Friday, November 1, 2013

Susquehanna County

This Week In Pennsylvania Archaeology takes us to Susquehanna County located in the hilly region of northern Pennsylvania. Susquehanna County was established in 1810 from lands claimed by Luzerne. Named after the Susquehanna River, it has a total area of 832 square miles and it is this drainage that winds its way south, where it eventually drains to Chesapeake Bay at Port Deposit, Maryland. Secondary drainages flow to the north and south and include Tunkhannock, Meshoppen, Wyalusing, along with many of the Susquehanna’s smaller tributaries. They join the main North Branch channel at different locations in the county.

Susquehanna County is within the Glaciated Plateau Section of the Appalachian Plateaus Province. The physical landforms are characterized by gentle to moderately rolling hilly uplands, ridges with narrow valleys typical for the general configuration of the Glaciated Plateau in east-central Pennsylvania. Geologically, Susquehanna County is made up of sandstone and shale deposits of the Devonian period (365 – 405 million years old). Fossilized animal remains include brachiopods and crinoids from long ago. The ridges all around the county are capped with weather resistant sandstone and softer rocks such as siltstone and shale. During the Pleistocene period Susquehanna County was covered by a series of thick ice mantles. Along the main and secondary valleys are the residual sediments from glacial activity consisting of glacial cobbles, sand and pebble deposits.  These residual deposits, which are quite abundant in the county, have been mapped by the Pennsylvania Geological Survey and have been commercially mined for road base material.

The only Indian path that ran through Susquehanna County was the “Lackawanna Path”. Prior to, during, and after the 18th century, this path joined with others to form an elaborate complex of trails connecting different parts of the Pennsylvania landscape (Wallace 1971). Although there are no reported Indian towns along these routes, they connected Indian towns at each end, namely Lackawanna and Capoose Meadows near Scranton to Tuscarora Town at present day Lanesboro on the the Great Bend of the Susquehanna, near the New York State border. Of note here, is the observation that a segment of Interstate 81 follows the general route of this ancient Indian path between these two locations.

view of the bridge replacement project area at
 Hallstead, Susquehanna County

A review of the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (P.A.S.S.) identifies 143 prehistoric and historic period sites in Susquehanna County, which accounts for a site density of one site for every 5.83 square miles. The majority of these sites fall into one or more of the seven prehistoric periods, with the Transitional accounting for most. Trending in highest site frequency to least, Transitional Period sites are followed by Late Woodland, Late Archaic, and Middle Woodland Period sites. Middle and Early Archaic sites are rare. In terms of site setting, the most recorded are situated along valley floors adjacent to large perennial water sources such as rivers and second order streams. Thirty three of the prehistoric sites occupy upland settings where the water systems are smaller, often consisting of low volume seeps and springs. Lithics used in the manufacture of projectile points and cutting tools are principally made from cobble cherts, granites and indurated sandstone/siltstones from the eroded glacial deposits within the valley. Reported Historic Period sites are largely comprised of rural farmsteads, house sites, remnants of related out building structures and bridges.

plan view of features within upper levels of the Keystone Farm Site (36Sq17)

In 1999 the Federal Highway Administration/PennDot and archaeological consultants conducted a geo-archaeological and Phase I/II and III archaeological study at Hallstead, Susquehanna County. This investigation was in preparation for a proposed bridge relocation on the “Great Bend” of the Susquehanna River. These investigations identified a deeply stratified multi-component site containing prehistoric occupations with various projectile points, scrapers, utilized flakes, pottery and fire cracked rock. Many of these objects date from the Middle Archaic Period through the Late Woodland Period. The Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey file lists the site as 36SQ17.

profile of excavation block at the Keystone Farm Site (36Sq17)

Some of the pit and post mold features in the upper strata  at 36SQ17 containing fragments of Owasco pottery and triangular projectile points were radiocarbon dated between 1060 BP. and 940 BP, which suggests a site occupation around 1000 B.P. Preserved botanical remains included wood charcoal, nut shells, seeds and other unidentified (as to Genus and species) carbonized plant parts. Additionally, at the 2.63 meter depth and slightly deeper, two radiocarbon dates spanned a time between 4780 B.P. and 7630 B.P. Both dates fall within the range defining the Late Archaic and Middle Archaic Periods in the Northeast. There Vestal, and Brewerton points were recovered. 

line drawings of projectile points recovered from the Keystone Farm Site (36Sq17)

The older date may relate to a Neville phase occupation although that has not been confirmed with diagnostic artifacts. The deepest cultural level identified at the Keystone Farm Site, (36Sq17), was found at four meters below ground surface. Discovered within the sandy alluvium stratum, designated as “6BC,” were segments of a living floor that had been utilized by LeCroy phase people, around 8000 BP. In this deepest level at 36SQ17 one diagnostic biface, a Titicut point (LeCroy variant), was recovered with chert debitage and utilized flakes. Further analysis determined that the pattern of these artifacts suggests some sort of lithic workshop activity, possibly focused on late stage tool production or re-sharpening.

density map of debitage and tools from stratum "6BC" at the Keystone Farm Site (36Sq17)

 We hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to Susquehanna County archaeology. Also, we encourage you to consider joining us at our annual Workshops in Archaeology program on November 16th to learn more about the archaeological heritage of Susquehanna County.  Dr. John Roby of Indiana University of Pennsylvania' s Department of Anthropology will present The Dennis Farm: Maple Sugar, Production and Politics in the 19th Century. This homestead has continuously belonged to the original African-American landowners’ family for over 200 years. Purchased with monies received for service during the Revolutionary War, preservation of this family homestead provides a unique opportunity to examine property held continuously by one family over multiple generations. The link for the registration form for the Workshops is in the upper right corner of this blog page; please remember the deadline for early registration is November 8th!


Cultural Heritage Research Services, Inc.
2008    Archaeological Investigations S.R. 0011, Section 573, Great Bend Bridge Project, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. E.R.# 00-6202-115. Report prepared for U.S. Department of Transportation - manuscript of file at the Section of Archaeology, The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Wallace, Paul A. W.
1971    Indian Paths of Pennsylvania. Publication of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum           Commission.

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

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