Friday, June 15, 2012

Columbia County

The majority of Columbia County is situated in the Susquehanna Lowland Section of the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province however, a sliver of the central eastern section of the county is included in the Anthracite Valley Section, and a southern portion of the county lies within the Anthracite Upland Section. The North Branch of the Susquehanna River flows east to west across Columbia County effectively bisecting it, with the tributaries of Roaring Creek and Catawissa Creek draining the southern half and Fishing Creek as the predominate tributary draining the county from the north.

Columbia is second only to Sullivan as the county with the fewest number of recorded archaeological sites in Pennsylvania, 37 to be exact as noted in the graphic above. While not every county can boast many hundreds of registered sites, like Lancaster for example, it would seem that Columbia County has disproportionally fallen through the cracks of site recordation. A modest figure (from an archaeologist perspective at least) just 47,832 artifacts make up all the artifacts from Columbia County housed by the Section of Archaeology. One could debate whether this is a result of “uneven” development driven archaeology – apparently little of which has made its way to the Museum’s Section of Archaeology - or whether there are simply fewer sites “in this neck of the woods” to find in the first place. Not surprisingly, more work done in the area could have the potential to address this question.

The Section of Archaeology of The State Museum of Pennsylvania has just seven collections of artifacts from Section 106 compliance projects that represent 14 sites in Columbia County: (4) bridge replacements, (1) municipal airport improvement, (1) telephone co-axial transmission line, and (1) storm sewer project.

The storm sewer project, improvements to Bloomsburg Airport and one of the bridge replacements represent the most recent projects for which the museum has artifact collections. The storm sewer project produced a small low density prehistoric site (36Co31) consisting of less than two dozen pieces of lithic debitage, one utilized flake tool and one fragment of fire-cracked rock or FCR. The bridge replacement project yielded a relatively small historic domestic site (36Co29) dating from the mid 19th through early 20th centuries. Artifacts recovered are typical of the site type including fragments of utilitarian ceramic wares, shards of mold-blown and machine made glass containers and vessels, butchered animal bone, slate pencil fragments, spent ammunition, and miscellaneous architectural/building materials.

field view of Martville Road Historic Site (36Co29)

The survey for the improvements to the Bloomsburg Municipal Airport identified 2 sites, and can best be described by the authors of the report in their abstract as follows, “The testing discovered two sites: a prehistoric site (36Co24) on the T2 terrace, and 36C025 on the T1 terrace, with a small twentieth century historic component associated with the stratified prehistoric deposits. 36Co24 yielded several tools, debitage and a feature which consisted of FCR and utilitzed rounded river cobbles. The site located on the T1 terrace, 36Co25 consisted of a historic component form the mid twentieth century over a multicompent prehistoric stratified site represented by over 1200 artifacts including tools, pieces of debitage, and a chert-tempered prehistoric ceramic sherd.”(Byra and Raber 2003)

A survey for a co-axial telephone line preformed for AT&T in 1982 identified three sites, two mid – late 19th century historic domestic sites (36Co7 and 36Co8) and one prehistoric site (36Co6) that included projectile point basal fragments diagnostic of the Archaic and Late Archaic Periods.

projectile points from the Mifflinville Bridge Replacement Project

Of the final three remaining collections, all bridge replacements, one stands out on the surface simply by the volume of artifacts recovered. The Mifflinville Bridge replacement project (sites 36Co15, 16, 17 and 18) accounts for 94.5% (45,235) of all artifacts the State Museum holds for Columbia County. It was submitted in May of 2010 via a remedial curation agreement between the Museum, PennDoT and IUP for work conducted in 1988. – The Mifflinville Bridge site (36Co17) is notable for its stratified late Middle Archaic components as this time period is rarely preserved in stratified contexts. There were two main occupations dating to 6890+50 and 7900+70 BP. They contained extensive evidence pertaining to diet and lithic technology. Several hearths produced hickory nut fragments and blood residue analysis produced evidence for the exploitation of the American eel and trout. Netsinkers recovered from this occupation support the evidence for fishing at this time.
 Catawissa Bridge Site (36Co9) excavation block

 Also of note is the Catawissa Bridge site, 36Co9. The Catawissa Bridge project recovered a large segment of a Late Woodland Clemson Island hamlet. This site was situated adjacent to a low, swampy section of the floodplain and was repeatedly buried by flood deposits over a 300 year time span. This is one of the few stratified Clemson Island sites and archaeologists were able to trace the evolution of this culture.

Jacobs collection donation

In addition to the CRM projects, a small collection of projectile points from the Ellis Site (36Co12) was generously donated to the museum by a Ms. Dianne Jacobs in 1985. The points seen here are all labeled with the catalog number 1, indicating they were recovered as surface finds, with no other provenience information available, and are most likely the product a relative or herself walking a plowed argricultural field after a hard rain “hunting” for arrowheads. Seen above; the Jacobs donation projectile points range from the Early Archaic at the bottom, through the Late Woodland at the top.

Catawissa Creek rockshelters

Other, more recent contributors to Columbia County archaeology include an avid avocational archaeologist in the region, Del Beck, who has over the past many years surveyed the length of Catawissa Creek in an effort to identify prehistoric rockshelter sites along its steep slopes. Topographic maps, GIS data points, and photographs of eight rockshelters and associated artifacts recovered were sent to the Section of Archaeology by Del to be officially recorded in the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (PASS) this past April. Given the sparse amount of data available for the county, Del’s effort in identifying and documenting no fewer that eight rockshelter sites has made a valuable contribution to preserving the past of this seemingly oft overlooked stretch of Pennsylvania. Thanks Del!

Columbia County Historical Marker

Notwithstanding the low numbers of registered archaeological sites, Columbia County is quite full of history. A brief review of the Bureau for Historic Preservation’s historical marker database lists eight markers that are specific to the county. Of note are three markers for fortified settlements that endured and defended against Indian attack during the War for Independence. The text of the markers for Forts Jenkins, Wheeler and McClue offers a faint glimps of the often violent struggle between Euro-american colonists and the native peoples in the interior of Pennsylvania in the late 18th Century. Interestingly enough, the next two markers (chronologically speaking) are in stark contrast as they highlight the establishment in the region of Quakers – a religious group long noted for their pacifist beliefs – with the construction of a Friends Meeting House in Catawissa c.1790.

(2003) Byra, Patti L. ; Paul A. Raber
Phase I Archaeological Survey Municipal Airport Improvements Bloomsburg, Columbia County, Pennsylvania - manuscript on file at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, Section of Archaeology

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

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