Friday, April 27, 2012

Carbon County

This week‘s feature is Carbon County, Pennsylvania as our TWIPA topic. Carbon County is located mid-point between the Wilkes Barre-Scranton area and Allentown, Pennsylvania. Physiographically it is split by two prominent geologically different settings, the Anthracite Uplands in the north and the Blue Mountain Section in the south which defines its borders with Lehigh and Northampton counties. The Lehigh River runs through the county and marks the general location of the Lehigh Indian path that connected the Shawnee towns at Wyoming on the North Branch Susquehanna with Nain at Bethlehem on the lower Lehigh River. Gnadenhutten (German translation “Cabins of Grace”), the Moravian Brethren mission located at the halfway point on the Lehigh path was founded in 1746. Today that place is called Lehighton and serves, would be white water buffs, with an exciting ride through the Lehigh gorge and its rapids.

The archaeological sites of Carbon County broadly represent the entire sequence of human habitation in the Commonwealth. Discoveries of Paleo-Indian fluted points and a sequence of Archaic sites have been reported at certain locations. One of these sites on Nesquehoning Creek yielded hints of Paleo-indian through Historic period artifacts. Test excavations at another site near Palmerton revealed a buried Archaic through Woodland sequence of occupations that archaeologists discovered beneath an old canal towpath. Much of the lithic material that these prehistoric tools were made from was mined on the high ridges around the Palmerton area and this lithic material was the preferred material for other sites in the county.
lithic materials from 36Cr39

In 1818, the town of Mauch Chunk, three miles upriver from Lehighton, was founded by Josiah White, an industrialist with interests in the coal and shipping business. Not surprising, the town eventually became known for its coal and railroad transportation.  Then, more than a century later, an interesting turn of events brought notoriety of a different kind to this small town in rural Pennsylvania.  In 1953 the town fathers of Mauch Chunk renamed the community after a prominent world renowned sports figure, Jim Thorpe.

Jacobus Franciscus Thorpe, one of two twin boys born around 1888 near Prague, Oklahoma, was a Native American of Sac, Fox and Irish heritage. His twin brother, Charlie died of pneumonia at the age of nine. His early education was obtained at the Sac and Fox Indian Agency School in Oklahoma but after his twin brother’s death Thorpe faced many challenges.  After several runaway incidents his father sent Thorpe to Kansas where he enrolled at the Haskell Institute, a boarding school for Native American children. Following his mother’s death several years later he developed depression which led to arguments with his father. He had had enough. Thorpe moved on, and in 1904 he made amends with his father and decided to attend the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where he was immediately recognized as someone having great athletic potential.  He briefly attended the Carlisle Indian School but left when his father died. After a period of time he returned to the school where beginning in 1907 he excelled in sports, breaking many of the school’s track and field records. Not stopping there, he competed in baseball, football, lacrosse and ballroom dancing where he and his partner won the 1912 college championship. His athletic career, especially in football, stands as a testimony to his natural ability, tenacity and character.

Jim Thorpe

Perhaps Jim Thorpe will remain best known for his Olympic record in the 1912 Summer Olympics held in Stockholm, Sweden where he won two gold medals in the decathlon and pentathlon events. Two challenge prizes donated by Sweden’s King Gustav V and Russia’s Czar Nicholas II were also won by Jim Thorpe. Several sources have said that when these prizes were handed to Thorpe, King Gustav said “”You sir, are the greatest athlete in the world” to which Thorpe replied “Thanks King” (Berontas 1993).

Unfortunately, not all was glorious with Jim Thorpe’s Olympic career. Rules barred professional athletes from participating in amateur sports – the international Olympic Commission (IOC) notwithstanding. The  rules seemingly lacked specificity in terms of when the rules actually ruled  ……….. anyone, who in the remotest way participated in the Olympics,………. had professional status (accepted money, ……..participated against professional athletes ……….or were instructors (teachers)………..were not of amateur ranking. Many athletes who violated these rules just changed their names to avoid exposure and subsequent embarrassment. Not surprising, Jim Thorpe’s amateur status was revoked by the American Athletic Union (AAU) thereby placing him in a dubious position with the International Olympic Commission. Much to Thorpe’s chagrin, the IOC later agreed with the AAU and stripped Thorpe of his Olympic Gold.  Jim Thorpe never lived to see his “Olympic Gold “reinstated in 1982 through the efforts of Robert Wheeler,his wife Florence Ridlon and U.S.Congress. Fortunately, though, he went on to enjoy an active professional career in baseball, football and basketball until his retirement from the sports world in 1922.

After Jim Thorpe retired from sports, life got tough. He struggled to support his family especially during the Great Depression. He had a number of movie roles as an extra playing in Westerns as the “Indian chief”. He also held short-lived jobs in the world of hard labor such as ditch digger, bouncer, security guard and for a brief period at the end of the Second World War, as a soldier in the Merchant marines. Later in life he drank heavily and by 1950 he developed cancer.  Jim Thorpe died in 1953 after suffering a third heart attack.  At his side was his wife, Patricia and others.

Thorpe’s third wife, Patricia, disenchanted over Oklahoma’s refusal to recognize Jim Thorpe’s accomplishments in the field of sports by not erecting a monument in his memory arranged with the Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk officials (these communities eventually merged) to rename the community in honor of her late husband, Jim Thorpe.  Their principal motive to do this was to bring notoriety to the town thereby placing it firmly on the map as a point of national interest. His remains now rest in the town of Jim Thorpe.

In June 2010 a federal law suit was filed against the Borough of Jim Thorpe by Jim Thorpe’s his son, Jack under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) to have his father’s remains returned to Oklahoma where other family members are buried. The story ends here—for now.

Berontas, Bob
1993       “Jim Thorpe, Sac and Fox Athlete”. Chelsea House Publications, London

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

Monday, April 23, 2012

Exploring the Pennsylvania Wilds of Cameron County

This week we travel north into Cameron County in the heart of a region known as the Pennsylvania Wilds. Cameron is just 399 square miles, with only one sq. mile of water. Located on the Glaciated Allegheny Plateau it is a mountainous terrain of steep mountain slopes with narrow ridges and streams, bordered by narrow floodplains. This rugged terrain and limited water supply likely plays a factor in the settlement of Cameron County. A contributing factor in the low number of sites is also the weather. This region records some of the coldest temperatures and highest snow fall amounts across the state. The 2010 U.S. census lists 5,085 total residents, about 1 person every 13 square miles. The low number of archaeological sites recorded may also be a result of limited ground disturbance and development, activities which often lead to archaeological investigations of potential sites.

George B. Stevenson Dam flood protection
project in Sinnemahoning State Park

The primary forest vegetation during the prehistoric period was dominated by hemlock, beech, sugar maple, and white pine. Fruits, berries and edible tubers supplemented a diet of deer, elk, bear and small mammals. These resources would have been sufficient to support hunting and gathering subsistence patterns of the Paleoindian period (16,000-10,000 years ago) thru the Early Woodland period (4,300-2,100 years ago). Archaeological sites recorded in the Pennsylvania Site Survey (PASS) files containing diagnostic artifacts linked to these early periods are limited in Cameron County, but there is the potential for additional sites to exist in these narrow floodplains should further ground disturbance projects occur.

George P. Wallace's Indian Paths of Pennsylvania

The headwaters of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River flow through Cameron County and this land was controlled at the time of European contact by the Seneca. The Sinnemahoning Path served as a transportation route from Lock Haven up the West Branch and into the Sinnemahoning Creek. From here, the path went over the Allegheny Portage providing access between the Susquehanna and Ohio River drainages. The Seneca had established a few villages in the region, using the area for both the footpath and hunting expeditions. In 1784 the land which would later become Cameron County was purchased from the Iroquois by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Early settlers were comprised chiefly of farmers, but again the area was slow to settle. The first grist mill was erected in 1811 as well as an early sawmill. These mills led the way for further expansion of industry and drew additional settlers.

Cameron County Court House

In 1860 Cameron County was officially established and was named after Simon Cameron, the First Secretary of War under Abraham Lincoln. Steam powered sawmills and the lumber produced by them, supplied markets in eastern Pennsylvania along with commercial centers in New York, Baltimore and New Orleans. By the early 20th century extensive logging had destroyed much of the original forest cover and led to the decline of the lumber industry. The lack of lumber also prevented tanneries from operating as they relied on the hemlock bark for tannin used in tanning.

A local collector of artifacts shared these with archaeologists and recorded
 the location where he had recovered them.

Netsinkers used by Native peoples to hold down fishing nets in the Sinnemahoning.

Archaeological investigations have been conducted in a few areas of Cameron County, but little in the form of tangible evidence has been recovered. A few local collectors have shared their artifacts with archaeologists which aids in locating and recording sites. The range of artifacts recorded includes projectile points, scrapers, net sinkers and stone tools. The lack of physical evidence of past cultures is not surprising given the low population density. Cameron County was and is truly “the Pennsylvania Wilds” and was considered “wild” by Native American groups as well. It likely served as a good place for hunting, but not an area for long term settlement.

Steep mountains and narrow river valleys in the PA Wilds of Cambria County

We hope you have enjoyed this trip up north and will take an interest in recording and preserving the archaeological sites in your community. These resources are Pennsylvania’s heritage and for all of us it is our window into the past. Help us to protect and preserve these archaeological resources which are crucial to our understanding of the past.

Image Credits


Stevenson Dam-

Autumn scene-

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

Friday, April 13, 2012

Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology's Annual Meeting

We're taking a break this week from our county by county posts to remind everyone that the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology's 83rd annual meeting is taking place this weekend, April 13-15, at the Holiday Inn, in Clarion, PA. Promising enjoyable and informative presentations spread out over three sessions, this year's meeting is being sponsored by the North Fork Chapter (#29) of the Society. Saturday night features Dr. Michael J. Shott, Professor and Chair, Department of Anthropology and Classics, University of Akron, speaking on, Documenting the Archaeological Record: Complimentary Roles of Professionals and Amateurs.

The W. Fred Kinsey Scholarship will be awarded this weekend to two students.  The Kinsey Scholarship was created to encourage students to attend the meetings, provide financial support for the expenses, and assist students in preparing papers for future publication in the journal of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology(SPA).  Fred Kinsey was a former archaeologist with the Section of Archaeology and continued his career in archaeology at the North Museum in Lancaster and later teaching at Franklin & Marshall College. This year we were able to provide an undergraduate award to Stacie Riggins of California University of Pennsylvania for her research paper, Body Adornment from Prehistoric to Historic Times. The second scholarship was awarded to Jennifer Rankin a graduate student at Temple University for her research paper titled, Revisiting the Wolf Walk: Giving Life to Native American Place Names through Archaeological Investigations.  Hopefully the students who follow our blog will consider applying next year for this scholarship and attending the SPA meeting  in Uniontown , April 19-20th,2013.
Stacie Riggin from California University of Pennsylvania

Jennifer Rankin, Temple University

The Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology was formed in 1929 by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission to promote the study of prehistoric and historic archaeological resources of Pennsylvania and neighboring states; to encourage scientific research. Avocational and professional archaeologists come together to learn about current research and preservation of archaeological sites and artifacts. Stop by the Society's website for more information.

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

Friday, April 6, 2012

Cambria County

Cambria County is located to the southwest of the center of the state and is a relatively small county in size at 696 square miles. Located in the Appalachian Plateau, narrow ridges and valleys comprise the rugged terrain of the area. Flat topped-hills and flood plains provided resources for prehistoric occupations. Pennsylvania-age bedrock formations may have supplied Native Americans with chert and clay resources for making tools and pottery. Shale, siltstone, sandstone, thin bedded marine limestone, and coal beds that underlie the plateaus and ridges of the region contributed to Cambria’s industrial development.

Evidence of prehistoric peoples in Cambria County was recorded by Dr. Verna Cowin of the Carnegie Museum, Regional Archaeologist, while conducting a survey for the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission in 1982. Dr. Cowin recorded a Paleoindian (11,000-10,000 years ago) fluted point from 36Cb117. Archaic hunters and gatherers hunted elk, white tail deer, muskrat, black bear, wild turkey and rabbits in this region and fashioned stone tools from a variety of cherts found in the region. Native peoples continued to occupy this area through the Late Woodland period (1000 to 400 years ago). The archaeological evidence of these native occupations is sparse and can be attributed in part to the man- made and natural destruction.

Coal mining which boomed during the 1850s and 1860s contributed to changing landscape of this county. The Cambria Iron Company was a successful steel rail business and that, combined with lumbering, contributed to the expanded development along river banks in these deep valleys. Lumbering practices of the late 1800’s had a significant impact on the landscape due to erosion as a result of clear cutting and the construction of lumbering related facilities. Lumbering brought dams, mills and railroads- all of which altered the landscape and destroyed archaeological evidence of Late Woodland village sites.

During the Contact period, James LeTort reported as early as 1731 Native villages throughout the southwestern region of the state and identified Indian paths which crisscross the area. Multiple foot paths run thru Cambria County connecting it to surrounding counties and resources. These paths include the Frankstown Path, West and the Conemaugh Path, the later named for the river which flows through Cambria County. In 1764 Thomas Hutchins, a lieutenant in Forbes’ Army surveyed the Kiskeminetas and Conemaugh Rivers and their branches, identifying five Indian towns in the area. Variations provided for the spelling of the Delaware and Shawnee village located on the Conemaugh River are Connumach Old Town, Conemach Old Town, and Conemough Old Town.

Conemaugh Path

According to the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey Files (PASS) the site was recorded in 1975 as 36CB0019, but was destroyed by industrial and private development. The location of Conemaugh Old Town is in the city of Johnstown, the site of multiple floods including the famous flood of 1889 .

The Johnstown flood occurred in May of 1889 when heavy rains had caused streams including the Little Conemaugh to overspill their banks. The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was located fourteen miles north of Johnstown and was a private club whose members included many wealthy industrialists of the period. The club maintained a dam which had been constructed as part of the Pennsylvania Canal system to provide water between Johnstown and Pittsburgh. It was never intended for recreational use, but modifications by the club and poor maintenance created a disastrous event that marred this region for decades. Over two thousand citizens lost their lives and four square miles of the city of Johnstown was destroyed. The American Red Cross responded with aid, the first major relief act during peacetime. None of the lawsuits brought against members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club were successful and no one took responsibility for the disaster.

This concludes our tour of Cambria County, next week we are taking a break from our county tour to highlight the upcoming annual meeting of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology which will be held in April 13-15 in Clarion.

We hope that these glimpses into the archaeology of our Commonwealth will inspire you to take an interest in your local archaeological legacy. These resources are Pennsylvania’s heritage and for all of us it is our window into the past. Help us to protect and preserve these archaeological resources which are crucial to our understanding of the past.

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