Friday, July 26, 2013

Schuylkill County

This Week In Pennsylvania Archaeology takes us to Schuylkill County located in the mountainous region of east-central Pennsylvania. Schuylkill County was established in 1811 from lands claimed by the bordering counties of Berks, Northampton and Northumberland. It was named after the Schuylkill River. This is the major drainage through the county and it eventually flows into the Delaware River at Philadelphia. The county is also drained by the Swatara and Mahanoy creeks that flow southwestward into the Susquehanna drainage.
Schuylkill County falls within the “Anthracite Uplands” and the “Blue Mountain” Sections of the Ridge and Valley Province. The physical landforms are characterized by hilly uplands and steep mountains ridges with narrow to broad valleys typical to the general configuration of the Ridge and Valley Province in east-central Pennsylvania   Geologically, Schuylkill County is made up of coal and shale deposits that and Pennsylvanian and Devonian in age (400 – 300 mya). These are the product of lush bogs and swamps that eventually transformed into the anthracite coal beds of today. Some of the most magnificent plant fossils in the Commonwealth have been found here. The ridge tops all around the County are capped with a quartz pebble sandstone called Pottsville conglomerate, named after the town of Pottsville, Schuylkill County.

During the earliest stages of the Pleistocene Period the northeastern edge of Schuylkill County  experienced some level of glacial activity. At Tamaqua and other locations along and bordering the Schuylkill River, till deposits of Pre-Illinoian age (greater than 770,000 years) consisting of clayey to silty till and rounded cobbles have been mapped by the Pennsylvania Geologic Survey. These ancient soil and gravel deposits form a 10-30 mile wide band that extends from Lycoming County to the Pennsylvania New Jersey border in Northampton County on the Delaware.

Tulpehocken Path Marker

Two Indian paths ran through Schuylkill County, the Nanticoke and Tulpehocken. During the 18th century, and likely before and after that time, these paths were direct inter-montane routes connecting other paths to and from the Susquehanna and Delaware river valleys (Wallace 1971). There were no major Indian towns established along these routes but stopover camps or “sleeping places” would have been common and used at certain times by Native Americans and Colonials, alike.

Tulpehocken Path from Wallace

A review of the Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (P.A.S.S.) records identify 85 prehistoric and historic period sites in Schuylkill County. The majority of these sites are attributed to eight prehistoric periods with the Late Archaic accounting for most. Transitional Period sites are followed by Middle Archaic Period sites. Paleoindian, Early Archaic, Early Woodland and Late Woodland sites are few in number and with the exception of Paleoindian and Late Woodland sites where projectile point types are very diagnostic, some of these sites may be misrepresented by the generic stemmed and notched styles common to some of these cultural periods. This typology dilemma becomes a real problem that archaeologists encounter when attempting to identify site occupations where radiocarbon dating and other forms of cross dating artifacts cannot be accomplished. The prehistoric use of quartzite, and jasper and chert reflect the availability of such lithic sources in and surrounding Schuylkill County. The Hardyston Formation in the adjacent Reading Prong Section southeast of the county, in particular, is the principal source for quartzite and jasper.

Reported Historic Period sites are largely 19th century in age and include farmsteads, industrial and transportation related sites. Most of these sites were registered with PASS in the course of conducting cultural resource surveys for roads and bridges.

The PASS files list site occupations as more-or-less evenly divided between the uplands and valley floor settings. This statistic is likely biased since there is more farming activity going on in the lowlands and hence it is generally in those areas where on-ground surface surveys can be undertaken.
At the onset of the French and Indian War, a string of log forts was established along the south slope of Blue Mountain (Hunter 1960). These forts was essentially the first line of defense against marauding Indians sympathetic to the French cause in western Pennsylvania from 1754-1763. Some of these were re- supplied and garrisoned during Pontiac’s short lived rebellion in 1763. Two of the forts forming the line of defense in Schuylkill County were forts Franklin and Lebanon, the latter renamed Fort William in 1757. As with many of the log forts of the day neither was of substantial design or construction.

Fort Lebanon Marker

Fort William referred to by Ben Franklin as “Fort Lebanon in the Forks of the Schuylkill” (Hunter 1960) consisted of a barracks and storehouse and two structures to harbor local settlers in dreaded times of siege. All of this was protected by a 100 foot square log fort. History places the fort near Auburn, a small rural community in southeastern Schuylkill County. The other fort, Fort Franklin was built near present day Snyders,  a town in eastern Schuylkill County. It was the smallest fort of the line of defense on the north side of Blue Mountain. Measuring only forty feet on a side, the log fort had two opposing bastions that also served as dual defensive facilities. A third structure is thought to have occupied the main courtyard.

Fort Franklin Marker

In 1984, through the generous cooperation of Mrs. Curtis Bailey, Stephen Warfel from the State Museum and a staff of over 100 volunteers from the local area undertook a ten day systematic survey and test excavation project to identify the remains of Fort Franklin. Over the course of that period a preselected area of the property measuring 200 feet by 300 feet was investigated. In spite of not finding the fort nor any artifacts relating to the fort the exercise provided participants with the opportunity to learn proper methods and field techniques that are used by professionals to find and excavate archaeological sites. The following year Barbara Lu, a student at Franklin and Marshall College, conducted a magnetometry survey of the area.

searching for Fort Franklin

The Bailey property was again tested along with the adjacent Stahler property. This state of the art methodology discriminates between low and high magnetic responses. This methodology serves two practical purposes: 1) it allows for a large area to be surveyed in a smaller period of time and 2) it is a nondestructive procedure. What it finds, it records on the computer screen as a configured archaeo-magnetic signature or the shape of the anomaly that it scans, such as the wall trench of the fort.  Identified anomalies are then targeted and investigated at a later date to confirm the magnetometry data. Although some anomalies were identified in the ground, none were deemed of the sort that potentially marked the location of the fort site or any of its expected features i.e. water well, interior buildings, bastions etc.

outcrop where the Schuylkill County petroglyph was discovered

Over the years many fascinating discoveries have been made in Schuylkill County. Nearly a half century ago, Francis Burke, a local amateur archaeologist from Mar Lin, Pennsylvania discovered a rock carving or petroglyph.  His discovery, made on the surface of a sandstone outcrop, was a human face carved in base relief. Mr. Burke wanting to preserve the petroglyph contacted staff archaeologists at the State Museum who moved the carving to Harrisburg where it now safely resides in a climate controlled environment where it can be enjoyed by everyone.

Schuylkill County petroglyph discovered by Francis Burke

We hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction to Schuylkill County archaeology. Please join us next week when TWIPA will be featuring Snyder County, Pennsylvania.

Hunter, William A.
1960       Forts on the Pennsylvania Frontier, 1753-1758. Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Lu, Barbara
1985       Use of Magnetic Survey to Locate the Site of Fort Franklin. Unpublished manuscript in the Section of Archaeology files, The State Museum of Pennsylvania.

Wallace, Paul A. W.
1971       Indian Paths of Pennsylvania. Publication of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Warfel, Stephen G.
1984       In Search of Fort Franklin: An Account of 1984 Activities. Unpublished manuscript in the Section of Archaeology files, The State Museum 

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

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