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Amateur archaeolgists search for history in Waynesboro

May 09, 1999

By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer




WAYNESBORO, Pa. - If people like Pandy Yeakle and Douglas Stine didn't believe in saving the past for the future, they wouldn't spend hours digging in dirt or getting excited when they find an old button or shard of glass.

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Yeakle and Stine are amateur archaeologists, not the paid, professional kind with college degrees. They do the grunt work of digging in dirt with little trowels trying to unearth history.

They are among 17 active members of the Cumberland Valley Archaeological Society Chapter 27 of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology Inc. About 12 members of the 11-year-old chapter show up for monthly meetings at the visitor center at Renfrew Museum and Park in Waynesboro.

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Yeakle, 47, of Upton, Pa., is a charter member.

"I've always been interested in archaeology, but I always thought it was just for pyramids and things like that," she said. "I never realized it was in your own back yard."

Yeakle enrolled in a basic adult-education course in archaeology at Wilson College. She and her classmates formed the nucleus for the new chapter in 1988. "The course whetted our appetites," she said.

The members met first at the Coyle Free Library in Chambersburg, Pa., and later moved to the visitors center at Renfrew. They store their artifacts on the second floor of a rickety old barn there.

Yeakle and Stine brought out some old bottles, a small, nearly intact John Bell pottery bowl, other bits of old pottery and some old toys they found in remarkably good condition.

The artifacts came from excavations on the 107-acre Renfrew grounds.

The members are organizing the artifacts they found in their Renfrew digs. Until the mid-1990s the club had the expertise of Will Sheppard, a professional architect and Renfrew employee. He did the research for the excavations and laid out the grids on the earth for the club members to follow.

"You have more clout as a chapter if you have a professional archaeologist as a member," Stine said. "They can write reports, identify what is found and lay out the grid. We're all just amateurs. We do the hands-on grunt work when there's a dig."

The Renfrew excavations included digs at three old privies, the Royer Lime Kiln site, and the Fahnestock House complex, including an old spring house foundation.

Stine said he doesn't mind digging up privies - as long as they're 150 years old.

"It sounds gross, but an old privy can tell you a lot about the inhabitants of a property. And it's pretty well composted out after 150 years," he said.

Such things as seeds and fish scales tell about their diets. Old bones tell of the animals they butchered to eat and bits of tools, pottery and other items can tell what they used in their daily lives.

"They threw everything into their privies," he said.

Stine, 48, said he's only interested in historical archaeology as opposed to prehistoric archaeology. "I only like the stuff that's been here for the last 200 years," he said.

"I'm in awe that you can handle things that you dug up out of the ground that someone else handled 200 years ago," Yeakle said.

To become a member of the chapter or to learn more about it, call Yeakle at 717-597-3215.

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