The faunal evidence for archaeological sites in Pennsylvania portrays prehistoric Native Americans as consummate hunters and trappers. Discarded bones of mammals, birds and fishes retrieved centuries later by archaeologists from rubbish middens (trash pits) attest to the important roles that hunting and trapping played in the lives of these people. The contents of prehistoric trash middens and dumps most always show that deer, elk, bear and turkey due to their sheer body mass, were the more prolific creatures harvested for meat protein. There are animal remains reported from these trash dumps that are fewer in number and three of these are the subject of this week’s blog.
Animal bones from an archaeological context.
The wildcat, better known as the bobcat, Lynx cf. rufus is an animal found in the rugged intermontane region of northern Pennsylvania where there are swamps and dense forests. One can surmise that this fur bearing animal was trapped by Native Americans for its pelt as the coat of fur is soft to the touch which made for ideal bedding in the cold night of winter.
The native wolf of Pennsylvania Canis lupus was extirpated in the last century when the logging industry was in its heyday. Unlike the bobcat, which is not a gregarious animal, wolf packs roamed the remote wilderness of Pennsylvania. Early encounters with wolves are well chronicled in Pennsylvania’s early history as they were a serious menace to farm animals and were shot on sight. Native Americans however trapped them for their thick coat of fur and like the skins of bobcats, were tailored into clothing and bed covers.
The Indian dog Canis lupus familiaris /Canis familiaris has a bond with our pet dogs of today as it has been shown genetically that all dogs are descendants of the Gray Wolf as early as the Late Pleistocene when humans were using canids for tracking and hunting game. Here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, the common term that is used to describe these cross-bred critters is “wolfdog” Canis lupus familiaris. It is not surprising that the archaeological evidence for dogs is better represented in the bone dumps of Pennsylvania than bobcats and wolves since the bond between dogs and humans has great antiquity.
The butchered remains of bobcats, wolves and dogs that were eaten are mainly from Late Prehistoric and Contact period Native American village dump sites in the lower Upper Ohio Valley of southwestern Pennsylvania and the lower Susquehanna Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania. In the former region, these remains are associated with Monongahela habitation sites of the AD. 1000 – 1600 period that were occupied from the Forks of the Ohio to the Pennsylvania/West Virginia border south of Pittsburgh. The southeastern sites are mainly located in the Washington Boro area south of Harrisburg and the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River, now inundated by the Raystown Reservoir near Huntingdon. The Susquehannock Indians lived in these valleys from circa AD. 1500 – 1675 and they were the people who hunted, killed and consumed the animals herein described. The archaeo-faunal record for the later Susquehannock dump sites from the 1680’s to the mid-1760’s period is sparse and therefore cannot be summarized at this time.
We hope that you have enjoyed this brief presentation on the archaeological evidence for wildcats, wolves and dogs and their relationship to the Native American people who once lived in Pennsylvania. Please join us again as we present other interesting and fascinating topics on Pennsylvania Archaeology in This Week in Pennsylvania Archaeology.