For the past five years, AXIS Research Inc., a registered non-profit organization, has been involved in the excavation and documentation of the Fort Shirley Site, located in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. Fieldwork has been conducted in conjunction with the Penn State University Archaeology Field School and has involved over 70 students and researchers. This archaeological site is significant to documenting early colonial life during the French and Indian War (or the larger conflict known as the Seven Years’ War), as well as the unique relationship between the provincial government of the Commonwealth with Native Americans from the Ohio Valley.
As one of the four original commissioned forts erected west of the Susquehanna River, Fort Shirley is unique for several reasons. First, it was the first constructed by George Croghan, the prominent Indian trader and land speculator, in 1755 as he attempted to protect his business and the few Native American allies of the British Empire in Pennsylvania. Second, the well-preserved archaeological site provides material evidence of cooperation between Anglo-American settlers and the Mingo/Seneca natives as they prepared for what would become a global conflict for empire between England and France. Third, the site reveals structural details of the fort’s defenses (construction and configuration), which are archaeologically elusive on comparable fort sites in the Mid-Atlantic region. Fourth, the site served as the advanced staging point for the Kittanning Expedition (September 8, 1756), the only major expedition carried out by the Pennsylvania Militia and the first victory in the backwoods conflict for the British settlements. Lastly, Fort Shirley is mentioned often in the Colonial Records, archives, and documents allowing the disciplines of Archaeology and History to collaborate in telling the story of this momentous frontier outpost.
The artifacts recovered during the project are rare and important to this specific era of American history. For example, the project has produced the largest collection of glass trade beads in the county, as well as other items of personal adornment like buttons and cuff links, and trade materials like copper tinkle cones, triangles, and charms.