Friday, November 8, 2013

Tioga County

This week in Pennsylvania Archaeology takes us to Tioga County situated at the northern border of Pennsylvania. Surrounded by Potter, Lycoming and Bradford counties and the New York state border, Tioga is noted for its many State and National parks and numerous lakes where residents and visitors alike enjoy its captivating natural beauty. Segments of the 50 mile long Pennsylvania Grand Canyon west of Wellsboro and the Pine Creek Rail Trail wind through Pine Creek gorge and connect with the Susquehanna’s West Branch River valley at Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania.

Tioga County, formed from part of Lycoming County in 1804 takes it name from the Tioga River. It has a total land surface of 1137 square miles and Wellsboro is the county seat. Much of Tioga County remains rural and is the perfect setting for the State’s annual Laurel Festival held each Spring. The main corridors, 6, 287 and 15, connect much of the countryside with the more urban towns such as Mansfield, and home to Mansfield University of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvanian, Mississippian and Devonian rocks constitute the geological makeup of Tioga County and originally these rocks were a part of the vast sea sediments that formed some 290-405 million years ago. Tioga County is located in the Glaciated High Plateau, Glaciated Low Plateau and Deep Valleys Sections of the Appalachian Plateau Province. These physiographic land forms are characterized by eroded hills and generally narrow, steep sided valleys.  The major streams are the Cowanesque and Tioga Rivers that form as major waterways of the Chemung and the Susquehanna’s North Branch drainage.

According to Paul Wallace (1971) three major Indian paths cut through Tioga County. The Pine Creek Path which followed the gorge through the Pine Creek valley connected Quennashawakee Indiantown with the Forbidden Path at Genesee. The Tioga Path ran from French Margaret’s Town at present day Williamsport to Painted Post where it connected with the Forbidden Path. A third path branched from the Tioga Path and joined with the Horseheads Path at present day Canton then east to Towanda Indian town on the North Branch at Towanda, Pennsylvania. These paths were most certainly important trailways throughout prehistory since they all followed less rugged terrain along north to south and south to north flowing waterways.

The Pennsylvania Archaeological Site Survey (P.A.S.S.) files list 163 prehistoric and historic period sites for Tioga County. Of these, the majority (99) have prehistoric components while the remaining (historic in age) constitute remnants of domestic dwellings/rural farmstead and a few commercial and industrial sites principally relating to a 19th and 20th century origin.

Survey data for settlement patterns is largely riverine/lowland  with 103 of the 163 of the reported sites grouping into this category. The remaining 46  sites relate to an upland setting environment where small first and second order streams dominate the landscape. Along with this data the PASS files also show an expected trend for the prehistoric utilization of cherts/flints over jasper, rhyolite and quartz simply due to the availability of these glacially derived lithics from valley terrace  and stream outwash deposits. Such lithic cobble sources would have been readily quarried from these locations throughout Tioga County.
The prehistoric record, as shown by the PASS data, indicates that an overwhelming number of Late Woodland, Transitional and Middle Archaic period sites outnumber sites from the other periods. This is especially puzzling given the pervasive nature of Late Archaic Period sites versus Middle Archaic Period sites reported for other parts of northern Pennsylvania and southern New York State.

Archaeological excavation of Owasco house pattern

Planview of Owasco house pattern

There has been a number of cultural resource surveys conducted in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, however, for this report, only one will be summarized here. Data recovery activities at the Mansfield Bridge Site 36TI116, by Louis Berger Group, Inc., was undertaken as the result of a proposed relocation and alignment of State Route (SR) 6015 at Canoe Camp located south of Mansfield. The study resulted in the discovery and recovery of new information pertaining to the prehistory of the Tioga River valley from the Middle Archaic period through the beginning of the Late Woodland period. 

The deepest human occupation level at Mansfield Bridge site contained remnants of a small camp used by Middle Archaic people.  Within this level, archaeologists discovered bifurcate points, debris from manufacturing and re-sharpening these points and hammerstones made from river cobbles. Scattered amongst this debris lay poorly preserved bone fragments , likely the skeletal remains from game animals. Several small charcoal stained hearths that were also discovered yielded a radiocarbon age between 7610-8150 BP.

Above the Middle Archaic level at the Mansfield Bridge Site archaeologists discovered a cultural occupation sealed in alluvium that dated to the Late Archaic Period at 5100-5400 BP. There, the projectile point forms were identified as Brewerton side-notched, a common point type found in this region of the Northeast. The small size of the hearths, the presence of other objects such as uniface tools, waste flakes and a cluster of cobble tools suggested a site use as a lithic workshop revisited during brief hunting and gathering excursions into the Tioga River valley.

Following the Late Archaic visitations, the site was utilized as a short term camp by Transitional Period groups as was indicated by the presence of rhyolite and jasper bifaces and chipping debris of Susquehanna and Perkiomen Broad spearpoint types and hammerstones. A radiocarbon date of ca, 3500 BP., was obtained from a small hearth associated with these tools.

An alluvium deposit capped these earlier non-ceramic bearing occupations at the Mansfield Bridge Site. A Late Woodland Owasco phase component with a postmold pattern of a small square-shaped house 25 by 20 feet in size and pit features surrounding it were identified during the data recovery project. The occupation was radiocarbon dated to 1000 AD. Chert triangular points, diagnostic cordmarked pottery and fragments of smoking pipes link the occupation to the earlier part of the Owasco Carpenter Brook phase (Ritchie 1965).  Other sites of this phase in New York and the Susquehanna valley of Pennsylvania have been radiocarbon dated between  1000-1100 AD.

Example of the Mansfield Bridge Site (36Ti116) stratigraphy

Excavation Unit 24 profile with cultural levels 

We hope you have enjoyed this archaeology tour through of Tioga County and please join is next week when we will journey to Union County.


Ritchie, William A.
The Archaeology of New York State. Natural History Press, Garden City, New York.

Wall, Robert D., Rick Vernay, Delland Gould and Hope E Luhman
2003       Hunters to Horticulturists: The Archaeology of the Mansfield Bridge Site. SR 6015, Section D52 Tioga County, Pennsylvania. Report submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Engineering District 3-0, Montoursville, Pennsylvania.

Wallace, Paul A.W.

1971       Indian Paths of Pennsylvania. Second Printing. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg.

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

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