, which is heated by a propane heater. The Phillips site is open.
During the dig season, the chapter had visits from Wyoming Seminary students and a Lake Ariel Boy Scout Troop. The chapter displayed artifacts at Riverfest, Pittston History Day, the Tunkhannock River Day Festival and National Trails Day Hike and Bike in Hazleton. Member Mark Dziak spoke to the chapter at a monthly meeting about archaeology in ancient Greece.
This season, Paula Cenera, the chapter’s secretary, managed the chapter’s Facebook page. She kept it active with frequent updates and lots of photos and videos.
Pesotine said she deserves credit for growing the chapter membership through the Facebook account.