This week, our travels through the archaeology of Pennsylvania’s counties take us to Indiana County located in the western-central region of the state. We have the privilege of introducing the newest member of our staff, Callista Holmes. Calli joined our staff in early November as a lab assistant. She is a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania and is enrolled in the Master’s program in Applied Archaeology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania For this blog, she solicited help from her former adviser, Dr. Beverly Chiarulli.
As part of the Pittsburgh/Laurel Highlands area, the landscape is characterized by narrow, shallow valleys and numerous water sources. The county is primarily within the Ohio Drainage Basin but the eastern edge is drained by the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. The main rivers include the Conemaugh, the Redbank and the Kiskiminetas. Many of these rivers and creeks have large flood plains, which offer prime locations for prehistoric and historic sites. Indiana County contains a relatively high density of archaeological sites at 1 site per 1.85 square miles with a total of 448 recorded sites.
Much of Indiana County is underlain by Pennsylvania age (290–323 million years) sedimentary rocks including sandstone, shale, siltstone, limestone and coal formations (Williams and McElroy 1997; Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 1990). The main lithic resources for the manufacture of stone tools are chert. Some of the more local sources include Monongahela, Uniontown and Ten Mile cherts, while the sources further away include Onondaga, Upper Mercer and Flint Ridge.
The geology of Indiana County also includes rich deposits of coal, which led to the significant coal industry in Indiana County and much of western Pennsylvania. A large number of strip mines and small towns supporting the mines dotted the landscape of Indiana County from the early nineteenth century through much of the twentieth century (Indiana University of Pennsylvania Libraries). Today many of the towns that were built around the coal mining industry have gone into decline, but the development of these mines and towns, as well as the hard work of Indiana County coal miners have led to overall development of the county.
Since 2000, Drs. Beverly Chiarulli and Sarah Neusius of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Anthropology Department have investigated Late Prehistoric Period sites (A.D. 1000‐1500) in Indiana and surrounding counties. The Late Prehistoric or Late Woodland period was the time when Native groups in Pennsylvania established villages and began to grow crops such as maize (corn), beans, and squash as the mainstay of their diet. While past archaeological research suggested that the central Allegheny River Valley (including Indiana County) was uninhabited during this time period, the investigations by IUP archaeologists have found there were a large number of villages in this region along the tributaries of the Allegheny River (Johnson 1999, 2001; Chiarulli and Neusius 2007). In the three tributary watersheds that cross Indiana County (the Conemaugh‐Blacklick, Loyalhanna‐Blackleggs Creek, and Crooked Creek) there are more than 40 known villages. In all of western Pennsylvania, there are only 200 recorded villages, so 20% of the Late Prehistoric villages are in this small part of the Commonwealth.
The goals of the IUP Late Prehistoric Project have been to reconstruct these Late Prehistoric settlement systems. It is often difficult to envision how Pennsylvania looked a thousand years ago, because the landscape today is so different from what it was in the past. Dense forests covered western Pennsylvania before the arrival of European settlers in the 1760s. Today, most of these forests have disappeared as they have been cut down to create space for farms, towns and cities. These forests have disappeared, except in the descriptions of these early settlers and today, for example, only 36 percent of Indiana County is covered by stands of second and third growth forest.
One interesting part of this research has focused on the different Late Prehistoric cultures in the northern and southern part of the county. The villages in southern Indiana County in the Conemaugh-Blacklick watershed are part of the Monongahela culture found throughout southwestern Pennsylvania. The villages in the northern part of the county in the Crooked Creek watershed are part of a different cultural group. In both areas, the villages consist of stockade surrounding a ring of houses and a large open central plaza. The main differences in the groups are in the different types of pottery they made. In the Crooked Creek watershed, most of the IUP investigations have focused on the Mary Rinn site and the Carl Fleming site. In the Conemaugh watershed, we have examined the Johnston site, the Walnut Hill site (36In0006), and the Squirrel Hill site (on the south side of the Conemaugh River in Westmoreland County).
Typical Monongahela Tradition Village Shape and Layout (From Powell Site)
The Mary Rinn Site in the Crooked Creek Watershed
The Mary Rinn Site was investigated in the 1970s and 1980s by field schools from IUP directed by Virginia Gerald and in 2000 by Drs. Sarah and Phil Neusius. Recent investigations have been conducted by Graduate Student Donna Smith who has included a ground penetrating radar survey of the site as part of her Masters Thesis research. The site is located on a terrace along Crooked Creek. In the early IUP field schools, Gerald identified a possible house, a stockade, and other post enclosed features.
One advantage of conducting research at a university that has been interested in the local archaeology is that we have access to artifacts that were collected in the 1970s and 1980s. During the past several years, we have been able to reanalyze these collections and even send samples for botanical analysis and radiocarbon dating. Before the start of the Late Prehistoric Project, none of the sites in Indiana County had been dated. Now, we have more than 60 standard and AMS dates from these sites and those from the surrounding counties.
IUP Students Mapping the Mary Rinn Site
For the Mary Rinn Site, we continued our investigations of the collection curated at IUP by sending flotation samples from some of Gerald’s features and those from Smith’s investigations to Dr. Jack Rossen of Ithaca College for analyses. One of the samples he analysed was made of the remains of branches used as firewood and was primarily white oak, hickory, maple (Acer sp.), and black walnut (Juglans nigra), This sample also contained two tropical domesticates (maize and gourd) and also included seeds of two possible species from the Eastern Agricultural Complex, marshelder and maygrass as well as seeds from wild plants, sumac and purslane and hickory nuts. The Eastern Agricultural Complex includes native plants from the upper Ohio Valley that were domesticated. Maize, beans, tobacco, and gourds are considered “tropical” domesticates because they are native to Mexico and were first domesticated there and then spread throughout North America.
Donna Smith Excavating at the Mary Rinn Site (October 2011)
According to Rossen (May 2009) marshelder is a plant with nutritious oily seeds that has a long history of utilization throughout the eastern U.S. woodlands (Asch and Asch 1985; Yarnell 1978). It came under cultivation sometime during the Late Archaic or Early Woodland period, as indicated by gradual but large increases in seed length and its archaeological occurrence in large caches (Yarnell 1978). After A.D. 1000, marshelder was still used by some groups in the Midwest and eastern US. Since the Mary Rinn sample is far outside the plant’s natural range it should be considered a cultivated specimen.
We now have four dates for the Mary Rinn Site (. One was from the 2000 IUP Field School, two are standard dates from features excavated by Gerald (F211 and F227) and one is an AMS date of a maize sample from the botanical analysis. The maize date is the most recent and dates to approximately A.D. 1250. This date overlaps with the other three from the site, although it is at the end of their range. While it is the latest date from Mary Rinn, it is the earliest date on maize that we have from any of the Late Prehistoric project sites.
Mary Rinn ceramics are predominately limestone tempered although there is also grit and quartz tempered examples. IUP now has the collections from Gerald’s investigations as well as a large collection known as the Boyer collection that was donated to the university by a local collector in the 1960s. Rims are commonly straight and decorations can include incisions and punctuations. Incisions can be straight, horizontal or oblique lines.
Ceramic Vessel from the Mary Rinn Site
Investigations of the Johnston Site (36In002) in the Conemaugh Watershed
The Johnston site is located on the first terrace of the Conemaugh River south of Blairsville, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Discovered by Ralph Solecki of the Smithsonian River Basin Survey in October 1950 in advance of the construction of the Conemaugh Dam, this site was quickly recognized as an important Late Prehistoric, Monongahela village. Excavations by Dr. Don Dragoo of the Carnegie Museum in 1952 revealed two to four parallel stockades encircling a village which measured approximately 450 feet in diameter. Circular house structures averaging 20 feet across with and without attached storage structures were found in a ring around a central plaza typical of Monongahela Villages (Means 2007). Large quantities of shell-tempered ceramics, lithic artifacts, many bone tools especially bone beads, cannel coal objects, discoidals, faunal remains and other artifacts were recovered in these excavations (Dragoo 1956, Guilday 1956 ). Dragoo’s assemblages are curated at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
Dragoo estimated that 150-225 individuals lived at this village, and determined that the village was primarily occupied in the late sixteenth century. Subsequent studies of Dragoo’s Johnston ceramic assemblage along with materials from the McJunkin site led to the identification of a Late Middle Monongahela Johnston Phase dating from ca AD 1450-1590 (George 1977; Johnson and Means 2007). The primary defining characteristic of this phase is the presence of McFate Incised ware and Conemaugh Cord-Impressed sherds among typical Monongahela ceramic types. Unlike other Monongahela Tradition ceramic assemblages, high frequencies of the Johnston sherds are believed to have been marked with final S-twist cordage. Some discussions have suggested that the Johnston Phase represents an amalgamation of “McFate people” and “Mononghaela people” (Johnson 2001: 71-72) and even that one portion of the village at Johnston might have been where McFate as opposed to people of Monongahela ethnicity actually resided (George 1997).
As part of the IUP Late Prehistoric Project, Chiarulli and Neusius wanted to document the location of the Johnston site, and their investigations found that it was intact, with the old plowzone encountered by Dragoo buried under nearly one meter of recent alluvium. These alluvial deposits apparently are the result of flood episodes since the construction of the Conemaugh dam. The initial test pits dug in 2005 yielded the first radiocarbon date from the site. This date (Beta 206279) was 630 + 40 BP or Cal AD 1290-1410, was substantially earlier than the presumed late sixteenth century date for the site as well as earlier than the defined beginning of the Johnston Phase. While analysis of the 2012 field season is still underway, the 2010 fieldschool has lead to an increased understanding of the site.
Photo of 2010 IUP Field School Excavations (Photo by Seth Mitchell)
The IUP 2010 Investigations
The 2010 field school included eight weeks of excavation between May and July, 2010. We have completed a preliminary catalogue of the 2010 artifacts, finished flotation of most of the feature samples, obtained additional AMS radiocarbon dates, and had additional botanical samples analyzed by Dr. Jack Rossen of Ithaca College. Two graduate students have complete MA theses on analysis of material from the Johnston site. Seth Mitchell (2011) analyzed rimsherds from all the IUP investigations and compared these to Dragoo’s published material and Lisa Dugas (2011) analyzed bone tools from the site for a comparison of assemblages from other Monongahela villages. Current MA student, Laura Kaufman, is comparing the condition of faunal material from the IUP and Dragoo excavations to determine if the material has deteriorated during the past 50 years for her thesis. Two undergraduate honors theses have also used material from the Johnston investigations. Michael Deemer (2012) investigated the use of heat treatment of chert at the site through a comparison of experimentally heated samples and Jordon Galentine (2012) compared rim styles from the Johnston site with sites in the Crooked Creek watershed.
Dragoo’s excavations at the Johnston Site
The 2010 excavations, to the east of the 2008 block, traced the easternmost of the two stockades we had previously identified as well as the stockade trench to the southeast This stockade is now identified as Stockade 1(it was the first stockade identified) and the stockade line to the west of this is designated Stockade 2. Most importantly, the units to the east of Stockade 1 encountered a large number of features including many post molds and possible house structures. Excavations approximately a meter to the east of Stockade 1 documented a third line of posts, which, though small, may represent a third stockade line. This newly discovered stockade is designated as Stockade 3. A recent analysis of AMS and standard radiocarbon dates from the stockades suggests that stockades 1 and 2 may date as early as the Kiskimentas Phase of the Early Monongahela Period (A.D. 1150-1290) while Stockade 3 dates to the Middle Monongahela Johnston Phase (Neusius and Chiaurlli 2012).
Comparison of Dragoo’s excavations and IUP 2008 Excavations (note the increase in deposition covering the site Dragoo photos courtesy of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History)
We were not able to investigate the western portion of the village during the 2010 field school. However, in the fall of 2010, Seth Mitchell, one of the graduate students initiated investigations of the western side of the village by excavating four shovel tests based on the results of Sagi’s (2009) highest phosphate and magnetic susceptibility readings. These appeared to correlate with the location of the domestic ring on the western edge of the village plaza. This approach proved productive and one of the initial shovel tests encountered obvious features beneath the alluvium. This shovel test pit was expanded to a two meter square which revealed a number of postholes and one side of a post enclosed pit. Botanical analysis of material from a flotation sample from this feature (FT 244) has been completed, and a single fourteenth century AMS date obtained from a maize kernel was obtained.
Mitchell’s (2011) results provide us with an indication of the location of the western side of the village. Several lines of evidence suggest that there are differences between the material we have recovered and the Dragoo ceramic sample. Mitchell’s analysis examined only the rim sherds and identified 169 individual vessels. He found that the ceramic types in the IUP assemblage are generally consistent with Dragoo’s sample with a few significant differences. The major difference is that some of the Middle and Early Woodland and the distinctive McFate Incised types are not present in the IUP sample. Mitchell suggests that the difference could result from a later occupation in the western part of the village.
lower left image: Monongahela house reconstruction on City Island by PHMC
New dates from the IUP investigations continue to differ from the traditional wisdom about this site. Even when we look only at the thirteen calibrated AMS dates we have obtained from botanical remains, there is a longer time span than the late fifteenth through sixteenth centuries. The dates come from two separate laboratories, Beta Analytic and the Illinois Geological Survey and are in general agreement about the time span. Both the fourteenth and the fifteenth centuries are well represented in this sequence of dates, and a sixteenth century occupation less well documented by the intercepts for our dates. Moreover, the single date we now have from the west side is a fourteenth century date. Thus, we cannot conclude that most of Dragoo’s excavations were parts of the site occupied later than the eastern area where our excavations have concentrated. Even with the presence of McFate Incised ceramics, our present conclusion is that the site was occupied between AD 1250 and 1600.
Botanical Analyses of the Johnston Site
Since 2006, we have had botanical analyses conducted on samples by Dr. DeeAnn Wymer of Bloomsburg University and her students and Dr. Jack Rossen of Ithaca College. Dr. Wymer has examined 12 samples and Dr. Rossen has examined 11 samples. The samples show that the Johnston site residents were farmers who relied on both tropical and native cultigens (maize, gourd, bean, maygrass, erect knotweed). Like Mary Rinn, the Johnston site is among the northernmost sites to contain seeds of the “Eastern Agricultural Complex,” which was really a horticultural or house gardening suite of plants. Nutshell and wild plant seeds are also present in low frequencies (Rossen 2010).
Beans are relatively rare in archaeological sites in Pennsylvania and seem to have arrived in Pennsylvania later than the other domesticated plants like maize and gourds. Two fragmentary beans were recovered from one of the post enclosed pits at the Johnston site. Plants from the Eastern Agricultural Complex were also recovered from the Johnston site and include the seeds of two plants, maygrass and erect knotweed. Wymer and Stenhilper’s analysis found similar results, although their analysis of material from the stockade trench and one of the post enclosed pits identified additional species, like tobacco. Nutshell for these three features is represented mostly by Carya (hickory) and Juglandaceae (walnut family) specimens with some possible Quercus (oak acorn). As expected from a substantial Late Prehistoric village site, maize (Zea mays) was present and was recovered from feature contexts. These specimens included fragmented kernels, intact and partial cupules, minute cob fragments, glumes, and cob fragments with attached cupules. A few carbonized seeds were recovered from these samples and represent species in the fruit/berry, grass/weedy and cultivated categories (see Table 7 Slide 30).
Each year as we analyze more data from the Late Prehistoric Project sites, we gain new insights on these settlements in Indiana County. This year, by combining data from excavations to provide context, botanical analyses and AMS radiocarbon dates for the botanicals, I believe we have begun to address some of the questions related to the use of tropical domesticates (like maize, beans, and gourds), and the relationship between these food sources and the major changes in climate that occurred during the medieval warm period prior to A.D. 1300 and the following “Little Ice Age” from A.D. 1300-1450.
To that end, we now have botanical samples from 7 sites (36Wm477, 36In0002, 36In059, 36In362, 36In160, 36In026, and 36In29 are part of the IUP Late Prehistoric investigation. We plan to include eastern agricultural complex species as well as domesticates like tobacco and continue dating maize from additional sites.
These botanical analyses also show the connections between the sites and the ancient forests in that the wood samples identified in the botanical analyses reflect the composition of those forests. One of the reasons we see the continued reuse of site locations is because these are places that are not covered by thick ancient forests. Whether because of the natural setting or the loss of trees due to lightning strikes, it seems likely that villages are located again and again in the same locations because these were the locations that did not have to be cleared.
The Indiana County Frontier
Our initial interpretation of a frontier between these two watersheds developed from several observations. The first is that previous researchers such as Johnson and George have described the Late Woodland or Late Prehistoric sites along the Conemaugh Blacklick and Crooked Creek as being part of distinct cultural traditions. Sites along the Conemaugh Blacklick, like the Johnson Site (36In2) and the Squirrel Hill Site have been identified as part of the Monongahela Cultural Tradition found in southwestern Pennsylvania and actually have been used to define one of the Monongahela Phases, the Johnston Phase (AD 1450-1590) (George 1977; Johnson 2001). The Monongahela Tradition is commonly referred to as part of the Late Prehistoric tradition which implies that it is related to groups from the same time period to the west in the Ohio Valley.
The Johnston Phase is also thought to be distinct from other Monongahela phases in that it shows connections to the McFate Cultures found in Northwestern Pennsylvania. The Crooked Creek sites are defined as Late Woodland cultures and are thought to show a stronger connection to sites to the north along the Allegheny River, especially the Fishbasket sites along Redbank Creek excavated by Ken Burkett (see the Armstrong County blog) So we start with a situation in which previous researchers have defined distinct cultural traditions located about 20 miles apart (based on the distance between the main streams).
Funding to support this research has been provided by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Anthropology Department, IUP College of Humanities and Social Sciences, and University Senate Research Program, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration Transportation Enhancement Program.
Special thanks to the US Army Corps of Engineers, Pittsburgh District, especially Deborah Campbell, Norrice King, and Paul Toman for permission to investigate the Johnston Site in 2010. Special thanks are also made to the dozens of IUP students who participated in field schools in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010 and other IUP faculty and staff members including Dr. Philip Neusius and Dr. Ben Ford for their assistance with various aspects of this project.
Chairulli, Beverly A.
2005 New Research on the Late Prehistoric Cultures of Indiana County: The Carl Fleming Site (36IN26). Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Morgantown, Pennsylvania April 23.
2001 Prehistoric Settlement Patterns in Upland Settings: An Analysis of Site Data in Watershed D (Conemaugh River-Black Lick Creek). In Prehistoric Settlement Patterns in Upland Settings: An Analysis of Site Data in a Sample of Exempted Watersheds. Report prepared for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Bureau of Historic Preservation.
Chiarulli, Beverly A. and Sarah W. Neusius
2010 Report on the 2008 Archaeological Investigations and Proposed 2010 Investigations at the Johnston Site (36IN2), Indiana County, Pennsylvania. 1-60
2009 Preliminary Report on the 2008 Excavations at the Johnston Site (36In2). Prepared for the USACE Pittsburgh District 2008 Excavations at the Johnston Site (36In2) Indiana County, Pennsylvania
2008 Report on the 2006 Archaeological Investigations and Proposed 2008 Investigations at the Johnston Site (36In2), Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Report submitted to the Pittsburgh District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, April.
2007 New Dates from the IUP Late Prehistoric Project. Paper given at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Allentown, PA.
2004 Late Woodland/Late Prehistoric Settlement in the Central Allegheny Valley. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Pennsylvania
2012 Thermal Alteration At The Johnston Site. A Thesis Submitted to the Department of AnthropologyIn Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Honors Degree Bachelor of Arts
1956 Excavations at the Johnston Site, Indiana County, Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 69(1): 1-96.
2011 Monongahela Bone Technology: A Zooarchaeological Approach To Identity. MA thesis submitted to the School of Graduate Studies and Research. Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Espino, Jason, A. Boon, A. Brown, C. Holmes
2012 Analysis of Lithic and Ceramic Artifacts from Select Excavation Units at the Hatfield Site (36WH678): Modeling Lithic Procurement Patterns and Measuring Ceramic Variation. Electronic document, http://www.orgsites.com/pa/alleghenychapter/Analysis_of_Lithic_and_Ceramic_
Artifacts_from_Select_Units_at_the_Hatfield_Site.pdf, Accessed November 29, 2012.
George, Richard L.
2007 Further Discussion of Drew Tradition Radiocarbon Dates, Migration, Mea Culpa, Etc. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 77(2): 70-75.
1997 McFate Artifacts in a Monongahela Context: McJunkin, Johnson, and Squirrel Hill. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 67(1): 35-44
1978 The McJunkin Site: A Preliminary Report. Pennsylvania Archaeologist 48(4): 33-47.
2012 A Ceramics Analysis Of Crooked Creek Watershed Sites And The Johnston Site. A Thesis Submitted to the Department of AnthropologyIn Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Honors Degree Bachelor of Arts.
Guilday, John E.
1956 Animal Remains from an Indian Village Site, Indiana County, Pennsylvania.Pennsylvania Archaeologist 69(1): 1-96.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania Libraries
Coal Culture Timeline. Electronic document, http://www.iup.edu/page.aspx?id=85782, Accessed November 29, 2012.
Johnson, William C.
2001 The Protohistoric Monongahela and the Case for an Iroquois Connection. Societies in Eclipse, Archaeology of the Eastern Woodlands Indians, A.D. 1400-1700. Smithsonian Institution Press.
Johnson, William C. and Bernard Means
2007 The Monongahela Tradition of the Late Prehistoric and Protohistoric Periods, A.D. 1150-1635 in the Upper Ohio River Valley
2007 Circular Villages of the Monongahela Tradition. University of Alabama Press: Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
2011 Understanding the Occupational History of the Monongahela Johnston Village Site Through Total Artifact Design. MA thesis submitted to the School of Graduate Studies and Research. Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Neusius, Sarah W. and Beverly A. Chiarulli
2012 Dating the Late Pre-Contact Period in Central Western Pennsylvania. Society for American Archaeology Annual Meeting
2009 More New Perspectives on the Johnston Site : The 2008 Excavations Paper presented at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for Pennsylvania Archaeology, Harrisburg, PA, April 5.
Neusius, Sarah W. and Beverly A. Chiarulli
2007a New Dates from the IUP Late Prehistoric Project. Poster presented in the poster session “What Happened After AD 1000? Recent Research in the Upper Ohio Watershed” Society for American Archaeology, Austin, Texas, April, 2007
Neusius, Sarah W. and Beverly A. Chiarulli
2007b Burying the Past: Observations on Unintentional Site Reburial at the Johnston Site, Indiana Cty, PA. Workshop on Intentional Burial of Archaeological Sites, Pennsylvania Archaeological Council Workshop, Allentown, PA.
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR)
2000 Landforms of Pennsylvania: From Map 13, Physiographic Provinces of Pennsylvania. Electronic document, http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/topogeo/map13/map13.aspx, Accessed November 29, 2012.
Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR)
1990 Geology of Pennsylvania: From Map 7, Geologic Map of Pennsylvania. Electronic document, http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/topogeo/maps/map7.pdf, Accessed November 29, 2012.
2009 Measuring Human Activity Levels at the Johnston Site. B.A. Honor’s Thesis. Department of Anthropology Indiana University of Pennsylvania
United States Census Bureau
2012 Indiana County of Pennsylvania, State and County Quickfacts. Electronic Document, http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/42/42063.html, Accessed November 29, 2012.
Williams, D. R.; McElroy, T. A.
1997 Water resources of Indiana County, Pennsylvania. U.S. Geologic Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 95-4164.
For more information, visit PAarchaeology.state.pa.us or the Hall of Anthropology and Archaeology at The State Museum of Pennsylvania .