Thursday, May 23, 2013

Northampton County

This week we return to our long running county tour of archaeology by highlighting Northampton County, located in the extreme eastern part of Pennsylvania. Northampton County’s 377 square mile area  is bordered on the east by the Delaware river and the great state of New Jersey. Its northern, northwestern, western and southern boundaries are marked by Monroe, Carbon, Lehigh and Bucks counties, respectively. Additionally, the principal watersheds that drain the mountain ridges and valleys of Northampton County are the Lehigh and Delaware rivers. Both of these watersheds form segments of the county’s boundary with New Jersey and Lehigh County.

The physiography of Northampton County is divided into three parts, a northern Blue Mountain Section, a central Great Valley Section and a southern, Reading Prong Section. The former two Sections belong to the Ridge and Valley Province while the latter is a part of the New England Province that extends all the way into the state of Maine. 

Northampton County is made up of Ordovician, Cambrian and Pre-Cambrian limestone, shale, sandstone and other rock types. Some of these formations contained rocks that were used extensively by Native Americans to manufacture cutting and scraping  tools and weapon tips. A review of the PASS files lists the dominant cryptocrystalline rocks used prehistorically as chert/flint, quartzite and jasper. These lithic types occur in bedrock and stream deposits of the Onondaga and Hardyston Formations. Extensive quarry sites containing some of these materials have been identified for Northampton and other surrounding counties. Less utilized lithics that have been found on some sites are quartz, found throughout the region and metarhyolite from the South Mountain region near Gettysburg.

The county of Northampton was partitioned from parts of Bucks County in 1752. The county seat is Easton located at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers.  Easton became an important focal point in Pennsylvania history during the 18th century and a regional economy of the early 19th century. The Treaty of Easton, signed in 1758, was essentially an agreement between the British, Six Nations Iroquois, Delaware or Lenape and Shawnee specifying that the Indians, in the Ohio Country and elsewhere, would not side with the French so long as the British promised not to settle the frontier west of the Alleghenies once the French and Indian War ended. Conrad Weiser (1690-1770) interpreter and diplomat was the principal negotiator between the two sides at the Treaty of Easton.

Miscellaneous projectile points (Sandts Eddy Site). Data Recovery Project by 3D/Environmental Inc.

By the late 18th century huge amounts of anthracite coal were being mined in and around Northampton County. It was, however, extremely difficult to transport coal via boat cross country until a network of water canals was built. One of these, the Lehigh Canal connected the towns of Mauch Chunk and Easton by way of the Lehigh Valley. Construction of other canals followed thereby connecting other cities and towns between New York and Philadelphia. The iron industry eventually followed which led to an economic benefit for the Lehigh Valley.

There are 315 recorded archaeological sites listed in the PASS files for Northampton County. Over half of these sites are prehistoric with most stated as having a Late Archaic component. Quantitatively speaking, Late Archaic sites are followed by Late Woodland, Transitional, Middle Archaic, Early Woodland, Middle Woodland, Paleoindian and Early Archaic in that order of occurrence. The vast majority of these sites are located in upland settings followed by the use of sheltered valley bottom locations such as stream terraces, benches and floodplains.
LeCroy Phase Living Floor (Sandts Eddy Site). Data Recovery Project by 3D/Environmental Inc.

One of the most important “valley bottom sites”, a first terrace setting, is the Sandts Eddy site 36NM12 located in Lower Mount Bethel Township, Northampton County near the village of Sandts Eddy. The site was initially investigated by members of the Forks of the Delaware Chapter 14, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Inc., in 1969. Then between 1985 and 1988 Emanco Inc., undertook additional investigations at the site followed by a detailed data recovery project by 3D/ Environmental Inc., between 1991-1993. Coupled with the Chapter’s earlier excavations archaeologists identified an important sequence of stratified multi-component prehistoric occupations going back in time 9400 years.

Stratigraphic profile (Sandts Eddy Site). Data Recovery Project by 3D/Environmental, Inc.

Four of the thirteen discrete soil strata contained prehistoric artifacts. Strata I and II revealed the most recent cultural artifacts consisting of Levanna and Jack’s Reef points and related tools. Strata IV and V were the living floors of Transitional and Late Archaic people and possibly segments of people of the Early-Middle Woodland Period. In Stratum XI, the deepest of all cultural bearing strata at Sandts Eddy, a LeCroy bifurcate point from a Middle Archaic occupation was recovered from a well defined living floor littered with flakes, cores and cobble tools. Most interesting, hazel nut shells from the floor yielded a date of 9420+/-90 years (Beta-51501). This dating of nut shell residue and pitted stones led archaeologists to broaden the antiquity of bifurcate points and the Middle Archaic Period in the Delaware Valley to a time period greater than had been reported for other regions of the Northeast. Alternatively, the surface that produced the date may have been exposed for a long period of time due to a low level of flooding and was occupied later by people who dropped the LeCroy point.

Projectile Points and other tools from Chapter 14’s excavation (Sandts Eddy Site)

The Forks of the Delaware Chapter, Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology which holds its monthly meeting at the Palmer Library in Easton has been a long standing supporter of preserving Pennsylvania’s past through lectures and excavations. In 2005, Virginia  Lopresti  exemplified  the Chapter’s philosophy  of sharing the past with the present when she donated a part of her site collection from 36NM11 to The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s Section of Archaeology. This generous donation  which filled a gap in our knowledge of Northampton County prehistory would not have been realized were it not for Virginia and her late husband, Joe’s  interest  in Pennsylvania archaeology.

Virginia Lopresti with one frame of projectile points from 36Nm12

We hope you have enjoyed this brief journey through Northampton County’s prehistory. Hopefully it will inspire you to seek such publications as the Sandts Eddy report listed below or any of the journal articles on archaeology conducted in Northampton County and published in the Pennsylvania Archaeologist.  Understanding and exploring our archaeological heritage is pivotal to our understanding of human behavior and our ability to change and adapt over time- just as the peoples of Northampton  County have done for thousands of years.  Visit the TWIPA web site next week when we will be featuring  some of the interesting history and archaeology of Northumberland County.

Fehr, Eleanor, Doris Freyermuth, Mr. and Mrs Jos. Lopresti, Mr. and Mrs. Donald Kline, and with additional comments by Barry C. Kent.
1971       The Sandts Eddy Site (36-NM-12) Pennsylvania Archaeologist 41(1-2):39-52.
Bergman, Christopher A., John F. Doershuk and Joseph Schuldenrein
1994       A Young Archaeologist’s Summary Guide to the Deeply Stratified Sandts Eddy Site, Northampton County,Pennsylvania.

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

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