The Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) is the Commonwealth’s inventory of recorded archaeological sites.
The program officially started in the late 1970s—when site files held by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History were combined with those kept by the State Museum of Pennsylvania—but it was built on a foundation of nearly 100 years of site recording by numerous institutions and individuals across the state. Since that time, the PASS files have been kept in a centralized repository at the SHPO, where they are digitized and made available to the public through CRGIS.
Why Do We Record Sites?
Here are three reasons to record archaeological sites with PASS:
- Archaeology is inherently destructive – When a site is excavated, or even if artifacts are collected from the surface, that part of the site can never be restored. Therefore, it is important to create detailed notes about artifacts, soil layers, features, and other field observations. These notes, combined with the artifact collection and site maps, can be used to re-create the information contained in the site. Submitting site records for inclusion in PASS ensures the long-term preservation of the information and allows it to be used by others.
- Understanding the past – While we can learn a lot about the past from studying and excavating individual sites, we learn just as much from studying where sites are located on the landscape, how that relates to different environmental and cultural variables, and how that changes over time. Each site is like a piece of a puzzle, so the more pieces we have, the better the picture.
- Planning and protection – This is what our office is all about! A handful of federal and state laws require development projects to consider whether they will affect archaeological sites and historic places. The archaeological and historic inventories maintained in CRGIS are a crucial part of planning for projects and assessing affects on cultural resources.
What PASS Looks Like Today
Every spring we look back at site recording activities during the previous year. This helps us get a sense of how many sites have been recorded across the state, where they are found, who is recording them… and how things change from year to year. All of this information is compiled in the annual PASS report , which is available on the SHPO website and is presented at the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Annual Meeting each April.
As of January 1, 2018, we had a total of 25,043 recorded sites. These sites are found in every county, with the greatest number in Washington County (1754 sites) and the fewest in Sullivan County (32 sites). It is important to emphasize that these numbers mainly reflect site recording activities, not the cultural and archaeological heritage that is present in Pennsylvania. Or, as we always say in CRGIS: “The absence of data does not necessarily mean that sites are not present, it may be that no one has recorded the sites that are there!”
It is true that sites are not equally distributed, as a variety of environmental, cultural, and historical reasons have led to different levels of human use and occupation in different places and at different times. However, we have found that the site report tells us more about the present than the past. Yearly site recording numbers tell us where people are looking for sites and reveal trends in CRM survey, university research, or the lifetime work of avocational archaeologists.
In 2017, specifically, 388 new sites were added to PASS. The greatest concentrations are clustered in the southeast, southwest, and northwest, reflecting different development projects or pipelines. Forest County added the greatest number of new sites last year (51), and many of these came out of tree blow-down projects in the Allegheny National Forest.
Although most new sites came from CRM projects (291 out of 388 sites), other academic and community-based projects also contributed to the inventory. Twelve shipwrecks in Lake Erie were recorded by the Pennsylvania Archaeology Shipwreck Survey Team, and West Chester University’s ongoing efforts to catalog the Harry Wilson collection added several new sites to Chester County.
How can you record sites?
We have always encouraged universities, collectors, museums and historical societies to record sites, and this year it just got easier! The archaeologists at the SHPO and the State Museum of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce the release of a new abbreviated PASS form that can be used by avocational archaeologists, collectors, and local museums to report sites for inclusion in PASS. The new form asks for the basic information needed to record a site (artifacts, features, location, and field observations), without the lengthy tables and lists that are included in the full PASS form.
The fillable PDF version of the form is available on the SHPO website (if you don’t see it there, please check back in a day or two!), where it can either be downloaded or printed. Once you are ready, you can e-mail the form and any extra photos or materials to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in learning more about site recording, or if you’re unsure whether you have a site, check out our CRGIS and Site Recording table at the upcoming SPA Annual Meeting in Dubois, April 7-8.