Friday, December 27, 2013

Seasons Greetings

The folks that faithfully bring you "This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology" every Friday are spending the holidays with friends and family. From all of us to all of our readers, we hope you had a very Merry Christmas, and will have a Happy New Year! Next stop, the 2014 Pennsylvania Farm Show!

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

Washington County

This week in Pennsylvania Archaeology takes us to Washington County located in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania. Washington County is bordered by the Monongahela River on the east, Greene County to the South, West Virginia state border on the west and Beaver and Allegheny counties on the north.
On March 28, 1781 Washington County was formed from part of Westmoreland County. It was named after our American Revolutionary War leader and father of our country, George Washington. The county contains 861 square miles and its seat is Washington, Pennsylvania.

The physiography and geology of Washington County is shared by many of the surrounding counties in southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Washington County is in the Waynesburg Hills Section and the Pittsburgh Low Plateau Section of the Appalachian Plateaus Province which consists of Permian and Pennsylvanian geologic periods (250-330 million years old). Much of the bedrock geology is comprised of shales, limestones and sandstones of various types. Some of the largest soft coal deposits underlay these formations and are economically important to much of southwestern Pennsylvania. The Monongahela River, with its many locks and dams, is used to barge the coal down river to Pittsburgh and beyond.

 The general topography of Washington County is characterized by gently rolling hills on its eastern half and , for the most part, rugged hills on its western half where the terrain consists of dissected valleys and somewhat narrow floodplains. With the exception of a small area on the west and an equally sized area on the north that drains to the main Ohio River, the creeks flow eastward to the Monongahela River which joins the Ohio River system at Pittsburgh. There, the principal watercourses include Ten Mile, Pigeon and Chartiers Creeks, the latter of which is the largest.

Chartiers Creek, named after Peter Chartiers, whose mother was likely Shawnee, had a trading post on or near the mouth of Chartiers Creek at present day McKees Rocks. Peter who sided with the French and their Indian allies on the Ohio frontier was also a fur trader and Indian-White interpreter during that period of political turmoil in the Ohio valley.

During the 18th century there were three notable Indian paths that ran through Washington County, all of which intersected at Washington, Pennsylvania and connected with other pathways along all four cardinal points of the compass.

The Catfish Path, from Wallace (1965)

The Catfish Path was so-named after the Delaware Indian, Tingoocque (translated as) “Catfish” (Wallace 1965). The path ran north along Chartier’s Creek and joined with other Indian paths at the Delaware town of Shannopin (Donehoo 1928) at present day Pittsburgh. South of Washington the path crossed both branches of Ten Mile Creek then on to join the Warriors Branch Path near present day Waynesburg, Pennsylvania.

The Glades Path joined with the Ohio River at present day Wheeling , West Virginia and extended eastward to the Raystown at present day Bedford, Pennsylvania. Traveling the path required one to ford the Youghiogheny River at West Newton, Pennsylvania. Other lesser waterways and mountains would have been encountered on the way between present day Somerset and the Juniata’s Raystown Branch. A 1797 entry in  John Heckwelder’s journal states that “ this road [Glades Indian path] is said to be best in summer during dry weather, when both Mountains are also easy of ascent” (Wallace 1965).

The Pennsylvania Archaeological Survey (PASS) files lists 1421 prehistoric and 166 historic sites bringing the total to 1556 recorded sites for Washington County.  This is a rather high site density of one site for every .55 miles. A review of the list shows that 2/3rds of the sites are located in upland settings as opposed to lowland (i.e. floodplain, terrace, island etc.) settings. Most of the upland settings are hilltops, benches and saddles (low points between two higher points).

variety of chert types and projectile points from the George Fisher collection

Cherts of various types were the preferred lithic material used by prehistoric peoples living in the pre-Washington County area. Not surprising, the dominant cultural stages based on projectile point types present at these sites characterized the Late and Middle Archaic periods (4,300-9,000 years ago). Projectile points representative of the Early, Middle and Late Woodland periods followed these next in number. The Transitional and Paleoindian periods are last with 11 and 14 recorded sites, respectively.

hematite celts from Washington County

Historic period sites are few in number when comparisons are made with the number of recorded prehistoric sites. Only 81 sites indicative of this period are known and largely include domestic/farmsteads and commercial/industrial component sites. Whatever the reason(s) the emphasis to report sites has been focused on reporting prehistoric sites of the foregoing eight recognized cultural periods.

cannel coal and slate pendants from Washinton County

The region in and around Washington County has been of interest to antiquarians and archaeologists for many decades past. George Fisher, an amateur archaeologist and collector from Finleyville, Pennsylvania single handedly located and investigated a large number of prehistoric sites dating to the Woodland period (2100 - 450 years ago). The notes and photographs that survive chronicle an active period in his site investigation career from the 1920’s through the 1940’s largely based on Monongahela villages in the southwestern Pennsylvania region. Fisher was especially active in many parts of Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland and Fayette counties south of Pittsburgh and his report to the Pennsylvania Archaeologist illustrates these activities (Fisher 1930).

In 1973, a team of specialists from the University of Pittsburgh led by James Adovasio commenced excavations at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter located near the small village of Avella, Washington County. Meadowcroft is a dry rockshelter formed from part of a large sandstone cliff of Morgantown-Connellsville sandstone.It is a smaller part of the larger Casselman Formation typical to Washington County’s Cross Creek drainage. The contents of the rockshelter were sealed over many thousands of years by the down slope movement of colluvial sediments. These sediments sealed an incredible  cultural record dating back to approximately 16,000 years ago (cf. Adovasio 1975; 1977).

Map of SW Pennsylvania showing location of Meadowcroft and surrounding region

Over subsequent years, the team of specialists uncovered a multi-layered sequence of intact cultural deposits dating from the pre-Clovis through Historic periods which qualified the site as one of the most continually occupied archaeological records in North America. Meadowcroft Rockshelter was deemed so important that it was recognized worldwide and listed as a National Historic Landmark and World Heritage Site. Meadowcroft Rockshelter is the main feature of interest at Meadowcroft Village where the public can visit the rockshelter through guided tours.

We hope that you have enjoyed this journey to Washington County archaeology and encourage you to read additional information provided in the Reference section of this presentation. Do join us again next week when we will celebrate the Christmas season with more interesting archaeology facts!


Adovasio, James M., Joel D. Gunn, Jack Donahue and Robert Stuckenrath
1975       Excavations at Meadowcroft Rockshelter, 1973-1974: A Progress Report.

                Pennsylvania Archaeologist 45(3): 1-30.

Adovasio, James M.; Joel D. Gunn; Jack Donahue and Robert Stuckenrath. With selections by Jan D. Applegarth, Ronald C. Carlisle, David T. Clark, David Faingnaert, John E. Guilday, William C. Johnson, David Krinsley, Kenneth Lord, Esther Skirboll and Paul G. Wiegman
1977       Meadowcroft Rockshelter: Retrospect 1976. Pennsylvania Archaeologist  47(2-3):1-93.

Donhoo, George P.
1928       A History of the Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennsylvania. Harrisburg.

Fisher, George S.
1930       Indian Sites and Excavations in Western Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 1(2):8-9.

Wallace, Paul A.W.
1965       Indian Paths of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Harrisburg.

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

Warren County: Part of the Hopewell Interaction Sphere

This week’s journey by county through the archaeology of Pennsylvania takes us to northwestern Pennsylvania and Warren County. This county is situated in the High Plateau section and the Northwestern Glaciated section of the Appalachian Plateaus Physiographic Province. The region is characterized by rolling uplands and steep valleys. The northwestern half of the county was glaciated and exhibits glacial features such as terminal moraines, kettle lakes, swamps and kame terraces. The Allegheny River cuts through the middle of the county and the major tributaries are Brokenstraw Creek and Conewango Creek.

Warren County was first occupied by Europeans in the 1740s. Initially, the French claimed the region and documented their claim with a series of lead plates buried in the ground that stretched from the City of Warren down the Mississippi Valley. After the French and Indian War, the British took over and finally the Americans incorporated the land into the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Early on, the major industry was lumber but the discovery of oil in the 1870’s replaced the logging industry. Residents of the county prospered in the 19th century but by the middle of the 20th century the economy was on the decline. A large section of Warren County is in the Allegheny National Forest and is reserved for recreation, lumbering and the gas industry.

The density of sites (at 1 site per 1.97 square miles) is relatively high especially compared to other counties in the northern part of the Commonwealth. There are concentrations of prehistoric sites along the Allegheny River, at the mouth of the Brokenstraw for example, but numerous sites have also been recorded in the uplands. Many of these are rockshelters and 28% of all sites in the county fit this category. Allegheny National Forest has their own crew of archaeologists and while conducting surveys in preparation for logging and gas projects, they have recorded many of these sites.

The most commonly used lithic material by prehistoric peoples in making stone tools is chert (43%) and 42% of the sites reporting lithic material specify Onondaga chert. The Onondaga formation is located in a band extending from Ontario across New York State approximately 100 miles (160 km) to the north. This is a high quality and distinctive lithic type that was used throughout prehistory. It is assumed that Native Americans directly procured this chert from bedrock sources but there is also ample evidence that they used pebbles and cobbles that were washed into the region by rivers or pushed into the region by the glaciers.

Although the Allegheny National Forest archaeologists have conducted the most extensive surveys in the county, there have been several other major surveys. The regional archaeological survey program which was conducted between 1979 and 1981 included Warren County and documented many new sites but was especially productive in updating information on existing sites. For example the complex of sites known as the Buckaloons was proposed as a National Register Historic District but has yet to be nominated. This track of land contains several sites at the mouth of the Brokenstraw Creek that include occupations from small Paleoindian camps to Late Prehistoric villages and several Hopewell mounds.

Sugar Run Mound excavation

Warren County contains at least eight burial mounds dating to the Middle Woodland period and several of these were tested in 1941 by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission under the direction of Edmund S. Carpenter and Wesley Bliss. This was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) investigation of mound and village sites in northwestern Pennsylvania. Interestingly, the excavation of the Sugar Run Mound was conducted by a crew of Seneca Indians from the Allegheny Reservation. The Sugar Run Mound site (36Wa359) contained three mounds that slightly overlapped each other. Although these had been plowed down to almost level with the current ground surface, it was possible to determine the construction sequence of the three. There were at least three stone lined crypts, each surrounded by a cobble pavement. It is believed that the cobbles under Mound Unit #1 were arranged in the shape of a raptorial bird on one side of the stone lined crypt and in the shape of a celt on the other side.

Sugar Run Mound plan view

According to McConaughy and Johnson (2003:114), the three mounds are separated by relatively short time intervals. Based on the low frequency of exotic trade artifacts and the radiocarbon date of AD 250 (uncorrected) Mound Unit #1 was the first to be constructed but this was prior to the local population becoming involved in the Hopewell Interaction Sphere trade network. Mounds #2 and #3 contained numerous exotic trade artifacts such as mica, galena, marine shell, copper and Flint Ridge chalcedony, indicating these mounds date later in time when the local population was actively involved in the Hopewell Interaction Sphere.

According to McConaughy and Johnson (2003:114, Sugar Run Mound is part of the Squawkie Hill phase, a local manifestation of Hopewell. This is found at several mounds in northwestern Pennsylvania notably Nelson (36Cw58), Irvine (36Wa251-255), Cornplanter (36Wa242) and Corydon (36Wa1).

Finally, Warren County is the location of the last Indian controlled track of land in Pennsylvania. This was known as the Cornplanter Grant. Cornplanter was a Seneca chief who fought against the United State during the Revolutionary War. However, after the war, he encouraged peace with the United States. 


According to Wallace (1999:167), he was instrumental in keeping the Iroquois out of the Miami confederacy which defeated two American armies but was eventually routed by Anthony Wayne at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. In response to his peace keeping efforts, Pennsylvania awarded Cornplanter and his heirs “in perpetuity” 600 acres of land in the Upper Allegheny Valley just south of the New York state border. This included his town of Jenuchshadego. Initially, Cornplanter “brought in Quaker teachers, established schools, made roads, built good houses, encouraged agriculture, bred large herds of cattle and, in a word, turned the Cornplanter Grant into a model community” (Wallace 1999:168). Unfortunately, at the end of his life, he rejected all of this becoming disillusioned with his non-Indian neighbors. He died in 1836.

The Cornplanter Grant was occupied by his descendents and other Indians until 1964, when the remaining residents were relocated upriver in preparation for the construction of the Kinzua Dam. Cornplanter’s cemetery was archaeologically excavated (Abrams 1965 and Sublett 1965) and, along with his monument also re-located. Remembering the words of the original land grant issued by the Commonwealth “in perpetuity”, the dam project was strongly opposed by Native Americans; however, the land was flooded in 1967. This signaled the beginning of a revitalization of Native American culture in America; an event that was instrumental in the formation of the American Indian Movement. The flooding also covered numerous archaeological sites including the Sugar Run mound discussed above.

We hope you have found this journey through the archaeological heritage of Warren County interesting, and that you will seek additional reading in the references provided below.  Understanding and exploring our archaeological heritage is crucial to our understanding of human behavior and our ability to change and adapt over time - just as the peoples of Warren County have done for thousands of years.


Abrams, George H.
1965    The Cornplanter Cemetery. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 35(2):59-73.

McConaughy, Mark A. and Janet R. Johnson
2003    Sugar Run Mound (36Wa359) and Village (36Wa2):  Hopewell/Middle Woodland in
            Warren County, Pennsylvania.  In Foragers and Farmers of the Early and Middle
Woodland Periods in Pennsylvania, edited by Paul Raber and Verna Cowin, pp. 101-116.  Recent Research in Pennsylvania Number 3, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Sublett, Audrey J.
1965    The Cornplanter Cemetery: Skeletal Analysis. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 35(2):74-91.

Wallace, Paul A.W.
1999    Indians in Pennsylvania. Anthropological Series Number 5. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg.
For more information, visit or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .

Friday, December 6, 2013

Venango County

We return this week to our county by county journey through Pennsylvania’s archaeological heritage with a stop in the northwestern corner of the state, Venango County.  Situated in the glaciated Appalachian Plateaus Province this physiographic zone contains some of the highest elevations in Pennsylvania. Today the primary drainage is the Allegheny River, but during Pleistocene glaciations most of the streams and rivers drained northward into Lake Erie and then into the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway. Ice dams which formed during the Pleistocene reversed the direction of the major drainages forcing the directional flow south into the Allegheny River,  and the Ohio River drainage basin.  Glacial till contains gravels of Onondaga chert cobbles, transported from the quarries of western New York. 

The primary lithic material used for stone tool production in Venango County is chert and there are several local sources in addition to the high quality Onondaga material. Northwestern Pennsylvania typically receives major snow fall from the west and cold air masses out of Canada insure temperatures to retain snow cover for an average of 60 days per year. Forests of oak, maple, pine and hickory provided prehistoric peoples with food sources from nuts and seeds to the fauna that inhabited these woods.

biface fashioned from Onondaga chert from the Polk #4 Site (36Ve282)

Four prehistoric settlement types have been defined for Venango County; rock shelters, riverine, upland and special purpose sites.  The majority of sites recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) files are located in upland settings.  Two sites previously reported on in riverine settings provide important architectural information for Venago County. Three house types were identified by Sue Ann Curtis at sites 36Ve3 and 36Ve50.  Type I is defined as a single circular to oval row of posts that encloses an area from 8 to 12 feet in diameter. Type II is a circular or oval structure with an attached oval storage compartment, typically 8 to 12 feet in diameter but as large as 15 to 20 feet. These oval compartments are often associated with food storage.  The third house type is also circular, 8 to 12 feet in diameter, but has an inner row of post molds- essentially a double wall around all of part of a wall. It is posited that this second row may have been post supports for a bench which lined the walls of these structures.

Curtis identified eleven houses at 36Ve50 and two at 36Ve3 and suggested that as many as 20 houses may be present at each of these sites based on artifact concentrations and additional post molds.  Curtis suggests that these camps are central base or transient camps based on the presence of residential structures, ceramics, projectile points and stone tools such as grinding stones, net sinkers, choppers, drills and scrapers. Pottery is described either grit or quartz tempered with shell tempered pottery present at rock shelter sites.  Rock shelters were used seasonally as defined by faunal remains of turtle, frog, migratory birds and mussel shells. We would be remiss in not mentioning at this time the Rainbow Rocks Petroglyphs site.  Examined and reported on by James Swauger of the Carnegie Museum, Rainbow Rocks Petroglyphs are carved on the north wall of a rockshelter opening, part of the Pottsville sandstone formation. These pecked and rubbed images illustrate snake figures, bird tracks and a single human figure. Swauger who made extensive surveys of the Ohio River Valley petroglyph formations, notes that the human figure at Rainbow Rock is a stick figure, an unusual form as others are generally full bodied in the Upper Ohio Valley. The snake and bird figures are common elements on petroglyphs located across the Commonwealth, including the lower Susquehanna River.

Rainbow Rocks Petroglyphs

These petroglyph sites are considered specialized use sites as are a series of oil pits identified and recorded in Curtis’s survey of Venango County.  Two to three thousand oil pits have been dug along terraces in the Oil Creek Valley.  These pits were present when the region was explored in the 18th century, and evidence indicates Native peoples were using them during the Middle Woodland Period (1,100 – 2,100 years ago). Foot paths used by these native groups were identified by Wallace and include the Cornplanter-Venango Path, Frankstown-Venango Path and the Venango Path.  It seems likely that the presence of oil near these foot paths played a role in their importance in Native trade to the west and north.

Many of these oil pits were destroyed during the 19th century, but some 250 are now protected from development. These pits vary  in shape from circular, oval  to rectangular; between 6 and 35 feet in length, 2-5 feet deep and enclosed by a ridge of fill some 2-4 ft high.  Excavations indicate that pits were dug to a depth of six to seven feet to the petroleum based gravel- type sands.  Log structures discovered in two of the pits revealed a crib-like construction related to this oil recovery activity.  Oil extraction would go on to play a larger role in the 19th century as the demand for oil increased and the industrial revolution emerged

oil pit crib structure

The Venango Path was not only important for native peoples, but was also an important military highway during the French & Indian War. The French construction of a portage road from Presque Isle Bay on Lake Erie, south to Waterford and Fort LeBoeuf allowed for the transport of materials to French Creek and eventually the Allegheny River. This route was important for the French who controlled the Louisiana Territory and who needed to maintain this path from Canada to Louisiana. The French fort constructed here in 1756, Fort Machault, was located at Franklin, at the junction of French Creek and the Allegheny River.  The British defeated the French and built their fort at this location in 1760.  It was subsequently destroyed during the Pontiac War in 1763.  The Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784 allowed for the settlement of these lands and designated the area as “Donation Lands”.  Donation lands were set aside by the commonwealth for donation to Pennsylvania veterans of the Revolutionary War as payment for service.

In August of 1859 the first oil well was drilled on land owned by Edwin L. Drake, an event that would significantly impact the area.  By 1862 three million barrels of oil were reportedly produced and the rush to “get rich” drew thousands to the area.  Boom towns which had sprang up overnight, Boom Towns, only to become abandoned waste land.  Pit Hole was one such town. Established in 1865, its population soared to 20,000 in a few months’ hotels and businesses would cover the town.  Plagued by fires that occurred on an almost weekly basis and the discovery of more productive wells a few miles away, the population dropped to just 287 by 1870. Three families remained in 1877 when the borough charter was annulled.  Today the Drake Well Museum and associate groups help to maintain and operate a visitor center at the site of Pit Hole.

Danforth House, Venango County

Archaeological investigations continue to explore the heritage of this region and the effort of recording many of these sites goes to the Venango Chapter #30 of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology.  Chapter members have recorded a half- dozen sites and updated information on others, much of this done by chapter member Bill Black.  This chapter is very active at the local level and often presents at the annual meetings of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology.  Their interest in preservation and archaeological heritage are to be commended.

key fob for the Danforth House

We hope you will take some time to read about the archaeological heritage of your community and take the time to record archaeological sites that you may know about.  Remember this is your heritage and it is our duty as citizens to strive to preserve the past for the future.  Join us next week as we explore Warren County on the border with New York state and just north of Venango.

Curtis, Sue Ann
The Cultural Ecology of Early Late Woodland, Venango County, Pennsylvania, Thesis in Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, December, 1971.

Darrah, William C.
Pithole, the Vanished City; A Story of the Early Days of the Petroleum Industry. 1972

Swauger, James L.
The Rainbow Rocks Petroglyphs Site, Pennsylvania Archaeologist, Bulletin of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, September, 1972, V. 42, No. 3.

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