Friday, December 14, 2012

Our journey through the archaeological heritage of Pennsylvania in alphabetical order takes us to Juniata County this week.  Juniata is number thirty-four – meaning we are just over the half-way mark of exploring all sixty-seven counties. The western half of Juniata County resides in the Appalachian Mountain section of the Ridge and Valley physiographic province.
The Appalachian Mountain Section is defined by long narrow ridges with steep side slopes and corresponding long narrow valleys. The majority of surface geologic formations include shale and sandstone formations shaped by millions of years of tightly shifting and folding on one another. Lithic resources available include local cherts in various forms, including those rich in iron known as jasper.

The eastern half of Juniata County lies within Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna Lowland physiographic province. The Susquehanna Lowland Section is a result of glaciation and the processes of the Susquehanna River flowing over the region for thousands of years.
The Juniata River is the primary drainage stream flowing into the Susquehanna River. The Juniata River connects the Alleghenies to the Susquehanna River across the south central portion of the state. The rugged ridge and valley terrain of much of the area contributed to the development of the Juniata as a transportation route in both prehistoric and historic times. Forested mountains and ridges of this area provide natural habitats for deer, bear, birds and other fauna important for early diets.

Excavations conducted in 1929 by Robert W. Jones at the Book Mound site along the Tuscarora Creek in Beale Township yielded pottery of the Clemson Island culture group. Clemson Island habitation sites, which date to the early portion of the Late Woodland period (1000 to 650 years ago) are mainly found along the Juniata River and in the middle Susquehanna River Valley. Archaeological evidence of the Clemson Island culture indicates they built loaf-shaped, bark-covered houses and acquired food by gardening, hunting, and fishing. They also are the only people known to have constructed burial mounds in eastern Pennsylvania.

 Clemson Island potter - exterior

Clemson Island pottery - interior

Clemson Island pottery is readily identified as a fabric-impressed or cord-marked body with a coarse temper of crushed chert and or quartz. Many of these rims are identified by a row of punctuations just below the lip.  Archaeologists continue to examine this pottery as we try to better understand this culture group and what happened to them.

The Juniata River as mentioned earlier was an important transportation route as it allowed for travel between the Alleghenies and the Susquehanna River.  This trade route likely played an important role in the 1750’s as troops traveled from the Susquehanna River to remote frontier areas to the north and west.  Private and small Provincial forts were often established for protection during Indian raids.  Fort Bigham or Bigham’s Fort was a private fort located on the Juniata River, near present day Honey Grove in Tuscarora Township.  The fort was attacked on June 11, 1756.  Twenty-three settlers were either killed or taken captive and the fort was burned.  Troops conducted a forty-five man scouting party over the area up the Susquehanna to Fort Augusta, and back down through the area to just west of Fort Bigham,  but did not find the enemy.  To learn about other forts in Pennsylvania during the French & Indian War, visit our exhibit at the Pennsylvania Farm Show from January 5th thru 12th

 Fort Bigham located between Fort Granville and Patterson's Fort

The last stop on our archaeological tour was identified as part of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation project on the Route 22 Improvements through the Lewistown Narrows.  The area known as the “Long Narrows” or “Lewistown Narrows” is a narrow gap in the mountains with steep cliffs and slopes on either side.  This narrow opening was a formidable obstacle in the construction of the Juniata Division of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal in 1826.  The Main Line linked Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and consisted of a railroad between Philadelphia and Columbia, a canal along the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers from Columbia to Hollidaysburg, and a railroad over the Allegheny Mountains and finally another section of canal to Pittsburgh. Much of the labor was completed by Irish immigrants who were expected to move 15 cubic yards of earth each day at the rate of $11-12 dollars a month, which included tools, drink and lodging. The construction was completed with simple tools picks, shovels and wheelbarrows, in just a few years. 

 view of the tow path of the Juniata Division of the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal

excavation of the canal by Heberling Associates, Inc.

Dry laid stone created two lift locks at the upper end of the Narrows and one at the lower end. The lift lock chambers were 15 feet wide and 90 feet long with four-foot wide spillways along the uphill side.  Historical documents researched for the project indicated some of the canal features through the Lewistown Narrows included a river dam and feeder sluices, three lift locks and two lock houses. Detailed survey and documentation conducted by Heberling Associates prior to the highway project led to the development of a public canal park near the eastern end of the Narrows.  Heberling Associates recorded sections of the canal and produced detailed drawings of the surviving remains of the canal. At the upper end of the Narrows four feeder sluiced that fed water to 28.5 miles of the canal were located.  The associated dam was gone, but the stone feeder sluices were documented as were Lift Locks No. 14 and 15 which had been buried by fill in the mid-29th century.  The locks remain buried under portions of reconstructed US 22/322.  Visitors to Canal Park can view Lift Lock No. 13 which has been rehabilitated and commemorates the 88 locks on the canal’s Juniata Division.  Also restored were sections of the canal prism and spillway.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this trip through Juniata County’s archaeological heritage and we hope you will help us continue to preserve our past for the future.


Heberling, Scott D.  Canal in the Mountains: The Juniata Main Line Canal in the Lewistown Narrows. 2008

Hunter, William A.  Forts on the Pennsylvania Frontier, 1753 - 1758.  PHMC 1960

Kent, Barry C. ; Ira Smith III and Catherine McCann  Foundations of Pennsylvania Prehistory. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg 1971

For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

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