Friday, July 20, 2012

Washington Boro Site Update

We are going to interrupt our blog by county theme this week with a short announcement concerning a major threat to the archaeological resources of the Washington Boro area in Lancaster County and specifically the Washington Boro Susquehannock site and its associated cemeteries.  Earlier this month, an article appeared in a Lancaster paper, that the Safe Harbor Power Company was “quietly” selling land containing some of the most significant archeological sites in the country. Selling what were essentially the front yards of the great Indian settlement of Washington Boro and its burial grounds.  Caught off guard, conservation groups have scrambled to respond. Unfortunately, the problem has yet to be resolved and the land sales may continue. We are very concerned and may need your help. In the paragraphs below, we present a short overview of the archaeology of Washington Boro and its significance to the prehistory of the Commonwealth. As the situation develops we’ll keep you informed.

The Washington Boro area has been a major Native American habitation site since Paleoindian times over 11,000 years ago. Artifacts from every time period in Pennsylvania prehistory have been found here, frequently in large numbers, representing substantial occupations. There are few other places like this in the Commonwealth. For example, it represents a major center of Paleoindian activity with five sites recorded within a half mile of the Boro. This level of activity continues up through the Contact period when there are at least three major Susquehannock villages covering a span of approximately 100 years between 1550 and 1650 AD. These contained between 1000 and 3000 men, women and children. During the Contact period, this represents the highest density of Native Americans in the Commonwealth. The villages are protected by double and triple wooden stockades and contain up to 80 long houses. John Smith sent military advisors to help the Susquehannocks in their ongoing war with the Seneca in New York. The latest village, the Strickler site, was partially excavated by the State Museum of Pennsylvania and European style bastions were discovered, documenting the English influence. All of the villages contain huge quantities of artifacts and food remains documenting the lives of these people. Surrounding, each village are several cemeteries, probably representing individual clan burial plots.

Washington Boro ceramic rim sherd

Clearly, the well known high fertility soils for agriculture were an important attraction for the Susquehannocks but also this location placed them in close proximity to the English trade in the Chesapeake and the Dutch trade in the lower Delaware. Prehistorically, the high fertility soils produced a bountiful forest full of oak, hickory, chestnut and butternuts, all of which attracted a wide variety of mammals and birds. Add to this the food resources from the Susquehanna River such as mussels, water fowl and anadromous fish such as shad and this represents a near perfect setting for prehistoric populations adapting to the temperate forest.
Canine pipe bowl fragment from the Washington Boro site

The significance of the Washington Boro area is that 11,000 years of Native American history and the evolution of cultural adaptations can be studied in one location. The focus of research so far has been on the Late Woodland and Contact period villages. These have documented the evolution of Native American society as it struggled to adapt to the European intrusion but eventually failed. There is still much more to be learned from these sites however. There are numerous earlier camps, farmsteads and villages that can contribute to our understanding of how migratory foraging populations organized into simple band society, adopted domesticated plants and settled into the largest population centers in the region and were organized into tribal societies.

We hope that you are concerned about the preservation of these important archaeological sites, and would like to support this preservation effort. For additional information please visit the Living Landscape Observer's website.
For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

1 comment:

  1. Too bad most of the people living here now have no idea............