The Daily News
When the call came Friday morning that Thursday evening had been Paul Heberling’s final evening on earth, I was looking at a clump of scarlet bee balm, backlighted by strobe-like rays of sun slashing down over some tall oaks, and remembered the first memorable time we’d met. A group of colleagues at Juniata College, Tom Nolan, Terry Hartman and Tom Woodrow, had been sharing lunch with Paul in an upstairs cafeteria in Ellis Hall. I took an empty chair just when Paul said, “But remember how different the weather was during in the Pleistocene…” and I thought, “This guy’s a doozie!” And he turned out to be at least that special and more. This was in the pre-internet years, before we could tweak our browsers for “weather” and “Pleistocene” to learn the Pleistocene lasted 2.6 million years and that the weather of Northern Europe by the beginning of that era had resembled the climate of the first 1-2 thousand years of the hunter-Stone Age. Paul knew that but was not one to brag about what his knowledge; somehow the conversation these folks were having was about ancient human history — a subject about which there was nobody more qualified in any American cafeteria to present the facts, simply and in just enough detail so as not to spoil anyone’s appetite. His grasp of history was proportional to his curiosity about it, and his willingness to read deeply in the fields of archaeology and anthropology, both of which he taught for many years. Paul did not suffer fools, and dying before Nov. 4 was particularly unfortunate.
Ancient human history – we’re talking Old Stone Age, New Stone Age, 10,000 and more years ago — Paul knew these eras the way fans know which baseball teams play in which leagues, and the colors of their uniforms. He could match the characteristics of their projectile points (not “arrowheads!”) to the times in which they had been made, and how they were made. It was common to see his classes in front of Good Hall before it became Good Hall, “napping” flint with an antler, trying to make a decent non-arrowhead. He could look at various points and tools and tell how local they were or from how far the stones had been brought to make tools, and where they might most likely be found. We took a drive to State College on Route 26 one day and he pointed out all the likely Indian campsites, including one between Jackson’s Corner and Ennisville he just knew had been inhabited for more than 1,000 years, long before the house that we could see had been built. “I’d love to excavate that yard over there,” he said wistfully and memorably. The site is above the floodplain, and across Stone Creek from a little spring with watercress in it. (That trip forever changed the way I see that landscape.) Paul said the more war-like tribes lived along the larger streams and rivers, but largely peaceful bands of about 12-20 persons would move up and down streams like Stone Creek to seasonal campgrounds, hunting and fishing for survival. They could drink from any stream and eat as much fish as they could catch, unlike today, in which fishing licenses advise eating no more that one fish meal per week caught from any Pennsylvania waters.
When Juniata’s “mascot” had been the Indians, Paul fruitlessly complained that the image of a Plains Indian had been an irrelevant and fictitious choice by early Brethren, who lacked the anthropological savvy to know our area had been inhabited by the Susquehannocks, whose attire he claimed, would have been so humble as to appear seedy and didn’t wear flamboyant headdresses made from eagle feathers. (When the Indian as a college symbol met a similar fate to that of the Susquehannocks, the campus and alumni were polled to submit suggestions about a new mascot. Tom Woodrow suggested “Former Indians,” but Eagles won out.) The grave of one of the most famous former Susquehannocks had been discovered at the Workman Farm, near Saxton, and Paul invited several of us to observe the painstaking burial excavation prior to its re-interral elsewhere, as I recall.
Mr. Heberling was instrumental in excavating one of the most remarkable rock shelters in the Eastern U.S. – Sheep Rock – prior to being flooded by Raystown Lake in the early 70s. He also oversaw the excavation and reconstruction of parts of the Greenwood Furnace iron furnace that has been so helpful to our understanding of this chapter in local history. In 1994 he wrote “Bits and Pieces: The Search for Greenwood Furnace in Pennsylvania Archaeologist 64:18-27.” It was a pleasure to introduce him to historical archeologist Roland Wells Robbins in the late 60s and to see their friendship develop for 25 years. He also documented the site of the 1860s Myton pottery near Petersburg, prior to founding and operating Heberling Associates.
Paul took complete responsibility for maintaining the house he helped build on Highland Avenue for years past the time when most people in their early 90s would not be seen on a ladder cleaning leaves out of his gutters and re-rearranging the stones at the narrow entrance to his driveway where they had been rearranged by careless motorists. Paul and Louise took great pleasure in frequenting Big Valley and enjoying friendships among the Amish. Accompanying him and Louise to the Wharton Esherick Museum and the Brandywine River Museum several years ago was a peak experience, and photographing the two of them beside Esherick’s trapezoidal outhouse was a high point of that excursion.
Year ago, Paul’s research projects took him to the Four Corners area of the Southwest, where he was fascinated by early native cultures. He once confided to me that when exploring some cliff dwellings, he had a hunch that if he was lowered over a cliff on a rope, he might discover what his hunch was about. With the help of his crew, he was dangled down the nearly vertical rock face to find himself standing in an undiscovered dwelling. He said it was a shocking feeling to see the footprints, pottery, corncobs, and articles of daily life from hundreds of years ago, “As if the family had just left before I arrived.” It was an unparalleled, deeply moving and spiritual moment in his life as an archaeologist and human being.