Friday, March 15, 2013

Mifflin County- In the Heart of the Ridge & Valley Province

This week our journey by county through the archaeology of Pennsylvania takes us to Mifflin County(MI) in central Pennsylvania. This county is in the middle of the Appalachian Mountain section of the Ridge and Valley physiographic province. This province is a belt of long, narrow wooded ridges and broad agricultural valleys that sweep diagonally through central Pennsylvania. The county’s defined boundaries reflect this topography. The county lies within the Susquehanna River drainage and is drained by the Juniata River.    The major tributary is the Kishacoquillas Creek. 

The ridges are comprised primarily of sandstone while the valley areas are chiefly limestone bedrock. A significant number of caves, 59, have been recorded and are mainly located along the northwestern end of the Kishacoquillas Valley and scattered in the valley between Jacks and Shade Mountains. The main lithic resources are Shriver chert, found just to the north in Snyder County and  Bedford chert found to the south. Metarhyolite is also common and originates in the South Mountain  quarries in Franklin and Adams counties.

The county has a relatively low density of archaeological sites and very few have been tested.  Eighty-four percent of the sites recorded are from the prehistoric period with every cultural time period represented, from Paleoindian (16,500-10,000 years ago) through the Late Woodland (1,100- 450 years ago). Systematic surveys conducted in 1976/ 1977 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) provided information for some of the first sites recorded in this county.  Working with collectors and their knowledge of the local terrain, several significant sites were recorded and provided previously unknown culture data for the Juniata Valley, which was beneficial in analyzing settlement patterns.      
A recent archaeological investigation conducted by Heberling & Associates for the Lewistown Narrows project on S.R. 022 has provided archaeologists with a better understanding of lithic resources utilized in Mifflin County. The Lewistown Narrows are identified as a gap cut by the Juniata River through Shade and Blue mountains. Site 36MI92 is located on a terrace at the western end of the Narrows above the Juniata River.  This location places it along an important transportation route utilized by Native peoples for thousands of years.      
Climatic changes which occurred approximately 4,000 years ago created warm, dry conditions and a shift in food procurement.  At the end of the Late Archaic (4,300 years ago) we begin to see small garden plots of squash cultivated by Native peoples.  This continues into the Transitional and Early Woodland Period (4,300-2,100 years ago) and intensifies as population increases and the nut-bearing forests produce less nuts and oaks fewer acorns. Archaeology conducted at other sites within the Juniata River Valley indicate that this region was not as affected by increased temperature and dry conditions as other areas of Pennsylvania (Raber). This may be a factor in the settlement patterns and use of this valley during a period when other areas were experiencing environmental stresses.      
The artifact assemblage recovered from 36MI92 was relatively small (511) which allowed for detailed lithic analysis of these artifacts.  The collection is comprised primarily of lithic debitage. Debitage     is the waste material produced in the process of making chipped stone tools, projectile points and scrapers are two examples of stone tools. Diagnostic tools of rhyolite and chert representing the early Middle   Archaic period (6,000-9,000 years ago) through the Late Archaic (4,300- 6,000 years ago) were recovered.
Projectile points recovered from 36MI92

 These artifacts are similar in cultural time period to those recovered just a few miles north at 36Ju104 which was also investigated during this transportation project.  36Ju104 was identified as a temporary camp utilized during long-distance and local travel through the region for procurement of lithic resources to replenish stone tool kits. Occupation during these episodes would last for a few days and  would most frequently occur during the end of the Early Archaic (9,000-10,000 years ago) and the beginning of the Middle Archaic period.   In contrast, 36Mi92 yielded evidence of a camp occupied for a period of weeks by small nuclear or extended families, possibly during spring or summer.  The location of this site at the western end of the Narrows allowed for greater access to a variety of resources.  The other notable difference observed was in tool production.  The debitage recovered at 36MI92 indicates that activities related to tool manufacture likely occurred elsewhere where local cherts were utilized; as opposed to tool maintenance activities as indicated in the debitage recovered at 36Ju104. 

Heberling’s report examined settlement patterns in the Lewistown Narrows, specifically focusing on the Early and Middle Archaic periods. Heberling observed the role that the topography may have played in the procurement and settlement.  They suggest that “ the Narrows provided a connection between two parallel systems of settlement, one focused on the Juniata/Kishacoquillas drainage to the west, the other on the Juniata/Tuscarora drainage to the east.”    Base camps whose function was similar to 36Mi92 likely later developed into the Late Woodland villages and Contact period towns of the 17th and 18th centuries.  

Kishacoquilla a Shawnee chief lived at the Indian village, Ohesson, at the confluence of present day Kishacoquillas Creek and the Juniata River.  An interpretation of the word by Heckewelder identifies this as an altered form of Gischichgakwalis meaning “the snakes are already in their dens” but no further explanation of this interpretation is provided. Historic documents place a Shawnee village of 20 families here as early as 1731.  Kishacoquilla was present at the signing of a Treaty of Friendship in Philadelphia in 1739.  He reportedly died in 1754, just before the French and Indian War would come to Mifflin County.  

Fort Granville was located just south of present day Lewistown. It was garrisoned from January 1756 until its burning in July of 1756.  George Croghan erected this fortification under orders of the Provincial Commissioners.  The orders specified for Croghan “to erect stockades fifty feet square with a block-house on two of the corners, and a barrack within, capable of lodging fifty men.” (Hunter) Fort Granville was one of three forts designated as part of a line of defense west of the Susquehanna. Provisions, including powder and lead, were scarce and reports in February of 1756 indicate that no flour or meal was available at the fort.  Recruitment and retainment of troops during this period was difficult and it is during the spring of 1756 that Indian raids increase in the region.  Thirty-nine men are recorded at Fort Granville in  June of 1756, just one month before it was attacked.  A change in command had left the fort poorly staffed and still low on supplies.  The officer in charge, Capt. Ward, left the fort to travel to Carlisle for pay and provisions for the troops.  While he was gone, the fort was attacked and burned.  The officer in charge at  the time opened the gates under the promise of protection from the attacking French and Indian forces.  Twenty-two soldiers, three women and five or six children were captured. The French reportedly took the young men and women, the Indians the older men and children, as well as the flour.  Fort Granville was not rebuilt and this weakness in the line of defense was of great concern to Pennsylvania’s militia. In September 1756, the defense system was reorganized and the garrisons reassigned on interior forts in Cumberland County.  Construction of the Pennsylvania Canal on the Juniata River is believed to have destroyed any remaining evidence of the fort.

The settlement of Mifflin County was directly impacted by the construction of the canal system.  Navigation of the river allowed for easier transport of supplies and greatly increased commerce.  Mills and furnaces sprang up throughout the region and the natural resources that had attracted Native Americans to this region thousands of years before, attracted colonists to the county as well.  The widening project on S.R. 0022 through the Lewistown Narrows has opened up and improved, yet another transportation corridor into Mifflin County and will likely bring an increase in settlement to the area. 

            We hope you have enjoyed this brief review of the archaeology of Mifflin County.  Understanding and exploring our archaeological heritage is pivotal to our understanding of human behavior and our ability to change and adapt over time- just as the peoples of Mifflin County have done for thousands of years. 


Donehoo, George P.
A History of the Indian Villages and Place Names in Pennsylvania, Wennawoods Publishing, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania,1999.

Hunter, William A.
Forts on the Pennsylvania Frontier, 1753-1758, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1960.

Unpublished Report;
Raber, Paul A., Jonathan A. Burns, Patti L. Byra, Brenda A. Carr, Nicole Cooper Minnichbach, Brian L. Fritz, Frank J. Vento.
Phase III Archaeological Data Recovery Investigations, Sites 36Ju104 and 36Mi92, S.R.0022, Sections A09 and A11, Lewistown Narrows, Juniata and Mifflin Counties, Pennsylvania. Prepared for The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. Heberling Associates, Inc.

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

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