IUP Hosts Advanced Metal Detecting for Archaeologists at Fort Necessity

Posted on 8/22/2016 12:18:45 PM

IUP Anthropology hosted an Advanced Metal Detecting for Archaeologists course at Fort Necessity Battlefield on August 19–21, 2016.

Uncontrolled metal detecting can be one of the most destructive activities at an historic period archaeological site, especially a battle or military site. It is also illegal to metal detect at, or remove any artifacts from, a National Park without an Archaeological Resource Protection Act (ARPA) permit. But, with the proper research design and permits, a systematic metal detector survey can be a very powerful archaeological tool. That’s what 16 IUP students and faculty learned recently at Fort Necessity, which is located near Farmington, Pennsylvania.

The class was taught by the Advanced Metal Detecting for Archaeologists (AMDA) as a Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA) continuing education course. In addition to IUP, 10 other participants from Cal, Juniata, University of Binghamton, and the National Park Service took the class. AMDA is a group of professional archaeologists dedicated to integrating metal detecting into archaeological research. Since IUP has an excellent assemblage of geophysical equipment, it was natural for us to add metal detecting to our skill set.

Advanced Metal Detecting for Archaeologists at Fort Necessity
Photo: IUP students Amanda Telep, Chyna Haley, James Miller, and Brendan Cole with AMDA instructor Sheldon Skaggs (Photo by Chris Espenshade)

The class began with a day of lectures on the mechanics and use of metal detectors, as well as many examples of how metal detectors can be used for historic and pre-contact period archaeology. The next two days were spent in the field collecting real archaeology data. 

Quick history of Fort Necessity: A 22-year old George Washington was sent to western Pennsylvania to push the French from the region. On May 28, 1754, colonial and native soldiers under Washington’s command killed Joseph Coulon de Jumonville and most of his force, who were carrying a message ordering Washington’s force to leave the area. Expecting a reprisal from the French, Washington’s troops fortified their depot in the Great Meadows, naming it Fort Necessity.

On July 3, 1754, French soldiers under the command of Louis Coulon de Villiers, Jumonville’s brother, attacked Fort Necessity. After a day of fighting in the rain, Washington surrendered. The killing of Jumonville, which Washington admitted to in his surrender, ignited the Seven Years War, the first truly intercontinental war.

It has long been believed that the heaviest French fire came from the tree line southeast of the fort where the trees reached within 60 yards of the fort. That’s where we focused our metal detecting efforts for the field portion of the class. We found evidence of the battle in the form of dropped and fired musket balls as well as other artifacts relating to the attack. This data confirms that at least some of the French were attacking from this location. 

We also now have a cadre of IUP archaeologists trained to use metal detectors on an archaeological site—a skill that we can use here and that students can take with them into the professional world. It was a very productive and successful weekend.