Here in Pennsylvania, the archaeological record of prehistoric architecture can be traced back at least 8 millennia. Evidence of the variety of shelters people used is found throughout that time. Early shelters were simple affairs constructed to provide temporary cover from the natural elements. Some of these may have evolved from hunting blinds. Natural rock overhangs were also commonly used since little more was necessary than protection from periods of inclement weather.
Sheeprock Shelter (36Hu1)
Rock shelters remained in use during the Woodland Period (ca. 500 B.C. – A.D. 1550) as people transitioned from small, nomadic family groups to more formal nucleated hamlets. By the 12th century settlements spread over the landscape as populations grew. The people occupying these settlements eventually became more sedentary as more land was necessary for crop production. Warfare became a periodic threat among some of these groups. As competition for dwindling land and resources intensified many began to fortify their homes with encircling palisades of wooden posts. Eventually confederacies emerged which helped to alleviate some of the strife.
Reconstructing a Longhouse at the Strictler Site (36LA3)
Many sites dating to the latter part of the Woodland Period allow a glimpse of prehistoric architecture. Unfortunately, these sites provide only a two dimensional view via the post molds. Post molds or stains are created by the decomposition of what was once a wooden post. These stains are the evidence of house frames, defensive walls and many other structures designed and built by early occupants of the Keystone State.
Clemson Island / Owasco ReconstructionOn City Island, Harrisburg, PA
Several years ago as part of “Archaeology Month in Pennsylvania” the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission recreated several house types on City Island. The recreations were largely based on excavation data obtained from two archaeological sites –Martin Site (ca. A.D. 1000) a Clemson Island / Owasco hamlet located in Tioga County; and the Foley Farm Site (ca. A.D. 1585 – 1615 / 1635) a Proto-Contact Monongahela settlement located in Greene County. The information obtained from these sites and the subsequent recreations provide an insight into the diverse living conditions of two distinct Native American groups occupying different parts of Pennsylvania prior to European contact.
Monongehela House Reconstruction in process on City Island, Harrisburg, PA
Finished Monongahela House Reconstructuion on City Island, Harrisburg, PA
For more information, visit PAarchaeology.state.pa.us or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .