Friday, July 8, 2011

The Orient Phase

This week we will return to our alphabetical organization of archaeological topics.
“O” is for Old Copper Culture, Olduvai Gorge, Onondaga chert, Owasco, Ozette site and this week’s blog will highlight the Orient Phase. This phase dates between 2700 and 3200 years ago and is characterized by fishtail type points, large fire cracked rock features and steatite bowls. Trade and exchange in lithics such as metarhyolite, jasper and argillite and very early forms of pottery also appear in Pennsylvania. This artifact assemblage is found in Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware, eastern New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland. The largest sites are frequently found along major rivers. Some of the most important sites in Pennsylvania are Faucett and Zimmermann in the Upper Delaware Valley, Sandts Eddy near Easton, Gerty’s Notch along the middle Susquehanna River and Bare Island in the lower Susquehanna Valley.

The Orient Phase was defined by William A. Ritchie (1965:164-178) based on a group of sites on Long Island, New York. These consisted of both habitation and at least four significant cemetery sites. Several of the sites were stratified and exhibited good faunal preservation. The habitation sites, such as the Stony Brook site, demonstrate a change in diet from the deeper Late Archaic occupations. The faunal remains of the earlier occupations were dominated by deer and turkey but the Orient occupations were dominated by shellfish such as oyster, bay scallop, and hard-shelled clam.

William Ritchie sitting next to a Orient Phase burial with grave offerings of steatite post at the Jamesport site, Long Island.

The diagnostic projectile point type was the Orient point. As defined by Ritchie (1961:39) this type can be characterized as a “slender, gracefully formed point, of medium size, with a characteristic narrow, lanceolate blade merging into a flaring "fishtail" stem. The artifact assemblage also included ovate knives, fishtail base drills, spear thrower weights, fully grooved axes, celts, adzes and rarely cord-marked, grit tempered pottery.

Orient points

Four cemeteries were excavated on Long Island, notably Orient No.1 and 2. These contained both single and communal cremation burials. At Orient No. 2, the burial pit was 20-30 feet across and five feet deep. The majority of the cremations were associated with caches of artifacts that included a fire-making kit, a number of projectile points, one or more stone bowls, a hammerstone and sometimes an adze or a celt. The stone bowls had lugs at each end and showed considerable variation in shape including oval, rectangular, and nearly circular. They were usually from five to eighteen inches long, and two to six inches deep. They frequently were smoke stained and grease-incrusted indicating that they had been used. The steatite bowls in the cemeteries were intentionally broken or “killed”, usually by knocking out a hole in the bottom.

steatie bowl from the Zimmermann site

In Pennsylvania, W. Fred Kinsey (1972:355-361) has provided the most detailed definition of this time period which he defines as the Fishtail Tradition. This includes many of the artifacts of the Orient Phase but Kinsey defines a second fishtail type, the Drybrook point. There are a very large number of sites along the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers where steatite bowl fragments and large fire-cracked rock features are very common, along with evidence of trade and exchange of lithics.

artifacts of the Fishtail tradition (Kinsey 1972)

This time period seems to represent a continuation of traditions that developed during the Late Archaic also known as the Transitional period. In some ways the Orient Phase and the Fishtail tradition represent a terminological conundrum. It is frequently noted that fishtail points seemed to have evolved from broadspear types, and they are frequently indistinguishable from re-sharpened Susquehanna broadspears. This would place them with Archaic cultures. However, this phase is also associated with early fired clay pottery. Since pottery is a diagnostic artifact of the Woodland period, this would place this phase in the Woodland Period.

This is the problem with defining broad time periods (i.e. PaleoIndian, Archaic, Woodland) by specific artifact types. Obviously, the people of the Archaic period did not suddenly adopt Woodland artifacts into their toolkits. This was a gradual process and archaeologists have recognized that these chronological terms are heuristic devices but we have yet to agree to alternative terminology.

Kinsey, W. Fred

1972 Archaeology in the Upper Delaware Valley. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Anthropological Series No. 2. Harrisburg.

Ritchie, William A

1961 A Typology and Nomenclature for New York Projectile Points. New York State Museum and science Service, Bulletin Number 384. Albany, New York.

1969 Archaeology of New York State. Revised Edition, Natural History Press, Garden City, New York.

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

1 comment:

  1. the Orient Fishtail Phase! Just writing up a report on these people that I have found here in Niagara, Ontario