Unity man, brother donate Native American artifacts to museum
A gift from two area brothers, weighing more than 1,000 pounds and packed in dozens of boxes, represents the most significant collection the State Museum of Pennsylvania has received in five decades, officials said.
Bob Oshnock, 70, of Unity, and his brother, Jim Oshnock, 76, now of North Carolina, spent decades amassing about 15,000 prehistoric artifacts they delivered to the Harrisburg museum on June 23.
Their donation was mined from Westmoreland and Bedford counties, Oshnock said.
They also delivered about 500 pounds of artifacts Beverly Grimm of Ligonier donated from the collection of her late husband, Jacob Grimm.
Grimm spent decades excavating sites including in Westmoreland, Somerset and Fayette counties.
The donation included field logs and photographs, said museum curator Janet Johnson.
The Oshnocks recorded their findings and locations in Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Surveys.
“That is so important for preserving our archaeological history,” Johnson said.
Oshnock, retired from Kennametal, is the vice president of Westmoreland Archaeological Society.
“I got involved in (archaeology) around 1964 by a St. Vincent College priest, who told me you could find these things (Native American artifacts) out in the fields. You had to look hard, but they are there to find. I was about 19 then,” he said.
Fifty years later, Oshnock said, he wanted to preserve his collection.
Among the artifacts are arrowheads, stone tools, projectile points — which might have been used as spears or arrows — pottery pieces and slate pendants.
Many of the items found in Westmoreland County were located along the Loyalhanna Creek Watershed.
Oshnock estimated the bulk of the collection came from the Paleoindian period, about 10,000-14,000 years ago.
Charts developed from previous dig sites can help to identify what people may have used them for and when, Johnson said.
The state's archaeological site maps are confidential, she said, but can be helpful when road or development projects are considered. Developers can see a recorded site and shift a project away from it, or excavate before developing.
The maps also show migration patterns, people's habits and help with understanding pre-history, Johnson said.
Findings such as pottery and food remnants may indicate a people stayed at a site for a period of time, she said.
A site where only tools are found may indicate a seasonal hunting camp.
On Thursday, Oshnock and archaeological society president Mary Jane Shaw of Greensburg worked at a Sewickley Township site.
Volunteers have been excavating the Late Prehistoric site, believed to have been occupied between 1350-1450, for 14 years.
The two-acre site is about 90 percent excavated, Oshnock said, with about 300,000 artifacts collected and recorded.
Arrowheads, charred maize kernels and fish scales have been unearthed in the abandoned village.
“We've found a huge amount of deer bones at this site,” Shaw said.
Those artifacts and records also will go to the state museum, Oshnock said.
Last week's donation will be analyzed and catalogued in the museum's archaeology lab, Johnson said.
“That (Westmoreland) chapter has done a phenomenal job with recording and sharing information about their sites,” she said.
Information gleaned from Oshnock's collection will assist with the museum's plans to add a section on the prehistory of Western Pennsylvania, Johnson said.
The museum does not estimate the financial value of donations.
“For us, the research potential far exceeds monetary value,” Johnson said.
Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.