THE STATE MUSEUM
Life in Pennsylvania didn't begin with Columbus' 15th century discovery of America, or even Leif Ericson's nearly 500 years earlier. In fact, Asian Paleo Indians searching for richer hunting grounds crossed the continents and entered Pennsylvania during the Ice Age, approximately 12,000 years ago.
Prehistoric Pennsylvania was a hunter's delight. Virtually undisturbed pine forests and plant life flourished throughout the commonwealth. The state was inhabited by a wide variety of wildlife including moose, elk, and deer. For the truly adventurous huntsman, elephant-like mastodons roamed the area, maintaining their vast seven-ton bodies on vegetarian diets.
Pennsylvania was rich in untapped natural resources like coal and oil. While the state of Texas leaps to mind when thinking about drilling for oil, Pennsylvania actually lays claim to the world's first oil well.
With the end of the Ice Age came increased population. New Pennsylvanians appeared with a greater knowledge of creating tools, utensils and weapons. Archeological digs have produced coiled clay pots estimated to be 3,000 years old. Soapstone cooking pots used 4,000 years ago have been found.
Around 1000 A.D., when Leif Ericson reportedly first stepped foot on American soil, the natives had already begun to build permanent shelters for their families. Crude homes were topped with bark roofs, stretched animal hides served as doors, and meals were eaten with wooden utensils.
Farming the nutrient-rich land and fishing the local waters became a way of life and replaced reliance on wild game for every meal. By the 16th century, the Susquehannock Indians crafted wooden canoes while the tribal women tended crops of tobacco, squash, beans and corn. Tools for the hunt now included bows and arrows with stone tips, and nets were used for fishing.
The 16th century arrival of Europeans eventually destroyed much of the Indian population. Not only did the settlers build upon the Indian's hunting grounds, they also brought with them disease. Germs were so fatal to native Indians they all but obliterated the Delaware and Susquehannock tribes by the 19th century. The few who survived migrated west. A mere two centuries of white settler's rule erased a way of life that the Indians had enjoyed for 10,000 years.
The State Museum of Pennsylvania (created in 1905), located on Third and North streets in Harrisburg, invites visitors to experience Pennsylvania's vast and fascinating history from prehistoric times to the present. The cylindrical building was constructed in 1964 as part of the state Capitol complex.
From the changing, volcanic landscape and remains of a 12,000 year-old mastodon, to Conestoga wagons and Pennsylvania's military history, the State Museum of Pennsylvania exhibits and over 1.2 million objects will greatly enrich the traveler's historical imagination.
Open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. and Sunday from noon until 5:00 P.M., the facility includes a planetarium featuring a 30-foot screen where the mysteries of the universe can be explored.
Within the Hall of Geology lies a life size replica of an early rain forest. Continuing into Mammal Hall, wildlife like cougars and bison, which are now-extinct in Pennsylvania, are depicted. When visitors tour the Hall of Natural Science and Ecology, they learn the reasons why some animal and plant life were threatened into extinction.
For military buffs, the museum displays the best and most indepth Civil War exhibit in the country, which includes the world's largest painting (16' X 32'), "Battle of Gettysburg: Pickett's Charge" by Peter F. Rothermel.
The museum's "Curiosity Corner" offers a fascinating hands-on learning center, perfect for children.
The ground floor of the museum features changing exhibits, including fine art. The facility also houses a large auditorium where the performing arts and special education programs are offered.
|DIRECTIONS: Exit the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Harrisburg East Interchange (Exit # 19), and follow I-283 north, to I-83 south. Exit at the Second Street ramp and follow Second Street to North Street. Turn right onto North Street and travel one block. The museum will be on your left.|