Friday, March 16, 2012

Bradford County

Beautiful Bradford County

Bradford County contains a wealth of archaeological heritage as evidenced in the many sites recorded in this rural county. Situated in the north east corner of Pennsylvania along the New York border, this river valley has been subjected to many floods, the most recent flooding occurred here in the fall of 2011. These repeated floods replenish the soil rendering them ideal for agriculture. Agriculture was the leading industry of Bradford county after 1800, and in the period from 1850-1900 it led the nation in buckwheat production. Other industries included grist mills, lumbering, coal mining and iron ore production, the latter of which depended on the North Branch Canal to transport their goods.

Map of 1916 Susquehanna River Expedition
Bradford County has a rich legacy of archaeological investigations, beginning with Harrison Wright’s 1883 report on a Susquehannock burial ground located on South Main Street in Athens. This work was done under the auspices of the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society, located in Wilkes-Barre. The Susquehanna River Expedition of 1916 is another notable event, with excavations occurring at several Bradford County locales. Warren K. Moorehead led this survey project, which was financed by the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, and sponsored by the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, precursor of today’s Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. This Expedition was focused on surveying Native American sites along the entire length of the Susquehanna from the North Branch to the Chesapeake Bay. The origin of the Susquehanna River is near Cooperstown, New York making it the longest river on the East Coast as it travels 440 miles before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay. The significance of this information is that the river served as a major transportation route not only for Native Americans, but early settlers also depended on the river. All of this activity is supported by the concentration of archaeological sites along the river. Bradford County is 1161sq. miles of which 1,151 square miles are land and 10 square miles (0.89%) is water. Bradford County has 292 archaeological sites; 240 (or 82%) of those sites are recorded in a riverine setting.

SPA MEETING- arrow pointing at James B. Griffin

In 1931, James B. Griffin, who would become one of the most influential archaeologists in North America in the 20th century, also reported on excavations in the Athens area for the Tioga Point Museum. In fact, evidence of Owasco and Susquehannock cultures from the Late Woodland period (800 A.D. – 1500 A.D.) also came to light during construction of the museum in 1897-98. Griffin excavated at the Ahbe-Brennan site (36Br42) in 1931 with oversight by Donald A. Cadzow of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission. Griffin exposed twelve pits identified as hearths and refuse/storage pits. Additional excavations in 1933 recorded an additional ten pits all dating from the Late Woodland and early Contact period. These early surveys and archaeological investigations of Bradford County provided the Commission with site location information which would lead to additional professional excavations for decades to come.

In 1975 the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission returned to the Bradford County area to investigate early Susquehannock sites. A long standing theory is that the Susquehannock culture originated in this part of northern Pennsylvania and was influenced by the Seneca/Cayuga of the western Finger Lakes region of New York. The PHMC’s involvement stemmed from a larger study of Susquehannock Culture History that culminated with publication of SUSQUEHANNA’S INDIANS (Kent 1984).

Five weeks were spent in the field investigating the Kennedy (36BR43) and Blackman (36BR83) sites. PHMC was fortunate to have the assistance of Messrs. Charles Lucy and Elwin Gillette from the Bradford County area. These men graciously provided site information leading up to the PHMC field study. Aided by students from Kings College, under the direction of Leslie Delaney, museum staff archaeologists opened a large section of the Kennedy site where Delaney and his students found evidence of several Susquehannock features the previous year. The 1975 excavation revealed numerous pit features and the post-molds of a longhouse 65 feet in length in an exposed area of excavation totaling 6,750 square feet. The site proved to have a series of multi-component occupations extending back in time from the proto-Contact period to the Late Archaic period. The dominant occupations, however, related to the Early and Middle stages of Owasco culture. Many pit features of this period were clustered in and around the longhouse pattern suggesting contemporaneity. Only slight evidence of a Susquehannock occupation was found.

A short distance down river from the Kennedy site is the Blackman site. Part of the site has been encroached on by a mobile home park in past years. As with Kennedy, the Blackman site is multi-component with diagnostic projectile point types representative of the Late Archaic, Transitional and Late Woodland periods. A large block excavation 8,000 square feet in size was opened by museum staff in the general location where Susquehannock artifacts were exposed after the Agnes flood of 1972.

Blackman excavation map

Intersecting arcs of post-molds were found that formed parts of two palisade lines. Curiously, there were no internal structural features associated with the palisades. Inside and around the palisades were features of various types but none belonged to the Susquehannocks. Instead, most of the pit features were associated with a Proto-Susquehannock occupation at Blackman. These features were generally deep straight-sided pits or straight-sided pits dug through shallower basin-shaped pits that affectionately became known by the field crew as “inverted hat-shaped pits. Both pit types frequently contained lenses of carbonized grass, fire-cracked rock, soil mixed with charcoal and wood ash.

While PHMC archaeologists and local avocational archaeologists have investigated several other Bradford County sites during the last quarter of the twentieth century, it generally seems safe to say that more attention focused on Bradford County 100 years ago (and more) than in the more recent past. That is, until the Marcellus Shale gas drilling boom of the early 21st century. Driven by historic preservation regulations, most importantly, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, more archaeological investigations have been carried out in Bradford County over the past few years than ever before.

For the Federal Fiscal Years (FFY) 2006 through 2008, the Bureau for Historic Preservation (BHP) reviewed 3 archeological projects in Bradford County. In FFY 2009 through 2011, 79 projects were reviewed in the county and in the current FFY there have already been 38 projects reviewed. If this pace continues, an estimated 80 projects could be reviewed in Bradford County this year alone. Since the pace of the gas industry in the Northern Tier continues to increase, we can project over 250 projects over the next three years in Bradford County. With all this work being done, you would expect that the amount of archaeological data coming in to be at the same greatly increased pace. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Marcellus Shale projects are permitted by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the Army Corp of Engineers (Corps), and Commonwealth land holding agencies such as the Game Commission and DCNR. The vast majority of these projects are permitted by the DEP and the Corps on private land. For projects on Commonwealth lands, the BHP has the authority to require survey, but on private land the BHP acts in an advisory capacity to the permitting agencies. For DEP permitted projects without state funding on private land, archaeological survey is the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission under Act 70 of the Pennsylvania History Code. The Commonwealth Archaeology Program was created to do these surveys; however, this program was eliminated as a result of budget cuts in the past decade. As a result, the only archaeological survey being undertaken for Marcellus Shale on private land is under the jurisdiction of Corps permits. These permits are mostly issued for gas gathering lines that run from the gas wells to the interstate transmission pipelines and the permit areas usually extend 100 feet (30 meters) from the edge of wetlands, streams, and rivers. The wells and pads and associated holding ponds are not usually issued Corps permits so they are not surveyed.

Marcellus Shale drilling rig at night

The result of this bureaucratic maze is that even with the large numbers of surveys being undertaken, the areas being surveyed are not very large and they are not necessarily archaeologically sensitive or, using lingua bureaucratica of the BHP, in areas of high probability for archaeological resources.

When the BHP comments on a project, we look at the entire project area regardless of the overlapping agency jurisdictions. For gas lines, we comment on the project area from the beginning to the end and a statement of high probability of archaeological resources speaks to archaeological sensitivity within the project area in its entirety. High probability areas in the Northern Tier include floodplains and floodplain terraces, dry areas within 300 feet of wetlands and streams, hill benches, upland flats (in particular those backed by south facing hill slopes), and saddle depressions. Most sites in this area are found within 300 feet of water sources as mapped on USGS topographical maps; however, these maps do not necessarily catch intermittent and seasonal drainages that may have been utilized by prehistoric and early historic peoples. It also very well may be that proximity to water in itself may not have been as important as other topographic concerns. Since little work has been previously undertaken in most of the Northern Tier counties, much about prehistoric land use is still unknown. In this way, the Marcellus Shale boom has the potential to greatly add to our knowledge of the archaeology of this region if the projects are surveyed in their entirety. This is to say, of course, if the archaeologically sensitive areas are tested. What is being tested, however, is 100 feet from wetlands, streams, and rivers. Many of the areas being tested are narrow stream valleys with recent sediments and wetland margins which are not necessarily archaeologically sensitive. Terraces and hill benches in proximity to these topographic locations may be archaeologically sensitive, but they are not being tested owing to the regulatory framework. Broad floodplains outside of Corps permit areas, in some cases with known archaeological sites, are not being tested for the same reason. For some projects in the uplands, the effort to survey high probability areas would not be much greater than the effort already being undertaken; however, it would be a much better use of time and effort.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention one of those archaeological sites in an upland setting, the site of French Azilum. This is the site of a colony established for refugees from the French Revolution in 1793. Excavations conducted here by the PHMC under the direction of Steve Warfel found evidence of foundations and artifacts dating from that occupation.

We hope that these glimpses into the archaeology of our Commonwealth will inspire you to take an interest in your local archaeological legacy. These resources are Pennsylvania’s heritage and for all of us it is our window into the past. Preservation of these archaeological resources is crucial to our understanding of our past.

A special thanks goes out to this weeks guest bloggers for their contributions!  Mark Shaffer and Steve McDougal are both reviewers in the Bureau for Historic Preservation.

Moorehead, Warren K.
1938 A Report of the Susquehanna River Expedition, Sponsered by The Museum of the American Indian Heye Foundation

Picture of SPA Meeting depicting James B. Griffin, The Pennsylvannia Archaeologist Bulletin of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Volume 3 Number 1, May 1932

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

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