Friday, August 31, 2012

Franklin County's Archaeological Heritage

This week our county by county archaeological heritage tour takes us to Franklin County in the South Central region of the state, on the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. This area has been occupied for thousands of years as indicated by the recorded archaeological sites in the Pennsylvania Site Survey (PASS) files. There are 773 square miles in Franklin County with a significant number of sites recorded, 434, which equates to one site for every 1.175 square miles. Fifty-eight percent of the sites for which dates could be determined were assigned to the Middle Archaic through the Transitional period (2,700-9,000 years ago. The other concentrated time-period is the Late Woodland (450-1,100 years ago) for which fifty-nine sites or thirty-nine percent of the sites were designated to this period. What drew prehistoric peoples to this area as early as the Paleoindian Period (10,000 – 16,500 years ago)? Let’s take a closer look at the environment of Franklin County.
Southern Portion of the Tuscarora Path

Located within the Valley and Ridge Province, and more specifically the Great Valley Province it is part of a 900- mile corridor extending north to south (New York to Alabama). Several foot paths pass through the county, including the Tuscarora Path. The Tuscarora Path is believed to have been utilized by the Tuscarora Indians when they relocated from North Carolina to Pennsylvania and into their present homelands in western New York. The Conococheague Creek flows into the Potomac River just over the state line in Williamsport, Maryland. Known for its trout and bass fishing today, this stream and others provided a food source for prehistoric peoples as well. Forests comprised of oak, chestnut, hickory, pine, elm and beech provided shelter for bear, deer, turkey and other food sources such as nuts and berries. Finally, raw material for the production of stone tools is an important factor in determining prehistoric settlement. In Franklin County, at least one chert quarry has been identified but the largest source of raw material is the Catoctin metarhyolite quarries located along the border with Adams County. These quarries were used heavily beginning over 9500 years ago during the early Archaic period and metarhyolite from these quarries is found in almost every county in the Commonwealth. All of these attributes were important elements in Native American lifeways and contributed to the early settlement of this area.

Profiles of Feature 5

Archaeology conducted in the late 1990’s for a waterline project by Ecoscience, Inc. at Antietam Terrace site (36Fr357), yielded five fire cracked rock hearth features containing both carbonized and uncarbonized remains which were further analyzed. Radio carbon testing of carbonized materials produced dates ranging from the Archaic Period through the Contact Period, approximately 450 years ago. Carbonized botanical remains included huckleberry and pine seed, oak, buckeye, Osage orange, and willow/cottonwood, and pine charcoals were also recovered. Osage orange wood was and is used for bow making and for yellow dye. This sample was recovered from the charred remains of feature 5 which was carbon dated to 1425-1650 AD. Native range of growth is far south of here though in Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas, although it has been introduced and has adapted to other environments across the United States, including Pennsylvania (C. Johnson personal correspondence 2012). Its presence here indicates it was acquired through long distance trade. Uncarbonized remains from a Late Woodland feature produced a variety of plant seeds including strawberry, raspberry, elderberry and grape. Mint was also identified in one of these features. Tool making activities were also evident in some features in the form of flakes and debitage of quartz, metarhyolite, jasper and chert. Archaeologists surmised that this was a multi-component site where multiple activities occurred. Three distinct areas of activity were defined; tool maintenance and recycling, lithic waste sweepings or dump area, and a habitation area devoid of waste materials. One feature was also identified as a possible production area for dugout canoes. Rhyolite adzes and picks found in this area along with an elongated deep pit which allowed for slower burning were pointed to as indicators of canoe production activities. The archaeology conducted at this site provided valuable information in understanding prehistoric activities in the area.

Members from Chapter 27 of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology (SPA) have been conducting an investigation at Ebbert Spring (36Fr367) since 2003 and have also recovered evidence of activities from the Paleoindian period through the Late Woodland period. A detailed analysis of the pottery recovered was prepared for publication in the SPA journal (SPA Vol. 80, No. 1)  by Ron Powell, a member of this chapter. Powell identified pottery from multiple cultural time periods indicating repeated episodes of camp use at Ebbert Spring. The earliest vessel forms identified were steatite or soapstone fragments dating from the Late Archaic/Transitional period. Additional pottery fragments dating from the Early Woodland (2,100 to 2,700 years ago) through the Late Woodland were examined. Powell recorded attributes from 14,796 sherds examining traits such as temper, cordage twist, and surface treatment in identifying the culture groups represented. This is an excellent example of a professional level excavation being conducted by avocational archaeologists. This chapter is to be applauded for their excavation methods, analysis and timely reporting of their findings.


This environment that had supported prehistoric peoples for thousands of years also appealed to Europeans who began settling in Franklin County by the 1730’s. Early roads were established and activities such as farming began to emerge. Farming created the need for mills to process grains and roads to transport these goods. By 1755 when Colonel James Burd was commissioned to open a military supply route from Carlisle westward to Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh), a portion of road was already in place from Shippensburg (Cumberland County) to the area of St. Thomas, Franklin County . The British plan to control a fort at Pittsburgh was squelched by the French defeat of General Braddock at Fort Duquesne, but this event only prompted further action by the British to establish additional forts along the western frontier.

Fort Loudoun was constructed in 1756 as a provincial supply fort, the southernmost fort in a line of defense erected that year at the base of the Appalachian Mountains. Fort Loudoun was established on the abandoned farmstead of Matthew Patton, whose house and barn were destroyed in Indian raids in 1755. Patton had begun construction of a new home which was not burned in the raids and was utilized by Colonel John Armstrong in erecting suitable quarters for men and supplies at Fort Loudoun.

Foundation of Patton's House after excavation

Archaeology conducted by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in the late 1970’s and early 80’s uncovered portions of Patton’s unfinished house, used by Armstrong, which had been filled with fort period artifacts. Further archaeology revealed a line of wooden posts and a gap in post line indicated the location of the gate. Also discovered was Patton’s original house identified by the charred remains and pre-fort period artifacts. The excavations also uncovered a well in the southwest corner of the fort. This well provided a protected source of drinking water for the troops and was an important component of 18th century fort construction. Artifacts recovered from the well indicate that filling occurred shortly after the fort was abandoned in 1765. Analysis of these artifacts provided a clearer picture of the daily activities of soldiers in the fort. The wet environment of this well helped to preserve organic materials such as a wooden bucket, leather shoe parts, and wooden tools. You can see the wooden bucket currently on display at The State Museum of Pennsylvania on the second floor in our exhibit about the archaeology being conducted at Fort Hunter Mansion and Park.

Bucket and axe recovered from well at Fort Loudoun

Entrance to Fort Hunter Exhibit at The State Museum of Pennsylvania

Speaking of Fort Hunter, next week we will begin transporting equipment and preparing the site for our annual excavation at this French & Indian War period site. This year we will continue excavating the well and are hopeful that we will recover artifacts dating to the fort’s occupation. The public is invited to stop by and check out our progress, we excavate from 9 to 4, Monday through Friday- weather permitting. There are two public event days on the weekend where we are also on site these dates are September 16th and October 7th. We hope you can come out for these events and support the archaeology of our community.

Our booth at Kipona- Vist us this year from September 1st throught 3rd

If you can’t stop out to Fort Hunter to see us, maybe you can come to City Island this weekend and sit in the dugout canoe. Archaeologists and volunteers from the Archaeology Section of The State Museum, the folks who write this blog, will be on hand with our dugout, stone tools used in creating this marvel, and an exhibit of the artifacts excavated in the 1990’s on City Island. This is your chance to sit in an authentic replica of a Native American dugout canoe and view the spectacular projectile points recovered in these excavations. We can be found on the back side of the baseball stadium near the Native American Pow-Wow festival.

We hope you have enjoyed this trip through time into the archaeology of Franklin County and that you will continue to support our activities as we work to preserve our past for the future.

Bulgrin, Lon E., M.A. and JoEllen Burkholder, M.A.

Phase III Mitigation of the Washington Township Proposed Municipal Authority Waterline and Treatment Plant Site. The Antietam Terrace Site, 36Fr357, Franklin County, Pennsylvania, July, 1997. Prepared for Washington Township Municipal Authority, Waynesboro, PA. Report submitted by Ecoscience, Inc.

Powell, Ronald D.

An Analysis and Study of Prehistoric Pottery Found at The Ebbert Spring Site- 36Fr367. Unpublished manuscript on file at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. 2010.

Warfel, Stephen G.

Historical Archaeology at Fort Loudoun, video script on file at The State Museum of Pennsylvania, 1991.

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

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