(Posted March 30, 2015)

Artifacts are found by sifting soil through screens.
Artifacts are found by sifting soil through screens.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- History buffs or those with a keen interest in Pennsylvania life in the 1750s, can see hundreds of artifacts on display from the Fort Shirley archaeological dig in southern Huntingdon County at 5 p.m., Thursday, April 9, at Juniata College's Beeghly Library.

The display gives a complete picture of life at a multicultural frontier outpost that housed a trader, soldiers, indentured servants, slaves, Irish laborers and Native Americans. According to Jonathan Burns, a lecturer in geography at Juniata who teaches the college's archaeology field school course, the sheer number of small, yet significant artifacts give researchers clear idea of what life was like at Fort Shirley, a compound that started as a trading post for its founder George Croghan in 1753 and ended its strategically useful life as an outpost in 1756.

The display will be on view through Juniata's Alumni Weekend, Saturday, June 6. There will be a few remarks by Burns at the exhibition's opening in the foyer space in the campus library, followed by refreshments until 7 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

Perhaps the most significant find to be exhibited is a small copper charm, with Arabic writing translated in part as, "There is no God but Allah." Andrew Dudash, head of library reference services and coordinator of the exhibition, says the Muslim charm is perhaps the most important find on the site because, "it gives us evidence that there was an African population on site."

Other artifacts include a mouth harp that soldiers might have used to entertain themselves, buttons, trade beads, Native American wampum shells and beads, clay pipes and many other discoveries.

According to Jonathan Burns, a lecturer in geography at Juniata who teaches the college's archaeology field school course, the sheer number of small, yet significant artifacts give researchers clear idea of what life was like at Fort Shirley, a compound that started as a trading post for its founder George Croghan in 1753 and ended its strategically useful life as an outpost in 1756.

"This is truly a multicultural site that it was operated by the most prominent trader in Pennsylvania," Burns explains. "George Croghan greased the wheels of trade between Native Americans, settlers, soldiers and other populations."

Burns points out that Fort Shirley's status as a trading post made it more open to different constituencies. "Most forts along the frontier were built to keep Native Americans out," Burns say. "Fort Shirley was a place where Native Americans helped to build the installation and lived close by in a refugee camp."

The Native American population at Fort Shirley were Iroquois who had fought with George Washington during his defeat at Fort Necessity. "They were the only pro-British
Native Americans at the time," Burns explains. "Most of the other tribes were allies of the French in what would be the French and Indian War."

The artifacts on display were all recovered during summer archaeological digs on the site of Fort Shirley near Shirleysburg, Pa. The artifacts were recovered by students in the Juniata College Field School and the Penn State University Field School.

Contact Gabe Welsch at welschg@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.