Monday, May 16, 2022

Agnes’s Impact on the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania

Recent weather conditions in the South-Central Region of Pennsylvania were reminiscent of the seemingly endless rain of Tropical Storm Agnes, but Agnes was a steady deluge that swelled streams and rivers over their banks. The difference is obvious in that we experienced approximately 4 inches of rain this past weekend as opposed to 12, 14 and upwards of 19 inches from Agnes.  As we continue our series of blogs focused on the impact on cultural resources due to flooding from the storm, our area of focus this week is North Central PA and the Southern tier of New York around Chemung and Elmira, NY. 

Major River Basins, Tioga River Valley circled

Tioga County is in the Glaciated High Plateau, Glaciated Low Plateau and Deep Valleys Sections of the Appalachian Plateau Province. These physiographic landforms are characterized by eroded hills and generally narrow, steep sided valleys.  The major streams are the Cowanesque and Tioga Rivers that form the major waterways of the Chemung and the Susquehanna’s North Branch drainage. Pennsylvanian, Mississippian, and Devonian rocks constitute the geological makeup of Tioga County and originally these rocks were a part of the vast sea sediments that formed some 290-405 million years ago. 

The Cowanesque River is a major west-east drainage in northern Tioga County. It is a tributary of the Tioga River, which flows north to join the Chemung in New York state. The Chemung then curves to flow south to join the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. The Cowanesque River basin lies in both Pennsylvania and New York, draining an area of 772 km^ (298 mi^). The headwaters of the Cowanesque River are in the Allegheny High Plateau section located west of Tioga County, in north central Potter County. From there, the river flows approximately 61 km (38 mi) east to join the north-flowing Tioga River at Lawrenceville.

This environment creates an ideal setting for flood waters to inundate the small streams and tributaries that feed these larger waterways, leading to major flooding in the region during increased precipitation. Spring ice jams, snow thaws and heavy thunderstorms had contributed to previous catastrophic storms in 1889, 1935 and 1946 to name a few. The Army Corp of Engineers authorized the construction of a flood control project to in July 1958 to alleviate flooding. However, construction did not begin until after Agnes struck her heavy blow.  

 Location of Project Area (Goodwin 1990)

In preparation for construction, several surveys were initiated by the National Park Service and the Army Corp. to review the potential impact on cultural resources.  The project involved the construction of two dams, the Tioga-Hammond Lake, and the Cowanesque Dam- see map above. Archaeological surveys by Dr. Jacob Gruber of Temple University recorded new sites and revisited sites previously surveyed by John Witthoft of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (now the PHMC). Impact areas were identified and plans for recovery or preservation of these resources were developed. The small village of Nelson, including the Presbyterian Church and cemetery, was moved to higher ground above the Cowanesque Flood plain.  Prior to the move, local residents were surveyed for their opinion on relocating and their oral histories documented. Today, the village is perched on a hillside overlooking the dam. 

Beecher's Island Presbyterian Church, Nelson. PA-SHPO, PHMC, PA-SHARE

Archaeological sites recorded through these efforts were scant. In fact, Gruber reported that the flooding in 1946 had obliterated any evidence of precontact human occupation in the Tioga River Valley or in the adjacent Crooked Creek Valley. “I must conclude, therefore, that these areas were not subject to prehistoric settlement.”  Although John Witthoft had recorded a site (36TI0001) at the confluence of the Tioga River and Crooked Cree. Local collectors were also aware of the site and shared their collections with Dr. Gruber. Gruber noted the presence of soapstone (steatite), bannerstone, and many points (projectile points), but did not consider this as significant information.  

Onondaga chert points (36TI0001). The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Late Woodland Pottery (36TI0001). The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Dr. Gruber’s survey identified potential sites in the Cowanesque Valley, the Antonio site(36TI0030) received preliminary salvage archaeology during the summers of 1966 and 1967 by Temple students as reported by Daniel Crozier. The site was assigned to the Early Woodland to Late Woodland culture periods based on ceramics, stone tools and projectile points recovered. Storage pits were identified, a hearth feature and an undetermined activity area. Crozier recommended the Army Corp. purchase the site in 1973 to allow for extensive archaeology, unfortunately no additional archaeology was undertaken at this site.  

Stone Tools - net sinker, bipitted processing stones(36TI0001). The State Museum of Pennsylvania

The construction of the dams and subsequent expansion of the capacity of the Cowanesque Dam led to the discovery of additional sites and an opportunity to expand our knowledge of the region.  Of the six sites recorded, three of the buried floodplain sites (36Ti33, 36Ti34, and 36Ti37), appeared capable of documenting the transition from the hunting-gathering late Middle Woodland to the horticultural early Late Woodland and were identified for further investigation. 
Archaeological reports for north central Pennsylvania report precontact traditions as evolutionary and typologically comparable to the Archaic and Woodland cultural periods. The periods represented by the components at these sites, which date ca. A.D. 160 (second prehistoric component at 36Ti34) to ca. A.D. 1200 (36Ti37), span a time of important cultural change in eastern North America corresponding to the appearance of maize horticulture in the Northeast. The shift from a somewhat mobile, hunting-gathering oriented late Middle Woodland peoples to maize using, more sedentary early Late Woodland peoples is a major culture change and an interesting research topic for archaeologists. Data from these floodplain sites were thought to be relevant to questions about the development of horticulture as an activity associated with spring fishing camps, thus suggesting an explanation for why maize horticulture spread so quickly among otherwise non-horticultural, forest dwelling peoples. 

Archaeologists recovered ceramics, tree-nut remains and a fragment of a maize cob. Nuts identified included hickory, oak acorn, and hazelnut.  Seeds identified were chenopodium, seed of tick-clover {Desmodium spp.), a wild legume (Fabaceae) cotyledon fragment, a possible ash samara kernel, a hawthorn {Crataegus spp.) nutlet fragment. Among these, it is possible that only the hawthorn nutlet represents a food remain. Unfortunately, poor preservation of bone limited the recovery of dietary remains to those recovered through floatation. Calcined bone fragments were too small to identify. Plowing activities had disturbed features and mixed the artifacts associated with them across the landscape (Goodwin 1990). 

Excavations at 36Ti34 also exposed the remains of a burned log cabin, dated between A.D. 1790 to 1830. The historic component was represented by the charred, virtually intact floor of the cabin, several pit and trough features, and by a large and varied array of historic artifacts. 

The impact of Tropical Storm Agnes on communities in the Cowanesque and Tioga River Valley was catastrophic, but the damage there paled in comparison to the havoc incurred when the waters of the Tioga River merged with the Chemung near Corning, New York.  We will continue our series on Agnes in a few weeks when we trace the impact of the Chemung River as it flows back into Pennsylvania in Bradford County. 

The Army Corp of Engineers estimates that these flood control projects, the Cowanesque and Tioga-Hammond Lakes, the potential for downstream flooding and related damages will be significantly reduced.  It is estimated that, the two projects would have prevented an estimated $360 million in damage during Tropical Storm Agnes. Of this total, Cowanesque Lake alone would have prevented about $142.8 million in damage along the Cowanesque, Tioga, Chemung, and Susquehanna Rivers between Lawrenceville and Sunbury (all values given in 1972 dollars and for 1972 conditions).

The impact of flooding and soil erosion continues to harm archaeological sites and identifying their location and providing protection to these cultural resources is important in preserving our past for future generations. Please support these efforts and record known archaeological sites in the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commissions reporting system, PA-SHARE.  


Crozier, Daniel A.
1972   Preliminary Archaeological Salvage Operations in a Portion of the Cowanesque Dam Flood Control Project: The Antonio Site 36Ti30. Report submitted to U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, Northeast Region.

Gruber, J.W.
1965     An Archaeological Survey of Some Dam Areas in Berks, Carbon, Tioga, and Centre Counties, Pennsylvania. Report submitted to the U.S. Department of interior, National Park Service, Northeast Region.

Gruber, J.W.
1966     An Archaeological Survey at Certain Reservoir Areas in Pennsylvania. Report  submitted to the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service, Northeast Region.

Hay, C.A., C. Stevenson
1984    Phase III Archeological Data Recovery From 36Ti33, 36Ti34, And 36Ti37,   Cowanesque Lake Reformulation Project, Tioga County, Pennsylvania.
Baltimore: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District.

Neumann, Thomas W. , Neal H. Lopinot, Leslie D. McFaden, R. Christopher Goodwin, and Jennifer Cohen
1990    PHASE III Archeological Data Recovery From 36Ti33, 36Ti34, And 36Ti37,    Cowanesque Lake Reformulation Project, Tioga County, Pennsylvania. 
Baltimore: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District.

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

Monday, May 2, 2022

Hurricane - Tropical Storm - The Destructive Path of Agnes

Fifty years ago, during the summer of 1972 a natural disaster, struck the eastern United States that would leave a lasting impact on communities, disaster reporting systems, and flood control projects from Florida to Maine.  This week we are launching a series of blogs on the path of destruction from Hurricane Agnes as it was known when it made landfall in Florida on June 19th and its downgrade to a Tropical Depression as it moved slowly up the eastern seaboard.  The storm intensified off the coast of Virginia and was close to hurricane magnitude when it moved north, dumping rainfall between 10-19 inches across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York from June 21st through June 23rd.  The highest recorded rainfall occurred in Western Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania (19 in.).  Agnes released a deluge which quickly inundated streams and rivers, bringing with them flooding beyond imagination.  The National Weather Service reported a record $3.5 billion of property damage and 118 people died in Agnes’s path.  

This image depicts the storm track and rainfall for Agnes. Source: Hydrometeorological Prediction Center/ NOAA

Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams were already swollen from heavy rains the previous week and the saturated ground couldn’t absorb the impact of this constant rainfall. The Susquehanna River Basin and Schuylkill River Basin, located within the Delaware River Basin on this map, were significantly impacted by flooding.  In the Susquehanna River Basin, the Tioga River flows north into New York where it enters the Chemung River, the Chemung flows southeast back into Pennsylvania through Bradford County where it joins the Susquehanna River.  This entire region was heavily impacted by the flooding which required assistance from the National Guard to evacuate homes and maintain security. 

Map of Pennsylvania’s Major River Basins, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Note the red ovals indicating the Tioga, Susquehanna, and Schuylkill Rivers headwaters. 

During the days that followed, scenes of destruction left Pennsylvania residents in disbelief. Nature had shown its force as tons of earth and debris were rearranged by a foot or more of rainfall deposited by Agnes; No part of the state was left untouched by its effects. The worst urban flooding occurred in Elmira, New York and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  A dike in Wilkes-Barre was breached and the town was nearly eradicated. Harrisburg in the lower Susquehanna River valley was inundated by high water, the river crested at 33.27 feet, more than 16 feet above flood stage, a record that remains fifty years later.

As the floodwaters moved across the landscape, it pushed soils, trees, cars and building debris, uncovering remains of the past which were previously preserved.  In some cases, coffins were dislodged by flood waters and headstones were displaced.  Historic structures were damaged or destroyed leading to new initiatives for recording these resources and implementing flood control projects. 

 As a result of Agnes’s destruction, several archaeological surveys were conducted after the storm. These surveys helped to identify and record archaeological sites and document the landscape changes wrought by one of the costliest natural disasters in Pennsylvania history. This is the first of several blogs that details the impact of Agnes on Pennsylvania’s cultural resources and examined the surveys that took place in the years following the storm, beginning with the work of archaeologist William Turnbaugh. 

Only two days after the waters crested, Turnbaugh began a survey of the area along the Susquehanna River’s West Branch to observe and document cultural resources exposed by the storm. The counties of Lycoming and Clinton in the north-central region of the state were in the initial survey area.  Residents here shared the destruction of their property with surprising ease and allowed him to wander their fields in search of exposed archaeological remains. His findings showed that archaeological sites on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River had been severely impacted by Agnes. This effort would be incorporated into a larger survey of Pennsylvania’s archaeological sites begun later that year and sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (Smith 1977). Turnbaugh’ s dissertation, Man, Land and Time, published in 1977 provided background information on previous surveys, results of his survey, descriptions of ecological settings throughout time, and a chronology for the settlement of precontact people in Pennsylvania.

We hope you will continue to check in with us as we trace the impact of Agnes on the archaeological and historical resources of Pennsylvania.  Take some time to research the impact of this storm on your community as the anniversary date of this event approaches. Many communities are still experiencing flooding episodes, especially flash flood events. These events underscore the importance of emergency preparedness. For information on how you can be ready, check out FEMA’s guide, How to Prepare for a Hurricane. 

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



National Weather Service

n.d.        Flood of June 1972 – Hurricane Agnes. Binghamton, NY Weather Forecast Office. Available at: (Accessed April 26, 2022)

 Hurricane Science, the National Science Foundation

n.d.   Hurricanes: Science and Society, University of Rhode Island, 1972 Hurricane Agnes

 Smith, Ira F.

1977         The Susquehanna River Valley Archaeological Survey. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 47(4):27-29.

Turnbaugh, William H.

1977       Man, Land, and Time: The Cultural Prehistory and Demographic Patterns of North-Central Pennsylvania. The Lycoming County Historical Society. UNIGRAPHIC, INC. Evansville, Indiana.

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

Monday, April 18, 2022

Mundane But Necessary: A Look at Dental Care

Sometimes we take small, everyday things for granted. Have you ever wondered who invented hairbrushes, buttons, or flashlights? Today’s blog will look at one of these mundane but necessary objects of daily life.

Who were the first people to use the toothbrush?  The first recorded form of teeth cleaning was by the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, who would chew on the frayed ends of sticks from aromatic trees to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. Chew sticks, or miswaks, have been found in Egyptian tombs along with vinegar and ground pumice, which were used to whiten the smile. People in some African countries still use these chew sticks today and they are commercially available on the internet, touted as a more sustainable alternative to plastic.

A recipe for toothpaste was found in an ancient Egyptian document. Crushed and mixed together, these ingredients were said to make a “powder for white and perfect teeth” (Toothpaste - Welcome to Ancient Egypt! ( -

1 drachma (.01 oz) of rock salt

2 drachmas of mint

1 drachma of dried iris flower

20 grains of pepper

Other people used a cloth, or a cloth wrapped stick to rub the teeth to clean them. Some used salt or different herbs as a type of toothpaste. Native Americans may have used sticks with pine needles or animal hair attached to brush their teeth and a type of toothpaste made from the herb tarragon or the cucacua plant. Although in general, most people did not regularly practice brushing their teeth until well into the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

Around the 15th century, the Chinese are generally credited with the invention of the toothbrush. A handle made of animal bone or bamboo was attached to the stiff hair bristles of a hog. Later, when these toothbrushes were brought to Europe, the hog bristles were replaced with wild boar or horse hairs.

The first modern toothbrush was invented in England around 1780 by William Addis, a rag merchant. Addis was serving time in Newgate Prison where he allegedly saved an animal bone from his meal and after drilling small holes in it, he attached hairs from a boar. The toothbrush worked so well that once Addis was released from prison, he began to mass produce his invention. The company he started was known first as Addis but was later renamed Wisdom Toothbrushes.  

In America, the first toothbrush patent was not filed until 1857, when Hiram Wadsworth made improvements to the design. Most toothbrushes were made of bone at this time because it was an inexpensive material and stood up to water better than wood. Wealthier people may have had brushes made of ivory, silver, gilt, and mother of pearl, but the preferred material was bone. 

Bone Toothbrush from site 36DE0130 (photo by CHRS, Inc.)

Toothpastes in the form of powders made with soap, chalk, and charcoal were popular through the nineteenth century and were packaged in jars. By the 1890s, toothpaste was available in tubes.

Nineteenth Century Toothpaste Ad (Library of Congress)

By the turn of the 20th century, most toothbrushes were being made from celluloid, an early type of plastic. Following the invention of nylon in 1935, DuPont chemical replaced the animal hair bristles with nylon bristles. A number of toothbrushes of all varieties, including celluloid, were recovered from the Market Street Bridge Site (36DE0130) in Philadelphia. Excavations were conducted in the rear yards of several houses associated with black and white working-class families in the 1920s. These finds indicate that similar patterns of material consumption were taking place between people of different races in this neighborhood.

Bone and Celluloid Toothbrushes from site 36DE0130 (Photo by CHRS, Inc.)

Early 20th Century Zanol Brand Celluloid Toothbrush from site 36DE0130 (Photo by CHRS, Inc.)

Electric toothbrushes were first invented in the 1930s but not widely used until after 1960. New types of toothpastes and mouthwashes that provided better dental care came on the market during this time.

Rolled Toothpaste Tube with Key from the Merkey House site (36BK0891) and Late Nineteenth Century Glyco-Thymoline Mouthwash Bottle from the Market Street Bridge site (36DE0130) (Photo by PHMC)

Today’s toothbrushes are made of molded plastic with nylon bristles. These modern brushes are more hygienic and scientifically generated toothpastes, mouth washes, and sprays work to keep the mouth healthy and clean. Incidentally, for those of us working in the Section of Archaeology toothbrushes are important to our job - we use them to brush and clean artifacts.

View of toothbrushes in the Section of Archaeology Lab (Photo by PHMC)

We hope you have enjoyed finding out some information about an object that we use every day and that is so important to our overall health. It’s hard to believe but a survey in 2003 ranked the toothbrush as the number one invention that Americans could not live without – beating out the car, cell phone, personal computer, and microwave! Archaeology reveals the little things we use on a regular basis and provides an opportunity to examine daily activities of people, from the mundane to the exceptional. These artifacts enhance and improve our understanding of the past.

For additional information on toothbrushes and dental care check out the collections on the PHMC website or the sites listed below.


Additional Reading:

Thehistory of the toothbrush - The Health Science Journal

Whoinvented the toothbrush and when was it invented? | Library of Congress(

HistoryOf Toothbrushes And Toothpastes (

DiagnosticArtifacts in Maryland

AVisual History of the Toothbrush | Museum of Every Day Life

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