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Indian artifacts hidden in plain sight

December 18, 2013
Associated Press

LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — The civilization that preceded the European invasion of central Pennsylvania left behind a material culture that both professional and amateur archaeologists, as well as profiteers and hacks, have been hauling out of the ground ever since.

One of the best known of the early amateur archaeologists in this area, Gerald B. Fenstermacher, amassed thousands of American Indian artifacts during the first half of the 20th century.

He extracted these materials from the cemeteries and villages of the Susquehannocks and the Susquehannocks' predecessors, the Shenk's Ferry Indians, along both sides of the Susquehanna River in Lancaster and York counties.

Fenstermacher gave some of the best of these items, including carvings of humans and animals in soapstone, to the Pennsylvania State Museum at Harrisburg. He gave other materials — projectile points, pottery and the like — to the North Museum at Franklin & Marshall College.

But he donated the bulk of his collection to the late Adolph Neuber. Neuber created the Amish Farm and House, Lancaster County's first authentic tourist attraction, which now sits smack against a Target store along Route 30 East.

This collection has been called the largest assemblage of Indian materials originating in Lancaster County that remains in private hands.

Neuber opened the Amish Farm and House in 1955. Ten years later, he built a museum to contain Fenstermacher's artifacts and historical objects from other sources. The materials were displayed in that museum from 1965 to 2004, when the building was torn down to make way for the Target store.

Since then, Fenstermacher's collection has been stored in 30 60-quart plastic tubs. Mark Andrews, manager of the Amish Farm and House, and Eric Conner, the attraction's marketing director, want to move the artifacts out of tubs and into a viewing space.

"What we really want to do is see if there's any grant money that would allow us to display some of this stuff on the (remaining Amish Farm and House) property," says Andrews. "The connection we would make is the Conestoga Indians were here when the first settlers came here."

In addition to hundreds of projectile points; glued-together pot shards; and beads of glass, bone and shell, the collection includes iron ax blades and a brass chain. Artifacts range from thousands of years old to the middle of the 18th century, when the Paxton Rangers wiped out the Conestoga tribe, descendants of the Susquehannocks.

"I think it's neat to hold glass beads made 400 years ago when John Smith came up the Susquehanna," says Conner. He marvels that this material exists at all. "To amass a collection like this is about impossible now," he says.

Although not an academically trained archaeologist, Fenstermacher was a careful excavator. He gave a unique number and letter to every item he retrieved from sites in Washington Boro and vicinity, as well as across the river, south of Wrightsville.

The labels remain on the artifacts, but the log book matching the labels to places is not in this collection. Without the log book, there's usually no way to know where something originated.

Operators of the Amish Farm and House would like to find the money to build a new museum to display all of these artifacts, whether their precise original site is known or not.

Meanwhile, American Indians here and nationwide have been agitating for years to have items that were removed from cemeteries returned to the places where they originated — a process called repatriation.

In either case — museum display or repatriation — everyone should agree that such materials deserve a more appropriate resting place than 30 plastic tubs in storage.




Information from: Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era ,



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